GamesCom 2009: Dragon Age: Origins Hands On Preview - The Power of Choice
Written Monday, August 31, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Being the nice, well rounded, and slightly insane person I am; I should pre-warn you that this preview may contain spoilers. And when I say may contain spoilers, I say it like a bag of peanuts says it may contain nuts when it blatantly does – if not, you’d be pretty pissed. It seems to be a habit of BioWare to ruin the hopes and dreams of journalists around the world by showing off major turning points and page turners within their games. They did it at E3 with Mass Effect 2, and now at GamesCom with Dragon Age: Origins. If I’m being completely honest though, I’m more than okay with it this time around, because after the relatively poor showing at E3, they restored my faith in the title. Today’s Dragon Age lesson is on “choices... and how they can sometime really, really piss people off.”
Brief background before we move on to the nitty gritty. Dragon Age: Origins is “BioWare’s version of Lord of the Rings” and a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – expect it to be darker, grittier and more mature than both though. It’s a game of what BioWare likes to call “rippling consequences,” and seeing as they created “choice” with Knights of the Old Republic (their words, not ours), they want to “reinvent choice with choice 2.0” with Dragon Age. The story in Dragon Age revolves around the Grey Warden and his quest to rally the help of a half dozen armies to defeat the Dark Spawn that is soon set to rain destruction on the land.
Dragon Age: Origins is said to boast hundreds of choices throughout the story and every choice you make allows the game to shape the world around you, and react to how you play. There is no clear right and wrong here and every decision you make is determined by your moral conviction. To prove this, let us present you with a scenario with two totally different outcomes. Picture the scene... the Grey Warden, Leliana, Wynne and Morrigan have just battled through a labyrinth of nasties and have finally arrived at the temple where the sacred ashes of Andraste are stored. These ashes carry a mystical power that can essentially save King Eamon of Redcliffe, who you need on your side if you are to stand a chance of defeating the Dark Spawn. So that’s the scene set.... let’s head to the choices.
Seeing as these ashes are highly powerful, if they get into the wrong hands, then someone could effectively become a formidable power. Our Grey Warden recognises this and for choice one decides that once he has taken enough ashes to save the King, he will destroy them. Incidentally... this is what I would have done. This is where it gets tricky though. Those ashes held a huge significance for a few of your party members – namely Wynne and Leliana – and they can’t believe that they actually exist, so destroying them, is only going to anger them... and it does. As a result of your disrespect they turn on you and you are left to despatch of both of them. Morrigan on the other hand couldn’t care less, so she supports your decision to destroy the ashes and slay the others. There is no reasoning with either of them and killing them is the only option. After leaving the hall where the sacred temple is, a local priest insists he must tell the world... if you let him, two of your party members will have died in vein, so a knife to the back of the head later and he’s dead and your job is done. It’s a game changing decision that will see you lose two of your party members forever. It’s a Jack Bauer decision if there ever was one where the end justifies the means. Just remember WWJD – what would Jack do? – and you’ll be ok.
If that seems like a bit of a harsh decision for you, you can opt for the other choice. Instead of destroying the ashes in scenario once, you can choose to take what you need to save the King and leave them. You are essentially putting your trust and faith in humanity to not misuse its power and use it as a beacon of hope for all the people in the land. You know, let people pilgrimage to it and pay their respects. If something comes of it, you’ll deal with that when it happens. The decision doesn’t end there though, and in order to make it a beacon of hope for those in the land, you have to take down the huge dragon protecting the temple. Expect a long, gruelling fight here and one that could take a long time judging by the minimal damage that the group were doing to him.
So those are essentially the two different choices and their outcomes, which you can see are on totally opposite ends of the scale. On the one end of the scale, you lose two party members, take down a priest, but do it in relatively quick fashion and potentially save millions of lives. On the other end of the scale; you showed compassion and as a result will have to rid the temple grounds of the dragon in a long and gruelling fight. The choice is yours and both have radically different outcomes.
With the presentation part over, we ventured out on to the show floor and got some hands on time with the 360 version of the title, and quite frankly, we were pleasantly surprised. I had got it into my head that this was going to be an awkward and complex game to control, when in fact, it was quite the opposite. I should note that it was fairly hard to get a true grasp for the menus and what not because the demo was in German and simply put, my German is shocking. The controls though feel really tight and responsive. You can switch between characters using the bumpers and assign certain skills to three out of the four face buttons, with the other being attack. Don’t want to get caught switching skills? No problem; pull the left trigger mid combat and switch them up, activate spells and mess around in your inventory; it’s as simple as that. Considering how complex the game is, it doesn’t weigh up that way when you’ve got the pad in your hand, which makes us happy bunnies.
The console version is looking a lot better than it was at E3 which is great news. It’s not up to the same standard as the high end PC version, but that’s expected is it not? In terms of differences between the console and PC versions as well; a BioWare rep on the show floor told us that only two things were chiefly different between the two. Firstly, your party AI is more independent on the console and they can fight for themselves more than the PC version – where you are expected to switch back and forth a lot. Secondly, and possibly more disappointingly, there will be no RTS style zoomed out view on the consoles simply because of the memory that it took up. Using it against the larger enemies was a blessing and so it will be interesting to see how that turns out this November.
Dragon Age: Origins’ showing in Cologne just goes to show that it’s possible to get a presentation to the press totally wrong, and by switching the focus from inter-party relationships and love making, to huge powerful choices and their consequences, BioWare have won me over once again. Seeing as BioWare are the king of stories, we’re interested – and excited – to see how the choices and consequences will really play out in the grand scheme of things. If all the major decisions are like this... woah! It could be a rollercoaster ride!
Only one question remains... what would you do in this situation?
Dragon Age: Origins is coming to the Xbox 360 and PC this coming November 3rd and 6th in North America and Europe respectively. Following a few weeks later on the PS3.