Heya, It's Me...Or Is It? I Can't Remember...So Dark...
As the page title references the dramatic shift to a darker more twisted Imoen in the Baldur's Gate series, so does Dragon Age shift in comparison. The Forgotten Realms world is light and colorful, despite depressing themes of vampires, werewolves, murders, and the like. The world of Dragon Age is comparatively dark, dismal, and hopeless. Similar in timbre, yet a pale echo in color. There are few happy people, little revelry, and certainly no carefree adventurers out simply for the sake of adventuring. The world has been torn apart by the rise of the Darkspawn, a menace of demonic orc-like creatures made of twisted mages of old, and guided by a powerful arch-demon, the iconic dragon of the cover art. While this part is purely Tolkienian, there's another big shift in the back story. Where in the D&D world, the dead can return as undead, spirits can haunt the ruins, people can be twisted, demons can come from other planes and the like, in Dragon Age a simpler approach is taken more akin to the devils of the Nine Hells in Forgotten Realms. The Fade, the "dream plane" if you will, is home to all manner of demons. Pride demons, sloth demons, rage demons, desire demons (most similar to D&D devils) and the like haunt the dream Fade and always vie to gain access to the waking world. The walking dead, possessed and twisted individuals, all of it is attributed to interference of someone being controlled by a Fade demon, never some ancient magical artifact. Yet this too provides a bleaker world more akin to real medieval superstitions of evil spirits - with a touch of Bioware creativity, of course.
Another wonderful new idea in this game is the concept of origin stories. Six different character race and back story selections will present you with an entirely different prologue chapter in the game, in different realms with different characters. Many of these characters and locales will be visited again throughout the game, and thus the origin story affects the late game as well. This also works both for and against the game. Against the game is the fact that on a single extended play-through you will not be able to experience the entire game and all the quests. Some of them are locked into the other five stories. On the other hand it makes playing one class or another more to your preference, and creates much more reason to replay the entire game, or at least a few hour segment of the beginning. I was quite fond of replaying Baldur's Gate II, but if I had to do Irenicus' Lab one more time I was going to get extremely cranky.
Before we get into the platform comparison, there's another very important detail that I'd like to point out. While proper parties are indeed supported, and a fair range of NPCs are available, I still miss the classic six member party. With enough player classes available four party members just don't give the flexibility one would want. In the six member games, an ideal party would consist of two fighter/ranger tanks, a healer/cleric, a thief/rogue, a buffing/weakening aura mage/paladin/druid, and a walking-Armageddon mage/sorcerer. Four members means one must be a rogue to get at those locks, plus either a combination of healers, mages, or tanks, without much preference to which. The tactics are diminished as a result. Designers take note for Dragon Age 2: We want six party members!
Now we get down to the platform selection. Of late, I've become a staunch lover of console games for two reasons. The first is that most games these days are designed around the functionality of console, so the PC and console games are fairly equal. The latter being laziness; when jumping from game to game for review purposes, life is just easier when dealing with console. Dragon Age represents one of the few exceptions to these rules. It is a game that was designed as a PC-only game, as a spiritual successor to a long line of PC-only games. The gameplay revolves around the PC method of play. If you believe your computer can handle the PC version, and you don't mind putting up with the usual PC frustration, or if you're a veteran of the Infinity engine games, you get a far more rewarding game on the PC with a very different play style, replete with menus, dialog boxes, and an isometric view.
That's not to say the console port is bad. If you're more familiar with Bioware's more recent games such as Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, or Jade Empire, or don't have a penchant for the Infinity engine layout, the console port will be well suited to your tastes. For this review I've played a significant portion of both the PC and XBox 360 versions. While I personally prefer the isometric layout and wish the console version took this into account, the radial menu, trigger-based pausing and the like certainly work extremely well. While radial menus can always become cumbersome, the one here is laid out quite well and perfectly serviceable, and the game plays out well. Party mechanics and tactics are a bit simplified on the console compared to the very slow and deliberate PC battles that are almost naval in scope, though you may not love the idea of playing a spellcaster on console...the radial menu for every spell cast isn't quite as convenient as the Quickbar.
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