Dragon Age: Origins Updated Hands-On - The Dwarf Commoner's Humble Beginnings

We start a new story with the commoner background for dwarf characters in this upcoming role-playing epic from BioWare.

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We've already covered much of the basics of starting a new game in BioWare's upcoming role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins...because we've played through them. If you haven't already, take a look at our previous story covering the origins of the human mage, which also covers the basics of character creation and interface elements. We won't be repeating those here. Instead, we'll jump into the origin story for dwarves who begin their careers as lowly commoners in the streets of Orzammar, the subterranean metropolis. As a dwarf commoner, you can choose to play either as a rogue or as a warrior. There's virtually no difference whatsoever in the experience or gameplay, except that each class has its own skills and that certain fights seem tougher if you play as a rogue who didn't specialize in combat skills. On that note, please be advised that this story contains minor spoilers.

Even though the tall, stony architecture of Orzammar looks impressive in some places, the life of a dwarf commoner isn't pretty. According to the introductory cinematic sequence for this origin, the dwarves have a rigid caste system that forbids dwarves of lower classes to mingle with highfalutin nobles. And your character is at the very bottom of the barrel, a "casteless" character marked with a brand on his or her face that tells the world that you're the most common of commoners.

You begin your adventure being harangued by the local dwarf slumlord Beraht, who has recruited you to do his dirty work while he "encourages" your kindhearted sister Rica to catch the eye of a dwarf noble. Beraht's potentially not-family-friendly scheme is to marry her off into a noble family to give birth to an heir, elevating her, you, and "Uncle" Beraht to noble status. (Interestingly, while mages speak with the prim and proper BioWare British Accent made famous in Knights of the Old Republic, dwarves all speak American/Canadian English; there's no evidence of a British accent or Scottish brogue in sight.)

Beraht then storms off, reminding you that you have more dirty work to do before the day is done. Before you go, you can chat with your sister to get more insight about your situation and the world of the dwarves. For example, you learn how most of your people remain below ground rather than above where they would have to deal with repugnant, smelly surface dwellers like humans and elves. You also learn how the darkspawn, the game's villainous monsters, have risen from the depths of the earth to claim the lives of most members of the noble and warrior castes, which leaves the nobles desperate for heirs. It also seems that Rica has caught the eye of a potential suitor, but with no promises made on either side, you're better off heading out to Orzammar for some more shady dealings, at least for the time being.

Orzammar is an austere metropolis, but it's also lousy to be down-and-out in this town.

You leave your sister and immediately meet Leske, a dwarf thief and cohort who also works for Beraht and who also has the hots for your sister. (In fact, if you create a female dwarf character, he'll actually make a pass at you as well.) After reminding him that his attentions are unwanted, you get the details of your next mission. You are to locate, shake down, and ultimately kill a smuggler who works for Beraht but has been skimming lyrium ore (the enchanted metal used to power magic spells and forge enchanted weapons) to sell to illicit parties on the surface.

The common areas in the dwarf city, much like the halls of the mage tower, are full of ambient characters that go about their business and occasionally have independent conversations that touch on bits of the world's lore, such as the political tension between the current dwarven king and an ambitious dwarven prince. And if you happen to be a rogue, you can also use the profession's free skill point in the stealing skill to relieve some commoners and guards of their coins and healing poultices--the latter of which will prove to be a godsend later on in the game.

When you find the smuggler at the local tavern, you and Leske seat yourself at his table and can reenact a classic BioWare conversation quest path of either killing the marked man outright or letting him go and lying to your boss about doing the job anyway. This is a quest we've seen in some form in both Baldur's Gate II and also Knights of the Old Republic. We decided to keep things civilized and instead blackmail the smuggler for all the ore he was carrying before cutting him loose. We figured we'd pocket the proceeds without any questions asked, just as we had in previous BioWare games (and we were wrong, as we'd find out soon enough).

By using "intimidate"-based conversation skills (bolstered by our character's "cunning" statistic, which we boosted when creating our character), we were able to convince the poor sap to part with his ore and skedaddle. We also convinced a terrified Leske to go along for the ride with a generous 50-50 arrangement. Leske came around and pointed us to a nearby merchant who took the ore off our hands at a reduced price, pointing out that demand for it is poor below ground (dwarves are inherently resistant to magic and cannot be mages, so they have little use for the stuff in its raw form) and that it would be difficult to move it to the surface. We pocketed the few coins we were able to get and reported in to our crime boss.

