Ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Having been a hardcore console gamer for most of my life, I never really fell into the clique that worshipped PC/Mac gaming. I knew there were some pretty killer titles out there on the PC/Mac, but the effort of getting a machine with a particular graphics card, a particular processor, with particularly large amounts of RAM didn’t really appeal to me. For most gamers out there, we’re lazy. I don’t want to add anything or build anything just to play games on. I felt like PC gaming really just cost too much and was overall too timing consuming; thus I stayed true to my console self.
Boy was I wrong.
In May, I was fortunate enough to pick up a MacBook Pro for the first time. This machine brought me into a whole entire world that I seemed to have foolishly been ignoring. How did I come to this conclusion? Well, it all started with Dragon Age: Origins Collector’s Edition. I was fortunate enough to play and beat the Playstation 3 version in late 2009. I truly wanted to see what the fuss was about on the PC side of things. Having installed the collector’s edition via digitally, I knew instantly that this game that I really loved on the console was already going to be better than expected on my Mac.
Before I get into the game play, let me discuss the usefulness of the keyboard/menu/save systems. Using the keyboard in DA is above and beyond a better idea than I could have imagined. Having a screen full of macros at your disposal, an instant way of saving and a slew of wonderful hotkeys at your command, truly enhances the experience of the game. One of the bigger annoyances I had when reviewing the Playstation 3 Dragon Age was that I had to stop and go when it came to taking medicine or setting up talents/skills for my players. I would have to hold down R2 to activate the menu system to choose these things, which caused a horribly annoying stoppage in gameplay. With the PC version you get to set skills/talents/items at the bottom of the screen and choose them with your mouse or by punching a hotkey. For example, if my main character, Aedan, is in battle and he is in need of some medicine then I just simply click on the icon on the bottom of the screen or hit the number ‘5’ and BAM! The dude is healed. This makes it so much easier to do then going into a sub menu, choosing what I want, activating it, assigning it to a button on the Playstation 3 controller and then coming back out to take it in the midst of battle. Literally so many steps are eliminated through the PC.
This alone makes the game already worthwhile, but there is more. The save system is extraordinarily quick. Unlike the Playstation 3 version, which takes about 5-7 seconds to save, you can save instantly by hitting F5 on the keyboard (that’s the quick save in the game). You can also save by hitting ‘ESC’ and choosing save. You can even give the save your own name if you would like. It seems simple, but it’s huge! Another killer about the Playstation 3 is the amount of time it took to save things. With the PC version you knock that time down by more than half.
These few things made the gameplay smoother for me. It helped the experience, which was great already, to become even better. And yes, before you even think it, I realize that this makes me sound like a ‘n00b’ to the PC side of gaming; in a sense, I am so you’ll just have to excuse me.
Anyway, let’s get on with the rest of the game.
Taking a chapter from KOTOR, Bioware took a system that certainly wasn’t broken and widened it to fit the needs of a knight/mage/ranger/etc. system. In Dragon Age: Origins, you’ll find yourself crafting individuals in an almost specific manner. For example, in my game I started off as a warrior class character. As I progressed through the game I was able to upgrade my warrior’s skills as a talker, fighter and trustworthy ally. Talker represents how you can talk to people and persuade them to help you or intimidate them to submit. Along side how you carry yourself and your weight with people; you have other options in this category that can include how you carry yourself in battle. As a fighter you can upgrade things like handling dual-weapons, using shields in an offensive way or how you use two-handed weaponry (like a large ax, hammer, etc.). With each category in all of these upgradable features, each one goes about six deep. So, there are six different power-ups for a two-handed weapon handler; there are four-to-six different ways to use a two-handed power-up. Hopefully, I haven’t thoroughly confused you with this banter, but in short you’ve got different ways to craft your character. This is the same system that was intact with Knights of the Old Republic, but just slightly deeper in choices. Also available are the typical categories included with a Dungeons and Dragons-esque game. These include: Cunning, Dexterity, Strength, Magic, etc. Simple categories that help you better your character’s actions.
Staying on the category of ‘actions’, if you’re not familiar with how the fighting system from KOTOR works, then the system will be incredibly new for you in Dragon Age: Origins. Let me alleviate some of the confusion that you will almost certainly experience when you play it for the first time. When your characters roll into battle all you have to do is assign your controlled character (as you can switch between the four characters in your group at any given time; not including cut scenes) a target and an action (such as fighting or whatever). If you can picture a moving game of chess then you can picture the battle system in Dragon Age: Origins. Sometimes the fight is easy and you don’t have to leave your main guy to help the others. Sometimes you have to strategically place each character and assign them a different target to get the job done. It varies from quest to quest, but it works very well. You have to get use to it and most of all you have to put faith in the computer characters. The last part of the previous sentence will probably be the biggest obstacle to overcome in the game for new players.
Anyway, this system works well for this game; possibly even more fitting than how it did in Knights of the Old Republic. There’s a great chance that the character you make is going to be incredibly different from the one your friend makes; even if you all are both warriors. Making this system even deeper is the fact that you can modify and adjust your weapons. Along the way in the game you are able to pick up different forms of elements that you can meld to your weaponry. Add lightening, fire or whatever if you can find to make your weapons more powerful. The possibilities are nothing short of amazing and incredibly entertaining.
