Preview: DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS Brings Bioware to Fantasy


BioWare decided to put on a little show this past weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo 2009 to drum up interest in their new IP, Dragon Age: Origins.  Throughout the weekend the line for the half-hour demo wrapped around the doublewide booth. 

In groups of twelve, attendees were led into a small interior room and briefed on their mission.  At their individual demo station of the game, they were tasked to complete a pair of the game’s introductory missions taking place in a forest near the front lines with a supernatural army under the thrall of a force known as The Blight. The attendee, as well as the player character, is en route to joining the ranks of this medieval fantasy world’s version of the Jedi or Specters, the Gray Wardens.  Completing this task in the game would allow the attendee to be taken to a third interior room, marked with ‘blood’ on their foreheads in front of an altar and led to the convention floor and declared as new Gray Wardens in front of the booth’s dragon statue (also: free t-shirt).

The game itself, a third person action-RPG, appears to take a lot of its gameplay cues from Mass Effect over Knights of the Old Republic (two popular Bioware franchises), using almost entirely real-time combat with radial menus, although not in the dialog, which uses a list menu. 

The demo party consisted of four playable members, a defense focused sword and shield wielder, an offense focused warrior with a two-handed sword, a dual-wielding rouge (who will move to attack the enemy’s back) and a spellcaster.  The real-time combat does include the option to pause to queue a single action, change player character under control or direct all party members toward one target.  The current player character of the four must actively attack their foe, but can set up to six special abilities, items or spells or to the face buttons (three default, 3 with a toggle) for immediate use between cool-downs.  Abilities seen in the demo included a range of environmental magic, knockdown shield bashes, group buffs/enemy debuffs and healing.  

Combat is fast and brutal, with enemy numbers set, in the demo at least, to match or outnumber your four-man party.  Tactical decisions have to be made quickly and then it is down to wrangling your team through group commands or individually by your control and keeping them alive.  Fortunately, party member death is not permanent and knocked out fighters will pop back up when the coast is clear with a small penalty that’s remedied with a potion.  Once a sufficient number of enemy mobs were defeated a dialog challenge, in which you could act chivalrous, sarcastic or rude, in a series of conversations would lead you the Gray Warden camp and to the demo’s twist ending.

Available information during pre-release shows that while there may not be separate good and evil storylines, decisions made through actions or dialog choices will effect the overall storyline that each of the six announced character backgrounds. 

Dragon Age: Origins will be released on the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in November. For screenshots of Dragon Age: Origins, click here

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