Preview: Dragon Age: Origins

When you think of the name BioWare, many fantastic gaming experiences come to mind: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and most recently, Mass Effect. Soon to be added to that list is BioWare’s newest venture, Dragon Age: Origins. We got a chance at obtaining some inside information on the ambitious project that we’re bringing you, the lucky reader.

Origins is an upcoming RPG currently in development that is projected for release in 2009. It’s been in production since around early 2004 — BioWare wants to make sure it’s the absolute best it can be before releasing it to hungry gamers. Unlike the sci-fi world of Mass Effect or the Star Wars universe, it seeks to provide an adventure in "dark heroic fantasy,” incorporating a different background and story for each of its different classes of characters. What does that mean? You won’t find any Elves, Dwarves, or any other of those mythical creatures. What you will find in their place are races that are quite similar, but not exactly the same. They may share the same characteristics but as a whole, retain the dark fantasy theme. It’s familiar. Changes have been made, but not enough for followers of BioWare’s previous works (or fantasy lovers) to feel alienated. Shaping up to be the spiritual successor to hits such as Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age: Origins will take familiar races, magic spells, and environments and put a new twist on them.

From what we’ve been told, playing through your character’s history will be an integral part of the game universe. For instance, much like in the beginning of Mass Effect where your dialog decisions affect your gameplay, you will choose your own adventure in a sense, going so far as to even be able to customize and create your own character in whatever class you like. Of course, the prospect exists to recruit and train henchmen later on in the game, which promises to provide multi-faceted aspects of character development, as well as the chance to meet new and exciting members of your team.

In the style of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, combat can be paused so you can make decisions as needed (a very welcome perk indeed). You will definitely need extra moments to plan out decisions, because with the way it is possible for certain spells to interact, there are tons of strategies to be tried and tested. For instance, it is possible to have a party member cast a spell known as "grease", to have another party follow up with a flame spell. What does this do? Much like we’ve seen in Alone in the Dark, it’s an explosive combination. In the demo we were shown, this was performed, as well as other combos. Along with dangerous combinations of elemental spells, you have the option to enchant weapons with spells in order to give them that extra boost of damage; adding fire damage to all weapons really heats things up. Tactics such as these, very much like what you would find in games such as World of Warcraft or even Final Fantasy 11, are going to be heavily relied upon. Casting buffs to keep your party’s hit points up as well as berserker abilities will be important to remember. There looks to be an astounding amount of different spells and talents each character can command. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Dragon Age: Origins can very much be likened to a choose-your-own-adventure fantasy novel. You are given the ability to create likenesses close to yourself, your friends, or even the person that you wish you were, and each character will play a special role in the story. While the character you will take control of primarily will not be voiced, they will have certain lines of dialog with which you can drive the story. This allows for the player to delve deeper into the world and feel as if they really belong, rather than feel like some John Q. Public tacked onto a story that someone else created. In a move much like Fable, it is possible to choose what kind of person you’re going to be. Will you save the innocent or will you terrorize them? Every decision you make will affect what happens along the course of your game.

If it weren’t enough already that this is a fantasy told on a very epic scale, there will be multiple ways to go about tackling a task. With the gameplay we were shown, a key needed to be found. This could have been achieved in a number of different ways. The pathways that you choose to take are intricate and different and introduces a whole new layer of strategy to otherwise typical RPG gameplay.

BioWare looks fit to have another hit on their hands. Sadly, we’ll have to wait a good while to tell more about it — early 2009. Expect more from us when it is shipped for the PC and multiple consoles later on that year.

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