Archive for May, 2011


Dragon Age Origins: Human Mage

Dragon Age: Origins
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Released: 2009
Rating: Mature

Written by Richard Pavis

Ferelden.

It takes a special force to create a new world. Bioware seems to specialize in these alternate worlds; alternate mythologies. Others have accused Ferelden of ripping off Lord of the Rings, or being generic fantasy. I firmly believe that Bioware has accomplished something much harder, and much more subtle. They have taken cues from a hundred sources, as well as their own new ideas, and created a world that feels real. The trick with a fully realized world is, it inevitably is compared to the most well known of all, Middle-Earth. If your dwarves have beards, and your elves leave even remotely near trees, you will be villified for plagiarism. If the most sincere form of flattery is imitation, then Bioware is really trying hard to butter someone up. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The voice acting is well executed. With that said, it is unnerving as hell to have a calm conversation immediately after a battle. None of the characters sound winded or injured, the NPC your interacting with rarely comments on the corpses behind you, and strangest of all is the fine mist of blood covering your whole party. Apparently it often rains blood in Ferelden. Nothing else adequately explains the ambivalnce towards your characters odd fashion choice. Speaking of fashion, if you have even a mild dislike of peace and quiet, I recommend heavy armor. I promise you that you will be come well acquianted with the 3 or four sounds that armor makes in Dragon Age, as you will be hearing it near constantly. Getting back to the point, the voice acting, even the one line bit parts, is well executed. Sometimes the dialogue rings a bit false in the sidelines, but the main story is spot on. Not easy at all.

I hope you have a firm grounding in relational data trees, because the menu system of Dragon Age is clever at best and a dense convoluted lump at worst. Clever because most menu features are laid out logically, leading from one to the next, if you think like the developer. As you play through you will learn where everything is, but I often found myself holding buttons when I should have quickly released, and exiting other menus because I was supposed to hold. Thankfully, it pauses when engaged.

Any game that gives away a major plot point in the trailer automatically looses points in my book. For those of you playing the home game, the offending trailer is “I am the last of the Grey Wardens.” Near the end of the ‘Tutorial’ your character joins the Grey Wardens, and a multitude of other Wardens is hinted at. But as the trailer teaches us, alas it is not to be.

Every Origin eventually leads to the Joining, but the Mage’s origin has a bit of a wrinkle, namely the Harrowing. Immediately upon gaining control of your character you are thrown into a realms of dreams where you are beset by monsters and phantasms. Story wise this all makes perfect sense, but it does lead to downplaying the Joining. The Harrowing is meant to test every mage, and it is very possible you will not return. The Joining is more subtle, and never fully explained until it is upon you. Other origins have their own challenges, but Mages face a double metaphysical challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, the game receives a solid recommendation from me. It plays smoothly, has an engaging story in a deep and rich world.

Final Result: Buy It.

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Dragon Age: Origins
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Released: 2009
Rating: Mature

Written by Victoria Zukas

For this play-through of Dragon Age I chose the Dalish Elf origin story. There are 6 possibly origin stories, all of which end with you being recruited into the Grey Wardens; a multi-racial group devoted to fighting monsters called the darkspawn. Each origin story takes roughly 2 hours and which ones are available depend on which race/class you choose. Mages always get the Circle Tower story, no matter what race. Elves can choose between the Dalish Elf story, which is your standard Tolken-esk elf setting, or the City Elf story where the elves live in human slums. Dwarves choose between the Noble or Commoner stories and Humans only have the Noble option. The origin stories are mostly there to give your character depth and show why you joined the Grey Wardens; however NPCs will react differently to you depending on your story, race, or gender.

The game starts with your standard RPG opening cut scene and then brings you into character creation. You’re given the usual array of fantasy options for class, race, and gender. Next, you pick your origin story and then it’s onto physical features. There are a wide variety of options, so if you want to customize exactly where you cheek bones are you can go to town. After picking your physical features you get 5 points to add to your base stats. Then you pick starting abilities, skills, and it’s off you go. If anyone is thinking this sounds like a simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons character creation you wouldn’t be far from the truth.

