Bloody typical. You wait years for a choice-driven RPG in which player decisions fundamentally change the game world, and then two come along at once. Last year we had Lionhead's mirthsome masterpiece Fable II, and now Bioware is getting in on the act with Dragon Age: Origins, due for release on the PC and HD consoles later in the year.
But while both games currently seem to use similar mechanics in allowing your hero to make his own individual mark on the world, Dragon Age takes a much more mature approach to its tone, potentially making it ideal for those who loved Fable's freedom but weren't turned on by its japey comic fantasy. Here's a run-down of the similarities and differences we picked up during our recent demo day.
You'll play through an introductory story chapter before the main quest begins
Above: There are eight million stories in the naked citadel...
Yep, Dragon Age comes with a small prologue story too, only this time it's several hours long and will play out differently depending on which race and class you pick. This section promises to introduce the detail of the game world and the background of its characters, and yes, some characters you meet during it may turn up later in the main story too.
The world at large is affected by your actions
Here's the most obvious comparison. As in Fable II, Bioware are promising that a multitude of choices will be available to the player throughout the course of the game, leading to massive changes in the game world along the way. The thing is, Dragon Age's world seems a good deal more complex than Fable's. Whereas Lionhead's game limited player choices to a set of stand-out decision moments and smaller-scale personality development, DA's decisions - made via Mass Effect-style branching dialogue trees - at the moment promise to fundamentally change the configurion of the world and its factions throughout.
Above: Werewolves? Affected!
We saw a practical example during our demo, and while we were frustratingly sworn to secrecy over the plot details, suffice to say a whole quest objective was completely subverted along the way, leading to fundamentally switched allegiances and what appeared to be long-term knock-on effects for the politics of the entire game world and the player's position within it.
Above: Archers? Affected!
We're hestitant to say that every decision in Dragon Age will be of this magnitude - after all, what developer doesn't show off their most impressive stuff in the early press demos? - but if there are enough of them, we could be onto something pretty interesting here. Though Bioware is going to have to make absolutely sure that the branching of the story feels natural and unplanned throughout. There's nothing worse for immersion that being able to see the mechanics of a game working underneath the facade, and a game purportedly so malleable is going to have to be very careful in how it goes about things.
It takes place in a complex world of opposing factions and ideologies
Where Fable II's differing societies were largely based around binary opposites - rich and poor, light and dark, lawful and outlawed - in Dragon Age's factions we're promised some much more nuanced relationships. While an RPG populated by stock fantasy character types is hardly striking a blow for avant garde game design, each race will have hundreds of years of shared history with the others, leading to some heavy racial tensions.
Above: Every one of these people is a huge racist. Possibly.
So it will be not only your decisions but your background which will affect how you fare through Dragon Age's story. Other characters may take an instant like or dislike to you based on your racial makeup, meaning that you might face an uphill struggle with some characters from the very start. Again, it remains to be seen how differently all of this plays out from Fable II's good/evil alignment in terms of NPC opinion, but it's definitely a more mature angle to take (as well as a better excuse for people you've never met to love or hate you as soon as you walk into town).