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Dragon Age: Origins is a fantasy role-playing game from Bioware. Even that statement is immediately inspiring and challenging: these are the people who brought you the Baldur's Gate games, as well as Knights of the Old Republic and the Mass Effect series. Can it live up to the standards or its illustrious predecessors? Yep, just about.
The afore-mentioned Baldur's Gate series has held the fantasy-RPG crown for years now (at least in my humble opinion!), and as soon as you start to play this game you realise that it's Bioware's attempt to make a new game in that series only set in a new original setting, since they don't have the license to create Dungeons & Dragons games any more (more's the pity).
The story is fairly standard "stop the demonic hordes from rising up" fare, but the writers have cleverly tried to avoid the feeling of being stuck in a cliched plot by creating various beginnings to the adventure based on the choices made by the player while creating their character - a nice touch, and a decent effort to deflect from the inherent problem that RPGS often have; the plot being basically pre-determined, albeit wonderfully told and exciting. There are enough twists, and the story is so well told that it is ultimately very enjoyable for those who love a good plot.
The gameplay is an intersting mix - on the one hand there is excellent character development and your possible companions are all complex, well-written characters - there are a few fairly standard character types, but even they have enough depth to feel real. There are numerous possible romace plots which are also well executed. On the other hand, though, a lot of the main quests are very combat heavy and feel like extremely long trawls through never-ending dungeons filled with the same party of monsters over and over again. This is definitely a problem as some of these quests become very repetitive very fast and it's starts to feel badly like a chore. This is definitely the major weakness of the game.
Happily, the game interface is very user-friendly and definitely makes those long slogs through dungeons more bearable; if it wasn't so inherently satisfying to play it would have a bigger problem. Combat is fluid and tactically very deep. The magic system feels familiar but distinctive and it is challenging without being depressingly tough (on the normal difficulty setting at least).
From a technical point of view it's quite accomplished, playing on high settings with no problem at all on a decent system. The physics in combat aren't always the most realistic but I have played much worse. Load times are reasonable too. A definite disappointment, though, is how many of the characters (especially male characters) look so similar to one another. You definitely get the feeling that there are only three of four stock human faces that are then tweaked very slightly.
Overall, Dragon Age is an unashamed attempt to update the highly traditional fantasy RPG for thr modern agre (no pun intended), and it just about pulls this off. The repetitive combat-heavy quests would be a problem if they weren't nestled in a typically clever and engrossing Bioware plot - they do this sort of thing better than anybody, that's the long and short of it.
A final note - this game definitely earns it's high age-rating. There is considerable violence (even when gore is turned off in the options) and sexual contect (no spoilers but a certain amount of sexual content is integral to the plot), so be aware of that if it's not your thing, or if you're getting it for a child.