Said crime boss and his number one gal, Jarvia (an angry female dwarf who can't seem to say anything without phrasing it as a threat), were waiting at a nearby merchant shop. When we lied about killing off the escaped smuggler, the slumlord didn't exactly buy what we were selling. Apparently, one of his cousins was also at the tavern at the time and watched the smuggler get up and walk away. Fortunately, Leske was quick-witted enough to come up with a lie of his own about how we later bumped off the traitorous cheat in a back alley, preferring not to make a scene in the tavern.

This screenshot is dedicated to those who doubted whether Dragon Age: Origins would be a game with mature themes.

And fortunately, Beraht actually took the bait and dispatched us to our next task. We were to rig the "proving ground" arena battles being held for visiting grey warden Duncan, who was rumored to be in town in search of new recruits to battle the darkspawn (hint, hint). To rig the match, we were instructed to drug the water of one of the arena champions to ensure the victory of a different competitor offering long shot betting odds (on whom Beraht had a pile of coin) and were handed a phony pass to get into the arena area.

Upon entering arena hall, we encountered Duncan himself, whom we greeted on a dare from Leske and exchanged pleasantries with before the grey warden took his leave. We then paid a visit to our long shot gladiator to check on him, only to find that the mighty warrior was dead drunk. After a brief, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" conversation with Leske, we decided to don the warrior's armor and his maces and swords (which fit just fine, even though we were playing a rogue) and masquerade as him. However, we also made the decision not to drug the rival gladiator and instead decided to enter the fight as a true test of skill. We pilfered the plastered pugilist's possessions, equipped them, and headed out to face our first match in another familiar BioWare setup: an arena battle with consecutive one-on-one battles.

As a dwarf commoner, you'd better have what it takes to step in the arena.

Unfortunately, because we were playing a sneaky thief who specialized in speed and trickery, we didn't have a character with a very high strength score, so we were unable to equip the drunken warrior's better weapons. So, we readied a light battle axe and shield for our battles, which began with a tougher-than-expected scrape that we survived only by using some of our purloined healing poultices. The same could be said for our second and third matches, which were both against determined dwarves looking to prove themselves. By the end of the third match, we were out of healing poultices and ready to beg for mercy, but that was cut short when the inebriated gladiator we were impersonating staggered into the arena and accused us of being an impostor. Knowing we were caught dead to rights, we removed our helmet to reveal our character's branded face (the mark of a lowly casteless dwarf) to the great consternation of the arena crowd and the dwarven arena master. However, Duncan, the guest of honor at the proving match, seemed impressed by our performance.

One blackout later, we awoke in a strange cell. Apparently, the match results had been renounced and we had been trounced, first by arena guards, and then, by Beraht's men, who had us taken back to the crime boss's lair. Jarvia returned one last time to taunt us before leaving us in the capable hands of a single guard. Fortunately, our rogue character gained an experience level here, which let us get a glimpse of the advanced character classes he'll one day be able to select (assassin, bard, ranger, or duelist). He also had a basic knowledge of the "deft hands" skill and could pick the lock on his cell. He made a break for his confiscated belongings, equipped himself with his original leather armor and an axe, and made short work of the guard before freeing Leske and sallying forth. Luckily, because we were playing a rogue character, we were able to spot and disarm some of the hidden traps lining the floors.

So began the dungeon-hacking portion of the dwarf commoner's origin story. Our party of two made its way through Beraht's cellars, looting any open chests and barrels for a handful of trinkets and fighting small contingents of guards. Rogues begin with a basic skill known as "dirty fighting," which deals no damage but briefly stuns its target. They can also specialize in dual-weapon talents or archery talents, but they must first learn the combat training skill. When creating our character, we preferred to make more of a stealthy burglar character and weren't as prepared for head-on battles, but we did make liberal use of the rogue's backstab ability, which deals extra damage and is triggered automatically when you properly place a rogue character directly behind your target. By periodically using both our character's, and Leske's, dirty fighting skill to stun other targets, we were able to focus in on our enemies one by one and keep the thugs focused on one party member while the other snuck in as many backstab attacks as possible. (As it happens, we later played through the dwarf commoner origin again as a fighter and found the battles much easier, especially because we specialized in two-handed weapons, which have powerful and quick-to-recover attacks that can deal unusually large amounts of damage or just send your foes sprawling.)

