Why APB: Reloaded Will Succeed

Sometime in Q1 2011, APB will return as “APB: Reloaded.” The original designers are onboard thanks to the game and studio being bought by K2 Network. Numerous improvements are being planned, and there are a few reasons why I think APB: Reloaded will succeed. “Gasp! APB succeeding?” Why, yes. As a player of APB during it’s original run, I saw the huge amount of potential that the game has. Unfortunately, due to EA forcing Realtime Worlds to rush APB out the door, the game was not what it was promised to be.

APB: Reloaded promises to make the game what it was originally supposed to be while improving the bad aspects of the game that became evident during the game’s original run. So, what will APB: Reloaded do that will make this game succeed? I have three points that I think will lead to the game working out this time around.

1. Tougher Crackdown On Hackers
Towards the end of the game’s life cycle, APB was plagued by hackers. Countless people used aim bots, wall hacks, and god mode hacks. It was a little out of control, and Realtime Worlds are already discussing the matter of eliminating foul play from APB: Reloaded. There seems to be a good amount of confidence coming from them at the moment, and they’ve had a bit of time to learn from their mistakes in APB and, presumably, they’ll be able to close a fair amount of holes that hackers exploited originally.

2. Revamped Gameplay Focus
Realtime Worlds has stated that they want San Paro to be a more enjoyable city this time around, the core PvP gameplay will not be the complete focus of the game anymore. Apparently there will be true PvE objectives in parts of the city, and plans are in place to make players want to return to specific areas of the city. To the average reader, this sounds like Realtime Worlds wants to implement something in the districts that will make players want to hang around at certain streets and locations. Minigames? Fun and rewarding quests? I’m willing to bet on both. Perhaps we’ll have access to a miniature casino, an arcade, or something else along those lines? It’s completely probable judging from Realtime Worlds’ comments. They want people to want to hang out in specific areas of the districts. Something is at work here, and I feel that it will add a lot of replayability to the game. The fact that PvP will not necessarily be the core focus of the game is also a great idea. They want the cities to feel more like, well, cities. Let’s hope that the revamping of the gameplay is going in a good direction.

3. Free To Play/Microtransactions
Free. To. Play. Those are the three most important words in this entire article. Players will still be able to perform microtransactions to probably obtain premium features and items, but paying to play is absolutely not required anymore. This is fantastic, as the original APB simply was not good enough to warrant monthly payments at all. Not having to pay will give the developers a lot of breathing room, and players will have more patience with the game if it is still lacking when it relaunches. By not having to pay, more players will be likely to stay on and wait for improvements.

Overall, APB: Reloaded may very well be the game that we were originally meant to play. Can’t wait! Stay tuned for more info.

Return to December 2010 Articles

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APB (Review)

“A good attempt at team based PvP, but is not without a few shortcomings.”

Despite being in development for several years, I hadn’t heard of APB (All Points Bulletin) until just a few months ago when I had seen a gameplay feed on justin.tv and had mistaken it for Grand Theft Auto. It isn’t surprising that I had thought APB was a Grand Theft Auto game, since the creator of the GTA (David Jones) was involved in the creation process of APB. Since then, I’ve become quite the follower of APB and quickly purchased the game when it was released on June 29.

When I initially wrote this review, I had given the game 8.7 out of 10, praising it immensely. I have since amended the review, and it is what you’re reading now. When I had posted the original version of my review, I had only played the game for 10 or 12 hours, which isn’t a terribly long time with an MMO. I didn’t rush to put a review up, but I did write about APB sooner than I should have. I wanted to put a review up before the big name sites so that I would get hits, which did end up working. While my traffic increased by approximately 1000% (if that makes any sense), the dozens upon dozens of random visitors came only to read a review that painted a false picture of a game that isn’t terribly amazing. I’ve spent my full 50 free hours with APB now, and I’ve altered my review to show how I truly feel about the game.

APB is nothing revolutionary nor does it really excel at what it does. Despite this, it’s the only game that I can think of that involves a “cops and robbers” sort of gameplay on a fairly large scale. This immediately makes APB fairly unique, and it sets itself far apart from other MMO games.

