Reviewed by KW Low
Available for the Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC
Rated M for Mature
Published by EA Games
Bioware is known for one thing: solid RPG’s. After creating hits like Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age takes them back to their roots when they made games based on the Dungeon & Dragons license. No spaceships, no kung-fu warriors, Dragon Age is all about axes, mages, and, well, dragons.
The story is fairly simple: in a world (yes, I just went there) plagued by ‘darkspawn’ that raid the land every few hundred years, a band of dedicated warriors called Grey Wardens stand against the horde. When the reigning king of Ferelden is killed by treachery along with almost all of the Wardens, you and one other survivor are left to rally nations against the Blight of Darkspawn while also bringing the traitor to justice.
I’m not going to lie, the basic plot is fantasy RPG boilerplate. However, Bioware being who they are, it’s not that simple. Each character race/class you choose has a different origin story (hence the subtitle). The ‘city elf‘ lives in the slums of the nation’s capital, and suffers tragedy at the hands of the human in charge of the slum. Their subsequent revenge leads them to join the Wardens. The ‘human noble‘ has his family slaughtered and his lands stolen by a jealous rival, leaving him without a home but with a mind for payback, leading him to join the Wardens. And so on, across nine different origin stories.
The story lives up to Bioware’s usual standards. Characters, even minor ‘you’ll never use these guys in your party‘ ones, are imbued with completely fleshed out personalities and background stories. Yes, history repeats itself and you have the option to engage in romances with four of your possible companions, both hetero and homosexual for each gender.
One major change here from Bioware’s past is the lack of a black and white morality engine. Bioware pioneered that kind of choice and it’s dramatic alteration of where a story goes and ends, but the choices here are hardly black and white. There are choices to be made, but they are entirely gray in nature. In more than one case, a decision I made that I believed was ‘good‘ lead the people I thought I was helping into chaos and misery. Sometimes a just ruler is not the best ruler, apparently. While some of these choices can alter the ending of the tale, many do not … they simply alter the course of it and the fates of some of those you meet. Honestly, I appreciated this more than the simple ‘hmm, am I a Jedi or a Sith’ type of choices Bioware has offered in the past. The game plays out like a rich fantasy novel.
The biggest surprise for me was that this game isn’t innovative in the slightest. The multiple origin stories are a minor innovation, but compared to many of Bioware’s titles this comes as a bit of a surprise. What we have is a very solid, traditional fantasy RPG. This isn’t a bad thing, as it’s the best traditional fantasy RPG in years.
You may be asking, why the hell are we covering this on DC? Simple: Dragon Age has a great deal of horror, compared to most fantasy RPG’s. The Darkspawn are your traditional orc-like horde of evil, but much of the game is spent dealing with the demonic forces behind them. Demons and zombies are all over this game. There’s also a mission set in a haunted orphanage that contains some fantastic chills. Mass slaughters, madness, blood sacrifices … this is not The Lord of the Rings.
If you hate RPG’s, this won’t change your mind. If you’ve ever enjoyed a fantasy RPG, this is a great trip through a brand new world filled with carnage and mayhem.
4 out of 5
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