E3 2008: Dragon Age: Origins Gameplay Impressions

We meet with BioWare and check out an almost 45-minute demo of this promising role-playing game.

At an event as busy as E3 it's not always easy to work a last-minute appointment into your schedule, but when BioWare invited us to check out an extended demo of the PC version of Dragon Age: Origins earlier today, we knew that it was time to drop everything and race across downtown LA to their hotel. When we got there we were treated to a big-screen demo of the game's opening scenes and some early combat sequences. To say that we came away impressed would be a massive understatement, and if you keep reading you'll find out why.

We're not sure how Dragon Age's storyline is going to play out at this point, but what's clear is that at the start of the game you'll be assuming the role of a recruit signing up with the gray wardens--a group of paladin-like warriors tasked with defending humanity from enemies such as the orc-like horde they refer to as the blight. The demo got under way at a picturesque though somewhat ruined city that appeared to be the wardens' headquarters. The heavily tattooed player character (you'll undoubtedly get to customize your appearance before playing) was being shown around by a high-ranking warden named Duncan and was even introduced to the king--a would-be hero who likes to fight on the front lines alongside his subjects.

The gameplay proper kicked in when Duncan instructed the player to meet him at a tent on the other side of the city to undergo some kind of initiation, but encouraged the guy at the controls to explore first. Given that this is a BioWare game, it came as little surprise that it wasn't long before a moral dilemma presented itself. A starving prisoner being kept in a cage awaiting sentencing pleaded for help as the protagonist approached and offered to exchange the stolen key that put him in there for food and water. After some interactive conversation, three options presented themselves: help the guy out, ignore him, or kill him and take the key. Our BioWare rep opted for the last choice and, after a somewhat heated exchange with a guard who witnessed the act, walked away with the key. Having seen what was in the chest that the key unlocked, we can tell you that it was well worth the effort, but we won't spoil the specifics for you.

Next up we were treated to an in-engine cutscene in which Duncan, the king, and a couple of other characters were planning how to deal with an imminent blight threat. The cinematic camera angles did a great job of showing off the detailed character models, as well as how great the lip-syncing in the game is already. The upshot of the meeting was a plan involving the lighting of a beacon at the top of a tall tower, and the protagonist was among those chosen to do it.

After a Hollywood-worthy setup, the attacking horde showed up on the horizon and, accompanied by a superb orchestral score, began their charge toward the city gates. The king ordered the archers to open fire and followed up their arrows with a pack of rabid-looking hounds. As the hounds went about tearing the enemy apart, the infantry charged forward and chaos ensued. The tower with the beacon was the first thing targeted by the horde's siege weapons, but that didn't prevent the game's hero from attempting to complete his part of the plan.

The BioWare rep showing the game took control of the protagonist as he stood on the battlements overlooking the epic battle. Heading toward what was left of the tower, he went from something resembling a traditional Baldur's Gate camera view to a third-person view more like that used in action and MMO games. The control interface was also reminiscent of those featured in many popular MMO games, since all of the character's moves appeared to be bound to a row of 20 buttons along the bottom of the screen.

In Dragon Age you won't be controlling just a single character. Rather, you can lead a party of up to four characters that, at times, will include guys as generic as the "tower guard" who offered to help with the mission, alongside characters who can presumably stay with you long term.

When the party entered the tower, the guy running the demo opted to swap out one of its number for an elven mage with an impressive arsenal of spells at her disposal. The reason for that became obvious, when moments after stepping through the door into the tower the greasy floor was set ablaze by an enemy hurling a fireball at it. The mage was able to extinguish the fire by calling down a swirling blizzard that left a thin layer of snow on the floor. That was impressive, and things only got better when we were shown how Dragon Age, like other BioWare games, gives you the option to pause combat at any time and give instructions to your characters while time stands still.

When the camera was manually panned around the scene at one point, we could clearly see both an arrow and a fireball headed toward the protagonist. There wasn't much that could be done about either of the projectiles, unfortunately, but it's clear that employing the "pause and play" technique could be invaluable in some situations.

