My plans for a midnight pick up didn’t quite work out but I was able to snag my copy this morning, just before noon. I eagerly brought it home, applied my codes and downloaded the included bonus content. I even decided to spring for the Warden’s Keep DLC.
It’s worth noting that, even though the content itself is only 560 Microsoft Points (about $7), points begin in increments of 500. So, to get the $7 content, I had to pay $13. Still, that’s Microsoft trick and nothing to hold against the game.
After that, I spent the next 20 minutes making my first character, a Dwarf Commoner. I went with this origin because, well, I have a soft spot for dwarves. I won’t spoil anything but dwarves in this universe are a lot more bigoted than in other games. There’s a rigid caste system and, before the end, you work your way out of it to become a Gray Warden.
I found this introduction to a lot of fun. The storyline was interesting and sometimes it paid off to revisit people I’d already spoken to. New dialogue trees will open up based on your interactions with other NPCs. I have to note, though, that you’ll spend the first couple hours of going through dialogue with very, very little action. You can skip most of the dialogue but if you plan on dodging the story, well, I’d have to suggest moving to another game. Dragon Age is all about the narrative but I’ll
get into that a little bit more soon.
Let’s get right into what I thought about specific aspects of game play.
Combat in Dragon Age can be a little daunting to a new player. There’s very little in the way of a tutorial, so I kept my game manual nearby to answer any immediate questions I had. For this version, combat is controlled by mapping up to six abilities to your color keys with an RT modifier. It’s a little limiting, so you’ll probably do a lot through the radial menu opened using the LT key. From this menu, you access everything from your inventory to your talents.
While this menu is open, combat is paused and you can freely move between the different members of your party and select their next combat action. For your average fight, however, this won’t be necessary as NPC party members come pre-loaded with some basic “tactics” that tell them how to respond to certain situations in a fight. These are fully programmable, so you can customize everything they do.
Before getting the Xbox version, I’d watched a lot of videos from its PC counterpart. I can tell you without a doubt that the controller layout is far more cumbersome and clunky. It does, however, work and, after a little time, it becomes a fairly fluid system.
As I played, I was reminded of Neverwinter Nights more than KotOR, not only thematically, but the radial menu is almost identical. Combat reminds me a lot of the game as well, although I’ll admit I didn’t spend too much time playing it.
Like KotOR, you can queue up the next action for every party member. Unlike it, you’re limited to a single skill. At first, I didn’t really care for this because I like to plan ahead for non-main characters and focus my attention on the players I care about the most. Yet, the tactics makes up for it in many ways. Still, it’d be nice if you could queue up more than a single action. As it stands now, it’s a lot more micro-managy as you pause-and-play through combat. Like the menu system, it becomes more fluid the more you use it.
The story really begins to pick up once you’re in the main game. There’s more combat and you can really start to see how your choices may come back to haunt (or help) you later. For example, I took a quest to find and herb to help a darkspawn tainted dog but, after I returned it, had the option to kill it. I didn’t and the quest giver suggested I come back later to see if the dog would take to me. Possible party-member? I hope so. I love it when games let me have pets.
There are some really awesome things that follow and you’re thrown into the middle of a war quicker than you’d think. The outcome rests on your shoulders and an awesomely epic cut scene gets your adrenaline pumping before you’re sent on your way. Playing through these starting quests got me excited in a way I haven’t felt in a long time in an SRPG. It was a blast, especially so because by the time I was on my way to complete this quest, I had the combat system fairly well down and the micromanagement had become a lot more fun. Again, I felt like I was playing NWN again.
It’s a console game, so there were no real performance issues. The framerate seemed silky smooth the whole time; however, graphical fidelity really wasn’t where I’d thought it’d be. Character models are great but some of the textures are just plain bad. There’s a scene in the origin where a character is sitting on a stone chair. NPC good, chair texture horrible. The two together really made it look like they’d intentionally blurred out the chair for some reason but, no, it was just a bad texture. There are other issues like this as well. For example, your first foray into “The Wilds” will show you how poorly certain pine trees can be rendered.
Graphics on the 360 seem to be hit or miss. I’ve heard the PS3 is worse.
Let me be clear though, the graphics are not bad. Just certain textures. Some of the graphics are phenomenal. It seems strange to me that the game represents both ends of the spectrum as much as it does. Yet, the gameplay and story are there, so it’s not a big enough issue to really be a problem for me. But, this may be one more reason to get the PC version if you’re big on graphics.
Open World/Linear Path
At this point in the game, I don’t know if I can really attest to this part. Bioware reps have said that it’s not so open world as Oblivion and, so far, I’d whole heartedly agree. The Wilds are incredibly linear with non-sensical boundaries. Who would’ve thought that, even though I can cut down mighty darkspawn with a swipe of my axe, cat tails would stop me from going off the beaten path?
Yet, I’m still so early in the game, it could be linear for the sake of the learning player. I would hope so, anyways.
On the whole, I really enjoyed my play time today. I sat and played for over four hours. I haven’t done that for any game in a long time. If you’re anything like me, the story will grab you and hold you until you’re left begrudging turning off your console.
That being said, I got the definitely feeling that this game would play better on the PC. The menu systems, while intuitive, just don’t as smooth as they really should. Combat cries out to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Is that a bad thing? Probably. But such is the price we pay to be able to enjoy this game from our sofas.
Dragon Age is an awesome game. All issues aside, five hours in, I have no problem recommending that you buy this game immediately for your console of choice. It take the best parts of hack-and-slashers, adds strategy and micromanagement, and wraps it all up in a cinematic experience unlike other games I’ve played on the Xbox. It’s not as open as Oblivion but the fun is right there where it should be.
In short, if you can’t look past the issues I mentioned above, get this PC version. If you can, and would like to play it from your favorite recliner, get the Xbox version. Don’t wait. Get it now.
Oh yeah, and enjoy