Finally, we made our way to the boss, who was in the process of putting a price on our heads to two more of his greasy thugs and saying some less-than-polite things about our sister. We went right into battle but had to retry this fight a few times because Beraht was a tough fellow who seemed immune to being backstabbed and we hardly had any health poultices (and because, again, we created a relatively wimpy rogue character). With determination and carefully timed applications of the dirty fighting skill to control the other thugs and focus on picking off our enemies one by one, we finally brought the brute down. And we emerged from his hideout victorious to find the furious dwarf arena master waiting for us with a group of guards, Duncan, and...our sister? Even more curious, there was no sign of Beraht's second-in-command, the sharp-tongued Jarvia. Hmm.

Why yes, you must gather your party before venturing forth. Venture back to GameSpot for more Dragon Age updates in the coming weeks.

It was at this point that Duncan made the offer to join him as a grey warden, saving us (just like with the mage origin) from capital punishment for a grave offense. We spoke with Leske (who insisted we take the opportunity) and Rica (who, as it turned out, had begun a storybook romance with her suitor) and received their blessings to join Duncan in his quest. We were on our way out of our origin story to see the rest of the realm of Ferelden. And you'll be able to hear more about origins and Ferelden by following GameSpot's ongoing coverage of Dragon Age: Origins. Come back next Friday when we explore more of the game.

Discussion

88 comments
ziproy
ziproy

You must gather your party before venturing forth. Classic line

Strigidae
Strigidae

May the heavens bless Bioware. I was sceptic at first... but I'm lovin' it more and even more, the more I read about this game.

OndonaFlash
OndonaFlash

"We pilfered the plastered pugilist's possessions" Stop that.

mad_gamer23
mad_gamer23

the guy that talks at the beginning must be the same voice of Masyaf in Assassin's Creed

texasgoldrush
texasgoldrush

wow ign did the other 3, gamespot did these 3.....all of them are revealed.

DontEatCream
DontEatCream

Looks like fun, but man, it sounds like the rogue is much weaker in the early game than the fighter. I might have to take this into consideration when making my character. :-)

Spider-Jim
Spider-Jim

It's like bioware did what all the Loord of the Rings schmoes couldn't. Kiss u bioware right on the ...EGO!

Squirrelatwar
Squirrelatwar

This looks like it's gonna rock! Bioware, you should get a medal for being so awesome. KOTOR, Mass Effect...hope DA lives up to those games.

Fearless07
Fearless07

we shouldn't expect anything else than a masterpice from the genious bioware...

seiden1
seiden1

Is this Lord of The Rings???

siarhei
siarhei

Wow. I wasn't too excited about the game from the trailers, but reading about the RPG part of the game makes me reconsider. It sounds from the two previews (Mage and Dwarf) that the character creation system is rather deep, and the quests can be done in a variety of ways. And that's what a good RPG is all about to me, not the looks (replayed KOTOR recently and enjoyed every minute of it). And since there are still very few RPGs of this caliber on X360, I think DA:O will be a great addition to my collection. Suddenly, I can't wait.

WeaponX84
WeaponX84

Pre ordered just off the bio ware name and have been getting happier every day, I loved mass effect and I love fantasy so this is a win for me!

Revan_911
Revan_911

Bioware is so overrated. And this game doesn't differ from the millions fantasy rpg's in any way. Im still waiting on Diablo 3.

tat2pap
tat2pap

what the hell..... that guy looks worse than a dragon , and its age is more than the dragon's age .. ll be fun to play - yes, i like RPGs.

Gioh
Gioh

They must learn to make the characters look like something. But ugly!. Moves look like MJ doin the bodypop. Nothing new to make me go for it. Rather stick with WOW or go for GuildWars2 wich looks better. Low AI adversaries by the looks of it. (or dumb AI characters)

Dumbass92
Dumbass92

Every Fantasy novel, game, movie etc. draws inspiration from mythology like for eksempel LOTR took inspiration from Germanic, Celtic, Norse etc. mythology.

Dumbass92
Dumbass92

Every Fantasy novel, game, movie etc. draws inspiration from mythology like for eksempel LOTR took inspiration from Germanic, Celtic, Norse etc. mythology.

TheJediExile
TheJediExile

You broke my heart with ToR BioWare, but I still love you for Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins

graavigala
graavigala

"dwarves, gnomes, mages.. this sounds like army to me." ye it sounds like army but why are gnomes there? cannon food? punching backs? what good are gnomes anyway other than being annoying? and me gettin this game depends on how the armors look.. if they look like hobo outfits then not interested... of the trailers ive seen some good looking armors and some not so good looking :D

Joshuayeah
Joshuayeah

alright LOTR nerds, face facts - it's from norse mythology... THATS NOT A BAD THING! just dont make tolkien out to be a God - he's just good. and yes - there is only one return and its not of the king, it's of the jedi :3

gaptor
gaptor

this game will be extrem !!! (i hope)

konradak
konradak

Cannot wait, I hope the problems they spoke of earlier on the 360 get fixed b4 launch.

