Dragon Age Preview - High-Level Combat Skills and Character Development

Find out the best way to slash, burn, stab, and pelt your enemies with arrows in this upcoming role-playing successor to Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate.

Dragon Age: Origins has its roots in the rich, nerdy history of BioWare's classic fantasy role-playing games Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate (and that game's sequel, Baldur's Gate II). Not only will the new game attempt to expand on those games by letting you participate in an epic story of a kingdom at war with an unearthly menace, but it will also let you create a character capable of killing your enemies in a variety of nasty ways. We've had a chance to take the game's open-ended skill and talent trees through their paces and have some details on some of the high-level havoc you can wreak with a specialized combat character.

Hark! Was that sound an opportunity for me to...dual-wield?

This time around, we'll focus on the kind of mayhem warriors and rogues can unleash when properly specialized for combat skills. The game's basic skill tree contains universal skills for characters of all classes, such as herbalism (which lets you create potions with plant components) and coercion (which lets you manipulate other characters in conversations with intimidation or fast-talking), but the most important skill tree for our discussion here will be the combat skill tree, which goes up to a level of four and unlocks additional combat talents for each line of combat abilities.

There are a good variety of combat talents in Dragon Age, including talent trees that are exclusive to your character's initial choice of character class (warrior or rogue, in this case), your character's advanced character class (including high-level advanced classes such as the templar warrior and assassin rogue), and a suite of talents specific to combat styles. Interestingly, while talents can be increased over time as you gain experience levels and talent points to invest, combat styles refer only generally to different ways to equip your character--specifically, with a one-handed weapon and shield, or with a bow or crossbow, or with dual weapons, or (exclusively for warriors) with a mighty two-handed weapon.

Look around--there are many ways to specialize your character for combat in Dragon Age.

There's no need to invest in individual weapon proficiency points like in NWN or BG, only to later come to the frustrating realization that your characters spent all their points learning to use battle axes when there was actually an amazing two-handed sword you'd prefer to use for them instead. Now, you can make a much broader choice earlier on, choosing to simply use "a one-handed weapon" with a shield (rather than a longsword or a mace or a warhammer), and so on.

Warriors and rogues each have unique talent trees that are basic to their classes (that is, the warrior talents remain active and can be increased even after a warrior character graduates to an advanced class such as a templar or berserker; the same applies to rogues). BioWare senior producer Ferret Boudoin says, "As far as skills go, any warrior or rogue worth their salt maxes out combat training as quickly as possible. The tier-three and tier-four abilities are just too yummy to pass up." The warrior has two talent trees. The first is a defensive set of talents that increase the warrior's resistances to damage or helps manage the amount of stamina (a meter that powers the use of special abilities) the character uses; the second is an offensive set that includes modes that let the warrior deal critical damage on slower attacks or manage the amount of "aggro" (how focused your enemies are on the warrior) your character generates in combat. Rogues, on the other hand, have four talent trees: two include miscellaneous extra attacks that stun or weaken foes, one is for picking locks and disarming traps, and a fourth tree is for stealth skills.

Rogues and warriors share a few combat-style-related talent trees, including dual weapons and archery (both of which include four talent trees with four unique lines of skills), though only warriors may also use the weapon-and-shield and two-handed-weapon talents. Dual-weapon talents include three individual trees pertaining to more-skillful wielding of two weapons, additional attacks, and sweeping attacks that strike all enemies in range. Archery includes three talent trees that focus on increasing the usefulness of archery in battle (especially at close range, where archery is normally at a disadvantage), precise single shots, and rapidly firing multiple arrows.

It's a lovely evening to bash someone in the face with a shield.

Weapon-and-shield style includes three different talent trees that focus on skills that provide shield-bashing melee attacks that stun enemies; a defensive stance that defends against missile attacks; and a melee defense stance that eventually affords the warrior additional protection from flanking and rear attacks. The two-handed talent tree includes three lines of talents for a line of stunning attacks; a debilitating set of attacks that reduces enemies' armor and attack skills; and a set of skills that focuses on huge, powerful swings that deal enormous damage.

