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Page 5 of 6Quest, Codex, and Tactics Systems
Quests are handled just as you'd expect them to be. Acquiring a quest places its details under the (current quests) tab in your journal, while finishing one moves it to the (completed quests) tab. There's also a (conversation history) tab that keeps a transcript of the dialogue you've exchanged with related NPCs, so working out some of the finer details and determining your next step is pretty easy to do.
Based on my experience, there are at least three ways to pick up quests from NPCs, from your own followers, and from job boards. I didn't actually acquire a follower quest during my hands-on time, but lead designer Mike Laidlaw assured me that each major follower generally has a personal side quest linked to them ((but some may surprise you with something a little. different)). I'm also not sure if job boards are a common element in the game, but I did at least come across a (Chanter's Board) in the town of Lothering where I could view a list of employment options that a typical adventurer might be interested in (dealing with some local troublemaking bandits, for example).
The game's codex system is similar to what we saw in Mass Effect. Codex entries provide gameplay hints, information about characters we've met, a closer look at a specific piece of Ferelden history, and anything else we might want to ingest. There are hundreds of these entries, but you won't be able to check them out until they've been unlocked through dialogue, eavesdropping on someone's conversation, acquiring specific books, or some other action. There will be players who have no interest in browsing through entries like these, but for players like me who enjoy delving as far as they can into a game, this is a welcome addition.
Anyone who has ever played a party-based, real-time role-playing game knows how frustrating it can be when your other characters are being controlled by an AI that's lackluster at best. Dragon Age: Origins gives us the tactics system, which is a huge leap forward in taking care of this issue. To summarize its purpose, let's call it an advanced yet easy-to-use in-game scripting system for assigning event-specific tasks to your companions. Or, in layman's terms, a system for telling your followers what to do and when to do it.
The number of options available in the tactics screen is staggering with enough patience, you can pretty much define everything your party members will do when they're not under your direct control. Want a follower to attack whatever monster you're actively attacking until it's dead, then switch to whichever enemy is carrying the most damaging melee weapon? Done. Or maybe you want a follower to use their Dual-Weapon Sweep talent during combat, but only when the monster is clustered with three other opponents? That's just a couple of extra clicks. Perhaps we should assign another tactic to that same follower that makes them switch to a ranged weapon and attack any opponent that happens to fire a spell at them? No problem. It's a slick system, and is easily the feature that impressed me most during my time with the game particularly because I had heard so little about it beforehand.
DLC, Achievements, and the Social Element
The game is still a couple of months away from release, but BioWare has already announced two pieces of downloadable content: The Stone Prisoner and Warden's Keep. The former DLC pack is included in both the standard and collector's editions, and will unlock a stone golem follower named Shale, new quests, new environments, and new items when activated. The idea here is obviously to discourage the sale of used copies (and piracy, I suppose), as the activation of the DLC is tied to the original owner's account and any subsequent purchases have a hefty $15 price tag (all DLC including the pre-order and collector's edition items can be purchased right from your in-game journal the Memory Band was listed for 80 (points), for instance). As for Warden's Keep, the only information we know about it so far is that it unlocks a new location on your world map, at least one new quest, two new achievements, and, based on hints from a couple developers, a player-owned or player-managed stronghold of some kind.
Speaking of achievements, no modern video game seems to be without them, and Dragon Age: Origins isn't going to be putting a stop to that phenomenon. There are over 150 achievements in the PC version (though the console versions are capped at 50), and these range from picking your first lock to finishing particular elements of the storyline. The game doesn't support Games For Windows Live, however, so these achievements won't be inflating your Gamerscore on anything but the Xbox 360. In fact, they won't even be adding in-game bonuses like we experienced with Mass Effect. Instead, they're only meant to give us a sense of accomplishment and to give us something to parade about on our own little Dragon Age: Origins social page.
Yeah, you read that right. Details are scarce, but based on what we know so far, each of us is going to have a small profile page of our own on the community website BioWare is building for the game. The idea here is to (chronicle our hero's journey) achievements, quest updates, and even screenshots of difficult adversaries we defeat during our travels will automatically be uploaded to our personal DA:O page. BioWare will also be hosting fan-created campaigns and other assets on the website, so it'll be very interesting to see how this all ties together and, ultimately, how popular the service will be during the months and even years following the game's release.