GDC 2009: Dragon Age Origins Updated Impressions - Redcliffe Under Siege

We save Redcliffe from hordes of the undead, but not before we meet a drunken blacksmith.

SAN FRANCISCO--The Game Developers Conference is a time for those who make games to come together and share ideas, and few studios are as renowned for their craft as role-playing game powerhouse BioWare. The Edmonton-based studio boasts a back catalog of critically acclaimed games such as Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and later this year it will be adding Dragon Age: Origins to its list of completed titles. During the show last week, BioWare gave journalists the opportunity to see an updated build of Dragon Age for the PC. This demo was a roughly 30-minute quest narrated by lead gameplay designer Mike Laidlaw, and it focused on a few new characters, the pros and cons of diplomacy, and a tactical combat feature for the hardcore crowd.

Before the quest got under way, Laidlaw took a moment to introduce us to the four-person party onscreen. The party was led by a custom-made protagonist named Kinsley, a rogue sporting a pair of swords and a savage goatee. Like in previous BioWare games, designing your lead character to be as lifelike or ridiculous as you want is a big part of the experience. Joining Kinsley was an archer named Leliana, a tall silent gentleman in heavy armor named Sten, and the shape-shifting sorceress Morrigan. At first glance, they look like the usual assortment of fantasy adventurers you'd find in a straightforward RPG, but it's when you get into the game's branching dialogue system--a hallmark of any BioWare game--that you discover each character's personality and how their backgrounds can affect the course of your adventure.

With introductions out of the way, the quest was ready to begin. The party arrives in a forest village called Redcliffe, which is under siege by the Blight, a suitably dark and mysterious force of evil that makes up the gameworld's primary threat. After speaking with a village official, Kinsley agrees to take on the quest and attempt to stave off the forces threatening to destroy Redcliffe. It's here that things get complicated and the level of depth present in Dragon Age comes into view. Rather than immediately jumping into action, you can survey the town and do all you can to tip the odds in your favor before the battle begins.

One thing that is immediately obvious is that the village militia is woefully underequipped. You spot them practicing with wooden weapons and little more than everyday clothing as armor. With this in mind, one option you have is to go to the local blacksmith and see what you can do to right this wrong. As it turns out, the blacksmith is a miserable drunk who stopped doing his job after his daughter became trapped in the castle thanks to the dark forces threatening the town. You can talk to him and offer some help--but at a certain cost.

Beware the Blight.

As it turns out, Sten and Morrigan aren't very charitable personalities. They'd prefer to avoid all optional and risky side quests and just stick to the job at hand, reacting poorly to your benevolent offer to save the blacksmith's daughter. Their opinion of you is measured in an approval stat, and it'll drop a few points with every decision you make that they disagree with. If teammates have a high approval raiting, they'll gain combat bonuses that increase their fighting, defense, and magic skills. But if their approval drops too far, they'll become snide, more openly hostile, and in some cases either cut and run from the party or stage a mutiny to take over leadership.

Right after this, the BioWare rep controlling the demo loaded a later save point after he had rescued the daughter, which caused the blacksmith to get back to work and equip the town with better weapons and armor. You then talk to the town's mayor and elect to wait until nightfall for the big siege. That's when the combat kicked into effect. We've previously talked quite a bit about the combat in Dragon Age, but the tactics menu is something we haven't covered in great detail. Essentially, it's a system that lets you assign a series of responses to specific conditions in battle--a sort of "if X happens, character A performs Y action." A basic example is having your mage automatically cast a healing spell on you when your hit points drop below a certain threshold, but the scenarios allow for a lot more specificity than that. It's a complicated system to be sure and one that BioWare made no bones about describing as something designed for "battle generals" rather than the casual player.

Fast-forwarding a bit, the battle was won, and the town of Redcliffe was rescued. Your prize for this charitable deed is the Helm of Sir Ferris the Red, whom we won't even pretend to know about--but with a name like that you'd assume it's quite a sturdy helm. At any rate, this shows you a good idea of the consequences your decisions have: Now you're sporting a sweet new helm and the town of Redcliffe has been saved, but your diplomacy and charitability have cost you the approval of some of your more prickly teammates and thus their ability to obey your directives. It's a give-and-take system that doesn't focus on good or evil decisions necessarily, but rather on your immediate versus long-term survival needs.

