How the Xbox sucked the life out of Dragon Age
Around the time Dragon Age came out, I bought an Xbox. It came with two games, and Dragon Age was one of them. I started it up and played through a few of the origins, and then I read John Walker's review in PCG 207. I couldn't believe it. 94 percent? For this? Sure, there's great talky bits (I'm a fan of talky bits) but the combat is just dull, and there's so much of it that I couldn't stand marching through any more of it just to get to five minutes of dialogue. I couldn't understand his review. I started to think he might have Bioware bedsheets. Of course, John Walker is one of our mightiest writers, and he wasn't wrong about Dragon Age - it just didn't match up to what I was playing. On Xbox, it's like eating your favourite meal on an economy class flight - it suffers from being crammed into a little plastic box.
On the Xbox, pausing the game to position my guys was an unwieldy wrestling match against the controller, the UI was a mess clustered around a radial menu, and I never did work out crafting. It felt like a fever dream. I stopped playing, I abandoned Ferelden to the blight, and I got on with Brütal Legend (which did that noisy black box proud, might I add).
Almost a year passed, and I got my hands on a copy of Dragon Age: Origins for the PC. "I never did complete that," I thought to myself. "I'll take it home, see if I can finish it this time." I took it home. I played through the Dwarven Commoner Origin and thought it was great - no real fighting, the way I played it, and when I did have to face someone it was a one-on-one duel that would have been a doddle on any gaming platform. But there were still a few origins I hadn't tried, and I wanted to sample each one before I forged ahead to Ostagar and the main plot.
When I tried a Dalish elf character, I made a jaw-dropping discovery. The Dalish origin has you wind through a series of underground caves fighting giant spiders, skeletons, and Darkspawn (which are definitely not orcs), and it showcases the improved PC combat wonderfully - pause with the spacebar, click to select a party member, move the camera to a group of enemies, right click on that enemy to attack. You can move your rogues behind enemies for maximum damage, have your mage run to exactly the right place for an area effect spell, and really look at the battlefield. I could finally enjoy it, get behind it.
The UI makes more sense on a PC too. No holding the left trigger and paddling around with the analogues - just click 'inventory' and there it is. You can even press M to open your map. If you tried it on Xbox and wrote John Walker off as a maniac, like I did, you've made a terrible mistake. Ferelden is waiting for you, friends, and those Darkspawn aren't going to eviscerate themselves.