To long time classic CRPG fans, Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) is a nostalgic trip back to the bygone era of CRPG Renaissance amist the blight of dark forces joined with many (certainly not all of them) of generic FPSs that gives you measley 4-7 hours on single player campaign and hybrid RPGs that blur the true quality of classic CRPG. While Bioware has released many games that all found financial success and critical acclaims, Bioware's track record since Black Isle's demise hasn't always been impressive among classic CRPG fans.
Bethesda has successfully reinvigorated non-linear, open-ended, free-formed, real-time CRPG of 'TES: Arena' and 'TES: Daggerfall' with 'Oblivion' and 'Fallout 3'. Now Bioware has done the same to narratively-focused, linear, story-driven, party-based tactical CRPG of 'Baldur's Gate' series with DAO. Both are in lineage of classic 'Dungeons and Dragons', 'Tolkien', 'Ultima' series and 'Wizardry' series. But each camp go for totally different experience.
Now for the fans of classic CRPG fans can finally find great solace in the latest medieval fantasy epic called 'Dragon Age: Origins'. This game really picks up the torch from the late Black Isle and its own 'Baldur's Gate' in terms of gameplay, design, lore, and character development and carries on the impossible task of putting CRPG back on the track. It generally succeeds with DAO but it will surely polarize many others too.
Those who began to acquire the taste of RPG through games like 'KOTOR', 'Jade Empire', and 'Mass Effect' must be warned though. DAO is not quite like aforementioned Bioware's titles. DAO is a classic, hard-core PC-centric western CRPG firmly rooted in D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) compared to the past three Bioware titles, which were hybrid western / console RPG geared toward more accessible and broader appeal that could be viewed as shallow to hard-core CRPG gamers. But there are definitely similarities among these titles too.
Those who began to acquire the taste of RPG through games like 'Oblivion' and 'Fallout 3' must be warned also. DAO is not a non-linear, open-ended, free-formed CRPG. You don't do anything anytime anywhere you please, and interaction with items and environment is non-existent. While you are given a fair amount of freedom once you pass the initial origin part and first big prelude, DAO is a linear game where main focus is on narrative focus via plot, dialogues, character dynamics, and of course tactical combat. DAO is the polar opposite to TES series. You don't have such freedom in DAO, but intensely plot-driven, character-driven game just not feasible in TES series. You don't get the visceral, in-your-face hack n' slash here. Combat focuses on character management during each wave of enemies. The action is governed by number-crunching Bioware's own original ruleset, similar to D&D ruleset. DAO gives you much broader scopes of battles with waves of mobs thrown at you alongside your companions, so it's totally different kind of pulse-pounding combat. But I personally love both styles.
And finally this is not a click-fest hack n' slash 'Diablo' clone or various MMORPG either. So if you are looking to get some fix for action RPG, 'Diablo 3' and WOW expansion are on the horizon. You won't get far in this game by just clicking your mouse pointer on your foes.
To some people, it might feel oddly enough it seems Bioware might have taken a step back, Bioware actually has taken a step forward from the games from the golden age of CRPG such as 'Baldur's Gate' series, 'Planescape: Torment' and 'Icewind Dale' series. And those of you who were big fans of 'Baldur's Gate' then were somewhat disappointed with 'Neverwinter Nights', you will be thrilled to finally have the heir to a decade-long empty throne since 'Baldur's Gate' in 'Dragon Age: Origins'.
You get to choose your sex, race, class and background to determine your origin among six different origins. Then you play totally unique origin story / tutorial for a couple of hours. Once you familiarize yourself with control, menu, etc, it leads you to big intro part where you wet your feet with couple of side quests and combat. A good 3-4 hours will be spent to this point. Then you see some exciting cutscenes and you are into the thick of epic battle and more exciting and revealing cutscenes. You get to play a part of the battle. And off you go finally to your main quest after the longest prelude of the video game history. And from hereafter things opens up and give you some freedom.
It still has loading screen between areas like all other Bioware games although it now feels less confined and limited in each area dut to the game's bigger scope created by newly created and much refined 'Eclipse Engine'. I just wish there's an open overworld map where you can actually traverse and level up fighting foes like classic Final Fantasy style instead of clicking on the world map and occassionally running into random combat area.
In terms of graphic, even on high-end PC, things are somewhat bland, blocky and jaggy. While the game doesn't look terrible and CRPG has never been the front-runner graphically, graphic in this game definitely looks dated even by the CRPG standards. By comparison to games like 'Oblivion', 'Fallout 3', and Bioware's own 'Mass Effect', graphic in DAO might even come as a shock. It generally looks more than fine on PC; just don't expect top-notch graphic.
