Dragon Age: Origins Preview

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Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2009-11-03
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Have sword, will travel.

Baldur's Gate (1998). Shadows of Amn (2000). Neverwinter Nights (2002). Knights of the Old Republic (2003). These games are a veritable history of modern CRPGs. They also have one major thing in common, aside from redefining the genre, being based on best-selling licenses, and garnering numerous game-of-the-year awards. They are all developed by Canadian company BioWare.

Recently, BioWare has been busy with a completely new project: Dragon Age. Dragon Age (is a spiritual successor to all of BioWare's past role-playing games,) and will most likely redefine CRPGs once again. The game, unlike other BioWare games, will be an intellectual property owned by BioWare. The official FAQ lists a host of new and interesting features, not the least of which is a background dependent storyline. Character generation plays an integral part of the overall storyline. According to BioWare:
    (For the first time, you choose how your character's story begins and that choice changes how your story unfolds. From a grim barbarian wanderer who is the last of his kind, to an exiled dwarven prince betrayed by his brother; each of the many 'origin' stories spins its own heroic tale of intrigue and romance.

    Each origin story completely changes the setting and events of the game's first chapter and unlocks different storylines, villains, romances and items throughout the course of the game.

    As you play, your actions shape the destiny of the world. Unite a powerful kingdom under your wise and just rule, enslave nations beneath the tyranny of your powerful necromancy or forge a legend of your own making.(
Not only does this sound very promising, it adds immensely to the replayability of a game that already boasts an extremely robust, 40 to 50 hour, single player experience. In the replayability department, Dragon Age also offers an entirely different multiplayer storyline and a new end user toolset for all those modders and module builders out there. In addition, BioWare states that the game will be a party based RPG, utilizing BioWare's signature interparty banter and character growth.

The new universe, from the minds of the development team, will be both epic, in a high fantasy tradition, and personal, allowing advanced interactions with the environment, adding verisimilitude to the immersive world. The characters will react and sometimes comment on what is going on in their surroundings in a more advanced manner than previously attempted. Small touches that don't really have an effect on gameplay but serve to plunge the player into BioWare's world.

According to the BioWare website, a linguistic expert has worked hard to develop several new languages for the game. This should add a whole new dimension to the game as the player learns the languages of Elves, Dwarves, and other playable races that have yet to be announced.

If this weren't enough to get CRPGers salivating, the graphics engine looks phenomenal (see the screenshots). Full 3D environments allow for vertical planes of action, giving environmental height to the usual depth and width, creating a more immersive world to explore, and potentially adding an extra dimension (no pun intended) to tactical combat decisions. The engine also switches perspective, offering an over-the-shoulder exploration mode similar to KotOR and a top-down tactical combat mode reminiscent of the Baldur's Gate. With the duel camera mode, Bioware also offers fully controllable camera angles, like NWN. The engine will boast around 2 million polygons per model, and the character animations were done with motion capture to make their movement and acrobatics look incredibly smooth and true to life. When you zoom out, the focus shifts from the detailed characters to the meticulously designed indoor and outdoor locales that will just further immerse you into the Dragon Age world.

Imagine if you will.

An epic battle ensues with thousands of soldiers fighting hoards of enemies. Arrows fly back and forth, and fires rage (all in beautifully rendered 3D).

We plunge over the field of combat to a bridge high above the action. Continuing to fly across the bridge, we see a group of people watching the action unfold below while crossing the bridge. Eyes track the carnage, hips sway in a motion captured walk, and lips move as they talk. Something out of a book or movie? Possibly, but that's what the first part of the in-game demo depicts.

Needless to say, this stuff looks awe inspiring, as is appropriate in a game as epically visual as this one. The screenshots alone should be enough to get any serious gamer salivating and searching for change in the couch cushions, but let's recap what BioWare states are some Dragon Age key features:
  • Epic open ended storyline
  • Top down party-based tactical 'combat mode'
  • Cinematic 3rd person camera 'exploration mode'
  • Full character customization (race, sex, class, abilities, spells, etc)
  • Separate singleplayer and multiplayer campaigns
  • End-user content creation tools
  • Cinematic story-driven single-player campaign
  • Set in a new fantasy world created by BioWare for fans of its past titles
  • Party-based gameplay for outstanding tactical combat and immersive character interaction
As of this writing, BioWare has yet to announce a publisher and a release date, remaining coy on the subject, but let's face facts. 1) This is a BioWare title. 2) The first look is exceptional. 3) This is a BioWare title. It's more of a question of who and when rather than if. There are also no tech specs yet, but based upon BioWare's previous releases, it will probably be scalable to a wide rage of systems (from moderate to cutting edge). BioWare is setting gamer expectations extremely high and raising the bar on CRPGs even higher, but based upon past performance, they got the goods to deliver.

Based on what I've seen so far, this is going to be one of those (must have) games that will be played and talked about for years to come. I don't know about you, but I'm already sharpening my sword, honing my spellcasting abilities and standing in front of the mirror and, in the immortal words of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, practicing my (combat face.)