Dragon Age: Origins Impressions Of No DragonsS

BioWare treated us to a closed doors look at its upcoming role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins at E3, our first glimpse into what even the developers are referring to as a spiritual successor to the Baldurs Gate series. While there was a distinct lack of actual dragons in our extended preview of the PC version — BioWare reps confirmed that we will run into said dragons at some point — what we did see was still impressive.

Our demo began with an introduction to the Gray Wardens, better known as the Good Guys, and their epic struggle against the Blight. The Blight are a the blue and green skinned orc lookalikes that you, your party and the Gray Wardens will battle throughout. They're of a varied species, some standing ten feet tall with sprouted horns, others more human like, with an unfortunate similarity to the Koopa from the Super Mario Bros. movie.

At first glance, the game is pure BioWare. Dragon Age: Origins has the dialogue tree interface the company is well-known for, with Mass Effect style camera angles paired with more isometric, full party view angles for keeping an eye on the action.

The game also has the BioWare patented "pause and play" method of controlling your party members actions with a turn-based/real-time combat engine. The whole thing looks familiar enough to feel like a medieval fantasy skin applied to a BioWare's Greatest RPG Hits release. Not that there's anything wrong with that, just that, despite the dandy artistic style and modern-day graphics engine, it could feel like familiar territory.

Dragon Age's twisting plot line, full of choices decided by your unvoiced dialogue tree choices, came into play early in our demo. Wandering around the king's courtyard, we came across a caged man, one who promised us a key in exchange for feeding him. Instead of opting to find food for the poor caged soul or ignoring him, our "hero" decided to go with another choice — kill the prisoner and take his bartering tool.

BioWare reps showed off some of the game's scope, as we watched a massive Blight versus Human battle going down just outside the castle wall. This kicked off a brief mission in which we were instructed to light a tower beacon, gathering up disposable party members along the way. These "red shirts" weren't important to the story, but, as we saw later, you'll come across playable teammates that do affect the plot.

Our BioWare rep switched the action to a separate scene, showing off the skills of a higher level elven mage, one gifted with elemental powers. She casted fire and ice spells — each with spectacular effects — which showed off the "pause and play" technique a bit further. Dragon Age can pull off some impressive visuals, something one might not appreciate if the visual din weren't something that could be stopped and controlled.

After dispatching some of the lower-level Blight, our rep kicked off what amounted to a boss fight with a giant blue-skinned demon. The ogre, twice the size of the Gray Warden and his party members, was hurling chunks of the floor, picking up the less fortunate and bashing them to death as the four-person hero squad attacked. It was more action oriented than what we've come to expect from the RPG experts and, after whittling down the ogre's health bar, ended with a sword through the skull cinematic attack. Oh, it was epic.

Our all-too-brief look at Dragon Age: Origins, part of a BioWare-built franchise that will be supported with downloadable content in the future, left us surprisingly interested. It looks to have a respectable blend of story, action and solid design, a satisfying return to form for the developer. We'll be keeping an eye on it.