Category Archives: Free Time

All kind of things I do in my free time

Game of the Month: Dragon Age: Origins

I’m a big fan of BioWare role-playing games. Their award-winning title Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was my all time favourite game until I discovered the Mass Effect trilogy. But as it is unlikely that there will ever be a proper sequel to Knights of the Old Republic and as the next Mass Effect game is still years away I decided to try out BioWare’s Fantasy role-playing series Dragon Age. As the development of the story greatly matters in BioWare games I started at the beginning and played Dragon Age: Origins the first part of the series.

Dragon Age: Origins is a modern take on a classic computer role-playing game. It tells the story of the fantastic country Ferelden. As growing numbers of Darkspawn, violent and twisted humanoids, attack the population the King’s Army and the Grey Wardens get ready for battle to stop an invasion before it fully begins. Your character is destined to join the order of the Grey Wardens who devote their lives to fight against the Darkspawn. How your character gets to this point depends on her on his Origin. Their are six completely different origin stories which take part before the main events. Which of these stories your character experiences is determined by her or his race (Human, Elf or Dwarf) and class (Warrior, Mage or Rogue). But while the origin has a influence on details (e.g. dialog options) the main story line always remains the same.

Although Dragon Age: Origins looks like a third person action game on a quick glance it is still a round based role-playing game at the core. Both your characters and the enemies can only perform one action (melee attack, casting a spell, use of a potion, etc.) per fixed time round. But fights progress in real time unless you pause the game. The success or failure of each action depends on the attributes of the characters (e.g. strength or dexterity), objects (e.g. the type and level of a weapon), various boosts (e.g. magic spells) and a random factor. Careful aiming or quick reflexes are not required. Strategy on the other hand is important. It starts with picking the correct party with a mix of different classes. You need Warriors to protect your Mages from physical attacks, Rogues to disarm traps and for stealth attacks and Mages to heal your party and to combat hostile magic. Picking the right kind of attack is also crucial: Dragons are immune to fire attacks but very susceptible to cold attacks.

Dragon Age: Origins has a lot of virtues:

  1. The game has epic proportions. It took me over 88 hours to complete the main story and most of the side missions. It took another 25 to 30 hours to play through all of the extensions.
  2. The story is very well written with a lot of attention to detail. The history and social structure of Ferelden are very coherently defined and let the setting appear almost real.
  3. It features a huge number of locations and massive dungeons that you can explore.
  4. You will encounter a huge number of interesting and excellently voiced characters. There are a lot of very entertaining dialogs.
  5. The player is allowed to make a lot of decisions during the game. But they are not aligned to a moral codex, they are not classified as good or evil. They only change how people interact with the main character, in particular how much your companions approve of her or his actions. But while a particular choice might please one of your companions it might anger another one. And while the consequences of your actions are sometimes severe they are not always easy to predict.
  6. The extension Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening has the scope of a full game.

There are also a few minor aspects that could have been better:

  1. The main character isn’t voiced (except in one of the extensions). This disrupts the flow of dialogs.
  2. The game’s background is strongly influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A bit more novel content would have made the story even more exciting.
  3. Round based role-playing games usually allow you to pause the game and select the actions that all your characters will execute during the next round. And while this is possible in the PC version of the game it is missing in the console version. You can pause the game by opening the radial menu. But as soon as you select a single action the game continues. This makes managing your characters unnecessarily tricky, in particular if you fight a large number of enemies with a party of four.
  4. Some of the extended content recycles the layout of locations from the original game, even if the plot takes place somewhere else.

Dragon Age: Origins can definitely hold its own against BioWare’s science fiction titles that I enjoy playing so much. I can highly recommend the Ultimate edition of the game as you get a lot of extra contents for your money. I would also recommend to play all origins stories first and then pick the character you like the most for playing the main game.

Movie of the Week: Gravity

Ever since I saw the first trailer for Gravity a few months ago I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. You can imagine how annoyed I was when Warner Brother postponed the UK release by a month for no obvious reasons. But last Sunday Silke and I finally had the opportunity to watch this film.

Gravity tells the story of two US Astronauts who get stranded in space after their Space Shuttle gets destroyed by a cloud of debris created by the destruction of multiple satellites. With low oxygen reserves and only one Manned Maneuvering Unit their options are very limited. In a desperate attempt to save their lives they  travel through the vastness of space to reach the International Space Station with the hope of using one of the docked Soyuz spacecrafts to return to earth.

Gravity combines spectacular visual effects with an exciting story. Sometimes you experience space as an amazing panorama with a stunning view on Earth. And in the next moment you get shown the view from within the confines of an astronaut’s helmet spinning uncontrolled in zero gravity. You experience both the beauty and the hostility of this environment. The two astronauts have to fight very hard for their survival and face more than only the dangers of space. Sandra Bullock‘s portrayal of Dr. Ryan Stone, a frightened scientist caught in this cosmic catastrophe, is very convincing.

I greatly enjoyed watching Gravity for a number of reasons. It felt like a ninety minute roller coaster ride on many different levels. While I’m usually not particular impressed by 3D live action movies (computer animated movies like Avatar look much better ) the effects work very well in this case. In the vastness of space there are simply no objects in the background which still remain blurry even if your eyes focus on them. The creators of the film also didn’t ignore the laws of physics in the interest of the script, they made them part of the script instead: objects have inertia, there is no up or down in zero gravity and sound cannot travel through space. It is also nice (once in a while) to see a science fiction movie that portrays space travel using our current technology and not some miracle ships with instantaneous travel, shields and artificial gravity.

Overall Gravity is an excellent movie with a lot of action, amazing special effects and good acting.

N7 Day

Last Thursday BioWare celebrated the second annual N7 Day with the fans of the Mass Effect video games. I had invited my battle-scarred multiplayer squad mates Stelios and Yash for dinner at our house. Silke made Shepard‘s pie for the main course, and Yash brought Banoffee Pie as dessert. We had a very nice evening. We covered a lot of topics, some even unrelated to Mass Effect.

As an awesome surprise I got a present from Stelios, a female Commander Shepard Lego mini figure:

lego-femshep

She even has an M-8 Avenger. Brilliant! 🙂