Dragon Age: Origins Console Hands-on

Written by Joe Martin

July 9, 2009 | 09:55

Tags: #dragon-age #dragon-age-origins #dragon-age-preview #rpg

Companies: #bioware #electronic-arts

Dragon Age: Origin Impressions

The good news for Dragon Age: Origins is that our time with the cumbersome Xbox 360 version wasn’t entirely awful and, though it doesn’t feel natural to play the game with a gamepad given that it was so obviously designed for the PC, the game is still playable. And fun if you’re more comfortable with cycling through with bumper buttons than with a mouse, we suppose.

Out time experimenting with Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360 also gave us enough time to uncover some new things about the game, which we hadn’t noticed on our first few outings with the game.

One of these was the inclusion of background lore for unique weapons and armours in the game, as BioWare also did with Baldur’s Gate. Looking at an enchanted sword will net you a heap of info about the damage multipliers, attack type and so on – then a brief history of the weapon too. “The Hammer of Thorlief originally began as a ink-stamp for frost giant librarians...”. Or something. It’s something we like very much, even though it’s only a small thing.

We also finally got to have a proper go against some of the boss baddies in Dragon Age: Origins, in this case the first Ogre you find in the game. Ogres might not sound like a big threat admittedly and in most games they’re a dime a dozen, but that’s not so in Dragon Age: Origins. This thing was massive.

Dragon Age: Origins Console Hands-on Dragon Age: Origins Console Impressions
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Tackling it on Normal difficulty, with our frost-casting mage (which offered no chance to play with the spell combos we’ve seen before) and a handful of other pretty non-descript NPCs was no problem at all, except for the controls. Coordinating attacks across multiple characters was a lot slower and more difficult than it would be on PC. Casting Cone of Cold with a mage and Shield Bash with a paladin takes just three or four clicks on PC, but on console it it’s a lot more button presses and thumb-pushing.

Experimenting with the higher difficulties, we were relieved to find out that the game isn’t much of a ‘baby-game’, even on consoles. There are four difficulty settings; Easy, Normal, Hard and Nightmare and, though Hard is definitely pretty taxing, Nightmare makes it look like a walk in the park. We tried the fight several times on Nightmare difficulty and were lucky if our characters lasted much more than a minute.

The fight usually ended with our mage running round and round in circles trying to find enough space to down a mana potion before the Ogre dealt the final blow. In fact, even the developers we saw playing the game were having trouble with defeating the Ogre on Nightmare difficulty, though they tried to pin the blame on the rather pitiful selection of spells the protagonist had been kitted out with. We say; a bad workman...

Dragon Age: Origins Console Hands-on Dragon Age: Origins Console Impressions
Click to enlarge

In the end, we were left with somewhat conflicted feelings about Dragon Age. We still like the look of the game and our inner (and outer) geek won’t stop squealing with excitement about any BioWare RPG that isn’t Jade Empire...but the console version feels weak. The BioWare team members we spoke to said they were still working out some of the details and that the final version of the console game will have a slightly different UI – but we imagine that means performance optimisations so the menus aren’t so sticky, rather than an overhaul and rethink of the entire control scheme. That makes us worried.

Dragon Age: Origins looks like it’ll be a great game, even though the more we see of it the more we start to suspect that the increasingly sexy marketing push is being used to hide some of the blandness of the fantasy world, but it’ll be at its best at PC. There it’ll run much smoother and more easily, without demanding that players coordinate all their fingers and thumbs across a dozen buttons when in reality a few mouse clicks is a better solution. That’s not to say that the console version isn’t worth a look for gamepad veterans, but if you’re undecided about the game then the PC version looks like the way to go.

Dragon Age: Origins is being developed by BioWare, published by Electronic Arts and should be released on October 20th on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Until then, you can discuss the game in the forums.
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