Dragon Age: Origins – hands-on

First things first: there’s a lake-load of blood in the game proper, but certainly there’s nothing to rival a limb-lopping fest like Dead Space. And, as far as sexy times go, think God of War II pre-watershed tame. At its heart, Origins is a typical timeworn RPG where a colorful posse of ragtag heroes find themselves thrown together in a quest to save their riff on Middle-Earth from an ancient menace, and it’s all the better for it.

In the all-too-brief time we spent playing hands-on, we pitted our team’s band of four heroes against a gigantic, extremely irked Ogre in a yawning chamber the devs informed us was part of the sprawling Tower of Ishal, whatever that means. The first thing we noticed is that Dragon Age boldly dispenses with fully real-time combat. Yep, you read right: hacking and slashing has nothing to do with players inputting complex button combos (or, in our case, plain old mashing) but instead is fully automated – all you’re tasked with doing is directing the action like an old school Dungeon Master. It’s a bold move (the more cynical might suggest stupid) that’ll likely dismay the action-orientated demographic of the console audience, though long-time BioWare fans and PC gamers might punch the air at the dev’s brave decision to go back to their roots.

We’re surprised at the omission of real-time fighting – especially when it’s plain to see from the wealth of animations and the visceral nature of scraps that Dragon Age would actually make a helluva hack ‘n’ slasher. Instead, it’s all very much strategic – meaning you’ll have to look after spellcasters by keeping them well away from the nitty gritty, make sure your elven archer types are peppering foes from afar, while your tanks are topped up with health potions and melee boosting spells. A ring-based system for weapon and biotic selections has been neatly implemented when it comes to managing your wealth of spells, tonics and armaments.

It might sound complex, but within minutes we were swapping loadouts on the fly, sending streaks of electricity at the Ogre while casting a spell of Haste on some other chap all the way across the room. Flicking between party members is a cinch too, accomplished in a flash with a tap of a button. Still, we’re not exactly putting our necks on the line when we predict this hands-off approach to combat is going to put off a great many more potential buyers than it attracts – and it’s all the more puzzling when you recall how well recent genre-mashing games like Fallout 3 have done in terms of sales.

Visually, Origins is gritty and appealing without ever being exactly what you’d deem a ‘looker’, the Ogre in particular is an impressive piece of work. He picks up warriors and gnaws on them, axe-handles them in the face, hurls them across the length of the chamber, beats his chest like Kong, lunges out with back kicks when flanked, throws pulverizing uppercuts then dishes out explosive flame attacks. The various spell pyrotechnics also induce plenty of ‘Oohs!’ and ‘Ahhs!’ – but the party models look a bit too heavily routed in the PS2 era for a title that’s supposedly been in development since 2004. Still, that’s not really a massive gripe.