Beside the confined world map, modular nature of the map with loading screen and not quite top-notch graphics, everything else is delivered with depth and grandeur. All the dialogues are voice-acted, except your player character, and there are tons and tons of dialogues in tradition of all previous Bioware's games. The gameworld is littered with lores. Weapons, armours, items, magic, skills, map, quest log, codex, character development / customization, party management and combat tactics are very well handled in robust menu design. DAO is the most PC-centric game since 2002 with 'Morrowind' and 'Neverwinter Nights'. You can handle the combat with either micro-management in 'Baldur's Gate' style using pause function and action queue or more fast-paced with programmable tactics slots for your companions. And the combat mechanics is similar with 'Baldur's Gate'. You have full 3D camera so you can zoom in and out on the fly with mouse wheel and pause with space key. While you have new tactics system, user-programmable command slots that control each and every member of your player characters, thers's only one action queue per character. While tactics slots do generally fine job, multiple action queues are desired.
What seperates DAO from other CRPG is character interaction and dynamic. The world is no longer black and white. Bioware abandons good vs. evil dynamic over much more ambiguity and complex shades of grey. The tone of the game is much darker and bleak. This in turn makes story truly dynamic unlike other Bioware games in the past that only give you the illusion of choice. Besides 6 different origin stories, you now have multiple endings and various permutations depending on your actions. The only thing set in the stone in DAO is the main plot; you are the protagonist who eventually leads the army against the force of evil. How you start, who you start with, who you side with, who you abandon, who you clash with, how you get to the finale, you and your companions' fate are all up in the air.
The story arc is massive, expansive and immensely complex with many different possible outcomes from branching storyline directly stemmed from your choices. It's also very heavy and mature thematically. At the end of my first 70 hour run-through as a human noble, I really felt as if I was truly ladden with the fate of the world as well as people around me. Political intrigues and personal agendas are everywhere. Choices you have to make are genuinely difficult and whatever the consequences you face are irreversible. Each and every single wave of combat feels difficult and exhausted. One wrong move and your party is wiped out. It really felt like a load of heavy burden often too much to bear. This is where DAO truly excels and shines. Not only DAO made me feel like I was actually integral and the most important part of the game, I wanted to embark on a brand new, totally different journey immediately after completing a long, winded and tiresome journey (in a very good way).
'Eclipse Engine' is much better and more powerful than ill-equipped tile-based 'Aurora Engine' and rightful 3D successor of 2D 'Infinity Engine' but still restrictive and modular in nature. I hope Bioware refine the engine in the future to open things up little bit more. It's down right annoying when you get stuck by a tiny pebble on the ground or simple nook and cranny. Loading between each area, both interior and exterior, is still present but each area being much bigger and more detail than ones created by 'Aurora Engine', along with much tighter camera controll, it alleviates a lot of problems. Furthermore, thanks to free 'DAO Toolset', we can expect tons of quality mods from a very active modding community that will probably surpass that of 'Neverwinter Nights' and possibly equal to 'The Elder Scrolls' community. There are already a few official DLCs available for purchase and several mods from 'Dragon Age Nexus', the same site that also host for both 'The Elder Scrolls' and 'Fallout 3'. I guarantee we can expect some terrific mods in the future from the site.
While I had not run into any technical glitches at all throughout my 70 campaign, there's memory leak problems, which cause the game's loading time gets longer and longer during each single continuous session. It's solved by occassionally restart the game but there's some serious loading time problem due to poor memory management.
This game runs surprisingly well on my now ancient P4 HT 3.0Ghz with 2GB RAM and nvidia 7800GS with everything max except AA and resolution, as well as my brand new Intel Core i7 with 6GB RAM and nvidia GTX 295 with everything max.
As for CE package, I solely got this edition because the regular edition comes with really flimsy plastic case, which is a new cheap trend among DVD movies and PC games to save cost. And I am happy they don't stack 2 discs on top of each other with seperate disc divider. As for contents, the cloth map is nothing like the one that came with 'Neverwinter Nights Limited Collector's Edition'. It's very cheap and useless. Extra disc contains about 60 minutes worth of making-of documentaries and promo materials as well as 18 music from the game. It also comes with a few free official DLCs, which are way way over-priced if you decide to purchase seperately.
While I am definitely not happy about the current business trend in the video game industry with DLCs over expansion pack, cheap package with weak manual, over-emphasis on online features, I commend EA for letting Bioware realize its vision with minimum artistic interference and toning down the DRM scheme from the draconian secuROM that forces Internet connection and limited number of installation to much linient version of simple secuROM DVD check. It's definitely step-up from 'Spore' and 'Mass Effect'.
Although it's little too early to tell whether DAO will eclipse 'Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn', DAO is definetely the best game from Bioware since the legendary game on the other side of TES series. DAO is without a doubt one for the age; crowning achievement among the very best of CRPG indeed.
'Morrowind', 'Oblivion', 'Fallout 3', 'Gothic Trilogy', 'Risen', 'The Witcher', 'Two Worlds', and now 'Dragon Age: Origins' closes this decade on a very exciting note for CRPG and joins the handful of elite 3D CRPG collection from this decade that rivals the golden era of 2D CRPG of 'Baldur's Gate' series, 'Icewind Dale' series, 'Planescape: Torment', 'Fallout', 'Fallout 2', 'Divine Divinity', 'Sacred', and 'Arcanum'. DAO will delight CRPG fans for a long long time.