This is a first for the Blog. Today’s post is a recollection of a PC game that I had been playing through and finally made it through the first time last night around 2AM. It’s a rarity these days I actually feel I get my money’s worth out of a computer game purchase or the time invested in playing it. After last night, I have to admit there is at least one game that met (actually exceeded) my expectations. That game is Dragon Age Origins by Electronic Arts/BioWare.
This is essentially a role playing game (RPG) based in ancient times filled with knights, wizards, elves, dwarves and more evil creatures than you could think up on your own in a year. In the genre of the Dungeon Siege series (which I really liked), this particular game allows you to control the characters in your party, manage their positions, decide their actions in an expansive world. However, taking that a step further, Dragon Age almost feels like you are interacting with a movie as a result of hours of cut scenes woven into the game flow. These scenes continually prompt you for responses and actions to take which directly impacts the storyline. Maybe you want to play as a heartless champion who cares only about killing every evil doer he come across or someone who actually cares about gaining a better understanding of your companions. As a result, my content requirement was easily met, but there are two other criteria I have that generally impact my enjoyment. First of all, I do not want to read manuals to figure out how to play a game. I spend my life reading technical manuals and research to be successful at work, I do not want to come home and tear into user manuals. If it is not intuitive, there are better things to spend my free time like reading a book. In this case, the only part of the Dragon Age manual that had to be read was the back panel with the license key. Granted, it was similar to the Dungeon Siege game play, but there were numerous in-game hints/tips along the way to easily get you through the game. The other requirements is ease of use. I will say, if there is a negative it is the difficulty in getting comfortable with the camera movement. Basically you can zoom in to be eye level with the surroundings or zoom out for a birds eye view to control the battlefield. Both modes have a full pan feature which can leave you slightly nauseous if you are sensitive to motion. It took me 3 or 4 sessions to really get that down to the point it was fluid. Beyond that, the two button mouse navigation and hotkeys were very effective. Contrast that with the FallOut 3 game where I literally ripped out of the CD tray and flung it across the room after 30 minutes of playing the game due to having to designate which part of the enemy to target on every attack.
In almost all role playing games I try to assume the role of an archer. I am not sure what my affinity is towards that classification, but I have been going that route since the first games that allowed you pick your character. True to course, I selected an Elf for this time through the game:
Note, the screen captures in this post are not cut scenes, but rather in-game play graphics. Oftentimes you get duped by the commercials that simply show a video and not the experience you get while interacting with the game. This was my outfit while engaging other characters in a non-hostile environment. When the whoop ass needed to be brought, the armor came out. Here is the end of the game character record for my Jagger which shows some of the different items that can be purchased/found/earned/gifted during the course of the game.
Jagger was basically at one shot kills at the end of the game due to my approach at distributing skill points and item equipping. Trust me, this came in very very handy at the end of the game when the darkspawn were swarming the castle. While on the topic of skill points, Dragon Age incorporated the common feature of being able to control the character development through distribution of points across a wide variety of skill sets and special powers. This actually provides an almost limitless game play characteristic due to how these points are utilized. Being an archer class, I focused on those skills that gave me the greatest range firepower to compensate for the lack of thick armor. Here is how my talent sheets turned out at the end of the game.
For those planning to play the game, the bottom two on the far right were the techniques that really got me to the end. I’ll let you figure out what capabilities those have in battle.
I have a bunch more screen captures after the jump. Be warned, this is labeled as a M (17+) game and it probably isn’t just due to the graphic violence that permeates the game play. The graphic designer for some of the characters and clothing is definitely male (or possibly female with appreciation of the female form). Let’s just say that this fictional world must have been experiencing an equally fictitious global warming.
So you took the jump. Either you wanted to find out more about the game our you were intrigued by the last paragraph. Odds are it was more of the latter 8^). One of the nice aspects of this game is the companionship and player character interactions. During the course of navigating the expansive world, you come across a number of friendly characters that provide clues to the story line and even offer their services to the campaign. You can lead up to three other people in your party and can pick and choose the makeup of the team depending on what activities or challenges you might encounter. After hours and hours of interacting with them, you build up a virtual friendship with them. To be honest, with the exception of one character, I stuck with my original companions all the way to the end of the game even though other characters would probably have made some scenarios a lot easier. This was the group I spent most of my playing with.
