Darker realms

Dragon Age: Origins has a lot of interesting things going for it.

Dragon Age: Origins has a lot of interesting things going for it.

First off, it’s the new roleplaying game from Bioware, the brains behind many of the best Western-developed games in the genre over the past 10 years, from Baldur’s Gate to Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect.

Western RPGs have more often than not taken a far different approach to the genre than their Eastern counterparts, generally offering more flexible narratives at the cost of a set role.

Basically, they play more like digital representations of old pen-and-paper RPGs, which makes sense given those original games’ origins. The tradeoff between Eastern and Western RPGs is often one of aesthetics, class or ability creation and narrative approach.

Dragon Age is seen as something of a spiritual successor to Bioware’s Baldur’s Gate series that thrived on the PC years ago, complete with all the customizable stats and character creation you could want, set in a world that’s very Tolkien-esque.

There’s also blood in Dragon Age—buckets of blood. It sprays when you engage in the game’s often-brutal battles, or when you lop off a foe’s head. It pools on the ground, seeping from the slain bodies of your enemies and splatters on your clothes and skin.

Not to say that violence is anything new, but Dragon Age certainly handles war and bloodshed in a more graphic way than a lot of other RPGs. It also doesn’t shy from equally adult subject matter. When was the last time you played a game where you were forced to kill a child, for example? In Dragon Age, you may be forced to do just that.

That depends, however, on the path you choose. I’m not speaking directly of morality, but rather the class and race you choose at the start of the game.

Dragon Age weaves a complex tale of war and political corruption in the midst of a siege of orc-like demons called the Darkspawn, but what role you choose to play may make the game’s overall storyline similar or dissimilar to another path you might’ve chosen.

So if you decide to play as a mage, you’ll start off in the hands of the state-regulated magician’s guild. However, if you choose the life of a noble, a corrupt ruler will attack your castle and you will be forced to flee for your life.

No matter which of the six origins you get, however, your path with the Grey Wardens—sort of a group of nomadic protectors that bear some resemblance to Tolkien’s Rangers, which Aragorn belonged to—is an inevitability. After an initial encounter with a Darkspawn horde, though, the Wardens are betrayed by a close ally, framed for regicide and left for dead.

The result is a civil war between territories of the realm, all in the midst of a growing threat from the Darkspawn blight that’s been laying waste to the world. As you can see from even this brief excerpt into the mythos Bioware creates in Dragon Age, the game is chock full of rich history throughout its dozens of hours of gameplay.

It’s easy to get sucked into this game. On the gameplay side, Dragon Age plays more or less how Bioware’s old-school RPGs have always played, albeit with a smaller party (consisting of you plus three teammates, although guest characters often join in the fray) and a bigger focus on single-player tactics with AI-controlled teammates.

You are, however, given the option to switch party members at any time in battle, which can lead to a lot of micromanagement. But if you’re going to attempt this one, you’ll need it—combat in Dragon Age is no joke. Enemies overtake and flank you with ease, and you’ll need to use every tactical advantage available to gain the upper hand.

Magic and special abilities play a big part in how things will play out, and although it’s far too detailed to really get into here, let’s just say the combat can be very rewarding when you know what you’re doing.

Considering how staid RPGs have become in the past several years, Dragon Age is a welcome change. And while Bioware is one of the consistently good developers still making RPGs, it’s still nice that the genre hasn’t been completely overrun with derivatives.

Between this and the excellent, unorthodox Demon’s Souls, it’s a good time to be a console-owning fan of the genre.