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
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The real-time-with-pause battles in Dragon Age: Origins feel much like they did in the Infinity Engine games, with the exception that you're controlling a maximum of four party members instead of six and each character's talents (and useable items like poultices) are on cooldown timers that range anywhere from 15 seconds (standard combat maneuvers like Dual-Weapon Sweep) to 60 seconds (powerful combat maneuvers like Arrow of Slaying) to 300 seconds (life-saving maneuvers like Feign Death).

The way in which combat plays out largely depends on what difficulty you're playing the game on. On easy, you don't have to worry about friendly fire whatsoever and opponents are less challenging. On normal, characters suffer 50% damage from all friendly area of effect spells, traps, and other abilities. This is the difficulty I spent most of my hands-on time with, and I found that frequently pausing the action to keep on top of all characters' movements and talents was important if I wanted to keep any characters from falling during challenging encounters. On hard, friendly fire gets bumped to 100% while opponents hit harder and have more health. Pausing to stay on top of all cooldown timers and party member locations on the battlefield is probably going to be a necessity, as a result. And on nightmare well, Mr. Laidlaw ensured me that this difficulty lives up to its name (think Heart of Fury).

Essentially, the game is as tactical as you want it to be. If you're like me and enjoy micromanaging your characters, you can come away from most non-boss battles on normal without taking a whole lot of damage. And because health, stamina, and mana quickly regenerate once a battle is over (it took me about 30 seconds to regenerate from near death to maximum health, for example), paying attention and maximizing your party's effectiveness during combat will keep your poultice reserves high for future boss fights or the next merchant you meet.

During the aforementioned boss fights (the Ogre battle at the top of the Tower of Ishal, for example), keeping on top of all your characters' abilities and locations is of the utmost importance. In the previous example, you'll quickly discover that the ogre can charge characters from a distance or pick them up for a crushing attack that will most likely result in the condition known as death. He also has an obscene amount of health, so I was constantly pausing to keep my party members away from the ogre's death grip while also setting up backstabs and making use of my characters' ranged attacks and spells whenever the ogre turned his attention toward someone else. I suppose you could rush into some battles haphazardly using only a couple of primary talents, but you're going to have some casualties from time to time and you'll end up unnecessarily using quite a few health poultices and other one-shot items.

Should a character fall in combat (including the protagonist), they become incapacitated for the remainder of the battle. If all characters fall, you're forced to load your last saved game. If at least one character survives, then all fallen characters stand back up when the battle is over. As a penalty for being incapacitated during combat, a character receives a persistent debilitating injury. Some of the injuries my characters sustained were (broken bone) (penalty to dexterity), (torn jugular) (penalty to constitution), (cracked skull) (penalty to cunning), (deafened) (penalty to defense), and (coughing blood) (penalty to fatigue). All of these injuries can stack, so it's important to keep your most susceptible characters at a distance or they'll wind up in a devastatingly weakened state. To remove a persistent injury, you must return to your party camp or use an injury kit. As with poultices, each kit has a certain level of potency that determines how much damage it's able to repair (lesser injury kits heal a single injury and a small amount of health, for example).

Dialogue and Party Interaction

The Baldur's Gate series Baldur's Gate II in particular is well regarded for its witty dialogue and the diverse, personality-rich companions that could be recruited during our travels in Faerûn. It's hard to know for sure if Dragon Age: Origins is going to live up to this same legacy after only playing a handful of hours, but I will say that things look really promising so far. At the very least, it's obvious that the team didn't want to mess with a working formula by adding Mass Effect's (tone) dialogue choices or limiting all major party interaction to some staging area.

The dialogue trees themselves are pretty standard fare for anyone familiar with traditional RPGs. During each exchange, you're given 3-5 options to choose from, with some options only appearing if you meet the requirements necessary to intimidate, persuade, or otherwise influence the person you're speaking to (the appearance of these options is determined by your statistics, your Coercion skill, and previous choices you've made). The writing during my time with the game was all above average, and the choices offered weren't typically among the good, neutral, and evil variety (though this is the case on occasion). As I stated previously, the protagonist doesn't voice any of his or her lines, though all responses toward you are voiced even when they're coming from some unimportant villager.

One aspect of the game that really stood out to me is that you're afforded every opportunity to establish a connection with each follower who joins your group. For example, once you've recruited someone into the party, they will typically have quite a bit to add (amusing quips, suggestions, and even outbursts) during your conversations with other NPCs from then on. Additionally, rather than just issuing one-liners outside of party camp (or the Normandy.), the companions in Dragon Age will gladly indulge you with a conversation at any given time, provided there aren't any fireballs actively being flung in your direction. Ask them about the region you're traveling through, any of the tasks at hand, or their own personal history, and you're sure to get an answer.

The followers themselves seem to fall into two groups major companions that are willing to stick with you for most if not all of the game (Morrigan, Alistair, Leliana, etc.) and minor companions that join for specific chapters in the storyline (Ser Gilmore, Jory, Daveth, etc.). Both of these groups will typically have something to say during dialogue, but only the major companions will actively talk amongst themselves while you're traveling about. At one point, I listened for a couple of minutes as Alistair talked to Morrigan about her mother and whether or not she's lived in the Korcari Wilds her whole life. This isn't new ground by any means exchanges like these happened all the time in Baldur's Gate II but the added bonus in Dragon Age: Origins is that it's all voiced. No more unexpected interruptions while you're trying to hoof it to the next quest, in other words.