I don’t play massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMOs) anymore. I’ve tried Eve Online, Age of Conan, and of course Lord Creator World of Warcraft. I’ve watched my friends play and heard them discuss numerous others, and from what I can gather, they all involve two key elements that millions of people confuse with fun: countless hours of grinding and prolonged interaction with players with names like “L33t Mastah Killah” and “IPWNNOOBZ.” WoW‘s marketing department frequently claims, “10 million people can’t be wrong.” I doubt they use that marketing slogan in Germany.
Dragon Age: Origins by Bioware of Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect fame attempts to trump both issues by delivering a single-player role-playing experience with many MMO conventions. After about fifteen hours of play, it shows great promise. Whilte its interface indeed borrows heavily from MMOs and particularly WoW, DA evolves the genre by presenting a mature storyline, believable characters, and a rewarding non-“grindy” quest log in a relatively open world.
The game offers six individual prologues, each about two to three hours in length. As a Dwarven noble warrior, I began as Doshan in the dwarven city of Orzimmar (not Orgrimmar, that’s WoW, you MMOnkey). Although all prologues eventually converge into the main story, Doshan’s experiences in the political tumult of Orzimmar surprised me. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but some of the dwarves, many of whom claim to value honor, turned out to be backstabbing Machiavellian filth. Bastards. There will be blood.
DA‘s dark and bloody main story is one of hubris, greed, and exile. The player eventually joins the Grey Wardens, a small group of warriors, rogues, and mages dedicated to stopping the resurgence of the Blight. The First Blight swarmed over the land after some overly-ambitious mages invaded heaven, corrupting themselves and desecrating it in the process. They returned as the world’s first Dark Spawn and tainted the old Dragon-gods into arch-demons. If it sounds like traditional “Great Evil threatens the world” high fantasy fare, that’s because it is, but the characters are well-acted and well-scripted enough to keep the plot interesting and my mouth has dropped open on several occasions.
I bought DA because of Bioware’s promise of “morally ambiguous” choices, and for the most part I’m satisfied. ME, BG, and many other RPGs typically feature decisions clearly on a good-neutral-evil framework, akin to the following (thank you to Steerpike):
LITTLE GIRL: Help! My kitten fell down the Haunted Well! Will you rescue her?
PLAYER (choose one):
- I’d be happy to help.
- Are you parents rich?
- I will kill you, rape your kitten, and burn your house down.
Bioware promised something meatier with more shades of gray, and it has so far delivered. As Doshan, my younger brother warned me of my older brother’s plan to kill me as I was a perceived threat to his ascendancy to the throne. DA’s dialogue choices did not disappoint. Do I strike first? Do I wait and see? Am I infuriated by his betrayal or saddened by it? Do I even believe my younger brother? Do I tell Father? Even if though these options probably don’t have a tremendous effect on the plot, they create an immersive role playing experience formerly provided only by table-top RPGs.
When I’m not talking to people or selling loot, I’m questing and fighting. The quests are varied, interesting, and usually integral to the plot. Some have more than one possible outcome and the “right” choice is not always so clear. Aside from the story, the combat system forms the heart of the game. Anyone familiar with Baldur’s Gate or World of Warcraft will ease right in; the uninitiated will find the interface intuitive and easy. I’m playing on hard difficulty and I found that when the tutorial warned I will frequently need to pause the game to issue orders to my characters, it really, really, wasn’t kidding. Some players may favor the easy or normal setting for a less threatening world, and DA even provides a tactical menu to assign a variety of preset orders to each character such as “Heal anyone below 50% health,” “Cast Lightning Bolt at target with less than 30% health,” or “Target main character’s target.” I had little luck with the tactical menu and chose to disable it as I enjoy the tactical challenge of battle micromanagement; I suspect the BioWare didn’t intend for it to perform well against hard difficulty anyway.
Players can use up to three non-player characters (NPCs) and their main hero. More become available as the party progresses, forcing the player to decide which combination of rogues, mages, and warriors to use. Each class contains several sub-variations and possible skillsets. When adventuring, these NPCs converse with each other and they do not always get along. Furthermore, my actions and dialogue choices sometimes raise or deplete each NPC’s opinion toward me; NPCs with high favor receive bonuses and vice versa. My witch-mage doesn’t particularly care for me as I’m prone to general acts of kindness (but not mercy…never mercy), and my fellow Grey Warden companion endlessly squabbles with her. BioWare included the option to give gifts to other party members as a way to increase favor, and gifts like vintage alcohol, rings, and more esoteric items will ingratiate NPCs, although each has his or her own tastes and these preferences are only revealed in in-depth conversations with them.
So if it’s not apparent, I love this game and I expect to lose more than a little sleep in the coming weeks. It’s so good, in fact, that I played most of those fifteen hours without sound because the game crashed to desktop whenever I tried to activate the audio. Fortunately, this issue was resolved by the latest patch. Now I just need to finish this one before my PS3 arrives for Christmas and distracts me with Demon’s Souls.