When most people think of MMOs, they quickly think of Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, or the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. Shooters play a large part in the MMO genre as well, but they are vastly overshadowed by MMORPGs. APB looks to change that by taking a theme that we all loved when we were children, cops versus robbers. Every young boy played some kind of variation of cops and robbers with his friends growing up, and it makes me wonder if developer Realtime Worlds had this in mind when they created this game.

A positive aspect of APB that sets it apart from other massively multiplayer games is the payment system. Players get 50 free hours of game time when they purchase APB. After the 50 hours run out, they have the option of paying a small sum that will grant them several more hours that they can play whenever they like which is a fantastic system for those who want to pay as they play rather than have to deal with monthly subscriptions. A second option allows players to pay a fixed rate for a month of unlimited play. This is not a recurring fee, so you’ll never have to worry about being charged by Electronic Arts or Realtime Worlds when you don’t want to be, and you don’t need to cancel your account to avoid those nasty subscriptions which plague other online games.

In APB, players are plunked into the crime-ridden city of San Paro. The mayor was previously murdered as crime began to escalate out of control, and the city’s police force looked incompetent. The former mayor’s daughter rises to power and quickly decides to ruthlessly attack the crime problem by passing a law that allows citizens to stand up and fight for their city as Enforcers, not quite police officers but certainly more than mere vigilantes.

The player has the option to play one of two factions, Criminals or Enforcers. The Criminals faction should require little explaining. Their goal is more or less to just infest the city and cause trouble for the civilians and law enforcement officials. Criminals do many things such as mugging pedestrians, bombing locations, delivering drugs at checkpoints, and stealing merchandise. On the other side of things, we have the Enforcers. They are the “good guys” and must keep an eye out for Criminals giving pedestrians trouble (muggings can warrant arrests) as well as responding to calls from dispatchers who they pledge allegiance to. Both factions have minor methods of making quick cash as well. Criminals can earn money by mugging pedestrians, and Enforcers can make a few quick bucks by turning in stolen vehicles.

Aside from a few minor differences, both factions mostly play the same. The only things that I think really stand out between them is that Criminals typically look more “ghetto” than Enforcers, and unlike the crime-fighting good guy faction, Criminals can mow down pedestrians and not be penalized for it. Enforcers obviously cannot run over pedestrians without paying the price for it, which often comes in the form of losing levels (called “prestige” for Enforcers, and “notoriety” for Criminals).

Mission gameplay is fairly similar between both factions. More often than not, players just need to deliver items, prevent the opposing faction from controlling a location, or either cleaning/vandalizing parts of the city. If you are not grouped, missions will always start as PvE, sort of. Players will receive a mission prompt and, after accepting it, must venture around San Paro by foot or vehicle fulfilling whatever the mission asks. Players from the opposing faction will randomly jump into the same mission, which quickly turns everything into PvP. It is at this point that you can try to outsmart your opponent, or call for assistance. Doing the latter will put out a distress message to players who aren’t in a group and, if they acknowledge it, they will join the group and (hopefully) come to your aid.

The best part of APB is undoubtedly when you have multiple people taking part in the same mission. Coordination becomes key, and teamwork is paramount. Is everyone in the group except one person driving to the mission destination? Well, if they are nowhere near a vehicle vendor or available car, you can swing by and pick them up. Passengers in your car can hang out the door windows with their guns, ready to blast anyone who causes trouble for the group. Sticking together at the mission destinations is absolutely vital, and those who do not look out for their teammates will find themselves dying frequently. APB does not encourage Rambo tactics, and rushing in like a madman will only result in death.

Despite the fact that team play is essentially what makes APB good, there are numerous problems with the core PvP gameplay itself that seriously hurt the game. For starters, once you have taken part in about three or four missions, you have essentially seen them all until Realtime Worlds adds more to the game. There are numerous missions throughout the ingame districts, but they all suffer from a severe case of deja vu, and you will find yourself doing the same thing again over and over and over and over and… You get the picture.

