Dragon Age: Origins Preview


posted 10/15/2009 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
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You know that feeling of utter excitement you get when you watch a trailer on a totally badass game? Your heart sort of plunks into your stomach and you go: “Oh, yeah. Definitely going to try that out.” That is precisely how I felt after being teased by the mass amount of video clips spread all over Youtube on Dragon Age: Origins.

It should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to go to BioWare headquarters in Edmonton, Canada to get a look at the game first-hand. I was expecting the game to be good, but I initially had some skepticism over some of their decisions on gameplay. For one thing, why no multiplayer option? This could very well have been a World of Warcraft killer (to some degree), and everyone likes multiplayer anyway. More over, while I did thoroughly enjoy Mass Effect, I was admittedly not a fan of the pause and play gameplay. I’m all about the action, so when I heard they had decided to retain this option I was a bit dismayed.

The game itself is no typical RPG. Sure, you’ve got the basic elements of race and class combinations along with specialization in certain talents and abilities (including professions like the one I chose: alchemy). However, your origins story truly makes for a unique experience.

I knew before I even boarded my flight that I would be choosing a mage – I’m a spell caster at heart. As for the race, I ended up going with an Elf because of the interesting angle BioWare decided to take their origins story. Elves, and mages for that matter, are not exactly regarded with high esteem as per usual RPG storylines. I was interested to explore the sort of society that BioWare set up for us gamers: an environment rife with chaos in the form of not just war, but also social conflict in terms of racism, classism and the like.

Ferelden is in turmoil, and as a Grey Warden you’ve sworn to dedicate your life to defeat the blight and restore peace – or what peace there can be in this society. Playing as a mage, however, I was able to explore the Fade – an area that you have to overcome in order to officially become instated as a mage. The Fade is where you, as a mage, first dive into the game. You explore a hazy, dreamlike area while you are put through unknown and unannounced tests. A series of events led me to revisit the Fade, in which I encountered a mysterious demon who attempts to barter a deal with me. I got the distinct impression that the blight was not Ferelden’s last, or greatest fear. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to pursue the matter further, but this is just one example of the kind of unpredictable story Dragon Age has lined up for us. It seems that things are not so simple as a fight for life against the blight – which is in itself already a difficult task.

The uncertainty, fear, and devastation are palpable. Your missions almost seem futile, as you’ll soon realize everyone has banded against you and the name “Grey Warden” isn’t exactly received with a warm welcome any longer. After lighting the beacon, a seemingly successful call for help is unmet, and your side of the war is ravaged by the blight. After this betrayal, you’ll come to learn the role that politics can play in the setting for Dragon Age, and it is just as frustrating as politics in real life can be. Yet, for the sake of preserving life, you pursue the goals that you promised to fulfill. You trek through villages, forests, and cities undertaking various missions while still not fully understanding what the circumstances are or knowing what to expect. You take your quest one mission at a time, and hope that each one takes you closer to defeating the blight, but there is no way to be sure. Despair is written on every wall and every face you meet, and I felt almost at a loss given the ambiguities I was constantly being given. I was lost, and desperately seeking answers. Not that I would know from personal experience, but for me these scenes and sensations caught the essence of war even in the limited time I spent with them. I’m beginning to get bored with the flat storylines and blatant missions most games are offering. Dragon Age, on the other hand, throws me into a war that has been raging for quite some time before my involvement in it began, forcing me to get up to speed as I go. Dragon Age creates such an oddly brutal reality so akin to ours (even in its dark fantasy theme) that I can’t help but feel more connected to this game than how I usually feel towards others.

Looking across my screen to the other members of the press trying their hand at Dragon Age, I noticed we had ended up at completely different points in the story. The most obvious example of this is the involvement in the Fade. A warrior would not be able to enter the Fade, and would therefore have to handle certain situations at hand in a different manner. Here, I refer to my encounter with the mysterious demon. She (he?) has possessed a royal boy’s mind and it becomes a matter of your interest to save him. You can therefore make a decision: enter the Fade upon someone’s sacrifice (as that is the only way you can proceed without a circle of mages invoking the Fade), or send word for help. Being the brute that I am, I chose to not waste any time and make the sacrifice. Another mage might have taken an alternative path, or perhaps you are not playing as a mage at all and the scene would therefore unravel in a much different manner.
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