Without even getting into the advanced skills that accompany the game's advanced classes, the open-ended talent trees of warriors and rogues already seem to afford a lot of options with respect to how you specialize your character. We tried out a few different midlevel characters with filled-out skill trees to see them in action.

For instance, rogues specialized in dual-weapon fighting style (taking every single talent from this talent tree) have access not only to the basic rogue-based stunning and debilitating talents, but also to additional talents that let them unleash a whirlwind of melee attacks. Rogues with this kind of specialization will have access to the "flurry" talent, which quickly deals three attacks in succession, the "momentum" talent mode, which lets them attack more quickly at a cost of higher stamina, and the "dual weapon sweep" talent, which lets them attack all enemies in an arc. In addition, rogues specialized in this way can also use the "dual striking" talent mode to attack simultaneously with both weapons (which adds the extra attack, but forgoes the ability to backstab an opponent). In our experience, rogues specialized in this way seem best used to dodge and weave in and out of battle to quickly deal heavy amounts of damage to priority targets, then duck out of proximity once their stamina is depleted. BioWare technical designer Cori May says of this specialization, "I do love the swiftness and visceral thrill of the two swords. The other advantage [dual-weapon rogues] have? Poison. And when you run out of stamina for your powers, just try to flank your opponents as much as possible to get to the backstabbing."

Archery-specialized rogues have plenty of tools to turn a single target into a pincushion.

Archer-specialized rogues are obviously best used at a distance from anything resembling a close-up fight, and at a distance, they can be devastating adversaries. Such characters can either use the "aim" talent mode to slowly fire well-aimed, damaging shots, or the "rapid shot" mode to pour on the arrows, plus the "scattershot" talent, which fires a single, stunning arrow that splinters into additional arrows that also stun all nearby foes. However, the archery-specialized rogue seems especially dangerous when focused on single targets of opportunity, especially squishy enemy wizards that aren't wearing much armor. Such rogues can use talents like "pinning shot" to temporarily stun enemies; "crippling shot" to reduce their defenses; and the "critical shot" and "arrow of slaying" talents to score a critically damaging hit. According to lead designer Mike Laidlaw, "An archer rogue trades the raw damage of a backstabbing assassin rogue for survivability, range, and pinpoint devastation. No one is better against an enemy mage. No one."

Warriors, on the other hand, may specialize in different talent lines, such as the weapon-and-shield talents, which offer both powerful defensive bonuses that increase the warrior's staying power and shield-based attacks that let you bash your foes senseless. Weapon-and-shield-specialized warriors can often dictate the pace of a battle, remaining on their feet longer than anyone else by using talent modes such as "shield defense," "shield wall," and "shield cover" to boost defense against both melee attacks and missiles and by using a variety of shield-based attacks, such as "shield bash" (which instantly stuns its target) and "shield pummel" (a double shield attack that also stuns its target). BioWare senior artist Andrew Farrell explains: "There are a lot of stuns with the sword and shield warrior that really help when you're outnumbered. [This type of warrior] also has a lot of stuns and knockback [talents]. [These stuns open up foes] to big hitters who can use their skills with no resistance."

Have two-handed sword. Will dish out mighty blows.

For the more offensive-minded warrior, two-handed weapons may be a better choice. This type of warrior struggles with the frustration of having to swing a slow, heavy weapon and wait for a blow to land (which may be interrupted in mid-swing), but gains the satisfaction of dealing huge damage in battle. Warriors specialized in the two-handed weapon talent tree are quite possibly the best at dishing out damage, though they have a handful of supplemental talents that are also quite useful. The two building blocks of the two-handed weapon-focused warrior's repertoire are the "sunder armor" talents, which reduce an enemy's armor, and the "mighty blow" group of talents, which start off with a single, powerful attack that does exceptional damage and eventually unlocks the "powerful swings" talent mode, which deals additional damage but incurs penalties to the warrior's defenses and overall attacks (not unlike the power attack mode of Neverwinter Nights). Two-handed weapon-specialized warriors also have access to miscellaneous abilities like "pommel strike," which knocks an enemy flat on its back, and "indomitable," a talent mode that makes the warrior impervious to knockdown abilities. BioWare technical designer Grant Mackay suggests: "The two-handed warrior is really great for dealing some unstoppable damage. If you want to stand toe-to-toe with a dragon and not worry about getting knocked to the ground or sent flying while dishing out some brutal lessons with a giant sword, this is where you want to go."

