Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins Preview for Xbox 360

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Our one concern is that the game feels slightly dated compared to Mass Effect
Our one concern is that the game feels slightly dated compared to Mass Effect

Our one concern is that the game feels slightly dated compared to Mass Effect

I'm right in the thick of it, the camera a decent distance away from the action so I can see the position of everyone in my party as well as the ogre itself. The first thing I notice is that BioWare's clearly been influenced by its own good work with Mass Effect's controls. PC tooltips are converted into short cuts, mapped to different slots on the X, Y and B buttons (the controls will work the same on the PS3 version). You'll have your most used spells or abilities mapped to these buttons, but a press of the left trigger brings up a secondary set of mapped abilities, so you're able to quickly select from six different skills in real-time without a break in combat.

Talking of breaks, one of the hallmarks of the Baldur's Gate series was the ability to freeze the action and dish out commands in a real-time/turn-based hybrid fashion. Dragon Age is the same, and the way it's handled on the console versions is through the left and right triggers. A ring is triggered by pressing the right trigger. From there you're able to select, with a press of the A button, specific abilities. There's a secondary ring, too, from which you're able to select from further talents. It's a system that does a decent job of capturing the spirit of the game's predecessors.

Still, anyone even remotely familiar with Mass Effect will be able to jump straight into Dragon Age: Origins and find they're able to play the game adequately. It's simple, quick and easy, which is great. I'm hanging back with my Mage and dishing out ranged damage as if I've been doing it on console for years, as my AI-controlled tanks soak up the ogre's powerful close range attacks. I'm able to heal efficiently, too. As every caster knows, keeping a keen eye on friendly health bars is important, and using the d-pad to switch between targets proves an effective control method for keeping everyone alive.

What you couldn't do in Mass Effect was take control of your other party members. You can in Dragon Age. You're able to cycle through party members with the shoulder buttons – when you do the camera speeds over to the character in question, providing a new third-person perspective from which you can micro-manage difficult encounters effectively. The point to make here is that, with superb Mass Effect-inspired controls, Dragon Age: Origins has every chance of being as fluid and intuitive on console as it does on the PC.

A nosey around the game's menu screens reveals more interesting titbits. Levelling is experience point and tech tree based, as is RPG tradition. There's a codex, which includes a bestiary (I typed that carefully) and detail on magic and religion and culture and history. There's a character record sheet – very old school RPG - an equipment screen and pages for skills and talents/spells. My Mage's talents are divided into Primal, Creation, Spirit and Entropy, which all sound lovely.

So far so good then, despite the 'over in the blink of an eye' feel to proceedings. Greg's right – the console version of Dragon Age: Origins looks like it's coming along well. Everything I've seen reinforces the positive opinion I had following the game's showing at E3, where EA showed me how you'll be able to cheat on your girlfriend, have sex in a tent (BioWare is still working out whether the game will contain full-frontal nudity) then face the music the morning after. The game is, in fact, doing some very interesting things with character relationships – piss your party members off and they'll hate you, perhaps even leave your party. If you really get on their tits, they might even try to kill you.

Dragon Age feels like a return to BioWare's classic RPGs

Dragon Age feels like a return to BioWare's classic RPGs

Countering that, however, is Dragon Age's somewhat archaic, old-school PC RPG feel. Your main character doesn't have any voice over at all – conversation is driven by the selection of various lines of text. It's a curious design decision in the post-Mass Effect world. It's even more curious when you consider Mass Effect, which is perhaps the most cinematic RPG ever created, is also a BioWare game.

And the graphics aren't spectacular, either. This may be a grossly personal opinion here, but Dragon Age: Origins looks almost dated. Mass Effect, a game that simply blew my socks off in every department, looks, to me, much better, and it'll be two years old by the time Dragon Age comes out. Perhaps it's a deliberate approach on BioWare's part – like the old school text dialogue a nod to Baldur's Gate and its low fantasy PC roots.

Whatever the case, BioWare's got so many great RPGs under its belt, as Neon pointed out in our last preview of the game, that Dragon Age: Origins should be nothing less than spectacular. Will we play it on console over the PC version? Perhaps not, but if your PC isn't up to snuff, feel safe that you won't get a dumbed down experience.

Dragon Age: Origins is due out on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 20.

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5 Comments

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startover4's Avatar

startover4

lol barbarian would be nice
Posted 22:41 on 08 July 2009
renegade's Avatar

renegade

As long as I can be a warrior/paladin/barbarian or soem one with a huge sword sign me up :)
Posted 14:31 on 08 July 2009
Wido's Avatar

Wido

Ah, nice one :)

Being an mage like you said in the preview, will prove that when pausing the action will give you an advantage and a overview what is happening.
Posted 11:08 on 08 July 2009
wyp100's Avatar

wyp100@ Wido

@Wido

The controls aren't turn-based - it's all in real-time, but you can pause the action, move about the camera and what not and dish out commands like old school Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. You can play it though as if playing Mass Effect, pressing face buttons for abilities/spells.
Posted 11:03 on 08 July 2009
Wido's Avatar

Wido

I've been interested in Dragon Age since it was announced by Bioware.

Mass Effect has made a new benchmark for Bioware. Dragon Age isn't Mass Effect so its going to be totally different. Different settings, different feel and more old school stuff like you have said yourself.

Graphics isn't a important factor but I guess every gamer likes a fairly decent looking game. Music for me provides a lot, so the little sound effects from the swing of your sword, the spell casted from your battered old staff and a great pounding move from your Axe. You armour making noice while running or dodging and the clash of your weapons which really make the game authentic.

Wes, is the gameplay controls turn based? I have seen the PC verison at E3 and that was turned based... If they had a infulence from Mass Effect to be drawn over into Dragon Age, then surely combat you will have 100% over like using the A or X button to throw a light attack and etc?
Posted 10:55 on 08 July 2009

Game Stats

Technical Specs
Release Date: 06/11/2009
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: RPG
No. Players: One
Rating: BBFC 18
Site Rank: 3,898 7
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