For a lot of games these days, trying to make sense of the name's subtitle is nearly as big of a challenge as actually playing the thing. At first glance, Dragon Age: Origins might appear to have one of those cryptic subtitles, but the concept of "origins" actually plays a very big role in the game. Whether it's your protagonist or your party members, a character's history will significantly alter the adventure that plays out before you. That was the subject of a recent demo for this high-fantasy role-playing game as led by developer BioWare.
The demo's organization gave us a clear look at the differences that might arise between two typical parties. BioWare had a pair of monitors set up side by side, with what we'll refer to as Party A on the left and Party B on the right. Party A was led by a male human noble character, while the other was led by a female mage. Aside from the party member differences, the two systems were perfectly synched up, both picking up at a very specific point in the game. In this case, the two parties were attempting to cross a bridge to get to the Mage Tower, where they were seeking to recruit the help of friendly spellcasters to fight the scourge of the Darkspawn--the story's primary antagonist.
The trouble is that a guard was standing in the way preventing the two groups from crossing. This gave BioWare the chance to show us a couple of different negotiating strategies you might have depending on what type of party members you keep at your side. More specifically, how some of your party members' short-term and long-term histories can impact those strategies. Party B had a large, brutish fellow named Sten. It turns out that Sten stole himself some cookies from an overweight child in the last town the party had visited. It also turns out that this guard loves cookies, so they were able to pass before Sten had to get violent. Party A had a seductive female mage named Morrigan who was able to earn the guard's favor by, well, leveraging her sexuality in a way Sten was ill equipped to do.
Once in the tower, the pair of teams ran into another roadblock in the form of a mage named Wynne. She was something of a blast from the past to one of the parties and a complete stranger to the other. Because Wynne and Morrigan were mages, they were already well acquainted. However, the other party had no mages; thus, no one recognized this woman. Wynne's past with Morrigan was quite a rocky one, with tensions between the two quickly rising to the surface. Those tensions soon erupted as Morrigan's party and Wynne's group of mages got into a fight that left the poor old woman dead in her tracks.
What was the other option in this situation? About as stark of a contrast as you could expect. Party B didn't have anyone in its crew who had a history with Wynne, and after a bit of back and forth about the current state of the Mage Tower, which was being overrun by monsters, Party B decides to allow Wynne to join. Wynne winds up being one of the most powerful healers you could have possibly recruited into your ranks, which was clearly evident in the next boss battle. Party B was able to attack the beast head-on and let Wynne heal them from a distance, while Party A--the team that had Wynne killed--had to go at it with more of a cautious approach, having no skilled healers in its ranks. Yes, some of the consequences of having certain party members along with you can be as lighthearted as a joke about cookies or as powerful as being able to alter your entire boss-fighting strategy.
With this PC demo completed, BioWare gave us the chance to spend a little time with the console version of the game running on the Xbox 360. Anyone who's played BioWare's last console effort, Mass Effect, should feel pretty familiar with the way BioWare's transitioned Dragon Age's controls from mouse and keyboard to standard controller. Specifically, that means you'll be pulling up a radial menu during the heat of battle that allows you time to examine your spells, equipment, and abilities while leaving the action paused. The targeting system was rather finicky, but BioWare was quick to point out that this was something that's still being heavily tweaked. Altogether, the console version looked solid and only a small notch or two below the PC version in terms of graphical quality.
The console demo was just a brief boss fight, so it didn't give us a chance to really get into the differences between each version of Dragon Age. We should have more of an opportunity to do that in the upcoming months leading up to Dragon Age's October 20 release date.