Now, where can I find someone to turn into mincemeat at this hour?

Of course, these descriptions are only for rogues and warriors who fully specialize in a single talent tree associated with a specific fighting style. Dragon Age: Origin's strategic options really open up once you begin mixing and matching talents from different trees along with your characters' warrior and/or rogue talents, as well as the unique talents they'll unlock when they unlock their advanced classes. From what we've seen, you can make all kinds of trouble in Dragon Age with a couple of daggers, a good two-handed sword, a bow, or a shield. Come back next time when we explore the kind of pandemonium you can cause when you decide to use magic instead.

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207 comments
brucepuckett
brucepuckett

Seriously people, look at the screen caps of the dialog and cut scenes they are first person perspective they look spectacular and they make me want to play this game . Then, look at the combat screen caps and the obnoxious HUD and all of the other superimposed garbage and tell me it doesn't ruin it.

brucepuckett
brucepuckett

Honestly this does look like a good game, but honestly if you were transported to a magical world, would you see yourself from a top down view and when you are fighting would you see little circles under you and your companions feet? Suspension of disbelief is a part of any game, but first person is the way that I would prefer to see this great looking world. I don't need action every second of a game at all but when I play games like this the video gamey combat takes a level of immersion away and that is a shame especially when you are superimposing these little circles and whatnot over the world you spent so much time getting to look right. I like the bethesda titles Fallout and TES and I sincerely hope they don't go the way of WOW just to cater to a wider audience.

frichie79
frichie79

I've only had 30 min on this game last night, and I am too excited to play it, takes me back to the wonder of Baldurs Gate, have browsed some comments and dont understand the anti-combat system. Its how RPGs should be!!! Diablo great game, but where is the fun of hack and slash, the options in DAO are endless and brings strategy and party mechanics to the fore. Cant wait till build my rogue into Legolas :o)

bakasora
bakasora

It has great character cast and development.

Daian
Daian

@Dualmask Real time control in Mass Effect and Fallout 3? Both of them have the option to pause the game and strategize , well ME does, F3 only as a precise shooting "power". But ME surely has the same 'pause the game and plan your strikes' combat like KotoR had before it and like this has now. Nothing wrong with that, just saying they aren't exactly the best of examples,Gothic or Risen would be good ones. Although to be honest i would have preferred combat controls like Gothic than like ME, it gives me a better feeling that i am fully controlling the character and depend quite a lot on my skills not just on the ones of the character. But the game so far seems to be good enough to enjoy this type of combat and i loved KotoR and like ME anyway so 2 thumbs up for this game until this point.

Onsfan
Onsfan

I don't think everyone would agree on this, but I think that this game is tracing the history of western RPG back to a more old school style of gaming. To all of you who whine about the combat system here: there was a time when a good RPG is not about good graphics and action-oriented combat system. Not every game is about the thrill it gives you, 'cause some games are about the experience of the world and the story. Nowadays when the genre is blurred by games like Mass Effect and Oblivion(great games of their own merits), I think a lot of new RPG gamers are not aware of that time when Plainscape Torment was the most heart-touching gaming experience, or when Icewind Dale two released with the 2D infinity engine when in a time when 3D became the mainstream. For those of you out there who wants to shun this gme purely because of its combat is not "fun" enough, I say you give it a try, and if the game is truely a spiritual sucessor to Baldur's Gates, perhaps you would learn what drives us classic RPG fans to hold games like Plainscape in such high regard.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

The word 'nerdy' here is a slur aimed at PC gamers and shows once again how Gamespot is anti PC and far too pro console.

