As I sit down for my interview with BioWare's Greg Zeschuk, one half of “the doctors” as they're called by EA staff, he asks me if I've played the Xbox 360 version of Dragon Age: Origins, the spiritual successor to the company's own Baldur's Gate series, which is running on the other side of the room. Yes, I reply. Briefly.
It's an understatement as epic as the low fantasy RPG has the potential to be. A single boss fight is all that's on offer: four party members versus a single ogre at the top of a tower. It's over in the blink of an eye. I'm encouraged to try it on the medium difficulty. It's again over in the blink of an eye. I try it on hard. I die. I don't bother with the Nightmare difficulty.
Greg explains before I've had a chance to ask: “Obviously what you're seeing right now, we set it up as a pretty thin slice, but it's to give you a clear indication that yes there is a console version that exists and it's coming along well, it looks good and all that stuff.” Pretty thin slice indeed.
So there you go. Job done. The 360 version of Dragon Age: Origins does exist, it does look like it's coming along well, and it does look good (although not as good as the PC version). End of preview.
Not so fast. You don't think I'll leave it there do you? Of course not. I'm a professional. I spend my time with that boss fight making more notes than a journalist reporting on a gruesome court case. I find stuff out. Some stuff I already know, some stuff you probably already know, and hopefully, with some luck, some stuff neither of us know.
First, the stuff you already know. Dragon Age: Origins is BioWare's return to its roots. It's low fantasy (the opposite of high fantasy: gritty, dark, fewer pretentious elves, Scottish dwarves, cockney goblins and magical wizards). It's gruesome, with blood and limbs and bits of things all over the place. And it's sexy, in a “will you keep me warm in my tent tonight?” way - cue bonking cutscene. It's all of these things, and it's pretty interesting, too.
The game contains six playable Origins stories: Human Noble, City Elf, Dwarf Commoner, Dwarf Noble, Mage and Dalish Elf – meaning your first few hours of the game will be an entirely different experience depending on the Origin story selected. The point is to become a Grey Warden: warrior legends who sacrificed everything to drive back the darkspawn – the game's evil demon-like baddies - years ago. The darkspawn is back, so the Grey Wardens must once again mobilise.
I'm playing a sexy female Mage called Solona, who's already completed her Origins story, accumulating three party members along the way. Templar Alistair is my tank, a friend who accompanied me during The Harrowing – the ritual that marked my transition from apprentice to fully-fledged mage. I've also got a nameless Soldier and Tower Guard at my disposal – both will bugger off at the end of this battle. You'll pick up around a dozen characters during the game, all told.
This boss fight takes place about four hours into the game, in what's called the Tower of Ishal. This is your first job as a Grey Warden. King Cailan Theirin and the simply-named Duncan, leader of the Grey Wardens, want you to light a beacon atop the tower in order to signal additional forces to rush the darkspawn at their flank in the Battle of Ostagar, an almighty scrap that rages outside.