Dragon Age: Origins
It was alright. Better than I thought it would be, but not as good as I wish it was. They did a nice enough job fleshing out a completely new setting unrelated to D&D, even though they still put a lot of the old tropes and clichés in it, combined with a little Game of Thrones. The campaign was your average Bioware recipe, from zero to hero, assembling allies along the way and saving the day at the end. And it's very, very long, with several town hubs (which I found a bit boring) and huge dungeons (still fun, most of the time, but time-consuming). Music and voice-acting were good, the graphics were a mixed bag, some cool environments and pretty faces, but also a bit ugly at times, washed out colors and bland looks. Characters were partially fun and partially silly. And apparantly I got into a serious relationship with one companion without ever intending to or noticing it. Bioware's same old cringe-worthy dating sim routine, I guess, nothing new there.
I liked that your get your own origin story intro/tutorial to play through depending on your race, class and/or social standing, and that the game still acknowledges them later on in the game. I played through all of them before choosing which character I wanted to stick with, and it was fun - even though there were some similarities, there was no actual repetition and you actually learned quite different things about the story and setting in each of them. If replayability was always like this, I'd be in for it. Having played through all of these stories now, I have to say though that the balance isn't quite right. Some are definitely more exciting than others and present you with more varied opponents and locations and more opportunities to test the characters' skills than others. Curiously, I found two of the supposedly most popular origin stories to be the weakest of them (human noble, city elf). Another aspect I liked about DA:O is the combat system, at least if you're playing with mages who are really overpowered but offer a lot of tactical variety. In this game, a mage can actually duel a fighter even at low levels and win. There is no resting, no running out of spells, and no permadeath unless your whole party is defeated. Mana regenerates and HP do so as well outside of combat. Some might see this as dumbing down or whatever, I actually thought it made combat more fun and less tedious. So thumbs up for that, but some point deduction for pathfinding issues. I found that in DA:O it's actually harder than in NWN2 to block a doorway with two fighters. Somehow the opponents always kept breaking through, if I didn't stop them with alternative measures (earthquake, paralysis etc.).
And sadly, there were also a few things that seemed good at first but turned out to be somewhat problematic. For one, the camera: You can zoom in and look your characters over the shoulder (figuratively speaking, in truth their back is in the middle of the screen, slightly obsuring the view), moving with WASD and mouse, if you like, or you can completely zoom out into almost top-down view and enter a tactical mode which makes it easier to give orders via mouse clicks. This works quite well when you're travelling or in smaller fights, but as soon as you get into a bigger fight, and worse even when there is higher grounds terrain or high walls and gates etc. getting in the way, things start to get messy. Because you can't really zoom out enough to get a good overview or use tactical view in an angle slightly less top-down which allows you to see enemies that are a bit further away. So all of the sudden I felt like I was playing NWN2 again, constantly having to switch between camera modes, because none of them was really useful, and desperately turning the camera with hopes of finally getting that right angle to place my fireball.
The second positive feature turned negative is the way that lore books and logs and such are handled. Instead of cluttering your inventory, they go straight to your codex journal, sorted by categories. Which is really awesome in theory. And they each have their preset entry space already, so you can store them like collectibles and know when you're still missing something. But that's also part of the problem, because they are displayed as pages with numbers on it, instead of having indexed titles, and on top of that, their categories are inconsistent, too. Sometimes a message you pick up gets sorted into the "quest-related" category, sometimes into "notes" or "books" or whatever, and it isn't always clear why. Worse, you only get a short pop up on the screen telling you that a specific new entry has been added to the codex, and AFAIK it doesn't tell you where that entry was stored or what it's actually called in the codex. So unless you immediately open your codex and check out what's new, you'll soon lose track of all the new numbered, untitled entries, and after a while you'll probably stop bothering and hardly read any of them anymore, like me. Some of them are important for solving puzzles or learning what's going on though, and others are just lore dumps.
And the third surprise then disappointment is that you only have one inventory for all companions and you actually get access to all your companions' skills, talents and equipments screens in camp, which is very helpful, but it's partially underminded by the design that companions are removed from your party in camp, so while you can see their skills and talents, you can't use them. And you can't level up your companions in camp. So let's assume you've found quite a bit of loot and now you're going to your camp to check out which of your companions (including those not in your party right now) can make use of the new items. There is a very nice weapon among them but it has a strength requirement that the companion you'd like to give it to doesn't meet yet. He still has attribute points to distribute from the last level up though. So it's just a matter of giving him the lacking strength now and then equip him with the weapon. Only, you can't do that in camp. You have to leave camp, put him in your party, go somewhere else, distribute points, equip the weapon, then bring him back to camp. Or you have a companion you seldom travel with but who's good at potion making. You can't tell them to make potions in camp, for the same reasons. You have to take them with you first. Very roundabout. And in stores, you can compare items to those of a specific character, even if they're not in the party, which is cool, too. But only ever one character at the same time, and to check another, you need to open a drop down menu first. Also quite roundabout.
I noticed a few bugs, like the occasional wrong soundclip played to a line of dialogue, but all in all it was quite polished. I had fun, and I was a bit bored at times, too. Could have been shorter for my taste, and a bit more original, but the same can be said about almost every AAA RPG. I liked the three integrated DLC quests because they were shorter but well-rounded adventures, and on top of that, one came with a much needed party stash box and another with a cool new companion (if I had known that I would get this companion, I wouldn't have put off playing this particular DLC until I was almost through with the campaign). All the more shameful that these DLCs weren't initially included in the game but cut out to cash in on players. But fortunately there's the Ultimate Edition now. (I wish the same was true for the Mass Effect series or DA2, but that's probably a lost case.) The Ultimate Edition also includes the Awakening expansion and several smaller side story adventures, but after 100+ hours of DA:O, I'm not sure if I'm still in the mood for that now.
I see it more or less on the same level as Neverwinter Nights 2, as far as my interest in story and characters went. Some cool new gameplay ideas (e.g. shapechanging in the Fade, or reinforcements during endgame), some improvements in combat, but similar issues with pathfinding and camera, and some steps back as well (most notably probably the non-customizable UI - the single hotbar hardly offers enough space for a lvl 24 mage).
Post edited March 23, 2017 by Leroux