Dualmask
Dualmask

Every game doesn't need to rely on twitch-based action...nor should they. Different strokes for different folks. For every person complaining that every game should be action oriented and not turn- or click-based, there are a dozen people who grew up on and adore this kind of gameplay. Want real-time control? There are games out there for you. Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and the like. But there's nothing wrong with the combat approach in Dragon Age either.

LinkLuigi
LinkLuigi

The problem I see here is that too many people are expecting a hack & slasher like Oblivion or even Zelda (in terms of combat), or something more action-y like Mass Effect. Or a combination of the two. This combat looks like the fighting in Final Fantasy 12, and I don't mean the Gambit system. You go up to the monster, slash away, yet you never really get into the combat in terms of pressing buttons. And that game was great. Or it looks like you could play it like World of Warcraft. I'll be having fun with this.

Lithium8606
Lithium8606

the story and level of immersion into the game as a whole is awesome... but the combat sucks! ughh gimme something skill based... demons souls ftw! im still waiting for something with demon's souls combat system and dragon age origins cinematic quality storytelling...

esqueejy
esqueejy

@ brucepuckett The combat in this game is FAR from Diablo style point and click...unless you want it to be like that. It's extremely flexible and allows you to take it very deep...even to the point of writing your own AI scripts for your NPC party members with "if X, then Y" type decision making. You can be a hands-on pauser and stop combat frequently to issue strategic commands or try to be more hands-off by spending more time with AI scripts and auto-commands. The flexibility of the system will lend itself to wider appeal, altho the complexity that was needed to give it that flexibility may be what has some shying away in the end. Spend an honest few hours getting familiar with it and tweaking it to your liking tho and you're golden.

bs23baller
bs23baller

alright this is where im gonna whine... I think this game looks AMAZING and I cant wait to get it but I agree with Bruce and Donal I hate combat systems like this I loved KOTOR but thats the only one NWN and all those MMOs and stuff I cant stand them...I want something with this kind of rpg and epic element and then combat like Two Worlds or something, point and click blows...I think party system with that combat would be cool too...still gonna get this game tho lol it looks to epic to pass up

vadagar1
vadagar1

dave1021 YOU ARE TOTALY ...................... right oblivion was crap the best worst game I saw amazing potential that fell short on so many levels, what a shame what a shame dragon age looks nice ........ BUT I will wait until people start playing it and see if its good for me Risen and arcania are looking way better true RPG games that make children cry and noobs run away in fear

froggyisland
froggyisland

give it a try brucepuckett, u may be surprised ;) who knows. i nearly passed up KOTOR for the very same reason as u..i am glad i didn't.

brucepuckett
brucepuckett

I think this style of combat system has been used in many successful games its just not for me, but I like everything else that i have seen of this game so it was a disappointment when I realized what the combat looked like.

donalbane
donalbane

Normally I'd agree with you brucepucket, but KOTOR was excellent, and it used the same system. I admit, though, I'm on the fence. I greatly prefer real-time combat to this system.

brucepuckett
brucepuckett

Honestly there is no reason these days that you can't have exciting fps style action with the beautiful graphics and the rpg depth. Point and click combat is for little kids and people that have no skills. I am passing this one up completely but it is a shame because the graphics look great.

brucepuckett
brucepuckett

they haven't been showing too many gameplay videos because the point and click combat system makes the games look stupid

Duded01
Duded01

Looks like the fluidity of combat is well refined, along with a nice dark overall theme. I'll certainly be waiting for some more reviews (especially player written, which are usually more accurate) before rushing out to buy it. But I'm excited by the prospect of a decent new non-MMO. Screw subscriptions! I already paid you when I bought the game!

