I’ve actually put off writing about Dragon Age for a little while, unsure I’d be able to write about it without a) revealing lots of spoilers and b) sounding like a terrible fangirl. Now, I can’t promise I won’t go all gooey over it, but given that I’m halfway into my third play through I think I can now judge what is safe to reveal to the potential player.We got Dragon Age:Origins at Christmas, the same time we got the xbox, and I can safely say I have barely stopped playing it since; what’s that, nearly four months? Blimey. So I’m writing this blog partly as a fangirlish squee-athon for the awesomeness that is Dragon Age, and partly to distract my friends from the intervention they are no doubt planning at this very moment. Dragon Age is a cheerfully violent RPG from Bioware (who also brought us the extraordinary Mass Effect, as if you didn’t know) and I will admit immediately that I know very little about such things. Not that I’m a total video games noob you understand; I’ve been an enthusiastic gamer since I got my Gameboy back in, gawd, was it 1989? I had a SNES after that, and a Gamecube, inherited a Playstation and then borrowed a Playstation 2, but having now dipped my toe in the New Age of Gaming that is the Xbox 360 (and no doubt the Playstation 3) I know that my gaming education is somewhat lacking. Games these days are epic! *cough* Anyway, before I get carried away by how exciting video games are now, I’ll get back to my original point. Dragon Age: Origins is the best game I’ve ever played, and this is why… Characters! A combination of top writing, excellent voice acting, appealing design and a system of approval/disapproval means that by the end of the game, you are likely to be as fond of your various companions as any characters you may have grown to love in any lengthy book. Relationships are complicated in DA, and this, I think, is the true genius of the game. You have to win your companions over, either by making decisions they approve of, or by giving them presents, but even that is not simple; one character will approve of your dodgy dealings with assassins, where another will get the proper hump with you. Pay too much attention to the dangerous elf with the amusing accent and the ridiculously cute ex-Templar will sulk. Appear to be taking things a little easy and the Qunari will lose his rag. And they don’t just argue with you. Your companions bicker cheerfully in the background as you move from place to place, leading to some excellent dialogue that often had me laughing out loud. Eventually most of them will come to like and trust you as the great leader you are, and your attentions may even pay off in the form of some moodily lit sexy goings on. Score! It is difficult to point to favourite characters here, because genuinely there isn’t an unlikeable character amongst them, but yes, alright, I do love Alistair. But, I would point out, this isn’t really my fault. They clearly have some sort of evil genius at Bioware, creating a funny, angsty knight in shining armour who I am utterly unable to resist. Honestly, third play through and I still haven’t been able to unlock any other romance achievements… Aside from Alistair (who also has some of the best dialogue) special mention should also go to Zevram, the Antivan Elf of dubious morals who resembles an infinitely more cheerful Legolas, with the voice of Puss in Boots from Shrek 2, and Morrigan, the sexy apostate mage voiced, in a stroke of geek genius, by Claudia Black. And then there’s Oghren, a sort of 18 certificate Yosemite Sam who spends most of the game drunk and will occasionally stand around shouting “ASS CHAPS!” and Sten, a sort of klingon but without the cheerful disposition, and saucy Leliana and Shale and… Well, you get the point. There are many other factors that make DA such a joy. You are asked to make difficult decisions at every point in the game, giving you a real sense of responsibility and often changing the outcome of the story. The story itself is compelling, and full of surprises (the first time you play the battle at Ostagar is pretty stunning). Visually it looks fabulous, with dangerous forests and claustrophobia inducing dungeons, and even out of the way, no mark villages like Lothering are fully realized spaces with their own atmosphere. The game is also, in my opinion, very aware of where it has come from. I was reminded strongly of A Song of Ice and Fire several times whilst playing, along with Lord of the Rings of course, and Marty had echoes of Dragonlance. The people who made this game both know and love the fantasy genre, and aren’t afraid to inject a little humour into it. The conclusion I came to, in amazement and with no small joy, was that playing DA was like playing a book, only you were allowed to be the main character and make all the important decisions. You can live in another world and go on adventures and at the end, it’s your name in the codex. It’s the purest form of escapism. This does of course apply to many, many other video games and won’t be a surprise to most, but you’ll have to forgive me; I’m a little new to this. Anyway, since I could happily talk about this all day, and this blog is already much too long, I promise I will shut up about this for a little while. Can’t promise I’ll ever stop playing, though. FOR FERELDEN!