The character creation screen is a bit confusing in it’s use of UI elements. The options listed are “Presets”, “Next”, then “Hair”, “Skin”, etc. Only “Presets” and “Next” are lit up, so it’s hard to see the other options on an older TV (I was using a CRT TV from 199X). Choosing “Next” brings up options for stats and starting abilities. After selecting those you are taken into the game with no warning. Some kind of “Are You Sure?” option would have been useful here, as I went forward thinking I still had a chance to change my character’s appearance.

The art team did a fantastic job of creating a unified aesthetic. Everything looks like it belongs to the same world, while still giving each race it’s own unique feel. Human cities, Elven camps, and the Dwarven Deep Roads all feel part of Ferelden yet each look distantly different. A lot of work was also put into the history Ferelden. Characters talk about old empires that used to cover the entire land. Given the architecture of the various ruins scattered about you feel as if something did used to live here a long time ago. My only complaint about the world is something that’s a problem with most fantasy. Elves lives in trees and are archers, Dwarves live underground and are miners, and Humans are jerks and live everywhere. Every fantasy tale follows this rule, and Dragon Age is no exception. However, the world of Dragon Age is so deep that you almost forget that.

The voice acting for this game is superb. Every character sounds real, even the bit parts. The rest of the sounds were also given the same attention to detail that the world design was. There are sublet touches, such as birds in the background or the noise of a blacksmith in the market. On the down side, the sound of your armor moving while you move is one that will pop out right away, and one you better get used to. A full party of four people with armor running around will be a loud constant sound throughout the game.

The UI is almost non-existent, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the game. There is just enough on screen to give you what you need and nothing more. The rest is in the rather large set of menus. Everything from current/previous quests, inventory, codex, relationship with other party members, current stats, etc is provided in the menus. The screens you’ll use most often are the inventory, quest log, and character record screens. A huge help is the Conversation History and Current Quests sub-menus. These allow you to pick up the game after having put it down for awhile.

My major problem with the game is it’s bugs. The BioWare team that made this game did a fantastic job of immersing you in the world and the story, to the point where you can play for hours and not want to put the game down. Then you’ll be talking to a character…and his arms will go through his chest, or the skybox will be pixelated, or characters will spout dialogue that doesn’t make any sense based on previous choices, or you’ll watch as both you and a party member do the exact same I’m-shifting-my-body-as-I’m-listening animation at the exact same time and then you’re reminded that you’re holding a lump of plastic in your hands. This is especially horrible when you are wooing a party member and that moment where he tells you he loves you (by the way you can sleep with party members in this game) is ruined as his character model clips right through yours and you both occupy the same space and hug thin air. While noticeable bugs like this don’t happen often, when they do it hurts.

A secondary complaint is specific to the Dalish Elf story. There were no less then 5 chests and 1 door that could only be opened by a Rogue. I was playing a Warrior, and none of the party members available where Rogues. If there are going to be locked objects then there should be a way to get to them. It left me feeling a bit frustrated and wondering if I had picked the wrong class for this origin.

Overall I would recommend this game to anyone who likes Fantasy RPGs. The replay value is astonishing and will keep you going for weeks. If possible buy the “Ultimate Edition”, as this comes with Dragon Age and all of the expansions. Understand, however, if you get the Xbox 360 version of this game that you’ll have to deal with some graphical bugs.

Final Result: Buy it

Look Forward to “Dragon Age: Origins”

Here at Evil Pink Fortress we review games while working on our own. Each game will be reviewed from at least two points of view to avoid bias (as much as we can) and to allow us to really dig into the aspects of any given game. We’ll also go in depth with our reviews, avoiding things such as “6/10 stars” and other similar ratings. We’re here to analyze games so that we can learn from them (both the good and the bad) and make the industry better.

The first game up for review is “Dragon Age: Origins.” Expect to see our review this time next week. We will also be posting a list of what games we will be reviewing when on the “Schedule” page. Don’t think this is limited to the AAA level. If you’re an indie group with a game you want us to sink our teeth into then please let us know.

Look forward to “Dragon Age: Origins” and please forgive the clutter as we are still under construction.

Evil Pink Fortress

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