mrclutch87
mrclutch87

i guess ill be bouncing from demon souls to dragon age back and fourth

slaggo
slaggo

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

02050muh
02050muh

what's so special about this game?

joeleos
joeleos

Sorry i spelled dog wrong Failed english in high school.

joeleos
joeleos

does this story remind you of Mass Effect a powerful race of some sort of Demons (The Dark Spaun) or Machines (The Reapers) occasionly rises up and destroys every thing in its path then sunndenly dissapears centuries. But still ive already pre ordered Collecters Edition i think its gonna be great, love the trailer(s).

dave1021
dave1021

Hmm... people keep saying Oblivion is good, but (here it goes) Vanilla Oblivion was crap. It had: 1 - Crappy Story, 2 - Insignificant Choices, 3 - Limited Amount of Guilds (morrowind had more than double), 4 - Crappy Combat, 5 - Was totally unbalanced between Archery, Magic, and Combat, 6 - The most annoying leveling system in the world, 7 - No consequences for your choices, or any consequence at all besides an unnoticeable disposition chance, 8 - No Role-Playing Quality, 9- Little Replay Value and 10 - Totally Unsatisfying. The only good things were that it was Open World and had cool dialogue. The only way the game wasn't tossed for good was because of the large modding community. (Stupid Bethesda should get more experienced people, they even admitted most of the people working on it were relatively new to the field). Note that this is my opinion, but I'm amazed people are so attached to such a poorly made game. Who cares about graphics when your dying from boredom??? This game looks more like Mass Effect, with a strong(er) story line and a great deal of choice, which I hope hasn't been exaggerated. It won't be completely linear, but I'm guessing it will not be open world, seeing as there seems to be plenty of side/optional quests. They say it isn't turn-based, but from what I've seen the combat looks like KoToR. And there releasing a tool kit, which will yield hours upon hours of extra fun. Of course, this is mostly speculation, we'll see come November.

thebanewolf
thebanewolf

@gizzy82 No Gizzy, don't. What you are doing right now is called generalizing and it is a bad thing.. especially with as little information as you seem to have. How is this not a port of WoW, you ask? Well first of all, it's singleplayer, it doesn't have excessive grinding, it's got (presumably) a better and more engaging story, different universe. As for the warrior and rogue descriptions being alike, that's because they are kinda set in stone.. A rogue's a rogue... if it had a different description it wouldn't be a rogue, same goes for warrior, mage etc. If you got more question, please make them a little more detailed :)

Genchild
Genchild

If you compare it to another game actually developed by Bioware like the original NWN game, then I would guess it would be somewhere in the middle... They aren't bound by D&D rules this round, and chances are there's a reason for that. Early on in Bioware's career having a license like D&D was an asset... Now that they have several AAA titles under there belt they can ditch the license and it's convoluted rule set. I'm sure it will be something much more accessible to the average player.

Genchild
Genchild

@ blowtrees NWN2 was developed by Obsidian via Atari... So what does that even have to do with this???

alzeer1
alzeer1

the intro best ever(dragon blood with song) am on these game for sure

blowtrees
blowtrees

I love RPG games but wouldn't consider myself a die hard RPGer. I have no worries as far as story or presentation goes. But I disliked NWN2 because it was, imo, too deep when it came to character development (especially if you don't know D&D from M&M's), never mind the poor camera/control schemes. Character development shouldn't be a math problem and need any guides or build faqs. Where as I loved KotoR and Mass Effect, for their simple, yet effective formula. Where along that spectrum will Dragon Age fall?

Sethbeastalan
Sethbeastalan

@gizzy82 The problem is you're coming from a standpoint that looks at WoW as the original. Rogues and Warriors are staple classes that have been around since the 80's.

gizzy82
gizzy82

I don't want to get nerd raged but i fear i might when i ask: How is this game anything but a small scale console port of World of Warcraft? Even the description of the two classes here is almost identicle to the Warrior and rogue classes of WoW. This is a question and not a statement!!!

