BioWare are going back to the old school, and are working on something they describe as a spiritual successor to “Baldur’s Gate”.
Dragon Age: Origins has you playing a hero pit against a horde of "Darkspawn". These beasties were previously around hundreds of years ago, at which point they did something that annoyed the gods so much that they did a smite, which made what was previously a gang of humans into a collection of particularly hellish creatures.
Ferelden has battled with the Darkspawn before, 400 years ago, a time known as the Blight, but apparently Blight is back. Your task, as a member of the Grey Wardens, a society who helped win the war last time, is to get your people riled up enough to gather together and conquer the Darkspawn once more.
It’s possible to play through the game as one of six different races, who all have very different beginnings. The first three hours of the game will show the development of your character, with your decisions at this point making big differences to the way the game pans out. This is where the “Origins” bit comes into play, shaping your character through their beginnings being somewhat more dynamic than fiddling with stats and menus.
Dragon Age: Origins has tried to do something a little more adult than a lot of fantasy RPGs. The violence is graphic to say the least, the language is strong and there are a few pretty mature themes more than hinted at. Despite this, BioWare claim it’s not the themes as such that they’re talking about when they keep referring to the game as mature.
"A lot of fantasy games, traditionally, have been high fantasy - Tolkienesque fantasy, where good battles evil. And there's another end of that spectrum, the low fantasy, which is a lot darker. Dragon Age is right in the middle - dark, heroic fantasy is what we're calling it - and it's the best of both worlds."
The game is set to be pretty dynamic, with a lot of instances where you’ll be deciding how your character responds. Though this mechanic is something we’ve all seen before, the resulting changes to events in the story will apparently be mightily significant. It’s also going to be much harder in this game to pre-empt exactly what impact your responses will have. Your options are much less obvious than simply good or evil.
This level of moral ambiguity is a factor BioWare are bringing in to help create a much more realistic world. The a story can often be significantly different on a second attempt if the choices player make are different. "It's very replayable - right from the six Origin stories, which are several hours of hand-crafted gameplay, depending on which Origin you've chosen, from there, right away, you'll get to start making choices, and deciding how your player's journey is going to be different from everyone else's. And your own, if you're going to replay it."
We were given the chance to have a play through a dungeon section, controlling a Dalish Elf by the name of Winter. The mission takes place near the beginning of the game, shortly after the origin section and has us in party of four.
Our character had an attack named Pommel Strike which creates some considerable distance between the player and the enemy by hitting a baddie with the blunt part of their sword. An attack named Threaten allows her to gain a level of aggro and attacks an enemy’s weapon to make it cause less damage.
More ranged attacks were performed by a temporary member of the team who’d recently been recruited. His name seems to have been missed out here so he’s referred to as Tower Guard. His role however, was certainly appreciated as he has a move entitled Shield Bash, you can probably guess how he performs this, what you mightn’t have guessed is that it knocks people over and can knock people out of the grip of the huge end-of-dungeon ogre.
Allstair, another character has a range of very shieldy attacks including Shield Bash, Shield Pummel and Shield Cover.
Our fourth and final character was a Circle Mage, who has a pretty impressive range of more magical attacks. Much of these caused some pretty big damage. The Glyph of Paralysis, a trap spell, involves our circle Mage drawing a glyph on the floor which causes the first enemy to come near it to be, would you believe, paralyzed, very handy. He also has a Flame Blast attack with a huge fireball that takes health away at regular intervals for a set time.
Combat can be paused at any time if you’re more of a tactical person, allowing you to direct your characters to perform your carefully scripted bidding. If you’re generally more of a gung ho kinda person then you don't have to take this route, just run and cast and the AI will do their own thing.
There must have been a lot of audio recorded making this game as the rest of your crew will react depending on your actions throughout. Even leaving someone dead in a battle will cause the player to make a comment when the battle’s over.
Throughout the game you’ll be given gifts and special abilities by the characters who trust you. These will vary depending on the way you play the game, as will your character’s use for them.
Despite the fact the PC version uses a hotbar system, BioWare are confident they’ll make the console controls work. “It's about a desire to reach as wide an audience as possible. The versions we make, we want everyone who plays the different SKUs to feel like they're getting the best version. So we spend a lot of time on customizing the control system, and making it feel right for the system.”
Dragon Age: Origins will be coming to PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in the last part of 2009.