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Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is in-depth, thought provoking, brutal, fun and expansive. I’ve read a lot of criticisms of this game, but in my opinion, having played through recently as a mage character, DA:O really is one of the best single player RPGs around.

You play as a Grey Warden, an order of legendary warriors, rogues and mages, dedicated to fighting the darkspawn, evil creatures who periodically return in an event known as a Blight to screw things up for everyone. If you’ve ever played the Gears of War games, darkspawn look pretty similar to the Locust from that. And, as you might expect from any Bioware RPG worth its salt, you’re backed up by an array of loyal companions, from assassin to templar, from dog to dwarf, pious rogue, stoic warrior, from wise-cracking sexy mage to old “do-gooder” mage. It’s a full house!

Would also be an excellent line-up to a medieval fantasy themed sitcom.

Would also be an excellent line-up to a medieval fantasy themed sitcom.

The meat of the issue, of course, is combat, and DA:O has this down in spades (to continue to poker analogy). Fights are more active than in the KotOR games reviewed previously (see KotOR and KotOR2), and combat is more flexible and fluid. Importantly though, not only does the combat function well, it looks fantastic. Every skill and spell looks good, and auto-finishing kill animations make slaying darkspawn, ogres and (0f course) dragons even more satisfying than before.

Along with all this comes the usual array of RPG elements, such as thieving for the rogues, merchants and side-quests. No real faults here, but nothing much to shout about. There is a nice amount of revisiting past locations to complete new quests, which helps to pad out the gameplay nicely. As questing itself goes, DA:O sticks to the basics, which is no bad thing indeed.

Redcliffe

Redcliffe

However, I feel I must rant about one quest during the main story in particular, one quest which actually made me give up on the game entirely when I first played through it.

The quest in question is called Lost in Dreams, and, without wishing to spoil any of the story, occurs when you are ascending the mage’s tower. You become trapped in “The Fade”, the dreamworld in which spirits and demons inhabit. Your objective: get out of this dreams to carry on climbing the tower. Simple? Hell no. If I remember correctly, without using a walkthrough, this sub-quest took me somewhere in the region of two hours. And that is two hours where you have no party members with you, travelling back and forth through different dreams realms with no real guidance or clues as to which way to travel. In short, it is quite literally a nightmare. As such, I’m putting up a walkthrough to the section here, but even following this guide to the letter, which I thoroughly recommend, it’ll take a fair amount of time to plough through this arduous section.

Other than that, the story is decent, though won’t stretch your preconceptions an awful lot. However, take a look at this trailer.

In a word: Awesome

First released: November 2009 ; Published by EA ; Developed by Bioware, Edge of Reality

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (1/2)

It’s safe to say that I know KotOR like the back of my hand, seeing as I’ve been playing it for ten years straight now. I may have a soft spot for RPGs in general, but looking back at its release and playing it for the very first time, very little has changed in my mind, I still love this game to bits.

What really sticks out at me about KotOR is the level of control you have to tailor your character and your party to your needs. As you might expect, you play as a jedi in the old republic, thousands of years before the events of the films take place. But by no means does that mean you’re limited to playing as Mr Standard Jedi, no no, you can choose whether you dual wield or not, wear armour or not, use the force or not, even if you want to use a lightsaber at all! Though, let’s be honest, most of us want to go hack-and-slash through some droids. The combat is best described as dice rolls, but no knowledge of 20-sided dice is needed to be able to build a good character, and the combat still flows smoothly.

Like a fish

Like a fish

As in almost any Bioware RPG, the morality factor is central to the way the game plays. It’s up to the player to decide whether they go the ‘holier than thou’ route by being nice and helpful to everyone, or the ‘unnecessarily evil’ route by killing everyone, essentially. Unfortunately the good/evil system does boil down to those two choices a lot of the time in KotOR, but there are some head-scratchers in there. As it happens, on my most recent playthrough, I was a chaotic, evil, dual wielding Sith warrior. Because, why not?

On top of the level of customisation you can add to nearly every weapon and armour in the game, you have almost free reign on which companions you choose to take out with you into the wild world, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Carth (soldier, decent ranged fighter, but whiney), Bastilla (also whiney), Mission (street-smart rogue), T3-M4 (loveable utility droid), HK-47 (everyone’s favourite psychotic assassin droid), Canderous (big tough guy), Zaalbar (standard wookie), Juhani (awesome melee jedi), and finally to Jolee (comedic, cranky old man, excellent at buffing). There really is enough choice to complement whichever type of character you want to play as.

While the worlds and locations you will visit tend to be somewhat linear, the environments are beautiful and varied, with a soundtrack to each that enhances each area. From beginning in the sprawling city-planet of Taris, to the farmlands of Dantooine, the desolate world of Korriban, the ocean city of Manaan, the jungles of Kashyyyk and the desert wastes of Tatooine, there is enough variety to keep the adventure fresh and interesting as you go.

And the plot? Well, let’s just say that it’s not going to blow your socks off. As plots go it follows a fairly straightforward path, with nothing much happening throughout the bulk of the game. However, the main story is supplemented by side quests, and quests related to each of your companions, adding some much appreciated extra hours to the game. Along with a certain plot twist (which will not be spoiled here, fear not), there is enough to keep the player entertained through to the last minute of gameplay. With excellent voice acting on par with any quality Bioware game, and featuring such talent as Phil LaMarr and Jennifer Hale, the conversations and cutscenes are well worth paying attention to.

Classic droid

Classic droid

All in all this Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a classic, make no mistake. If you haven’t played it before, I recommend giving it a go. Any thoughts on KotOR?

First released: July 2003 ; Published by LucasArts ; Developed by Bioware

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