Mantiss12555
Mantiss12555

This game rly does look pure EPICCC. i rly hope that it doesnt let u down when it comes out because the is THE game for me atm i RLYY want it :P

AntoniustheGrey
AntoniustheGrey

Just like buffdaddy said "There was only one return, and it wasnt of the King, it was of The Jedi" Good ol clerks 2! I am looking forward to this game. I hope it can live up to the hype surrounding it though. I really hope it does, because thsi looks like it will be an awesome game.

FalnRedemption
FalnRedemption

Well every fantasy novel, movie, games owe a debt to noirs mythology because thats where all there roots come. Lord of the Rings uses noirs mythology as a refrance the most because Tolken couldn't come up with anything original him self............ game looks awesome.

CoL0sS
CoL0sS

Nice. Been w8ing for something like this since Baldurs Gate. Just hope it wont be like NWN 2. P.S. every fantasy game/movie/novel draws its inspiration from the works of Robert E. Howard and Tolkien

Dirael
Dirael

Can't wait... ^^

stoicgamer
stoicgamer

Good God, people, every high-fantasy rpg owes a debt to Lord of the Rings, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be allowed to stand on it's own merits. And considering the developer behind this game, we should wait and try it before deciding. I suspect we will all be enjoying the hell out of this either way...

thirdsage
thirdsage

I'm so looking forward to this!

bhmg
bhmg

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Joesocwork
Joesocwork

Pretty exciting! A couple of comments... I thought I heard Kate Mulgrew's voice too. It's not in IMDB yet. I thought I also heard James Callis and Liam Neeson as well. I'm amused by the LOTR discussion. I never played the game, but I read the books as a kid and loved the movies. I'm definitely okay with a Middle-Earth type setting and Middle Earth type races. Creating a world as immense as LOTR doesn't mean it's none the less original. I read further, and pleased by the inclusion of party play and the ability to direct NPC's. Parties can only go up to four members as opposed to six. But I reckon that four can make for a good fight and some interesting character interactions. I'm still amused by the review's comments about "darkness" and "maturity". I'm okay with mature themes in game play like love, death, moody atmosphere, etc. Just as long the makers & their marketers don't confuse excessive obscene language, gore, and sex, which more often appeal to adolescents than adults, as those themes. I can understand characters engaging in adultery as a part of the drama, but I don't need to hear them utter the F-word to get it conveyed. But based on what I'm seeing, I really suspect that it's probably getting overplayed by the marketing anyway. The screenshots of the character creation look awesome. Even going through the efforts of designing voices shows some thought on their part. By Christmas, I may have to explain bloodshot eyes to my wife & my boss. :P

Shlobadober
Shlobadober

This game's just keep's geting better and better i can't wait to pawn me some dragon's and other Nasty's

placksheep
placksheep

Or you could get an x-box 360 for hundreds less... think about it ;-)

salman06p0020
salman06p0020

Definitely getting this. I have a 4 year old computer and will buy a new one just so that I can play this game. Looks like an EPIC already.

KoolzKatz
KoolzKatz

very nice, looking forward to the game

bodylotion
bodylotion

Sorry i stepped on a few LOTR-fan toes it seems. But it's ignorant not to see the comparisment between this storyline and the one from LOTR. You also have to find your 'allies' in this game for the battle against evil. The huge battles look like the ones in LOTR.

Dr_Manfattan
Dr_Manfattan

no lotr story was anything like this!, first you have people being p***ed off that the game doesnt follow lotr to the letter (which it shouldn't) and then people decide it's exactly the same (which it isn't). why cant people just look at the game and realise that this isn't lotr 4, it's a brilliant new game that takes some things from fundamental fantasy ideas then puts a new twist on them adding to there own original ideas to make a completely different experience that will no doubt be one of the greatest RPGs ever.

buffdaddy69
buffdaddy69

@ FattyPudgeMufin LOTR = Overrated and Boring. There was only one return, and it wasnt of the King, it was of The Jedi

diorobi
diorobi

y wan this game!!! NOW

101_Ben_101
101_Ben_101

I've been waiting for a fantasy RPG since Oblivion. This is it!

101_Ben_101
101_Ben_101

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

NavIGOtoR25
NavIGOtoR25

Uh, why Bioware can't make it in august!?