Progressing through the tower and battling a number of enemies en route, the mage showed off a number of other spells that included a lightning-like tempest that engulfed the entire room, a flamethrower attack, a glyph of paralysis that slowed down enemies, and her ability to heal other party members. Oddly, she was also able to cast a grease spell that coated an area with the same flammable substance the party had almost been killed by earlier. It's an unusual spell for sure, but it's an extremely effective one when used in conjunction with a well-placed fireball.

The demo reached its climax when the party entered a room and found a large ogre with horns inside. The ogre was quick to attack, and as the fight progressed, it became apparent that it had access to a range of moves almost as impressive as the playable characters'. The first thing the ogre did was hurl a boulder toward the mage who was keeping her distance, and then it pounded the ground to briefly knock over the rest of the group who had moved in for the kill. The ogre's most impressive attack saw it grabbing a member of the party and punching him repeatedly. We're told that characters armed with shields will have a chance to free themselves with a "shield bash" move when this happens, but it didn't appear to do much good on this occasion.

With the ogre defeated and the beacon atop the tower lit, the party members were probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves. We can't be certain, though, because the moment the beacon was lit, the camera returned to the battle outside where a second ogre had managed to get hold of the king, and barring some kind of miracle, the royal's life appeared to be nearing an end. The demo ended before his life did, though, so we'll have to wait until next time (or maybe until the game is released next year) to find out what happened.

Written By

Want the latest news about Dragon Age: Origins?

Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins

Follow

Discussion

120 comments
GodDemon
GodDemon

The best RPG out there is a game where you feel you have progressed..think of Oblivion as a free roamer and Fallout 3 as Halo 1.

sunilkumarsahoo
sunilkumarsahoo

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

bodylotion
bodylotion

All we can do for now is hope it will somehow manage to create a great story like Baldurs Gate had but ofcourse they need to keep some things intact like the classes, skills, quests etc. and also like BG you will have to control multiple characters (this is for the guy whining about that) Bioware right now probably is the best developer for a game like this so if someone can create a fantastic RPG nowadays it's them. and Maybe Bethesda if they convince me with Fallout 3...

Krechas
Krechas

Ehhh... Will we ever see again an outstanding story with some good gameplay and a real RPG climat like in Baldur's Gate? Or the only thing that awaits us is another 'action' crap...

Kez1984
Kez1984

Gamespot is pc bias, they have put this in the ps3/xbox 360 sections. So stupid.

DeViLzzz
DeViLzzz

as soon as I saw that I had to control multiple toons in this game it was over for me ... it always seems to not be as fun as just playing an mmorpg or playing games that allow for mp lan or online like I assume Diablo 3 will allow for ..... heck I would rather play Guild Wars stuff than have to continuosly switch through many toons as it really isn't realistic and burdens the player ..... please please tell me there is a MP verion and a choice to play as only 1 toon with the AI taking over the rest of the others ...

Jackyll87
Jackyll87

Is the Q1 2009 release for the PC or the consoles or simultaneous ??

picho86
picho86

It is not for PS3 and X360. I don't know where you got this information from, but on the official forum the devs said many times, that it's a PC only title. Maybe it will be ported in the future, but right now there aren't any plans. Also, there will be dragons, but it is called "Dragon Age" because of an important event that started the "Dragon Age", not because there are many dragons in the game.

Signal2Noise
Signal2Noise

There had better be @#$%^&! dragons in it! Can't wait for this one.

Zloth2
Zloth2

"Wow I didn't know the title was heading to the PS3 and 360." Actually, the report is that the game will arrive on consoles sometime in the future. Given what the above article says about your actions being selected from many actions along the bottom, it sounds like the title will need to be re-worked for the console. Probably like Mass Effect was re-worked for the PC.

Ranma_X_basic
Ranma_X_basic

I want this game to Come to the 360. i'd love to play it. it looks awesome and bioware has a great track record of making kick ass rpgs.

youngplay
youngplay

I Hope the game is as good like others at the same style. But no one compare with neverwinter nights 2.

dynomitemasta
dynomitemasta

looking at the images, and with Bioware's recent track record, how anyone could even doubt that this game is going to kick butt I don't know. I hate when games put so much detail into everything but the sky, . . this game the sky looks awesome, I can't wait to get my greedy hands on it! From the early fall to the beginning of next year the amount of sick games is staggering.