Meet Sten. He doesn't want to be your friend.

Right now, development on the PC version of Dragon Age is winding down and the team at BioWare is beginning to shift its focus to the console versions of the game. We should have information on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions in the coming months. The game is expected to arrive in November.

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Discussion

86 comments
Joeywan
Joeywan

Yep. There goes another game to add to my list. It could use some improvement, from what I have seen, but they've got time to work on all of that. Besides, BioWare never disappoints.

weirjf
weirjf

"I hope they can make this like a Mass Effect of more past time warfare instead of future." No thanks... An updated RPG as a spritual successor to a Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 will make me happy. Mass Effect was great and all, but Baldur's Gate rules.

gamester36
gamester36

I hope they can make this like a Mass Effect of more past time warfare instead of future. That would be amazing, Game looks like it is on the right path hopefully it comes through.

Ythaniel
Ythaniel

Whose idea was it to put that crappy music in the background of the interview? Totally distracting and unnecessary!

nord1c
nord1c

When it comes to ingame dialogs and storytelling, BioWare is racing against itself and I have the hunch, that they will lift the bar even higher with Dragon Age. Can't wait to get my hands on it! :)

backatcha
backatcha

I have a feeling this is going to be an awesome RGP, and we all know the PS3 needs more RPGs.

Outer_Raven
Outer_Raven

This game's definitely going to my rpg collection. I wish the game would come out sooner but hey, no pain no gain! Only 8 months left! :P

Ronin893
Ronin893

Not my cup of tea yet. I need to get a good computer first.

Shiftfallout
Shiftfallout

Animations and facial expressions look stiff, I hope they can adjust them to be a bit more natural, closer to Mass Effect in that regard.

SpiredAsh
SpiredAsh

Game needs hurry up and release so eager to get in and play it

shapra
shapra

it looks cool but i cant download it for free

rikard31
rikard31

Looks ok, But i dont get it why the hands are so huge, and long arms, dosent even look real, looks retarded..When that is said, game looks cool

dinuattila
dinuattila

Looks so hot!In my opinion one of the best RPG developer there is is Bioware.Can't wait for this and Mass Effect 2, and than there is SW:ToR too.Bring them on! :)

ydnarrewop
ydnarrewop

Oooo looks marvelous. I'm a fan of the BioWare folk and their brand of story craft. This one should make a nice addition to my library. :) Three cheers for well-developed games!

Destroy3r3
Destroy3r3

Good and deep RPGs are coming back! Yesterday, I was thinking about great RPGs like Gothic and The Elder Scrolls series and I was wondering if I there are going to be any more diamonds like them... I must admit it guys, this trailer has given me hope!

SnakeStrike6
SnakeStrike6

Another fine game from Bioware. They're going to destroy my wallet one of these days. But anyway, I can't wait for the release. Those console gamers will slow everything down, but I'm all for cross platforming. It looks like a great game, but as always, I worry that my laptop won't be able to run it. I don't suppose anyone knows what the specs on this game are yet? I wouldn't mind playing with crappy graphics if I can get the game to run with a decent frame rate...

jerryschust
jerryschust

This game looks great. Really deep and really fun.

GeigerdolylWodd
GeigerdolylWodd

I'm surprised they did not mention Jade Empire that was also a successful Bioware RPG.

TheLastSamurai
TheLastSamurai

Looks like this will be another amazing experience from Bioware.

rachkovsky
rachkovsky

I haven't played many games like this, but it might be one worth taking a look at.

Vrygar777
Vrygar777

The tactics menu sounds like something of FFXII. I'm really hoping this game is as good for Xbox 360 and PS3 as it is for PC. I mean come on, Mass effect was a little shaky on the 360.

Barighm
Barighm

Interesting. A mission-orientated "agreement" system rather than a good or evil morale system. Sounds cool. Was getting tired of the ol' "good and evil" mechanic that essentially has you play the standard good hero's path with only the ending featuring any moralistic difference.

ACAblackpanther
ACAblackpanther

i'm absolutely pumped for this game. and absolutely disappointed that it's releasing during my first year at the Military Academy, which means i'll have to be patient to play it.

