Dragon Age: Origins

BioWare returns to its origins with the successor to an RPG legend

BioWare%26rsquo;s spun us some epic space operas of late, but the developer%26rsquo;s roots have always been firmly planted in the fantasy setting, %26agrave; la Neverwinter Nights and Baldur%26rsquo;s Gate. The return to elves %26lsquo;n%26rsquo; ogres territory was inevitable, and the pendulum now swings back with Dragon Age: Origins, a spiritual successor to Baldur%26rsquo;s Gate (Interplay still owns the rights to BG). In Dragon Age: Origins, players point a four-character party in the direction of spiky-armored uglies (they evoke Lord of the Rings%26rsquo; Uruk-hai more than a little) called Darkspawn, and take them down using BioWare%26rsquo;s signature pauseable combat to coordinate party members during battle. The battles BioWare demonstrated were tactical enough to let you think on the fly, but more hectic than a medieval chess match.

DA:O%26rsquo;s group structure puts a strong emphasis on teamwork. We watched a human warrior shield-bash an ogre to free a comrade caught in the beast%26rsquo;s grip. In support, an elven mage cast a net of electricity that drained enemies%26rsquo; life and mana in a small area. Of course, each party member is formidable in its own right - the warrior later activated a berserk feat to launch a frenzy of attacks, hacking away at enemies and sending up a flock of floating numbers - RPG characters%26rsquo; meat and potatoes. Spell combos could be Dragon Age: Origins%26rsquo; best mechanic for explicit teamwork. A pair of mages tag-teamed with devastating results: one gestured to produce a blast of grease, and the other lit the fuel with a fireball to literally deep-fry an entire wave of enemies. Experimenting with spells will reveal other combos, we%26rsquo;re told.

A BioWare product wouldn%26rsquo;t be complete without branching story lines, and players can look forward to plenty of decision-making in DA:O. Like Mass Effect, your chosen past directs your future, and any alliances you forge with factions influence things further. We weren%26rsquo;t told what specific effects to expect in terms of plot arcs or gameplay, other than that the sum of your actions will paint you as a hero, martyr, or tyrant. BioWare%26rsquo;s impressive track record of crafting RPGs with interesting characters and deep story lines gives us faith that Dragon Age: Origins%26rsquo; fantasy setting will stand out despite the horde of other dungeon crawlers already available. We%26rsquo;ll give you our full impressions soon, once we%26rsquo;ve got our swords hilt-deep in some Darkspawn.

+ Pausable, party-based combat, different character classes, and spell combo mechanics could combine nicely into opportunities for tactical teamwork.
%26ndash; Our demo was brief, but some of the settings, storytelling, and characters don%26rsquo;t seem distinct enough to break a generic fantasy mold.

Sep 17, 2008

We recommend