Speaking of weapons, the amount of weapons that Bioware included in this title is simply incredible. Swords, bows, hammers, axes, staffs, a variety of arrows laced with different elements; it’s simply nuts. Each character class has different weapons it can use, but the amount of weapons available for each character class is enormous. It has been a while since I haven’t seen a wall for weapon limitations, but Dragon Age provides the limitless view now. My character sported a Diamond Hammer that I carried through most of the game. This weapon worked extremely well through three different missions and eight boss fights. Remarkably, and thankfully, the game doesn’t sport that annoying Fallout 3 degrading weapon feature. I’m not sure you should really call it a feature; it’s just plain annoying.
Moving along, let’s talk about how you can shape your character. Throughout the game you will run into many dialogue situations that require a ‘question and answer’ session. Taking a nice little chapter from the good folks at LucasArts, you will find moments where a character in the story will ask you something (could be anything). The answer you give shapes your reputation throughout the game. It dictates how people approach you, treat you and work with you. This is one of the more popular features that made it into KOTOR and it also showed up in Mass Effect (and I imagine it will rear its head in the sequel). It’s a great method for changing a story or moving a story along. For example, there was a point in the game where you go to visit dwarves in an underground world. When you’re heading towards the end of that mission, you’ll fun into a giant Golem, who welds a great weapon called the Anvil of Void. This weapon creates Golems (giant rock-like monsters) and you have an ugly choice to make. A giant Golem made of metal guards the anvil and tries to convince you to destroy it. After explaining to you that the anvil requires a life to create a new Golem, you have a choice to make. If you destroy it the story goes one direction. If you don’t destroy it then the story changes. Your response and demeanor towards the Golem is directly affected by your prior discussions leading up to that point. Simply put, this feature makes the game deeper and requires you to think about every little decision you make.
Before I dig into the visuals, let’s shake things up a bit and talk about the story first. The story is the big driving point for this game. As with all Bioware titles, the story gets more love than most games of the same taste. The story can be compared to Lord of the Rings before anything else. You’re a Grey Warden, protector of the land of Ferelden, who has been called up to protect the land again from a ‘Blight’ that has shown up once before in the land’s history. A Blight is where a demon god-like creature has gathered a large force of darkspawn together to invade and destroy the land. The Warden’s must go around to unite the land to fight the Blight. The trick is to unite the land, which is incredibly greedy and disjointed. Your group of warriors (four at a time; sometimes it’s just you) travel from group to group trying to work with and ultimately convince the group of people to help you. Added to this story, is a corrupt king who wants to keep the Warden’s from succeeding and possibly dethroning him.
What’s particularly great about this story is how many smaller quests are broken from it. For example, when I went to the Circle of Mages to ask for help, I first run into a warrior who asks for me to go on three-to-four separate quests to help out Mages in getting their complaints answered. This is three-to-four separate, solid questions that will take at least an hour to complete each. That’s only one portion of the game. Hell, that’s not even really a part of the Circle of Mages mission; it’s just there with it. You will find this same ‘side quest’ in almost facet of the game. It even encourages you to get DLC to play side quests. For example, there is a moment in the game where you’re approached by a goods salesman that wants to give you a Golem control rod. You have to download the content for this quest, but once you do it’s completely seamless in the story. It fits perfectly with everything else and doesn’t really distract from your main quest.
Simply put, the story is huge; it’s even bigger with the quests here and there.
As for the visuals, they’re much better than what any consoles can produce at the moment. Depending on how good your graphics card is, you can either up the visuals or adjust them to your graphics cards’ needs. For me that’s great as I can’t do any worse than be on par with the console visuals. If I upped the ante of my visuals, the character models, the environment details and the fights get really gorgeous really quick. This is one of those spots where the console simply cannot touch the PC/Mac version of the game.
Something that many reviewers haven’t given enough credit, but is equally important, is the music. Magically orchestrated, it will drive the story for you in the game. It’s haunting as well, as the battle music puts you in a dire mood to survive. With a gorgeous chorus added to already booming kettledrums, you’ll understand exactly how epic this game is going to be before you even finalize your character.
For $59.99 the price seems a bit steep for PC gaming. Generally a game on this platform ranges from $29.99 to $39.99, so it’s unusual for a company to charge more. Thankfully, EA has tried to make it worth your while with extra content. With that said, if I had to complain about anything it would have to be the shortness of the DLC that comes packed with the game. You’re provided with two DLC packs:
– The Stone Prisoner
– The Warden’s Keep
You also get the Blood Dragon armor with this collector’s edition. The armor aside, I didn’t like the length of the DLC. You can beat both in less than an hour. For DLC it has to be a lot stronger than this. I realize that EA is basically giving them away for free with the game, but they have to last longer than that. While both certainly add to the story they do pale in comparison to the other cogs in the Dragon Age machine. The Stone Prisoner is good because you actually obtain an extra member for your party. The Warden’s Keep is okay, but I chose the path of killing the last guy instead of sparing him (I’m not sure what that other outcome would have been). Regardless, the game still holds up despite the short, shallow feeling the DLC gives.