Game Review: Dragon Age: Origins - a week's vacation of epic adventure

It's all a little different, and I did like the dwarf thing (which says something, as I'm normally not a fan), but it's most definitely right in line with your daddy's high fantasy setting. I'm totally fine with that though, because the execution of these familiar tropes excels. The world's intricacies and nuance shine through in the well-written, expertly voice-acted, and very comprehensive execution. Individual characters have a depth and a range of motivations that almost always strike the right note, sucking players into both the game's epic main storyline and its multiple side quests with equal aplomb. That's one of the advantages to making a forty hour game – plenty of time and space to build a world worth fighting for.

Players choose from one of six different backgrounds for their character (who can be a warrior, rogue or mage). Each background has its own opening “level,” each of which takes about an hour to play through. I suggest making a character for each, playing though all six hours, and going with the one you like best. They're all well done, and introduce various aspects of the world in fun and sometimes surprising ways. Playing both the noble dwarf and common dwarf backgrounds highlights that culture's rigid caste system, while playing the human noble and the elven commoner does the same for the surface world. The mage background was my least favorite, because it takes place largely in the extra-dimensional Fade, which is the part of the game I like least. Still, each one offers a complete adventure and playing the full set is a great way to introduce you to the core concepts of both game play and the game world.

While the character you create stands front and center in all of the game's many cut scenes and dialogue decisions (many of which offer discernible, game-changing choices), most of the time you're accompanied by three other heroes. You'll recruit more comrades as the game progresses, but you can only take a trio of others with you from camp when it's time to adventure. While there are only three classes, each one has enough options and specialization possibilities that you'll have a pretty wide selection to play with by the time you get halfway through the game. The heroes fight on their own if you leave them to it, abiding by strategy rules that you can set, or you can take direct control of any of the four heroes at any time. Bringing up the menu pauses the action, which is something you'll do a lot of. It's easy to lose control of a fight if you're not paying attention, especially in a big battle or a boss fight, so micromanaging spells, potions, healing poultices, and special abilities becomes a vital skill. Learning to use your team effectively takes time, and I can't emphasize enough how important it is to save early and often (the game has erratic checkpoints, but you can save anytime). Once mastered, the combat system is a lot of fun, offering an adventuresome mix of strategy, resource management, and of course action.

I won't go into story details here, because I think the epic tale told in Dragon Age is worth the time and energy it takes to play through it, and boiling down the plot points wouldn't do justice to a story that lives and breathes in the experience of it. It's pretty good, offers some real, sometimes really hard choices for the player, and has a satisfying climax. On the other hand, this game is far from flawless. The animations are a little stiff (everyone had amazing posture!), and there were regular but infrequent visual and audio bugs. You end up walking a lot, and there are some map and user interface decisions I found irksome. Lots of little nits to pick, but listing them in detail would overemphasize their significance when, in fact, they're easy to overlook when measured against the massive time commitment this game demands/offers. Maybe the most interesting problem with the game is that it really does offer re-playability – your decisions and the kinds of characters you employ make a big difference in how the game unfolds moment to moment. I won't have the time to re-experience it all from a different perspective, but I sort of envy those who do. I will however be buying any new expansions that come out for the game, probably on day one.

Dragon Age: Origins isn't for everyone, which I think is the hallmark of many great games. It's just trying to be the best RPG it can be, and while it trips and stumbles from time to time, it meets the challenging goals it sets for itself. If any of the above sounds good to you, pick it up at once. Available now on PC, Playstation 3, and X-Box 360.

I'm exhausted. It's the good kind of exhausted though, like finally lying down in your bed after weeks of traveling on vacation. Dragon Age: Origins, the new high-fantasy role-playing game from Bioware really is an epic journey to a far off land, and like anyone whose traveled abroad knows, there are plenty of rough spots and minor annoyances as you go, but looking back all you'll think about are the grand vistas, the strange cities, and the demon spawn you got to kill. With well over forty hours of play time (at least), Dragon Age: Origins is no weekend getaway. It requires commitment, endurance, a desire to learn new language and the patience to put up with some unsavory meals. In return you'll get memories that will last a lifetime (or at least until Mass Effect 2 or Final Fantasy XIII come out).

Set in a fantasy world of Bioware's own creation, Dragon Age: Origins tells a familiar but satisfying tale of evil hordes invading the mortal world, threatening to destroy all creation with their gnashing teeth and overly-spikey armor. The developers take pride in making their generic fantasy setting not totally generic. The elves are either slaves, serfs, or nomads, not scions of high civilization. The dwarves obsesses over politics and scheming and have American accents. The arch-demons are really dragons.

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