The “shades of gray” only get muddier as the game progresses. My female city elf has invested so much into knowing and interacting with these characters that some of the “morally ambiguous” choices have left me staring at the screen for 10 minutes while I agonize over the pros & cons of either choice.
Once I figured out the tactical menu, it worked well for me. But then, I’m a combat weenie and have been playing on either normal or casual (which isn’t as easy as you’d think). There were only a few occasions where I’d have to intercede on someone’s behalf… like at the beginning when I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. 😀 I love the interactions between my companions as it provides a constant source of entertainment.
After almost 70 hours, I’m closing in on the end. I fear my decisions may have doomed us all.
And in case, you can’t tell, I’m completely in love with this game. I may have to play all the other origin stories.
I just started this game a few weeks ago and echo the same sentiments. It’s been a ton of fun so far and I look forward to playing it during the very little free time I get.
The banter between the characters is very amusing. Even the banter between Morrigan and my dog had me chuckling.
I’m only a few hours into the game, and have been playing pretty slowly, so there’s a LOT more to do. I look forward to it.
I, too, am a combat weenie, though have been micro-managing throughout.
I too just started and haven’t had the chance to dig as deep as Toger or Jason – but I am impressed with what I see. Like all new RPGs it’s a little overwhelming at first, learning the system, juggling the inventory, etc.; but like all RPGs over time you sort of ease into it and develop a comfort level. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more hours with this game, but Dragon God does beckon.
This game just gets better and better. I had a list of dialogue options so intense that I had to stop playing for about 15 minutes and think about what my character would do. I haven’t had this awesome of an experience playing an RPG since KOTOR.
I have to fight a large creature at the top of a tower in order to light a beacon. Twice now my entire party except the damned dog has been wiped out, leaving it to the canine to finish the battle and revive the wounded. Good thing this animal knows how to use health poultices.
35 hours in over here and I am pretty satisfied. This is hardly any kind of revolution in RPGs, because it’s basically stretching the Baldur’s Gate model as far as it’ll go, but it’s well designed nonetheless. Much better than Mass Effect in my humble opinion. The ethical part of it, well, they took what Chris Avellone did for KOTOR2 and tried to made it more complex. It IS intriguing, but so far I’d say that Avellone made it more effective. Still, this is clearly GOTY material.
The revolution stems from the moral dilemmas more than the general game play. I’ve agonized over decisions and it’s made me want to replay this game later to assess their impact on the storyline.
I love that dog!
That extra-large Ogre in the tower actually made me use tactics for the first time. Up until that point, I’d just depended on hack ‘n slash.
I’ve encountered the “Sophie’s Choice” of decisions and it’s haunting me.
And why the hell aren’t you guys chronicling your adventures in the Bollocks thread with Pokey and I? We want progress reports!
Yeah, in some cases, there apparently isn’t a “good” choice. I mean, in same cases, people WILL have to die. Fine with me, mind you. As previously stated, I don’t think the game is actually revolutionising ethical choices in game design, but it’s nice to see some of the consequences stretching further than just “you get less XP” or “you get less items”.
I just keep starting and restarting this game. Well my gaming computer just had a reformat so there is that. Still, I have what I think of as the “Yaps”, in honor of Yappette. Can’t settle on a character early on. I trashed my male noble as the whole family setup gave me the creeps and tried a male dwarf noble. No go. I shifted to a female dwarf noble and dropped her. Now I’m a male woods elf which seems okay. At least I’m not in a damn castle. I don’t know why Bioware makes me grouchy. They always have.
Anyway, I’m going to let this last character have a run at it and hope for the best.
I’ll be over in Bollocks once I have something to actually report.
We look like a more popular site with lots of comments. 😉
I did consider running a DA blog, but I have finite gaming time and I’m too hedonistic to sacrifice it to write such a thing. Terrible, I know.
Jason, I think it’s fair to say that we here at T-R use the bollocks threads as blogs… or cautionary tales… depends how you look at it. 😀
Has anyone else encountered some technical difficulties while playing? I thought the patch had resolved my issue, but my game crashes to desktop in cities like Denerim and others. I disabled frame buffering and lowered all graphical settings to minimum to resolve this issue. The game appears stable, and I have restored most of the graphics settings, but I’m hoping the next patch fixes this game.
I had a spontaneous reboot while playing last night, but aside from that the game has been a stable performer to me. I’m sorry to hear you’re still having trouble, I’d hoped that 1.2 patch would fix things for you. Any luck on Bioware forums?
The graphic-nerfing was from the forums. I’m running everything at max except for the disabled frame buffer and Anti-aliasing. I can’t really tell the difference–at least I have sound and a stable game.