Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition (Xbox 360)

So, I think it's about the time I finally sum up my thoughts about Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition, which contains both critically acclaimed Dragon Age: Origins (86 on Metacritic for X360, 91 for PC) and its add-on Dragon Age: Awakening as well as all the DLC released for the games. Made by BioWare, you can pretty much predict which kind of games they are - party-based story-driven RPGs. The PC would've obviously been the much better platform for these games, but due to lack of good PC at the time, I went with X360 version, so let's start our journey to Thedas.


As said above, this being a BioWare-game, it's more than natural that the game is party-based and somewhat tactical RPG. Dragon Age: Origins was touted to be a return to the old-school tactical RPGs, and I'd say it manages to do it rather well, although the character classes could've been balanced far better - it's not too uncommon to have a mage that can tank better than a fighter, takes absolutely no damage and can pretty much one-shot most of the enemies with one well-placed Area of Effect-spell.

There are three character classes (warrior, rogue, mage) in the game, as well as three races (humans, elves, dwarves). Every race can be of any class (except dwarves, who can't be mages), and every class has four specializations from which two can be picked in Origins. Awakening adds two more specializations to each class, and characters get to pick two more specializations by the end of the expansion.

There are lots of nice stuff hidden in the game, which you might not notice at first, such as if you are able to freeze an enemy, there are certain spells that, when casted upon frozen enemy, will kill him instantly. This can also be achieved by warrior and rogue scoring a critical hit on the said enemy. Things like these (known as spell combinations) are very nice depth-adders.

Origins also has a very nice thing, called Origins (*gasp!*), which are determined by your character's race and class. Mages only have a Magi-origin, but otherwise every race has two possible Origins from which you can choose. These serve as an introduction to the world and setting in general, and also as a tutorial. Very nice idea and execution also.

I have to go back to balance, though - if you are playing on Normal, the game will probably become way too easy if you play with two or three mages in your party, because Mages are Thedas-equivalents to heavily armed Panzerkampfwagens. I've heard that the PC version is a bit harder, and as such things might be a bit different, but on consoles Normal is way too often too easy.

On consoles, there is only one camera angle, behind your character, whereas on PC you also have isometric view. It's a shame that it isn't on consoles too, because it would've helped greatly in some fights, when getting an image of what is going on is very hard. Anyway, it's not too bad on Normal difficulty, but it's still a shame.


The plot, to be honest, isn't really great. It's pretty generic "collect an army and defeat the ancient evil". However, the small details that have been placed in the rather generic setting are what make the game far better than it would otherwise be. The world includes anything you'd expect from a generic fantasy setting - elves live in forests, humans in cities and town, dwarves live in the mountains and underground. Awakening actually has, in my opinion, more interesting story than than Origins, because of sentient Darkspawn, smaller scale of map and interestingly varied locations (you can actually see the sea!).

The story, in it's basis is, that you become a Grey Warden, either by volunteering to them or being recruited. As a Grey Warden, your mission is to protect Thedas from the orc- I mean the Darkspawn, and kill the Archdemon which leads Darkspawn hordes during Blights. During a big battle shit hits a fan, a treason happens and most of the Grey Wardens are killed - except you and Alistair. From this point on the world opens to you (through hubs, there isn't free roaming like in The Elder Scrolls), and you are free to do main and side quests as you see fit. The main quest series is rather boring, but most of the side quests (when they aren't "Kill X enemies of type Y" or "find me X items Y"-type) are very nice and add lots of depth. The main quest series include the two most boring segments I've ever had the displeasure to play through - The Fade and The Deep Roads. Both of them suffer from the same fault - they are far too long, with far too little interesting to do and both have too much combat without any real meaning. At least on PC, you can mod so that you can skip The Fade, I guess you can even skip The Deep Roads.

There are some choices every now and then to make, which should influence the outcome of the story - except they really don't, and even the touted "grey and grey" morality is really lacking, except for a few points where it's actually pretty brilliantly executed, and at few points you can actually lose your party members permanently. In the grander scheme of things, most of your choices bear little to no influence in the story. Still, when it does, it's very nice. And as you finish either the game or the add-on Awakening, there is a recap of what you did and how it influenced the world.


Game's visual style drives towards realistic style, and I think it manages to do it pretty nicely, and the game looks good even on X360. The colour scheme, however, could use a bit of brush-up and more colours, as most of the world is pretty brown, which makes most of the game such a boring thing. The forest, however, is green and I actually think it's one of the best parts of the game. Not much else to say.


So, I've played Origins through three times and Awakening once, as well every DLC. Most of the DLC is rather worthless, around one or two hours of hacking away enemies, though Soldier's Peak and The Stone Prisoner (which comes[came?] for free with new copies of the game) are the best ones, Soldier's Peak including some actual story and Stone Prisoner including the golem-companion Shale.

Dragon Age isn't a game I play for the story, as it is quite boring. It isn't for the effects of your choices either, as they don't come even close to Witcher's effects. It isn't for your companions, who are for the most part quite one-sided and boring. No, I play it for trying different builds and just having a good time smacking enemies around while testing my tactical thinking. If you like RPGs because of story and world instead of tactics, you can get a one fun run through the game, but I doubt you'll come back for another.

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