There are three districts to San Paro at the moment. The districts are Social, Financial, and Waterfront. The Social District is where players of both factions can just take some time to chill, but there are also dozens of kiosks spread throughout the district that allow players to buy new clothes, weapons, vehicles, and so forth while also customizing their characters. The Social District is a great place to sit when you just want to talk to your clan (guild), or when you want to check out new unlocked items that you acquired through completing missions.

The other two districts, Financial and Waterfront, are where the action takes place. In these two districts, players can openly accept missions and engage in PvP. A fourth district is supposedly in the works that will be very hectic and have open PvP that is not mission based, meaning that it will essentially be a large scale deathmatch game set in a city. Both of the PvP districts are fairly large, measuring about one square kilometre each. It does not sound like much, but considering that there are many overpasses, buildings that can be entered, and side streets, the districts feel much larger than they really are. You can cross a district fairly quickly in a fast car, but this is only when you drive point to point without any missions to district you. To finish off the districts, they sounds like they may be small and they certainly are, but there are so many accessible areas in each that it makes them feel larger than they really are.

Customization in the game is fairly extensive. Some have said that other games, such as Champions Online, have better customization options. I have played Champions Online and, to be honest, I feel that APB blows it out of the water. There are dozens of sliders just for head features alone. The customization for characters is really amazing, and it even surpasses almost every singleplayer game out there as well. Every aspect of your character’s appearance can be controlled by you, it’s really pretty amazing and, dare I say, creating an exact copy of yourself may not be very difficult!

There are extensive editors for clothing and vehicles as well, allowing you to give your character as much personality as you want. The vehicle editor is pretty impressive, as you can customize your vehicle’s wheels and such while also changing the paint job and applying whatever decals you want. There are so many decals available that creating designs based off of real things isn’t terribly difficult. Instead of doing that, I opted to paint my boring looking white car to look like a police cruiser, complete with the word “POLICE” plasted on the side. This compliments my Enforcer character wonderfully since he looks like a no-nonsense state trooper.

The customization is fantastic, though. The sky is pretty much the limit. Do you want to make Ronald McDonald driving a corporate McDonald’s car? No problem, it’s entirely possible. I’ve seen some pretty cool characters and vehicles ingame such as a very convincing Richard Nixon. Again, the customization is fantastic. I cannot stress this enough.

Another bit of “customization” that I like is the ability to decide what music you will hear when driving vehicles. You can create playlists with the songs that ship with the game, or you can use music that you have on your computer. The really cool thing about using music on your computer is that when other people are with you in your vehicle, they will hear the music you’ve chosen off of your computer if they have the same song(s) on their computer. The game utilizes last.fm to achieve this, and it really adds a great deal of immersion to the driving in this game.

While I’m talking about driving, I may as well mention the controls. Maneuvering your character is really no issue at all, and I found the character controls to be very fluid and responsive. Even aiming in the middle of gun fights is pulled off flawlessly, and appears to be completely unaffected by lag. Vehicle controls are a little different though, and they take some getting used to. Every vehicle has extremely stiff handling in APB, which makes drifting around corners essentially impossible – unless there’s a trick that I am not aware of. Vehicles are so stiff and slow to respond to your inputs that it can be frustrating at times. Directing your vehicle to turn in a certain direction can be very slow going, and I’ve found myself accidentally running over a few pedestrians and streetside objects due to my car not turning as fast as I expect it sometimes. Pedestrians can move back and forth in front of your car faster than you can weave, which is unusual to say the least. There is also the problem of vehicles flipping easily when they really shouldn’t be doing so at all. It’s not uncommon to see over a dozen flipped vehicles within one hour, and these flips are mostly all caused by driving accidents.

While the controls are just fine in combat, I found that sometimes it was difficult to judge where an opponent was when I was being shot at immediately. The game world can be so open in some areas that members of the other faction, who are involved in the same mission as you, may be shooting at you from down the street and on top of a building or in other vague locations. When this happens, I quickly scurry to anything that offers cover as I look down at my radar to see where the fire is coming from. Sometimes I will misjudge where I am being shot at from, and instead of hiding from the incoming rounds, I’ll unknowingly position myself in an even better location to be shot at. APB’s shooting mechanics would work wonderfully in a smaller game such as Counter-Strike or Team Fortress, but in a wide open city it can be difficult at times to find out just where you are being shot from, and unless you see the shooter quickly, you’ll probably end up dead – especially if they are using an SMG. There are several guns that do not seem very balanced, and you’ll soon learn what they are for yourself if you decide to play APB. It’s baffling how such a huge weapon imbalance exists when the game had gone through extensive beta testing.

