Gamers can play BioWare's next epic as if it was an action-role-playing game, an MMO, like Kingdom Hearts or like Final Fantasy XII, a company rep recently explained to Kotaku.
EA/BioWare senior product manager David Silverman explained the four Dragon Age playing styles during a live demo of the PlayStation 3 version of the game in New York last week.
He provided the explanation as a BioWare employee battled through what Silverman said was the second-toughest battle of the game — a fight with a dragon, naturally — and then as I took the controls and brought a party of four adventurers into the dwarven city of Orzammar.
The most basic way to play the game is as if it's an action-RPG, Silverman said. Control one sword-swinging hero. Let the computer control the rest of the characters.
A slightly more involved way to play would be to treat it like a massively-multiplayer online game for which you have multiple characters. As you adventure with your party, a player can switch control of characters on the fly. On the PS3, this is done with a tap of a shoulder button, swinging the camera from one member of your party to another, as the whole group of them keeps walking around or, more likely, battling.
The third way to play, according to Silverman, is the Kingdom Hearts style. This would involve the player sticking with a lead character, but swapping ally characters in and out to take advantage of their various specialties. In addition, players could, assign general combat tendencies to their allies, asking them to go all out, hang back — that sort of thing.
The fourth and deepest way to play is to emulate the most hardcore way of controlling Final Fantasy XII. The Square-Enix RPG had a "Gambit System" that allowed players to collect and apply preferences to the artificial intelligence routines of partner characters. An example of a collectible gambit would be a script that would tell an ally to cast a healing potion on herself any time her health points drop below 30% of the total.
Silverman explained that Dragon Age offers an even deeper version of that Final Fantasy system, minus any need to collect the scripting preferences. Opening a menu in the game, he showed rows of options that represented the configurable artificial intelligence scripting options. The roster of choices, which made the screen dense with text, was stunning. Every line was configurable,via drop-down menus that apply, nouns, verbs and even numerical values to the partner character behaviors. For example, any character could be assigned to respond to a ranged attack with a certain move; or behave a certain way against one enemy type and a different way against another.
That fourth method, Silverman said, is the one least likely to be used by the average player. But even a glimpse of it showed great promise and demonstrated the generous range of involvement BioWare is allowing among its Dragon Age players.
You could ignore so many of the control options in Dragon Age, or, if you want, you can dig very deep.
The game will be released on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 next month.