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Dragon Age Origins final thoughts

Posted by nfinit on December 14, 2009

So I’m pretty much done with Dragon Age: Origins– and by “done” I mean “I beat the game and instantly re-rolled as and evil elf bitch”  but I finished the game, so that counts for something and at least now I can write credibly about the endgame.

And yeah, it’s still probably my Game of the Year, but I’m probably not playing Assassin’s Creed II this year and don’t have access to a PS2, so take that for what you will– in the absence of DA:O the honors would probably fall to Arkham Asylum.  That said, as much as I enjoyed the game and was obsessed by it enough to spend 70 hours finishing it only to re-roll the moment credits were over,  Dragon Age is typical for Bioware’s recent stuff in that it sort of falls apart at the end.

Whether that’s because the middle of the game has so much content that I was burned out at the end is hard to say; but DA:O does have that unique Bioware quality in that at the very end the game simply runs out of content.  You can’t even grind for levels or gold because once you beat an enemy it doesn’t respawn. Enemies are a precious recourse that are depleted as the game progresses.  So you wind up with a world that’s gradually emptied of things to do as you travel through it.  Vast swaths of the countryside are rendered barren wasteland; dungeons lay empty as tombs, enemy fortresses sit abandoned and still.  And while that’s cool form a realism standpoint, it does mean that after a while you simply run out of stuff to do.  You cant’ go back and level, you can’t farm for gold.  This has the result of there only being enough money to buy at most one or two of the most powerful storebought items, and that there’s a hard level cap of about 20– there’s simply not enough exp to go around to give you any more than that.

The deserted ruins of Haven township-- Or as I like to call it "Levels 12-13"

As a result, as the game draws to a close things gradually become quite boring.  It’s not so much that you finally feel ready for the final battle, it’s that the final battle is the only thing left to do.  Which is all rather disappointing as Dragon Age Origins combat is quite possibly the best combat I’ve experienced in a western-developed RPG.  I actually scoured the countryside looking for more people to fight, something I almost never do in RPGs– years of putting up with random battles in Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy have caused me to instinctively dread RPG combat.  DA:O’s combat is so good I find myself regretting owning the 360 version for lack of player-made custom campaigns.

That said, DA:O combat brings with it some very typical Bioware shortcomings, namely the boss fights.  Bioware has this bad habit of creating boss fights that go one of two ways:  Eitehr the Big Bad utterly stomps your crew at the beginning of the fight and offer no chance to recover or the fights turns out to be a complete cakewalk who’s outcome is obvious within the opening rounds of the conflict.  Usually these two extremes happen during the same fight, success or failure  depending entirely upon the whims of the initial dice roll.  DA:O is no stranger to this, I cannot remember how many times I’ve reloaded a seemingly impossible fight a half dozen times over only to have everything suddenly “click” the next time through and the boss offer no challenge whatsoever.  Fans of the original Mass Effect will be quite familiar with this phenomenon, as it could randomly render the Matriarch Benenzia fight either soul-crushingly difficult or so simple you wondered why Saren would bother hooking up with her in the first place.


The climax of DA:O is particularly dickish in a way that even improves on Bioware’s high standards of brutality; an encounter with an enormous undead dragon that starts perfectly normally, albiet savagely difficult and seemingly impossible at the start until you finally get your bearings.   However this time that fateful dice roll takes place roughly halfway through the battle as the dragon flies to an inaccessible position and calls in it’s own army to annihilate your crew.  If the dice work in your favor then your own army is stout enough to hold back the horde as you man the siege engines to finish killing the dragon– if not, then your team and your own backup army is steamrolled in a matter of moments, rendering everything you’d done previously in that battle meaningless.

Oh, it also glitches out randomly.  So there’s that.  Finally I gave in and set the game to “casual” difficulty for the final encounter and defeated the dragon in an utterly unconvincing fashion as she sort of just stood there and received and endless supply of scorpion bolts to her immense scaly head.  Luckily there’s no achievements for completing the game on higher difficulty settings, so you’re free to wuss out on any battle you so please– that said, it’s an inelegant kludge of a solution to a problem that’s haunted Bioware’s games ever since the first wizard ambush way back in Baldur’s Gate 1.

Pissing and moaning aside, there’s a lot of things Dragon Age Origins does right that bodes well for Mass Effect 2.  As I said, combat is good as it’s ever been, albeit with the caveat that ME2’s combat is apparently much closer to a real-time 3rd person shooter than to Baldur’s Gate.  The dialog is outstanding as always, and most promisingly of all there is not a single goddamned Tower of Hanoi puzzle to be found.


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