Dragon Age: Origins

BioWare’s spun us some epic space operas of late, but the developer’s roots have always been firmly planted in the fantasy setting, à la Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate. The return to elves ‘n’ ogres territory was inevitable, and the pendulum now swings back with Dragon Age: Origins, a spiritual successor to Baldur’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’ Uruk-hai more than a little) called Darkspawn, and take them down using BioWare’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’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’s grip. In support, an elven mage cast a net of electricity that drained enemies’ 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’ meat and potatoes. Spell combos could be Dragon Age: Origins’ 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’re told.

A BioWare product wouldn’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’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’s impressive track record of crafting RPGs with interesting characters and deep story lines gives us faith that Dragon Age: Origins’ fantasy setting will stand out despite the horde of other dungeon crawlers already available. We’ll give you our full impressions soon, once we’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.
– Our demo was brief, but some of the settings, storytelling, and characters don’t seem distinct enough to break a generic fantasy mold.

Sep 17, 2008