Dragon Age Journeys:
The Deep Roads
In this brand new fantasy RPG that fits right in your browser, Dragon Age Journeys: The Deep Roads sends you and your party deep beneath the earth to explore the dangerous Dwarven lands. As it turns out, exploring the realm has a lot less shaking hands with Dwarven merchants and diplomats, and a lot more weeping over the shattered remains of your comrades, and you soon find yourself alone in the strange underworld. Rather than spend the rest of your life in a fetal position in some nice, safe, dusty corner, you decide to carry out your mission and find out what was behind the attack that decimated your party.
You start out by making a character, choosing your appearance, sex, race, name, and class. The game autosaves after events and every battle, letting you resume play instantly whenever you like. But by making a free EA account (where the only information you need to provide is your e-mail), you can save anytime, and keep your achievements for special items. For the most part, the game is played with the mouse, clicking on an area to move there, or an item to pick it up.
Combat plays out in turns on a grid, with you, your allies, and your enemies attacking in turns. It's explained via a helpful tutorial that pops up when needed, but it essentially boils down to selecting your actions via the menu at the bottom, moving within the green area you can reach, and clicking on enemies to attack them. But what's interesting is that it can take such simple mechanics and still make battles feel strategic. Enemies use special abilities, place traps, and try to flank you. You can even use the terrain to your advantage, hiding behind obstacles to obscure yourself from ranged attackers. While it's still not exactly the stuff of legends, the combat system here at least manages to keep you involved in your battles, and elevate it above a mindless click-fest.
For an RPG small enough to fit in your browser, Journeys is remarkably detailed. There are treasures to find, skills to upgrade, quests to complete, and more. The gameplay tends to lean more towards dungeon-crawling combat than a text-heavy RPG, with much of your time spent trawling through caverns, but there's enough story and high adventure to bring a smile to the face of most traditional fantasy gamers. Each victory feels satisfying, every level you advance earned. You know that special feeling you get when you hack the shins off of something five times your size? Or that special glow when you finally have enough bloodied copper pennies to buy a new dagger? You'll find that in Journeys as well.
While the animation is perhaps a little rough'n'ready, leading to the sort of stiff, limb-flailing movement that puts one in mind of Kermit the Frog, the game as a whole actually looks quite good. Enemies are surprisingly detailed, magical effects look nice, and everything spouts a satisfying glurt of blood when struck in combat that makes it look like they're defending themselves with a ketchup squeezy bottle. Capping it off is a hefty orchestral soundtrack, guaranteed to make you feel like you're about to strap on your best set of pauldrons and march off to fame, gold, and certain painful demise.
Analysis: I could go into embarrassing detail about the depth of my love for RPG superstars Bioware and how I want to be Best Friends Forever with their entire writing department, but it turns out that now I can just point to Journeys as an example of why. While in essence the game is basically there to promote the upcoming console and PC RPG Dragon Age, Journeys still feels like a fleshed out game rather than an advertisement. And while no purchase is necessary to play Journeys, if you do have a copy of Dragon Age once it's released, you can actually earn items that will carry over into the retail version through completing quests and achievements.
Apart from acting as a means to whet your appetite, Journeys tells an interesting story. There's murder, betrayal, and a big, meaty helping of adventure that should satisfy your desire for mad loots and elf babes. While there's a lot of backstory here to the world that you may not be familiar with, none of it is really necessary to play and enjoy the game. Even without having read most of the Dragon Age supplemental material off the official website, I never felt as though characters were talking over my head.
But don't go thinking you can throw all your old RPGs out the window. A wise man once said, man cannot live on Flash RPGs alone, and for good reason. As fun and well made as it is, it still lacks a little in some aspects. You'll spend a lot of time tramping through long, mostly featureless corridors fighting battle after battle when all you really want is to get to the next bit of quest. It's frustrating as well that the dialogue here is as well written as in any Bioware game, but there's often not nearly enough of it. There are wide areas that are in sore need of even a non-story critical NPC to enliven them and keep them from feeling like they're just there to pad the length of time you'll spend walking around.
Journeys isn't a behemoth that's going to require days of your precious time to conquer, but it will easily offer a solid evening's enjoyment for most gamers. Longer if they seek out every item and every achievement. If you're looking for something more involved than most browser RPGs, Dragon Age Journeys easily has enough to keep you occupied, and may just leave you wanting more. Just remember that while the price of healing potions may be painful, not having any when you take a scimitar to the face hurts a lot more. Spend some time in Dragon Age. You just may be glad you did.