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Dragon Age: Origins isn't as bad as its E3 trailer looks

Seeing Dragon Age: Origins this time, we were skeptical. BioWare’s making it, which is good – they made Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights (two of our favorite PC RPGs) – but there’s also this:

Above: The trailer above is only one of three featuring Marilyn Manson’s “This is the New Shit”

Did you see the knight in full plate mail doing a hair-metal knee slide under a dragon to inflict some kind of fish-filet belly opening cut? (It happens towards the end).

It’s confusing. Is Dragon Age a serious game with armor class, character levels and rules? Or do you push the X-button as quickly as possible and watch your character impale everything with showy and impractical swordplay? We went to see it with the intention of finding out and came away from our play time feeling that, behind the trailer shot in super kill-o-vision, there’s most likely a serious role-playing game with magic swords, dialogue and healing spells – all things we really, seriously love.

Here’s why:

Marilyn Manson is not in the game

Marketing guy 1: “What are the kids into these days?”

Marketing guy 2: “Marilyn Manson.”

Marketing guy 1: “really?”

Marketing guy 2: “Yes, they don’t think he’s wack at all.”

Marketing guy 1: [after heavy breathing and brow furrowing] “If we put him in the trailers… the kids will buy more copies of the game!”

That’s our best approximation of how the E3 trailer was created. It’s stuffed with action, loudness, and catchy, action words, like “death,” “sacrifice,” “victory,” and “war” without any context, but don’t assume it’s meant to be misleading. It’s just trying to get our attention – you know, like a trailer.

Our theory is that the trailer dumbed down a serious RPG because Manson is more marketable than serious role-playing. We hope that’s not really true and we think the people actually making the game agree, since while playing the game, Manson was mentioned only as often as he usually is when we do things.

Character creation is important

Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t follow D&D rules, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a deep and complex character creation system – the game just gets to create its own.

There are six starting characters, from dwarven noble to city elf, with their own introductory sections. You’ll picks the warrior, rogue or mage talents to learn as you progress, as well as a set of skills open to all characters. We’d show you a picture of a character’s stats screen, but we don’t have one. Suffice it to say that even the Tower Guard we teamed up with had a lengthy list of skills to learn… but - as with all characters with no name - he probably won’t live long enough to use most of them.


Raaaarrrrwww! There’s a lot of blood in the Dragon Age trailer. We wanted to hand someone a moist towelette.

It’s not an exaggeration. There’s a lot of blood in the game. The difference is that some of it will probably be yours. We took on an ogre with our group of four several times. Being a large foe, he wasn’t afraid to pick anyone close up and punch them in the face, which made it clear that it’s rare for larger enemies to fight like they’re actually big enough to pick you up and eat you. If this happens to one of your characters, the best way out is to use a freezing attack or stun the brute into dropping his victim. Makes sense, right?

The same type of brutal animation is applied to your killing blows. To finish off an ogre our friend the tower guard slipped out of his standard attack animations and climbed right up the front of him and stuck a sword in his face.

There is a story and it's not just "The Darkspawn have returned. Dun, dun, dunnnnnn!"

No, we don’t know what it is yet. We did, however, ask if the focus of the game was on combat. The answer is, while there is going to be plenty of fighting, the focus of this game is on the story.

Since the demo we played was essentially a couple of fights, the only characters we could talk to were our three fellow party members – the ogre didn’t have much to say. We don’t have many details on the plot, but it’s difficult to condense a good story into a trailer or even an hour-long demo. Keep in mind that the plot is designed to keep you interested for dozens of hours and it’s easy to see why it might come across as trite or silly if you try to condense it into a few seconds (e.g. “The Darkspawn have returned!”).

Jul10, 2009