The battle dog on the left is Kerby and had a nice talent of being able to stun all the enemies on the battlefield with a howl. He was also the character I used to walk ahead of the group to trigger any traps or draw the enemies out of hiding spaces. He was faster than the other characters so he could lead the enemies back to the other three waiting in ambush. On the far right is Allistar who is basically with you from the start. Turns out he is a key component of the storyline, but I will not spoil that for you. The mage in the middle is Wynne and she was the mid-game replaced for another mage named Morrigan. I ran into her during a mission and found out her healing skills were extremely valuable to the group. She would stand back off the battlefield and rain down healing spell on the other three of us while we engaged the bad guys. We rarely survived an encounter that she ended up getting killed in. As mentioned, she was a replacement for Morrigan who I configured to be an attacker with numerous spells to freeze enemies. I hated to let her go, but the healing skillsets were critical to our success.
You can probably tell one of the reasons I hated to let her go 8^) In the true M rating for this game, I actually ended up conceiving a child with her – but honestly, that was just to keep from dying due to my tainted blood. HONESTLY!!
Another aspect of the game was the incredible graphic work. Not only were the buildings and landscape gorgeous, the characters were fantastic and interacted with the game play perfectly. Very little clipping occurred at all (there were some problems with individual’s hair (braids etc.) that were clipping into the larger armor, but that was about all I noticed). Mouths moved perfectly and they even had gestures to provide emphasis on words and actions. Here are some caps of my favorite enemies in the game.
This reminded me of the Ents in Lord of the Rings, but a lot more evil looking. This particular creature was pissed that someone stole an acorn and wanted me to get it back. It was amazing how fluid his movements were and the attention to detail on the leaves as he bobbed and turned. As a wolf supporter, it was difficult to bring myself to kill these next creatures.
Again, this is an in-game encounter. Although I killed hundreds of these supposedly evil creatures, I did manage to redeem myself by getting a spell on them lifted. Kudos to the graphic designers who managed to sync up the jaws and muzzle snarls with their speech. I guess this leads into the more mature portion of the review. As mentioned before the jump, this game carries the big ‘M’ ESRB rating. There is plenty of violence including dungeon tortures, beheadings, graphic battlefield deaths and enough blood to make Quentin Tarantino cringe. But if that wasn’t enough to shock the ratings board, we had a healthy dose of adult situations. Take for example the adored leader of the werewolves.
In what was sure a concession to the ratings board, her hair didn’t move. Note, I only investigated that tidbit to be able to provide an accurate review in case a concerned parent wanted to know. Although maybe there is a unlockable mod – will investigate further …. again, just so I can properly inform my readers! There was also another demon that popped up from time to time that was very aware of her hellspawn assets. Unlike the wolf lady above, she didn’t have any hair requiring a slight costume addition to show at least some modesty. There is a better encounter in the game, but I took a screenshot from the “Haze” (an altered dream state) which subdues the visual a tad.
I am sure she was upset that I sent Wynne in alone to kill her later in the game. Although I needed the hardest wood I could find for battle, that was for my bow (bada bing). And to close out this subject there was more than one time I found myself very vulnerable. This particular scene was during a mental challenge encountered about the middle of the game. I am not sure the reasoning behind requiring this in the game, but it did shock me a little bit when it happened. One moment in full battle gear and the next…
It is a little confusing to me how Allistar got blood under his armor, but glad to see I’m keeping my abs in shape. I was glad to get through this particular portion, but I turned up in my undies later in the campaign due to a run in with a traitorous female knight. As a male, I could have done without either scenarios if game designers are reading this review (meanwhile, mental note, take Morrigan through this test the next time through). I’ll forgo the details regarding the bedroom scene with Morrigan.
It is probably time to cut this post off. I could probably write all day about how much I appreciated this game, but I’d rather fire up the game again and start another campaign. Before doing that, I wanted to comment on the return on investment. This game was actually a gift from some friends of mine (Pakage, SiC .. thanks) so it really did not cost me actual money beyond the time spent playing the game (time is money people). Oh, I actually got a special edition from my brother too, but stuck with this version for this run through since I had started it literally two days before getting that version. Based on a quick search, it looks like this game sells in the $60 range. Now, if you look at the fantastic in game stats…
I killed about 817 creatures, contributed to about 1,000 party kills and made over 1,000 conversations to highlight a few stats. But there are two stats which stick out in particular. I spent over 61 hours playing this game. Based on the price of the game, that is less than a dollar a game hour. Compare that entertainment value to going to the movies or local bar. Granted there is the whole social thing (and I am a little shocked with the hour stat myself), but clearly there is a strong return on investment (especially when it was a gift). This was interesting enough, but the that 84% of world explored is interesting. Not only did I already spend 61 hours with the game using only one of the multiple character options, with only one distribution of skillsets, I still have 16% of the world unexplored. I will wait for awhile before devoting more time to this game due to some todos to get through, but clearly this game will continue to provide entertainment in the foreseeable future. Kudos to EA and BioWare for their accomplishments. Two (sore) thumbs up to their efforts!