McMJ3
McMJ3

Oo I'm digging the tactical battle system!

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

sounds epic so far, lets see where it goes when it's released. btw, i lol'd when it said "meet Sten, he doesn't want to be your friend."

lightwarrior179
lightwarrior179

Amazing. This is BioWare's familiar territory,the one with which they began making their games with and it's great to see them returning to it. I am sure that Dragon Age will not only bring some nostalgia to the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights fans but also it's unique style will win it praise. Can't wait for this one! :D

NoDice_386
NoDice_386

Of the games on my radar within the next 12 months, this and Mass Effect 2 are my most anticipated. /thumbs up BioWare

pai-may
pai-may

dveight88, so right man. I'm looking forward to this team based rpg far more than most of the JRPG's that are out for 360 at the moment. This could be very good. Fantasy M.E.?

willpak
willpak

This game looks brilliant so far. I know, "Dont count your chickens before they hatch" but adding personalities to an already deep game is something. You know what would be even better? If it were online, and your "party" members are real online people. Give it a clan feel, the leader makes all of the descions, and his members can give him a thumbs up or down based on the leader's choices. How about that?

cynachen
cynachen

Hope this game can be as good, if not better as IWD2, NWN and the witcher..but i agree that none can compare to The Witcher in terms of choice and consequences..

dveight88
dveight88

God I can't believe how many spoiled emo-crippled sociopaths call themselves gamers. The BG series was great yes, but that's ancient history now and these guys just handed you a next-gen RPG in the same spirit during a time when we're starved for good RPG's that DO NOT consist of extremely childish anime JRPG garbage and all you can do is whine and moan about it. What is it you spoiled babies want? The game to rub your head, clean your bedroom, and do your homework?

kenny_gamer
kenny_gamer

Looks great the only thing i don´t like is the click-attack system. Is this kind of fighting going to be in the 360 version aswell?

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

I really can't wait for this to come out!

thefranchise545
thefranchise545

I can not wait to play this game........I might quit my job for a few days......

lukemularczyk
lukemularczyk

"A basic example is having your mage automatically cast a healing spell on you when your hit points drop below a certain threshold" Sounds like the FF12 Gambit system, i liked that system so hopefully will work well.

fdndfdnd
fdndfdnd

not actually that excited about this- after playing the witcher most rpgs can't really compare

bodylotion
bodylotion

sounds and looks good. Maybe the oldschool RPG feeling will relive in this game.

salman06p0020
salman06p0020

Can't wait to get started. This is gonna be one hell of a rid, I tell you.

marz311
marz311

@bennae66 just hook up your pc to the 52" lcd and have the best of both worlds.

bennae66
bennae66

cant wait. now: do i get the pc version, or a console version? hmmm keyboard and shortcut keys vs 52" lcd and a couch. damn

magor1988
magor1988

Bioware is well known for making interactive quality RPG games and if they're done with the PC version already that means they have from April to November to polish everything up. Most games fail because even though they have a great idea or story to tell the game lacks polish, that nice finishing touch that clears out the bugs, the annoying flaws, and possible instability at launch. Lets hope that all this extra time is spent ensuring a smooth player experience.

jasonharris48
jasonharris48

@ Achanvc says the guy with a SuperMan avatar pic LOL. Yeah you being a SuperMan fan should know a lot garbage stuff.

spokomptonjdub
spokomptonjdub

As long as it follows in the footsteps of Baldur's Gate, which they appear to be doing, I'll be there. Just please don't Oblivion-ize what could be a great game Bioware!

achanvc
achanvc

First Impression: Garbage

Nova-Kheng
Nova-Kheng

the combat looks really stiff and not fluent at all.. doesn't really seem all that impressive..

senjutsu
senjutsu

Not my type of game. It looks like a copy of elder scroll games... Bioware can do much better. And the graphics are looking great, but without animations... and animations are EVERYTHING! Instead, I'll buy star ocean 4 for the dialog, then white knight story on the ps3 for the RPG lenght, then Fianl fantasy 13 will pop this summer I suppose (end of summer?). And I still have other games to finish too... I'm so much lacking time...