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Dragon Age: Origins - Fable II's grown-up older brother?

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).

20 comments

  • Akiira - February 11, 2009 2:26 a.m.

    lol @deadgirls you clearly should just stop playing video games.
  • VeggieBurger - February 11, 2009 12:10 a.m.

    It's alarming the lack of knowledge shown by the writer of this article and peoples various comments. Both these "new" game mechanics have been used by bioware for years... since the Baldur's gate games for pause and play and the whole cursor showing the area of effect of spells thing has been used at least since Neverwinter nights. I also find it annoying how WoW seems to have ruined everyones perception of games to the point they cant play a non 3rd person RPG. Even though bioware is well known for their award winning isometric RPGs.
  • Ravenbom - February 10, 2009 1:06 a.m.

    Well, it looks like there is something for me to be really excited about this year.
  • zenbater - February 10, 2009 12:02 a.m.

    This is all reminding me of Planescape:Torment. Possibly the best dialogue-based, alterable game yet made. It'd be nice to see quality like that again.
  • Samael - February 9, 2009 10:57 p.m.

    Looks awesome. Really didn't like Fable 2 at all, so I kinda hope (sorry!) that this article will be proven wrong in some ways. At least in terms of NPC like/dislike, because in Fable 2, I could be the most evil bastard in the land, but a few farts and giggles later and I'm life of the party! I couldn't stand that! Oh and the job system was bullshit as well.
  • DeadGirls - February 9, 2009 8:27 p.m.

    I don't get why people like Bioware. # Shattered Steel (1996) # Baldur's Gate (1998) # Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast (1999) # MDK2 (2000) # Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000) # Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (2001) # Neverwinter Nights (2002) # Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide (2003) # Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (2003) # Neverwinter Nights: Kingmaker (2005) # Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) # Jade Empire (2005) # Mass Effect (2007) # Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (2008) # Dragon Age: Origins (in-development) (2009) # Mass Effect 2 (in-development) # Mass Effect 3 (pre-development) # Star Wars: The Old Republic[5] (in-development) None of those games are at all appealing to me. To each his own I guess...
  • quicksilver_503 - February 9, 2009 8:05 p.m.

    i wouldn't consider dragon age and fable 2 to be particularly similar but still, good preview.
  • Cernunnos - February 9, 2009 2:22 p.m.

    looks awesome!
  • Gotxxrock - February 14, 2009 9:38 p.m.

    Usually I write paragraph long entries in my comments... but this is a game being produced by Bioware... the company that managed to make a DECENT Sonic RPG, pump intrigue and plot back into the Star Wars franchise, and create Mass Effect. The game will be a good game, this much we know.
  • Diosjenin - February 10, 2009 6:49 p.m.

    The game itself sounds great. Some of your commentary about game mechanics, though... First off, you should mention that the isometric perspective can be switched at any time for a third-person perspective. "...spells with a wide blast radius or specific direction of fire can be dragged and dropped onto the play area, with a graphical display showing the area of effect as you do." Circa Warcraft III. "...The gist is that you can hit the space bar to freeze the action, and during the break can queue up attacks, magic and buffs which will kick in the instant you unpause. It already looks like a great way of balancing things when they get out of control, as well as a sweet way of pleasing fans of both action and turn-based RPGs with the immediacy of the former and the tactics of the latter." Circa Knights of the Old Republic (which, since it's their own game, does NOT make it a new mechanic).
  • HungryBeaver - February 10, 2009 3:59 a.m.

    Looks like a definite rental for me. I dont know about buying cuz it looks like a game ill play and get fed up with in 5 days. We'll see.
  • Hydrohs - February 10, 2009 1:39 a.m.

    Pause and Play is not new, it was in Baldur's Gate, certainly not a new game by any standards I would say.
  • zanthox - February 9, 2009 11:55 p.m.

    Nice! Can't wait, I've been following this game forever. @deadgirls: that list is EXACTLY whey people care about Bioware. I've beat nearly ever one (that is released) of those games and loved them all. This game is called the spiritual decedent of Baldur's Gate from that list actually.
  • lava_lamp - February 9, 2009 9:42 p.m.

    it was the humor that made fable awesome taking it out isn't a smart idea
  • ineedaweapon - February 9, 2009 9 p.m.

    I loved KOTOR and Mass Effect, so if this is as good as either of those, I'll be happy.
  • jimsondanet - February 9, 2009 8:20 p.m.

    theres nothing worse than a brilliant gameworld going to waste on a rubbish combat sytem
  • theatticusera - February 9, 2009 7:54 p.m.

    i'll def be giving this a go. Although it'll be a console version
  • Ell223 - February 9, 2009 4:34 p.m.

    looks good especially if its from bioware not too sure about the combat though
  • TastyCakesMcgee - February 9, 2009 4:33 p.m.

    I just realized, isn't the Pause and Play thing in Baldur's Gate 2?
  • TastyCakesMcgee - February 9, 2009 4:28 p.m.

    cool, a good read as well, nice work.

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