(I meant to publish this a couple weeks back. Oops! So let me publish this now, and then maybe in the next week I’ll possibly write up one more since I’m nearing completion of my second go-around and have completed all of the origin stories. Some things have definitely changed based on this experience, and I think I’ll have my last review as a response to all my prior posts. But anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Going back in time to when I had just finished my first play through…)
I recently finished my first play-through of Dragon Age: Origins. *spoilers, spoilers, spoilers* The final stats? 56 hour and twenty minutes. 94% of the world visited. 62% of the game completed. I’m a little surprised at each of the three totals.
- I tried to do absolutely everything, so I thought the game might take longer than it did — not that I am at all disappointed in a 56-hour adventure. It’s just that I’ve heard some people went over 100 hours, and I don’t see how I could have expanded my game out by an extra 44+ hours.
- That I stepped foot in 94% of the world surprises me a little bit. That means I probably missed three-to-five maps. Again, I thought I was pretty thorough so I’m not sure what I missed. Maybe small, inconsequential maps. Maybe something more significant entirely.
- 62% completion surprises me a little, but not as much. I have several origin stories to complete. And then there are a lot of forks in the road in Dragon Age, and I’m assuming that going right where I previously went left will probably get me into the mid-90s. From there, it’s just the matter of picking up a few little things I’ve missed here and there.
By now, you can probably safely assume, even if you haven’t read any of my prior posts, that I enjoyed the game. No one plays a game to completion and then starts wondering what he missed and strategizing how to best go about finding those missing threads. Well, you would be correct. I really enjoyed the game. There’s something to be said for a game that can get so many things wrong and, overall, still be so right. And speaking of wrong, I’ve probably gone on too much already, but there are a few things I want to stress.
- In the final battle of the game, you’re facing off against the arch-demon — a gigantic dragon, theoretically the most powerful creature in the game. And? I played on the hard difficulty and found myself coasting through the fight without a hitch for a good ten minutes — until a few minor grunts and demons clambered out onto the battle field and promptly wiped my party. I re-loaded my save and easily coasted to the same progression. This time, though, I had my group better situated and waiting for the ambush. And? I was annihilated, again. How disappointing. And frustrating. And a waste of time. Ask anyone who’s played the game and they’ll tell you that the difficulty is unbalanced throughout. How you design your character, combined with random luck, really determines whether you blow through an encounter easily or have to re-load a bunch. This is just one of countless examples.
- The auto-saves were always disappointing, only protecting you about half of the time you hoped that they would protect you. And one area in Fort Drakon actually broke a BioWare rule that you never transition to a new map and have the player immediately immersed in (difficult) combat (and no aut0-save to help you out, either — meaning when you die, you have to re-load to the prior map, then transition to the new map just to try the fight again).
- You play the game to learn how to play the game. This is a constant rejoinder. For example, near the end of the game your group is split into two and you’re forced to play as different characters than you have all game long. To that point, I had exclusively played as the mage — so now, after 50-some hours, I suddenly had to play as a warrior without knowing any of the abilities of the warrior. I’m certain I played pretty poorly. But my next game will be as a warrior, so when I have to trade off to play as the mage I’ll be ready.
- Then there were the occasional bugs. Fortunately, none of them were ever too big a deal. That is, there are very few game-breaking bugs (I never came across any, most never will, but I’ve read the reports to know they exist). For instance, in Fort Drakon there are two generals you can fight to make the final fight easier. You only have to do one. I chose to do both. After completing the kill of the second general, I proceeded to the final area — where my journal updated to tell me that it’s likely I’ll see the first general in the final fight since I ignored him.
- Then there was the time where Zevran introduced himself to me after I’d progressed through his entire back story — and slept with him. Zevran must be particularly forgetful, because tens of hours after I told him I was with Leliana (delivering me a -18 penalty to how much Zevran liked me), he asked me if I was with Leliana. Yes, Zevran. I told you that already. So we’re done, he asked me? We never were, I responded. Another -18. Good thing I had some shiny trinkets left over for him. There were creatures who died in mid-air and quests that became blocked but were never cleared from the journal, rewards not given, abilities implemented improperly, exploits, etc. All minor, but revealing a lack of perfect polish.
I could go on. But I’m afraid I’ll just repeat myself and everyone else who has pointed out the substantial flaws to the game. But that’s the funny thing. There are tons of reviews decrying every flaw in the game, but the game is so fun that we keep playing. I’ve not yet read one review where someone wrote that they love RPGs but this game is so awful it isn’t worth playing. More common are the reviews like mine, where people say wow, this could have been so much better — but it’s still damned good. And it is.
So what makes it so good?
For one, I enjoy the combat. There’s not so much of a strategy to combat as there is a strategy to character building. That is, how you evolve your character determines how the fighting goes. Fighting, in a sense, is a place to challenge your level-up decisions. And I really like that. Yeah, the talent trees are thin and there’s not a lot of rock-scissors-paper to the spells and fighting, but it’s still enjoyable to grow in power and figure out new techniques.
For another, I enjoy the quests. There’s some good depth to them. At the upper-most level, the story is pretty straight-forward and typical. There’s a big evil coming. Go kill it. The end. But the details to getting there are much better. For example, in Orzamar (the dwarven city, if I’m spelling it incorrectly) there are two factions vying for election to King. There’s the nice guy who is all about compromise and respecting everyone and ruling diplomatically, and then there’s the jerk who will do whatever it takes to make sure the kingdom moves in the direction he thinks is best. As we learn from the epilogue, get the nice guy elected and things do not go well. I love stuff like that.
And then there’s the comment on just how much there is to do. What a big game. Despite being as thorough as possible and beating the game, I still have things to do. First are the origin stories. From there, the achievements have somewhat guided me. I want to deliver a hit of more than 250 damage. I want to follow Alistair’s story to his romance. I want to sacrifice myself and Alistair at the end. And side with Loghain, and Oghren’s lover, and the dragon the cult worships, and so on — all the more selfish/”evil” routes through quests. I want to try using different henchmen since I ignored everyone but Alistair, Wynne, and Leliana the first time, and I want to find out all their back stories and interactions. I want to try out playing as a warrior and playing as a rogue. Shoot, I want to try a mage again to see how the other spells work. I think I’ll look for some fan-posted character builds (best defensive warrior, highest damage-dealing rogue, etc.) to see what other people are doing, and see how that changes things for me.
I’ve said before that I think a game is generally as enjoyable as its main mechanics. In DA, you spend most of your time talking, fighting, and improving your character (gaining levels and loot). And I think BioWare made sure that these three things, within the context of a ton of quests, were all fun. So while there is room for improvement, a good foundation has definitely been established.