Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First impressions of Dragon Age: Origins

I have to admit something.  When I got back from Bulgaria, I didn’t immediately dive back into Eve Online.  Instead, I decided to check out a single-player RPG that I’ve heard a lot about, Dragon Age: Origins.  And so far the hype is justified.

I don’t call this a review, but I have played for 40 hours now and I think I may have some valid opinions on the game.  Just don’t ask me about warriors; I rolled a rogue to begin with, got discouraged at level 7 due to a choice I made, and then rolled a mage.  Knowing what I know now, I might either go back to a saved game with my rogue or start fresh with a new rogue.  Just remember, “Save Game” is your friend.

So here are my impressions so far.

Character creation:  For players of MMOs like EverQuest 2 or Vanguard, the character creation is pretty standard, although you cannot alter your body like you can in Vanguard.  I do have to say that I like the results I got in Dragon Age better than what I was able to produce in Fallout 3.  For my mage, if I had chosen a different hair-style, she would have looked just like my ranger in EverQuest 2.

Classes:  I like the class system in Dragon Age so far.  There are three basic classes: warrior, rogue and mage.  Within each class are 4 specializations, one of which you can learn at level 7 and another at level 14.  Unlocking a specialization is another story.  Some are learned from the NPC companions.  Some can be purchased in the capital.  And the arcane warrior specialization for mages I stumbled into while searching around a castle.

The party system:  Dragon Age allows the player to control up to 4 characters in a party. To aid in combat, you can script the actions of the NPCs in your party in a fairly simple interface.  I call it simple, but I’m still having some difficulty in getting the NPC rogue to use a bow properly.  Fortunately, I can take direct control of NPCs during battle to override the scripting.

One thing that I had to learn with the party system is that combat is not real time like in an MMO.  I can pause the action at any time using the space bar to not only cycle through the party members but to speed up my casting rotation.  I can also pause to find that pesky mage attacking me.  I've learned that mages are dangerous.  I can live with archers plinking away, but if I have a chance I'll try to target a mage with as much ranged dps as possible.

Another nice feature is that once a player collects more than 3 NPCs, called “companions”, the extra NPCs are not banished, never to be available again.  Instead, just leave them in camp and mix and match at need.  Then go back to camp to interact with them.  That leads to…

Actual role-playing:  I’ve played MMORPGs for years now, but I’ve never really seen role-play built into the story lines.  If you want to gain favor with someone, most times killing 1000 orcs will suffice, unless you need to kill 5000.  In Dragon Age, the player’s actions and words actually influence people.  What a concept!

Another thing about Dragon Age is players actually are expected to pay attention to the game.  I’m so used to playing MMOs where I can always go back to the chat logs or quest text to figure out all the clues that it was a bit of a shock to discover I missed something and couldn’t hear it again.  Needless to say, at that point I turned the television off.  I really don’t want some of these companions mad at me unless it is on purpose.

The holy trinity:  Yes, Dragon Age isn’t an MMO, but still follows the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps.  And if you want to add crowd control, the game provides that as well.  The game provides all three in the form of companions, but unless you want to be a spirit healer, make sure you head over to Lake Calenhad Docks and The Circle Tower after you are finished in Lothering.  You really, really need a healer in this game.  But if you are a spirit healer yourself, I think you are free to jump off the rails and go in any direction you want.  Just be warned that all actions have consequences.

The story:  The story of Dragon Age is really what hooked me into playing so much.  Or perhaps I should say the method of delivery of the story.  I absolutely love the cut-scenes.  I love the way my character (with all of my appearance choices) appears in the cut-scenes.  The game feels more like a novel or a good movie more than anything else.  And it is an interactive movie where the choices I make influence the story.  Yes, I checked.  Remember, “Save Game” is your friend.

Another part of the story is the background of the elves.  In how many fantasy worlds do you find elves as emerging from slavery under humans and confined to a ghetto when they are not acting as servants to those same humans?  Definitely not something I’m used to in a fantasy setting.

Oh, and humans?  If I want to play a louse, I’ll go ahead and play a human.  No one would notice because I would fit right in.  Actually, I think I’ll play a human once just to see if the scenes are slightly different when viewed as a human or an elf.  Maybe they really aren’t as bad as they appear.  But those human nobles I’ve run across so far don’t impress me at all, at least in a positive way.

Maybe the best thing I can say about Dragon Age is that the game is really different depending on the choices a player makes.  I was talking to a friend at work yesterday about the game and we have had two different experiences based on the races, classes and genders that we chose and the path we took when leaving Lothering.  Isn’t that what is supposed to happen in a role-playing game?

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