HydeSpeed
HydeSpeed

Wow, nice stereotyping, f0rg0tt3n. >_>

f0rg0tt3n
f0rg0tt3n

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

theneshen
theneshen

this game and oblivion are only similar in the fact that they are fantasy role-playing games, other than then they have little in common, the style, pace, action, even the view

ZoeyClarke
ZoeyClarke

Um this is much more of a narrative driven game. I don't understand why people are comparing it to Oblivion, which was essentially an open world game with a few sidequests and one main campaign quest. Oblivion was cool, no doubt. It was the first next-gen RPG, but the narrative elements were sparse.

DarckArchon
DarckArchon

Hmm i am not sure if it will beat Oblivion, and i am not interested in Graphics. Personally the fact that contains love at... extreme point, lots of blood, blood spats on armor face etc.... it only reminds me of 300 but they had the guts to fight the enemy without armor(except for helmet and shield), anyway it looks kinda cheesy. But the dialog choice, nice environments, pretty good physics system makes it looks nice. Ill just wait and see were this goes.

viracocha72
viracocha72

has no one here ever played Oblivion on Xbox 360?? one of the greatest games ever and this looks to be the same. I don't know why you're all worried about it being linear or dumbed down, Oblivion surely wasn't, and this won't be either. this games gonna rock just as much.

Armyboy5
Armyboy5

I don't understand the people who rather play this then oblivion or Neverwinter nights ( only cause of online, not because nwn has anything better then Dragon age in singleplayer. )

soupa_mario
soupa_mario

Whats with all the hate for this game? It seems amazing to me.

freebeema
freebeema

Mr Supamasta, From the screenshots of this game you are chasing racism that probably does not even exist. What are you trying to achieve? Division? Just like my post, I don't think your post is achieving anything.

littlerazor
littlerazor

i wouldnt worry about it being "dumbed-down" on consoles. they have made plenty of games for both consoles and pc and with the exception of last remnant, most have been fairly similar..(mass effect, kotor, etc.)

supamasta
supamasta

Hey man, are there any brothers in this game ? I see screenshot after screenshot and all I see is white people ! What the hell is the thing with no brothers in the game ? Is that dragon age like, like, some white only age or something ? I mean, come on we wanna see some brothers in there !

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

To those worrying about it being dumbed down,because it's console orientated, WELL OF COURSE IT IS!!!! Didn't you hear the heavy metal music and think 'this music is for spotty teenage consolers'? I for one will be much more surprised if it's like BG and NWN than if it isn't! But, of course, I hope I am wrong! Somehow, however, I think it's going to be quite linear once your character becomes a Warden. I say this because we have heard over and over how different this game is depending on which character you choose - 'up until you become a Warden'.....

Cryptguardian
Cryptguardian

Bioware! please make this multiplayer. This is why we're still playing Neverwinter Night1. Lest face it its more fun killing things online with friends and even more fun killing other players online with the support of your friends...

waffle
waffle

I have a feeling this is going to be a pretty ho-hum game. I'm thinking neverwinter nights 2... it works as a game but it has no personality or uniqueness. BG2 was great for the depth of each of the characters and the way they interacted with each other; to a lesser degree KOTOR and Mass Effect. They also had well-paced, interesting, and exciting main stories, with different paths to the finish. I hope this game will continue that, and its not just some watered down mass-appeal tofu. Also, the graphics look pretty ugly, no sharp textures and drab overall. We will see in the final game though how it stacks up.

AlphaHumana
AlphaHumana

This looks great, but it's kind of unsettling that it'll be released on the Xbox360 and PS3 also. I'm looking forward to this, but having it made for the PC and the consoles at the same time has me worried it'll be dumbed down and a far cry from BG/NWN (though I definitely hope I'm wrong!)

Jshaw71
Jshaw71

i like rouges/thieves type characters, over warriors, but also enjoy playing as a cleric, or paladin class, thanks for the update guys...

Matrim15
Matrim15

Can't wait for this game, looks amazing!