Dragon Age Origins: PC review

What’s this you say? Critical Gamer reviewing Dragon Age? But didn’t they already do that? What the hell’s going on!? Calm down, calm down.. as we stated in our initial review, there are significant differences between the PC and console versions of the game, such that it warranted a second look. This time out we’re reviewing the PC version and seeing how it compares against its cousin on the 360. Because Ian has already covered a number of points, this review will take a different tone and look at what sets the PC version apart.

For some PC gamers, Dragon Age has been a long time coming, in fact they might argue that they’ve been waiting since 2001, when Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal was released. Dragon Age you see, was billed as a spiritual successor to the much loved Baldur’s Gate series. Neverwinter Nights may have used the same setting but, by dispensing with the party based combat and character development, it lost the soul of the series that preceded it. Dragon Age was first announced back in 2004 as a PC only title that promised to revolutionise the way we played our RPGs. Boasting dynamic situational combat, with characters throwing over tables for cover and using the classic fireball spell to set things alight.

Whats that on your face? Oh.. its your face.

What's that on your face? Oh.. it's your face.

That was five years ago now and the road to release has been long and as often happens, changes and compromises have been made. The combat is still very dynamic, though not connected overly with the environment outside some specific spell combinations. But the biggest change that was made clear throughout the games development was that it would be heading to consoles too. PC gamers may have groaned at this point, but their groans only grew louder and longer as Bioware’s marketing campaign began. Including that now infamous trailer that suggested the game would be a combination of sex, blood and Marilyn Manson.

Whilst the game does contain some sex scenes and some over the top blood spatters, thankfully Marilyn Manson is nowhere to be found. In fact we could argue that the game was marketed in a misleading manner, because almost everything beloved of the Baldur’s gate series is in this game. Dragon Age: Origins at its very heart – if you get past the epic if predictable storyline and the gory combat – is a game about companionship, decision making and character development. Few games allow the breadth of decision making as you’ll find here and many of those decisions left us floundering as to which choice to make. Will we side with the repentant outlaw mage (who depending on Origin story could also be our best mate), or with the neutered Circle of Magi? Will we sacrifice our companion for the greater good, or stand by the friend we’ve come to know and possibly love throughout the course of our travels? There’s a great feeling of making a hard choice that rises above and beyond what we’ve come to expect of our RPG’s.

If Jimmys mother have loved him, things couldve turned out oh so differently.

If Jimmy's mother had loved him, things could've turned out oh so differently.

Another factor that’s bound to please fans of the notoriously difficult Baldur’s Gate series is that Bioware have pulled no punches regarding difficulty. The fights are tough, some of the boss fights in particular can be the basis of gruelling encounters and this is where the PC version comes into its own and outshines the console version. The PC version of Dragon Age offers you the opportunity to pause the game at any time and flit between your party members to directly control them. This works very well in conjunction with the tactics you can set up for each party member and you’ll find yourself taking control of a certain member in a particular situation. Maybe one fight will require some clever manoeuvring of your rogue, another might require your tank to run in and grab the aggro, before you switch to your mage to bomb your enemies into submission. There is a pleasing array of enemies for which you’ll need to try out different tactics and winning a difficult fight can be very rewarding, especially on the harder difficulties. Another feature exclusive to the PC is the top down camera, where you can zoom to a position above your party for some tactical shenanigans. The best function for this camera is the usage of spells that have to be targeted. It makes the process easy and accurate, whereas on the console version this can be fiddly and frustrating.

In terms of story and the setting Bioware have built up from scratch, at first look it appears to be a fairly traditional fantasy setting with some Witcher-esque twists. So you get Elves regarded as racially inferior and Dwarves portrayed as conniving backstabbing politicians. The humans range from nasty racist gits, to heroic men willing to sacrifice everything in stopping the Blight. The Blight being the big scary evil that threatens to overrun the country of Ferelden, in which the action takes place. It all can seem a little generic at first glance, but if you peer a little beneath the surface and read the codex (the in-game encylopedia) you’ll find a vast array of very well written lore.

Totally Wood.

Totally Wood.

We suspect that when Bioware described Dragon Age as a dark adult fantasy, it was the depth of the decision making and relationships they were referring too, rather than the blood and sex. Themes of friendship, sacrifice and compromise run through the tale masterfully told by Bioware. On PC at least they combine with the game mechanics, the pleasingly customizable levelling system and satisfying tactical combat to create a tale you’ll want to immerse yourself in for the full 40 hour duration and possibly beyond.
9/10

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Written by Michael J

Michael is a self proclaimed PC gaming fanatic and is equally at home with all genres, bar platformers and puzzle games. Except Bejeweled, he's awesome at that. Seriously, he is totally like second on his Facebook Bejeweled leaderboard. And they said he'd never amount to anything...

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