Dragon Age: Origins Preview: Violence, Lust and Betrayal

Dragon Age: Origins isn't just a role-playing game, it's a world of violence, lust and betrayal. Or so says BioWare lead designer Mike Laidlaw who walked us through the game last week at Electronic Arts.

Does spicing up an RPG with a trifecta of sins give the game enough to separate it from all of those other role-playing games out and coming out?

What Is It?
In role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins you play as a Grey Warden, an ancient order of warriors and mages fighting to stave off a demon invasion.

What We Saw
I played a section of the game that had my group taking on Uldred, a mage who has made a deal with the demons and is now converting other mages to his way. After an initial chat with Uldred he becomes a fairly large demon himself and begins laying down the demon hurt.

How Far Along Is It?
Due out later this year, the level we played seemed very polished.

What Needs Improvement?
Clutter: With four characters to control and plenty of spells to go around, the screen can get pretty packed when you throw in enemies. The different view modes help, but zooming back all of the way to a view reminiscent of Baldur's Gate sort of defeats the purpose of all of those spectacular graphics.

Confusion: It was a little difficult in the heat of battle to figure out when a spell landed and what it did. Granted they dropped us into a very difficult level with four characters to control and a room full of demons. It still would be nice to amp up some of the spell effects though.

What Should Stay The Same?
Conversation System: Borrowing heavily from Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins conversation system has you selecting from a variety of choices displayed in a list. Your choices then trigger a fairly well voice-acted conversation.

Intuitive Controls: Character portraits are lined up along the left side of the screen and spells along the bottom, World of Warcraft style. You can switch characters on the fly by selecting a portrait. Movement is controlled with the keyboard and you can zoom in and out of the scene with the mouse wheel.

Spell Interaction: One of the cooler features of the game is the ability for spells to interact with one another and form new spells. In the demo I played, once you dumped the right amount of spells in an area you accidentally cast something called Storm of the Century which looked like a whirlwind of deadly magic. Once you discover one of those combo spells it is automatically added to your spellbook for purposeful use down the line.

Live Pause: The game can be paused at any time by pressing the space bar. Maybe after you've been playing the game for hours the pause button won't be necessary, but it was invaluable while trying to learn the ropes.

The Look: Graphically, Dragon Age: Origins is amazingly slick. The detailed graphics were backed by a butter-smooth framerate. This was all on a high-end PC, not a console, so that may not be the case for PS3 or Xbox 360 gamers.

Final Thoughts
Dragon Age: Origins looks like a high-end blend of World of Warcraft and Baldur's Gate, blending the best of both worlds in a dark heroic fantasy setting.

As with most role-playing games, the proof will be in the full-playing, but Dragon Age: Origins is off to a very solid start.