Matchmaking can also cause a few problems with the game. Who you are paired against is seemingly random, as I’ve witnessed players with ratings of 20 being paired against three players with ratings over 200. The difference between 20 and 200 is gigantic, with the 200+ players having several upgrades to their characters and their weapons, which puts the low rating players at severe disadvantages. This problem occurs very often and quite honestly needs to be addressed, as it isn’t terribly fun to be pitted against players with the best upgrades available when you don’t even have one. Realtime Worlds promised that this game would reward players based on skill rather than time spent playing, but it has become evident that this is not the case with APB.

I found that the matchmaking problem can be relieved slightly by playing with real life friends, but even this lost it’s fun factor for me when my friends, who have far more time to play than I do, cruised past my rating. This made the game even more likely to give them higher rating opponents. It wasn’t bad when we were all low ratings and struggled together, but being the only one who is still moderately low (92, I believe), it makes things unfun when you are the only one who struggles against better geared players. It makes me feel a lot like a third wheel, which isn’t very fun at all.

I have a few issues with the graphics in this game. The city of San Paro looks just fine for an MMO and I don’t have a beef with it. However, I am quite upset with the player models. You see, when you are creating your character, you will see every little detail on their skin including individual moles and wrinkles. After jumping into the game and playing however, texture quality is reduced drastically and character models look, at best, only a third of how good they looked on the customization screens. I have all of my video settings on maximum and my computer is a powerhouse that is only a little more than a year old, so there’s no reason for my character to look so much worse when I am playing him. Others have complained about this issue as well, and it’s quite peculiar. I will assume that Realtime Worlds will address this in a future patch. My computer can certainly handle better looking character models ingame, and I feel slightly robbed by the fact that my character doesn’t even look half as good as he did on the customization screens. While this is due to me being on 32 bit Windows, I’ve seen a few screenshots from 64 bit users and, while their character detail wasn’t as reduced as mine, it was still present and they weren’t happy about it.

Loading is also a little slow when you are entering districts from the lobby. Load times can be up to a minute long, sometimes longer if you are playing in windowed mode and passing time in your browser or another window while you wait for a district to load. The length of the load times doesn’t diminish the gameplay too much, but when your group decides to switch instances or districts often, you’ll find yourself staring at the loading screen far more than often than playing the game.

In terms of stability, APB is a bag of mixed nuts. While most MMO titles have very shaky launches for all users, game performance has been divided amongst APB players. Some players have experienced no problems on 64 bit Windows, while others have. There are poor shmucks like me who are still on 32 bit Windows and are experiencing far too many problems. APB seems to enjoy crashing at random, or when I am in a car and someone blows it up. I also encounter bizarre black screens and game freezes when I am in the social district and trying to load up the editors. The game halts itself about three times per day, which is pretty annoying and quite bad when you think about it. There is also the case of lag and loading. Unless you have the best connection available, you’re going to experience lag while playing and many of your shots will not seem to register. I once emptied three full SMG clips into someone and they did not die, but they then saw me and killed me in about one second with only a few SMG rounds. I am on a LAN cable connection which affects my gaming slightly, but it should not cause this much lag. I would even dare say that a dial-up user shouldn’t encounter so many latency issues with a game. Very peculiar lag.

There is also a very troublesome memory leak that many players have reported. I initially did not notice it, but after playing many times in and out of full screen mode, it has become my worst enemy. Once you are playing APB, forget about anything else you have running on your computer. Do not touch MSN. Leave your browser alone. The time it will take to accomplish any task outside of the game while you AFK is absolutely insane. The memory leak causes me to wait up to a full minute for my browser to even function half the time, which is nothing short of ridiculous. I’ve had people say “it’s just because you run in windowed mode” but this is a gross inaccuracy. No MMO should affect your system in such a way. Perhaps I should resubscribe to World of Warcraft? That game never affected my computer at all, and runs silky smooth.