Manyac
Manyac

this better live up to the hype. at least its nice to finally see them rolling this out!

elev288
elev288

"...orcs?...undead?... again? Jumpin' jesus Christ! How about making even the slightest attempt at something original" Actualy there are no orcs and no undead..so your kinda missinformed. People always try to compare what they see to what they know, putting labels on things, The grey wardens are for example not at all like paladins. The orc-like creatures isnt orcs and not that similar if u look at them. And there are are no undeads. This is a fairly intresting mix of orginality together with some classic rpg feeling.. I think its gonna be awsome

S3RAF1M
S3RAF1M

i love and buy ALL GAMES THAT COME OUT OF BIOWARE.And the new thing that they have with MASS EFFECT is the greatest thing that happend to pc.and when i heard about MASS EFFECT 2 i was excited and gonna buy that 1 to. the witcher is great also bioware engine but nevertheless great game.BIOWARE just keep' em comin.they make the best RPG games better then black isle.. (icewind dale)....

dorkrawr
dorkrawr

...orcs?...undead?... again? Jumpin' jesus Christ! How about making even the slightest attempt at something original. Dont get me wrong... I am a D&D dork from way back man... but sheesh guys. It's like someone keeps given me the same piece of chewed bubble gum... no flavor.

DrizztDoUrden16
DrizztDoUrden16

Short clip, but it looks good. New ideas like spell fighting or whatever are always tons of fun, and ive been waiting for another good RPG for a long time... Im down, lets do it.

Oncus
Oncus

"The ogre's most impressive attack saw it grabbing a member of the party and punching him repeatedly" I have a feeling that this is going to be one hell of a game.

Shimmerweed
Shimmerweed

Fantastic ! Just darn fantastic ! Its going to be awesome I just know it ! Remember Baldur's Gate? The best RPG of all-time is coming back in Dragon Age : Origins !!! Aww **** Im so excited !!!! Definitely getting this one as soon as its available ! 10/10 definitely !

jasonharris48
jasonharris48

Wow I didn't know the title was heading to the PS3 and 360. SWEET!

starduke
starduke

Hope the game is as good as the hype says it is.

Merlanni
Merlanni

Not to be negative but I suspect it is a short but good blast whit so much untapped potential Take mass Effect, a good story, short, and a lot of second rate recycled quest fodder. Take Jade Empire. A good story, even shorter, and little quest fodder. Somewere next year it will be on the shelves, or on download. If not the year after. Bioware went Console.

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

Somehow I dont think this will be nearly as innovative as The Witcher already was. At least The Witcher very well broke away from the typical Fantasy Good vs. Evil plotline of Orcs, Ogres, & Elves and created a plot where you never knew what was going to happen or where the story would take you.

billg4
billg4

"Dragon Age, like other BioWare games, gives you the option to pause combat at any time and give instructions to your characters while time stands still." Thanks for this. It's the gameplay that matters most to me, after all (though the story is also important). I, too, am discouraged that everything seems to be moving towards action games. But I'm most discouraged by reviews - and previews - that don't tell us HOW the game is actually played. Now, if only we can have a 'real' RPG, and not a pretty, dumbed-down version...

billg4
billg4

"Dragon Age, like other BioWare games, gives you the option to pause combat at any time and give instructions to your characters while time stands still." Thanks for this. It's the gameplay that matters most to me, after all (though the story is also important). I, too, am discouraged that everything seems to be moving towards action games. But I'm most discouraged by reviews - and previews - that don't tell us HOW the game is actually played. Now, if only we can have a 'real' RPG, and not a pretty, dumbed-down version...

GamesBond505
GamesBond505

hey...itz almost like LOTR !!!! only wid a chemistry stuff....cool Rpg...

FallenAngelXBL
FallenAngelXBL

Hmm, i hope you can mix (remembering chemistry...badly) a spell that gives of a sulphuric gas...then use water based spell to cause an explosion...now that would be pretty cool...use real science, and let us experiment! It will be like learning...but with more death and exposions. I also dont think this will be a Lotr thing...not unless they being out a sword that glows when danger around...then we know somethings wrong.

