Usually, picking which platform you play a game on comes down to personal preference. Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) is a different enough beast on the PC than it is on the Xbox 360 that we thought giving you guys an overview of exactly what was different would help you decide. If you want to know about the gameplay and story of DAO, read Russ Pitt’s review here.
It’s true, the graphics are better on PC, if you have the rig to handle it. With a big chunk of RAM and a mid- to high-end GPU, you can turn the graphics sliders up to eleven and bask in the glorious landscapes of Ferelden. Even with the graphics set in the middle, DAO on the PC looks much better than it does on the 360. Weather and water effects are expertly animated, and fireballs feel like they might even singe your eyebrows.
That being said, the good graphics of DAO on the PC might actually make the characters look less real. On the 360, you can suspend disbelief for some reason, perhaps because we’re used to videogame conventions when playing a console RPG.
But because the faces look so much more real when the textures are rendered well, the stiff animations are more pronounced. Morrigan’s ridiculously overdone makeup looks better on the PC, but that makes her look like more a pretty mannequin than a real character, especially when she moves her arms and hands like she’s doing the Robot. Don’t even get me started on the sex scenes.
The control scheme of mouse and keyboard makes the fights in DAO much easier to manage. That doesn’t mean you won’t die fifty million times in your quest to save Ferelden, but the battles are at least less confusing. On the Xbox, you are required to make your decisions with a limited view of the field, but, on your PC, scrolling down on the mouse wheel gives you a tactical top-down view. This view lets you pan the camera around 360 degrees and see monsters in other rooms and around walls. The tactical view also makes avoiding friendly fire much easier than on the 360.
Pressing the spacebar pauses the game, which you will be doing often to give orders to your party. On the PC, this is aided by the ability to drag a box around multiple party members and give them all orders to move or attack one baddie, a classic RPG tactic that certainly still comes in handy in DAO. Switching control of individual party members is handled through pressing F1, F2, etc., or just clicking on them or their portrait. Selecting individual members gives you an action bar at the bottom of the screen which is automatically filled with each character’s specific abilities. You can customize the bar for each party member, dragging items from the inventory or spells from your book a la World of Warcraft. If you click on the handle at the end of the bar, you can stretch it across the screen to give you even more slots to fill. This is especially handy for the mage who has more spells available than a pomegranate has pips.
Looting and exploring are different on the PC too. The graphics inside buildings and dungeons look just as amazing as the rest of Dragon Age, but it’s usually important for quests and such to just find the one or two objects with which you can interact. Unlike on the 360, chests and loot are the only objects which sparkle by default so you are forced to flit around the cursor with your mouse on likely culprits such as books or statues. If you’re in a hurry, however, you can hold down the tab button to instantly highlight every interact-able object in view. Doing so has the secondary effect of showing the nameplates of enemies through walls and other obstacles. It is unclear whether this is a feature, or if it further breaks the immersion. It is a lot of fun to go around a bend in a corridor and be surprised with a hallway full of shambling corpses, but seeing “Shambling Corpses” floating in the middle of a bookcase because the monster is on the other side of the wall can feel like cheating. Ultimately, pressing tab in DAO is a play style choice that isn’t available to 360 users.
Overall, Dragon Age: Origins does feel like a different game on the PC. As many have said, the game’s pedigree begins with classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and it follows that DAO would find its home on the PC. If you have a decent enough system to handle the graphics, and if you’re reading this you probably do, then it only makes sense to play DAO on what I consider its native platform, the PC.
(Note: We have not seen DAO on the PlayStation 3 and cannot comment on what the graphics look like on that platform.)
Despite working in New York City for ten years as a freelance games journalist, playwright and theater producer, Greg Tito has a hard time convincing people that playing Grand Theft Auto 4 makes him feel nostalgic.