Overall, APB is a fairly competent and enjoyable MMO. There are a few problems that hold the game back from greatness, all of which I have mentioned above. None of the problems are game breaking however, and there’s no reason why anyone who enjoys PvP should flat out dislike this game. Trust me, if you’ve at least thought about trying the game, then the gameplay is probably something that appeals to you and you should enjoy the game somewhat, at least for a short time.

APB has had a very clean and stress-free launch, and future content sounds promising. With so much potential for future content and expansion packs, this will definitely be an MMO to watch in the future. If the game can hold your attention until then, you may be rewarded nicely. However, make sure your system can handle the game before playing, as there are A LOT of really unexplainable gremlins and glitches in this game that can, in some cases, absolutely destroy your gameplay experience.

As for me? My 50 hours are up and I’m unlikely to pay to continue playing unless some flaws are addressed, such as crippling display options for 32 bit Windows users, a lack of mission variety, very peculiar lag, poor matchmaking, the memory leak, and wonky vehicle controls. If you can overlook these issues which currently hold the game back from being a great MMO, then by all means give APB a try.

Final Score

6.9/10

The Decline of Need for Speed

The Need for Speed series has been respected and revered as one of the best arcade racing franchises ever developed. It has the numbers to back it up as well, as Need for Speed is the fifth best selling video game franchise of all time, behind only Mario, Pokemon, Tetris, and The Sims.

Despite achieving such success, the series has developed a bit of a bad reputation among reviewers and the general public alike over the past few years by repeatedly releasing games in the series which share very few common similarities except rushed development times and generally poor reviews.

Generally, the Need for Speed franchise is losing more steam as it continues to evolve into the unstoppable beast of the racing game genre, pumping out at least two games a year now. To reflect the decline in the games’ quality, here are the metascores for each Need for Speed game in chronological order, oldest to newest.

The Need for Speed – N/A (8.3 from Gamespot)
Need for Speed II – 71
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 88
Need for Speed: High Stakes – 86
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – 78
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II – 89
Need for Speed: Underground – 85
Need for Speed: Underground 2 – 82
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 82
Need for Speed: Carbon – 74
Need for Speed: ProStreet – 62
Need for Speed: Undercover – 59
Need for Speed: Nitro – 68
Need for Speed: SHIFT – 84

With the exception of SHIFT’s success, the Need for Speed series has almost been in a steady decline since 2002. That is eight years of Need for Speed titles being consistently worse, barely even ranking above “average” since ProStreet in 2007.

Two more games in the Need for Speed franchise will be released this year. The first, due out next month, is Need for Speed World, a PC MMO. From what I understand, a beta began quite recently and the general consensus is that the game is unfortunately very bad. A low metascore is pretty much a sure thing with NFS World, unfortunately.

The second game coming this year may help get the staggering series back strongly on two feet (or four wheels?). Currently titled Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, it is the third game in the Hot Pursuit sub-series. The previous two Hot Pursuit titles scored 88 and 89 on Metacritic, the two highest scores that the series has received on the ranking and scoring website.

Electronic Arts is playing it smart with Hot Pursuit III. They know what works and what the core fans of the series enjoys most, and that’s the Hot Pursuit aspect of the franchise. While Carbon, ProStreet, Undercover and Nitro were interesting experiments, they can be considered failures due to being the lowest scoring games in the series since Need for Speed II, a thirteen year old game that hadn’t even found it’s footing or decided yet what it wanted to be.

Hot Pursuit III, ultimately, will be the game that decides whether or not Need for Speed will continue to be successful in the long term. NFS World will inevitably bomb judging by the comments by beta testers, and if Hot Pursuit III follows suit, then I’m afraid that Need for Speed’s time will almost be over.

If the new Hot Pursuit works out and happens to be a success, I truly hope that Electronic Arts will see the light and base all future Need for Speed games on the Hot Pursuit formula. After all, it has worked pretty darn well for the two games based around it.

