E3 2009: Dragon Age: Origins Preview
Many games offer you choices but in Dragon Age, every single choice has a dramatic impact on your experience.
It's really not that hard to see that Bioware makes some of the greatest roleplaying games to grace gamers' shelves. With a resume that includes Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights the quality titles that this one compay manages to churn out are staggering. However those were liscensed titles which meant that when Bioware was moving to work on more original IP's who knew what would happen. Well that led to the fantastic Jade Empire, epic Mass Effect and now Dragon Age.
The story behind Dragon Age Origins is that of the Grey Wardens. These brave men and women have fought off the Blight for a thousand years. This menace is when an Arch-Demon rises up, uniting all of the scattered minions of darkness and attempts to essentially bring about the end of the world. However the Grey Wardens have been able to stop it every time by killing the demon, removing the head from the horde and causing the armies to scatter, just as dangerous to each other as the good races.
While we have played other Bioware fantasy titles this is the first one that takes place in such a dark fantasy world, gritty and visceral to its core. Even the trailer was a bloody gore soaked affair with Marily Manson blaring in the background. That's just about all that needs to be said.
Combat isn't the highest point of the title but it works very well. The demo was played on a 360 controller and everything maps very well to the console, playing almost like a more action packed point and click. One controller button is used to attack enemies or interact with the environment while you have three other face buttons that are mapped to your combat skills. Plus if you find your skills unsuited to the situation at hand you can use one of the bumpers to open up a second set of face button mapped skills. This operates almost with the ease of using the number keys to throw off skills.
In titles like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect your main character eventually became a walking tank, able to carve through large groups of enemy troops by themselves. In Dragon Age the emphasis seems to be more on coordinated teamwork not on one character totally dominating combat.
For example there is a big dragon that you could fight off in the wilds. Not only is she overbearingly powerful but she has full 360 degree awareness and combat capabilities. This means she can claw one person, kick another, tail swipe a third, grab and slam the fourth and then blow a big ol' flame on your whole party. It took raising the dead several times, poisoning the beast by changing into a spider and lots of damage before it was taken down by a rather impressive finishing strike. The main character climbs onto the head of the beast, slashes its skull and then drives his sword down into it, killing it once and for all.
The biggest point of Dragon Age is definitely the fact that each playthrough of the game really allows you to shape your experience of the world. Depending on what character race you choose to play your story will move in an entirely different manner. Your party members might differ, romantic options will change and you might even find yourself on opposite sides with what could have been a party member.
For the E3 demo we were shown a pair of women that the human might be able to romance. The first is Liliana, an archer who is a very religious, somewhat pure, girl and the other is Morrigan, a sorceress and gatherer of dark knowledge. Both of these girls are pursuing you and depending on your choices your characters could fall in love, or lust, but you will be confronted on these decisions. For example if you romance both Liliana and Morrigan then you could sleep with Morrigan only to be confronted by an angry Liliana over the issue.
The conversations, done in a more old-school Baldur's Gate style, as opposed to Mass Effect, give you many options for interacting with your allies. But you can also give them gifts to help raise their inspiration levels. Inspiring your allies will make them more effect in combat as well as make them more likely to follow your orders. Conversely if it lowers then you will see some degradation in their combat effectiveness.
This all ties into an approval system as well. If your allies, both party and prospective, agree with your decisions and actions then they will happily follow you into the blackest pits. But if they seriously disagree based on their moral or ethical outlook then they will let you know about it. In extreme cases this can even come to blows that removes a valuable asset from your group via one of your deaths.
All of this innovation paired up with some fantastic graphics and lip-synching Dragon Age Origins is definitely going to blow the socks off of gamers when it releases. Expect to see Dragon Age Origins flying off of store shelves on October 20th for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles.