by Stefanie Fogel
reviewed on X360
Choosing Your Path (cont.)
Romance or not, all of the characters are interesting and their dialogue is well-written and voice acted. The wise-cracking former Templar turned Grey Warden Alistair (Steve Valentine) and sharp-tongued Witch of the Wilds Morrigan (Claudia Black) are especially fun to listen to. Actors Tim Curry and Kate Mulgrew also lend their voices to the characters of Arl Howe and Flemeth, respectively. Many times, while exploring a town or dungeon, I found myself pausing what I was doing simply to hear the witty banter between characters. Even the war dog that can join your party has a personality of it's own and can be a delight to interact with. My only complaint about the party members is that I can only have three at a time, which is a compliment to Bioware and their ability to craft characters whose fates you truly care about as you play the game.
Even though you'll spend a lot of time conversing with the game's colorful cast, you'll spend just as much time fighting alongside them. Combat is in real time and is fast-paced and bloody. Blood splatters stick to your character's face and clothing for a while after combat, even in the game's many cut scenes, and can sometimes seem a little over the top. Health and mana replenish quickly after a fight and any teammates who fall during battle are resuscitated immediately after with a penalty to their stats that can be cured with an injury kit. Even leveling can be a quick affair, as you have the option to auto level your party members rather than doing it manually. Things can be streamlined even further through the use of combat tactics. Similar to Final Fantasy XII's Gambit system, the tactics menu allows you to program your characters' behavior under certain conditions. You can have your characters use poultices when their health is low, have a mage cast Fireball on a cluster of enemies, or have your warrior taunt monsters that are attacking the more vulnerable party members. More tactics slots are opened up as you level. Experimenting with different tactics can be fun and a well-programmed party adds to the game's quick tempo, giving it an excellent sense of forward momentum.
Up to six spells or abilities can be hot-keyed on the game controller using the X, Y, B, and Right Trigger buttons, while holding down the Left Trigger will pause the game and bring up a radial menu, where you can issue commands to your teammates. It's a good interface, though not as robust as on the PC, and anyone who has played Mass Effect on a console will feel right at home. While many of the early battles can be fought in real time, micromanaging and strategy become much more important as you level up. The enemies you'll face are tough. Really tough. Like, Chuck Norris tough. Even on Normal difficulty, I had my ass handed to me a number of times. Your party can die quickly if you're not paying attention. If you're the type who's easily frustrated, you might be better off playing on a lower difficulty setting. Those who like a challenge, though, will find plenty of it here.
Consoles vs PC
While the Xbox 360 version of Dragon Age: Origins is a great game, it's not perfect. The graphics are good, if a little washed out, and the frame rate is smooth, but you'll get far more graphical bang for your buck on a PC. Those looking for a more Baldur's Gate feel might also be better off with the PC version, as the console versions lack the ability to pull the camera out to a bird's eye view. PC gamers also get other perks like the developer toolset and mods and better integration with Bioware's new social network site. However, if you don't have a computer that will run it, there's absolutely no reason to not pick up Dragon Age on the Xbox 360. It's a compelling and massive game with so many choices to make that you'll want to play it all over again just to see the stuff you missed the first time. With Bioware promising expansions and downloadable content in the near future, this is one game that many RPG fans will be clearing their calendars for for a long, long time.
Compelling story, great replayability, action-packed combat