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Dragon Age: Origins 

This game was released before it was done.

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“Original” is a big, bold word that gets slapped on too many things. In videogames, “original” means “almost identical to a familiar, popular game.” Dragon Age: Origins is an “original” game from BioWare a company that has risen to the top of the role-playing videogame market thanks to releases like Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. They’ve figured out how to take traditional role-playing games which are usually played by a group of people at a table with dice and translate the gameplay to a videogame system which usually involves a TV and antisocial solitude.

{image-240} In the past, BioWare has tried to mix up the sword-and-sorcery formula (by using “The Force” in Star Wars and by setting their last game, Mass Effect, in outer space), but most of BioWare’s games clearly follow the tradition of RPGs. Players chose races, classes and some basic statistics before being sent out into a fantasy world in turmoil.

Humans, elves and dwarves along with warriors, mages and rogues are the options in Dragon Age: Origins. The land of Ferelden is being overrun by dark, evil creatures. Surprised?

The catch is get this each particular race and class comes with a unique beginning story an “origin” for the bigger story of Dragon Age, like many threads weaving together. The mind boggles. It’s a good example of how videogames offer choices. And the desire to see multiple choices marking pivotal pages in a Chose Your Own Adventure book or playing Metroid’s multiple endings will lead us to a deeper appreciation of the game’s storytelling and design. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Like the basic premise, Origins falls apart in the details. The graphics look ancient blocky and flat 3D models. I was reminded of some of the old old-old PC games of Might & Magic. The choices aside from the first, big choices are mostly in the form of dialogue. Magicians grow by rote, acquiring more powerful versions of basic spells, never getting chances to branch out into anything unique. Written dialogue appears onscreen even large screens in menus of little letters that must be read as they hover over wiggling digital marionettes of wizards? Elves? A talking mouse? OK, that’s maybe a little original.

THE GOOD: Combat is customized with a tactical programming system, so strategy gamers should find combat to be a nice hybrid between real-time and turn-based. In any case, the inevitable swordand- sorcery battles are streamlined into the action with automatic healing no more stopping and spending the night at the local village inn. It’s about time that an RPG figured out what shooters have been doing for years.

THE BAD: The sound cuts out. The sound and the dialogue don’t make sense together. The different chunks of dialogue don’t make sense with one another. Menu after menu of dialogue is printed out onscreen, stopping the action. And was that Game freeze. It all interferes with the idea of a living, breathing fantasy world, or even a living, breathing fantasy story. Too many details are left hanging too haphazardly to sustain Dragon Age: Origin’s illusions.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Dragon Age: Origins was released before it was done.

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