Dragon Age: Origins

I had heard a lot of good things about DA:0, and to some extent, I get it: the game is fairly nice to look at (by my standards, at least), the setting is reasonably well-done, and the combat can have that great D&D tactical/well-oiled SWAT team feel, from time to time.

After playing it for a few hours, though, the flaws become very apparent. The setting is nothing we haven’t seen before. The writing is decent, but nothing really extraordinary. What really makes the game weak, though, is simply the gameplay: areas are constricted and railroad-y, but then the combats and encounters don’t work particularly well (which is the whole point of having railroaded areas). You fight the same enemies over and over, and they’re generic rather than distinctive. I’ve broken higher-level fights unintentionally, just by doing a ranged attack from a slightly further distance than had been scripted. Other higher-level bosses are only able to be beaten one way, particularly since you can’t easily grind to get good enough to beat them fairly. It’s easy to break quests unintentionally, and quests often don’t resolve in particularly satisfying ways. (And for a game where almost everything is scripted and narrowly constrained, these seem like particularly glaring problems.)

I think these problems make it abundantly clear that the people who made this game never really played role-playing games, because they clearly don’t get what a role playing game is about. They don’t get the attraction of combat, or the pleasure of figuring out different ways to resolve a situation, or the pleasures of exploration and serendipity, or countless other things. These are basic features of a role-playing game, and the problems of the game are things you quickly learn not to do when DMing.

And for all of the hate that Bethesda gets (and rightly, I think, for Oblivion), these are things that Bethesda mostly does well. Combat can be a bit generic, as can the writing, and character builds often end up running in the same direction, but the bones of Bethesda games often do manage to give a satisfying role-playing game experience. DA:O, to my mind, simply doesn’t.