Dragon Age: Origins – hands-on

DIY Dragon: Deets on DA’s campaign creation toolset
Following in the tradition of Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age: Origins will ship with a campaign creation toolset. This won’t be an app that BioWare dumbs down to make more user-friendly, but a robust suite with levers, buttons, and options aplenty. Players can use the plot editor to flag different quest conditions, create unique NPCs with customized clothing and facial models, and script up their own branching dialog trees for those characters. “We really want to grow that community and empower them to create lots of really cool content. We hope that it’ll be part of long legs for the title much like Neverwinter, which we still have some new modules coming in for even now. If we get even half of that kind of community success with Dragon Age, we’ll be very happy,” says Fernando Melo, producer at BioWare.

How deep is the toolset? It’s nearly identical to what BioWare used to make Dragon Age, only with most of their internal architecture extracted. “There are some limitations that will be there at the start. We’ll be expanding it over time, but straight away, players will able to take all the areas we have in the game and repurpose them, drop in any of the items and objects they have in the game. Scripting has been completely opened up. Scripting in particular is hugely powerful - I think more than any of our previous games, including NW, we’ve exposed a lot more of the game logic and combat and character creation - all of these things are scripted,” says Ross Gardner, lead programmer on DA.

The toolset will also include a cutscene editor, letting you frame boss fights, dramatic dialog, or whatever in-game action suits your fancy. “It basically takes all of the lessons we’ve learned in terms of digital acting over the years, takes it up a notch, and drops it in there live. The amount of stuff users will be able to create in that alone we hope will be really, really good, especially for machinima users. You’ll have an impressive amount of control and flexibility at your fingertips,” says Dean Andersen, lead art director. We’re pleased by the decision to integrate campaign sharing directly into the game, so you won’t have to cruise forum communities for user-created content. Better, BioWare intends to support the toolset over time and add new objects, assets, and modules.

Proving Grounds
With Gorim in tow, I take my dwarven noble and WASD my way through well-lit royal corridors - the gold-plated torches tell me these dwarves are a little more regal, more refined than their mining counterparts in Tolkien and other fantasy fare. We enter the Diamond Quarter, a long passageway lined with shops. Now here’s something you don’t see every day: two dwarves arguing over literature. “This worm has written a book that slanders my house!” a noble claims as I approach. I click through a few screens of dialog to get the details - the citizen has written a controversial screed about one of the paragons, the living legends elected by the dwarven council who are meant to be revered by all. Indicting a paragon could be a serious offense.

The historian shoots back: “Not liking history doesn’t make it any less true.” And then I’m faced with a choice: Preserve his right to publish, or protect the name of the noble’s paragon and his house? Not fond of censorship, I pick the most extreme option before me: order Gorim to have the noble assassinated. Gorim nods, darts off, and returns a moment later. “Word has been sent. He won’t live past the hour.” I cackle. In my mind, I twirl the curls of my massive beard. Less than 10 minutes in, I’ve ordered someone completely innocent (albeit annoying) to his death. Could more amoral decisions await? I can only hope.

At the end of the corridor, a few guards escort me to The Provings, an arena-style dueling tournament that’s being held in my honor. But I’m not interested in merely being a bystander. It’s time for me to get my hands dirty, and what better place to do so than in front of hundreds of commoners? I insist to the announcer that it’s well within my right to compete, and he obliges, introducing me to the sphere of spectators.

I’m dropped into the pit. My opponent offers a salute for the honor of fighting against me, but I don’t hold back, right-clicking to target him as soon as we enter combat. My dwarf lumbers forth, waving his sword intermittently. The looseness of the controls and easy strafing feels familiar, like World of Warcraft. The hit detection is based in dice rolls more than actual impact, too - I try to backpedal and dodge, but my opponent’s war hammer clubs me anyway, so I stand my ground, hovering over the hotkey for my shield-bash ability while I watch it recharge. We play rock ’em sock ’em dwarves until his life bar empties, just narrowly before mine.

Blood cakes my grandfather’s ceremonial armor (thanks to Dragon Age’s persistent gore modeling) and I smile beneath my beard as I leave The Provings. But my victory smirk is soon wiped clean when a council member named Bhelen shares disturbing news: Trian, my elder brother, plans to kill me after my commission ceremony because he’s worried my promotion might threaten his ascendancy to the throne. I tell Bhelen that I’m not out to claim the heirship, but suddenly my origin story is showing shades of King Lear.

What Dragon Age’s Got

“Different” DRM than Mass Effect
DLC - new areas and quests, at the least
More written dialog than any BioWare game
Spell combos
Item crafting
Six origin stories
Campaign creation toolset
Epic dwarven beards
No multiplayer
Leading on the PC, not consoles