To conclude the post, here are videos of Hot Pursuit, Hot Pursuit II, and what I assume will be named Hot Pursuit III. It’s quite cool to play them all at the same time and check out how the series has evolved in terms of gameplay and graphics.

Return to June 2010 Articles

Crysis 2: Marine Salvage Trailer

I will admit that I had my doubts about Crysis 2 when I heard that it would take place in a city setting. The first game did such an amazing job with the jungle, the water, and much more. Could they really do as good of a job with a boring, grey city? Well..

Yes, they have. This game is looking better and better all the time! Watch for it in stores around November of this year.

Return to June 2010 Articles

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

If the recent Need for Speed games are anything to go by, then the series looks to be returning to its roots. Announced at E3 2010 is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. I am assuming that this is just a temporary title since “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” is also the name of the third game in the NFS series. This game will likely be named Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit III in time.

The police will obviously play a big part in this game, and hopefully there will be some rally exciting new features to hot pursuit mode itself.

The two cars that are visible in the trailer are the Lambourghini Murcielago and Bugatti Veyron. The Veyron is the police cruiser in the video, which leads me to believe that we’re going to be seeing some very fast cops in this game!

It is fantastic to see Need for Speed returning to the style of racing that made it so popular. The previous two Hot Pursuit titles (NFS3 and NFS6, respectively) are my two favourites in the series, and I appreciate them much more than the Underground series or the “sim” style NFS games such as Shift.

This is the real Need for Speed. Welcome back, baby!

Return to June 2010 Articles

Dragon Age: Origins (Review)

“Bioware delivers another fantastic hit RPG.”

When most people thought about Bioware a year ago, several titles would run through their minds such as Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, or Mass Effect. However, towards the end of 2009, Bioware unleashed another quality title that would soon become a hot property and DLC cash cow. Several months later and that title, Dragon Age: Origins, has become the RPG to own of 2009. But why?

First, there is the setting of Dragon Age: Origins. Set in the nation of Ferelden on the continent of Thedas, Bioware has woven a very intricate and mesmerizing fantasy world from scratch. Many traditional fantasy elements are of course present, such as mountain-dwelling greedy dwarven folk, fearsome dragons, and the antagonizing evil force capable of crushing any army that stands against it.

This antagonizing force is known as the Darkspawn, a faction of repulsive creatures that live underground in the Deep Roads. Every couple hundred years, a Darkspawn leader known as the Archdemon leads the creatures to the surface world where they immediately wage war on, well, everything. This is called a Blight which can only be stopped by an ancient organization known as the Gray Wardens, and it is the prime focus of the entire game as you take on the role of rookie Warden. Setting out for dozens of hours with the intention of just stopping this one inevitable invasion never gets boring either, as Bioware seemed to be slightly inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the way that the Darkspawn attack and conquer, how they sound, and even how they look. Indeed, the Uruk-Hai appear to be the prime influence of the Darkspawn design.

While setting out to defeat the Darkspawn threat, you will of course meet many interesting characters along the way, some who will join you and some whom will fight against you. Each character you meet has their own distinctive and impressively developed personality. The quality of the writing for party members and major plot characters is very staggering, easily standing up to the scripts of professional films despite a few cheesy moments. Further enhancing the believability of the characters are the moral choices you are consistently presented with. Characters will react according to your choices, which ranges from gaining favour with them, turning your friends against you, or even unlocking class specializations. As well, you will frequently be able to kill minor plot characters if you make incorrect or immoral decisions. You have the opportunity to kill more important characters, but this is much more uncommon.

By gaining favour with party members, you will increase their approval rating towards you which grants them bonuses in battle, which I will now discuss. Anyone who has played Knights of the Old Republic, Final Fantasy XII, or surprisingly World of Warcraft or other major MMORPGs will quickly understand how the combat system in this game works. Your character and party members will have action bars in which you can drag and drop items or powers and skills that you learn through gaining levels. The three classes all have standard skills, such as warriors having tanking related abilities and stances, rogues receiving archery and stealth related techniques, and mages being given a wealth of magic abilities. Upon using an ability in your action bar, a cooldown will be initiated for that ability and you will have to wait a few moments to use it again.