FallenAngelXBL
FallenAngelXBL

If this is shipping to consoles i can bet you any money it wont looks as good or play as good. Bioware are great PC producers, they are rather disappointing on the console side in comparison. This does sound pretty fantastic...It reminds me NWN, so hopefully since they are doing it, it wont be like NWN2...which was good, but not great.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Let's please have a decent amount of roleplaying and not just TPS/FPS combat please Bioware - because after JAde Empire and Mass Effect, I am worried how much RPG's are moving toward being mostly 'shooters'!

worthyj88
worthyj88

I really look forward to this game just hope it doesn't end up with the pc's lord of the rings play style with the four man turn based system and it would be nice if it had some online capabilities like once you beat it have some online play with your character so you can group with others.

Kaleb_B
Kaleb_B

looks promising, but to be certain i need to look more on the non action element of the game.

GriffinLord602
GriffinLord602

Ahhhh, despite some of the doubts people have, you should all have faith... This is Bioware were talking about, the make quality games like 90% of the time :D... Please no-one say, "But don't forget Griff, there's that extra 10%" :L... Cause that defeats the whole point of this comment :L.

osiris
osiris

If you looked at the little thingy on the top right, you would have noticed the "also on: ps3/xbox360". thats new as of E3 I can't wait. Bioware hasn't let us down yet

rift_zone
rift_zone

I love Bioware games, but it's a damn shame my computer is going to be too useless to play this game, it looks and sounds awesome. Guess my only chance is to wait and see if it eventually comes out on the 360. *fingers crossed*

Zerobeam
Zerobeam

I like bioware, they make quality games that're normally good; but eventhough the highly exalted bioware is making the game, it could be just mediocre. Bioware has great stories in their games but this sounds like a cliche medieval story, and gameplay sounds generic like X-Men Legends or Ultimate Alliance, I hope something is done to make gameplay as well as the story more compelling and if it does turn out to be of the calibur that bioware is familiar with, that it comes to the 360

Jin_Kazawa
Jin_Kazawa

@seymoreasses I'm sorry, but seeing the same boobs over and over again are kinda boring, no matter how big or cute they are. "Boobs" in this case are the MMO-s with same content, no innovations and same old saggy story. This is my opinion. I'm not trying to implement it on anyone. I respect everyone's opinion and haven't rated any of these comments with thumbs down.

user5689
user5689

Because of the interface, but they're being stupid. They could easily just make your sticks take over the cursor. With the usual pause thing Bioware has, a console version would work fine. HOWEVER, Bioware hasn't even confirmed console versions yet. From the boards "We are focusing on the PC first and *if* we make a console version it will be away down the road."

Iwillbeurgranny
Iwillbeurgranny

wait so people keep saying that the console versions will be worse than the pc versions... is that true? and why?

zeecorner
zeecorner

Sounds so fun, I am a huge fan of Bioware so when this comes out I know I'll be picking it up.

Fioth
Fioth

I won't say that Im not looking forward to this game, but truth be told, BioWare has been recycling herself for quite some time now...I won't be surprise if they throw in yet another "ethics" mechanic which will involve choices like killing or not killing an NPC, only shown in a fancier way...I just hope that it will be more polished than Mass Effect by the time it comes out 'cause, although I loved said game, it was one of the most broken and bugged of last years games...

tyzwain
tyzwain

Ah another decent looking typical fantasy game. Loved these games on the commodore and amiga. Hopefully itl be similiar to Kings Quest or Everquest.

elev288
elev288

ohh about the paladin like warriors.. A bioware dev just posted that the only similaritys between them and paladins are that they fight something that can be viewed as evil. The people in the grey wardens are often not very nice themselves, some very very bad. sooo plz get some more info before making assumptions

seymoreasses
seymoreasses

Jin_Kazawa wrote "Paladin-like warriors defending humanity, elven mage hurling a fireball and swirling blizzard, large ogre with horns, shield bash... Wow... This is sooooo cliche. A classic. Nothing new. A copy and paste of everything you saw before wrapped in a different looking package. I won't even bother with this." A woman with big boobs is something you have seen before,that doesn't mean you don't like it.

elev288
elev288

love how people call this lotr or generic. ohh well you will get a pleasant suprise when you try it I guess