Sunday, October 22, 2000

Dragon Age: Origins PC | 9.5

Dragon Age: Origins could nearly be considered two games, the one for the PC and the one for the Xbox / PS3. Unlike other titles such as Mass Effect, Bioshock or Halo, the computer version of Dragon Age offers a unique and different experience than the consoles. Either version is likely to be considered one of the top ten games of the year as this RPG is more accessible to the masses than titles like Oblivion or Fallout 3 but just as rewarding and challenging to the hard-core RPG player.

On the PC Dragon Age can look and feel similar to Diablo or Neverwinter Knights, but the structure more Mass Effect (another Bioware title) in fact, players of Mass Effect will find that this is very much that game set in a time a 1000 years earlier. The movement for example, for fans of games such as Final Fantasy or The Witcher, it may be off-putting to not have a world to wonder freely, for this game, like Mass Effect, gives you destinations on a map which you travel to while the area is loading, but you can't simply go walking about outside of each area. But, don't let that get you down, because each area will cost you plenty of hours, and hours, and hours. This game is huge.
The PC version gives you the option of a top-down view, the characters become very small and graphically it now looks like Diablo, you have hordes swarming you, you can pause, direct your four players one command at a time and then watch them carry it out. Although some crave this level of control and strategy, others of us who want to finish the 100+ hours of exploring and side quest can find it daunting. The PC does offer an "easy" level for those of us who do our battling in real time, but be warned, only the strong survive and easy is not so easy.

PC or Console, Dragon Age will force you to talk to everyone and finish a vast amount of side quest or suffer defeat after defeat after defeat in battle. Why? Because there's no world map to go out and level-up on! You have to get levels up completing side quest and get better weapons and armor through exploration and selling-off what you find but don't want. You'll also find that you have to talk people into joining the battle or when attacks come your small team will have not-enough-help and little things like clicking on some barrels to find out there's oil in them can later translate into a knight on the battle field you tell about the oil creating a massive fire barrier the enemy has to get through to attack. That's how this game works.

Dragon age also gives you 6 possible origin stories depending on who you play as and how you customize them. The origin stories give you about two hours of different locations and plots before the game congeals into the basic monster that it is. Eventually who you are and where you came from are not that important, you're a Gray Warden and that's that, but early on it does make a difference. Now, just like in The Witcher, what you say and if you can convince people of certain things drastically changes outcomes. You want to save before important conversations as you may need to try over and over until you get the outcome you want. It also changes the way your party sees you, loyalties may falter, comrades may just leave if they don't like you, since some are honest and forthright, others are thieves or murders you've recruited -- and it is possible to completely miss party members along the way and never recruit them! -- so you really need to take a middle-of-the road approach keeping everyone happy some of the time if you want them to all stay.
So PC Vs Console? Well, both if you can. The PC has superior graphics. The XBOX is grainy and weak, the PS3 better but the PC is awesome -- if yours can handle it. My rig is an Intel Core 2 Quad QX9550 @ 2.8 GHZ per core (12 MB L2 cache), 8 Gig DDR2, Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition card in 16X PCI-E Slots and I run the game at 100% graphics at 1400X900 16:10 resolution with 60fps and no drops. The graphics are full, lush and you never see them render, it gives me full distance at full quality all the time.

My PS3 version looks like the PC graphics set at all Medium Quality. Grass is constantly growing before me as I move, the images are sharp and a little flat, not natural and well shaded like the PC, the distance view is never any further than your feet. Considering how amazing Final Fantasy XIII looks, this is a major let-down.

However, playing on a console does have its advantages. Unlike the PC version, the console has no-drop-down view so tactical pausing isn't really desirable, though you can do it. However, it compensates with auto-targeting allowing a faster, if more hack-and-slash, playing model.

In Conclusion, if you are playing more for story and exploration and want battles a bit simplified and less daunting, then the PS3 version is the best, and easiest way to view on a large screen as well. However, the PC offers vastly improved graphics (for the mid to high-end PC -- see my specs above) and a top-down view that pause-and-play gamers will want. There's also the option, if you can afford it, of doing both, I'm playing a game simultaneously on PC and PS3 and the experience is varied enough that I enjoy both -- though I only paid for the PS3 add-ons.
Dragon Age: Origins is a MUST HAVE for RPG gamers, this is up there with the best Final Fantasy, The Witcher, Mass Effect, and for those of us who still remember the NES games, this is like those, on steroids.

Just a few comments. Both the PC and especially the PS3 have unreasonable loading times. Some areas on the PS3 stop and load at every door. On the PC, with 8 gigs of ram, 2 gigs of video ram and a quad-core processor there shouldn't be so much loading either.

I also recommend turning off "persistent gore" as the game is just as violent, except every battle doesn't leave everyone covered in unreasonable splatter until the next battle. I played on the latest patch (v1.04) upon writing this.

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