Micromanaging four party members may sound daunting at first, but like the first two games I used as examples in the previous paragraph, you can set up tactics for each party member. Tactics essentially tell the AI who, what, where, when, why, and how. Tactics decide what your computer controlled allies will do in combat. Spend time setting each members’ tactics up appropriately and you will find combat to be a breeze. However, if you neglect to give your characters the proper tactics, you will find the AI struggling to overcome the Darkspawn and other baddies that you will encounter. Of course, you can always pause the game by pressing the space bar and switching to another character to manually issue orders. By utilizing tactics and the pause function, players should feel very in control of the entire party and will not take long to adjust.

Naturally, killing enemies will reward you with experience points, and their fallen bodies can be looted. Upon receiving a set number of experience points, you will of course level up. When this happens, you are allowed to manually distribute stat points and learn new abilities in the skill trees. Dragon Age allows you to be quite diverse with how you develop your characters, and at specific levels you can unlock sub-classes called specializations. These will enable mages to become armed fighters or for rogues to become rangers who can summon animal friends. By giving a mage the arcane warrior and spirit healer specializations, this practically creates a new class resembling a paladin as the mage can benefit from heavy armor and melee weapons, and can also unleash very powerful healing spells. Warriors and rogues can be transformed similarly, and it is an absolute joy to be able to branch out from your starting class in such a way.

Exploration is similar to the two games I mentioned previously, Knights of the Old Republic and Final Fantasy XI. You are given a static world map (which is literally just that, a map) with locations that you can hover over and click on to travel to. A cloudy black line will signify the route that your group is taking on the map, and as this black line moves over the map, you may or may not run into random encounters. These can range from battles to storyline sequences or even to, well, just random encounters with people. One random encounter I had once was a group of hopeless villagers who were trying to pull a sword out of a stone. While the world map is very linear, the ingame environments are usually fairly sprawling and loaded with quests to take on, people to talk to, or monsters to kill.

A very impressive aspect of Dragon Age is the audio department. Music is very well done and sounds like it was inspired by Lord of the Rings. A battle with the Darkspawn will reveal exactly why, as the music sounds like any ominous track played during the Isengard scenes. Throughout the entire game, music shines brilliantly. Sound effects range from decent to good, never seeming to dip above or below the mark. However, voice acting completely steals the show and is one of the absolutely highlights of Dragon Age. Bioware recruited some very fine talent for this game such as Claudia Black, Steve Blum, Kate Mulgrew, Tim Curry, Tim Russ, Steve Valentine and many more. It is the most complete cast of voice actors that I have ever heard in an RPG and I am supremely impressed by the performances given by the cast. Claudia Black, who does the voice of Morrigan, brings her character to life in a way that I cannot possibly describe. Steve Valentine accomplishes the same feat with Alistair. Star Trek Voyager alumni Kate Mulgrew and Tim Russ also do very well in their respective roles.

I regret leaving the graphics until just now, but they truly are quite nice. Some locations such as Redcliffe or Orzimmar look fabulous, though there are a few areas of the game which the visuals clearly take a back seat. Most environments do tend to be fairly pretty to look at, and I seldom found myself being unimpressed by a locale. Character and creature models are much better though, as I can only recall one model which I found to be even remotely subpar, and that would be the model used for the annoyingly persistent deep stalkers. The main cast and major plot characters all look very well done. Morrigan in particular has a very alluring and well designed appearance, and Denerim’s grizzled war veteran Loghain is modelled very well also.

Dragon Age: Origins offers plenty of replayability as there are literally dozens of ways that you can play through the game considering most situations you wind up in will present you with three or four moral decisions. In one run through the game you may play as a lawful person who always does the right thing, while in your next trip through you can choose to make choices which make you appear, perhaps, as the most evil entity in the entire game. Multiple playthroughs will also enable you to unlock more class specializations, so there is that to work towards as well.

Overall, Dragon Age: Origins fully deserves every bit of the reputation it acquired since the end of 2009, and it deserves any further reputation it will gain in 2010. This is a very complete and high quality game that every RPG fan should own, as it will provide hours of entertainment.

Final Score

9.3/10