Dragon Age: Origins Gen Con Indy 09 Preview
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-08-21 Xbox 360 RPG M (Mature) Bioware

At Gen Con Indy 2008, I, along with a dozen or so eager gamers, sat in a dimly lit cardboard-esque cube in the middle of the exhibitor's hall for the showing Dragon Age: Origins. Now a year later, the game once again made an appearance at the "Best Four Days in Gaming," but this time came in the form of a playable demo that allowed all of us to see the progress the game has made in the last year.

The spiritual successor to Balder's Gate, Dragon Age: Origins is a fantasy RPG set in the gritty and violent medieval landscape of Fereldan, a kingdom on the continent of Thedas.

While the 360 demo of the game placed me in the role of a young lad trapped inside a castle under-siege, the game allows for highly varied character creation, much like in other Bioware titles, that goes so far as to allow you to choose the back-story for how your character was raised along with various life experiences, thus molding their personality into whatever shape you wish to give it.

The demo began mid-scenario - I found myself trapped in a room near the back end of my castle, along with my dog and mother, both of who are playable, and the goal of finding my father and escaping with our lives.

While most of the enemy forces were isolated on the exterior of the castle, a few had found their way in, starting immediately outside my room. The real-time combat began instantly, with my mother and dog charging into battle against our enemies, who were quickly slain with a few stabs of my sword to their innards.

Bodies drop loot such as cash and potions that allow you to renew your health, with each body taking on a sort of glittery effect when something has yet to be picked from their corpse.

Being the concerned son that I am, the action paused for a moment to enter into a conversation with my mother over her apparent frail state and my concern over putting her life into danger.

Each conversation comes with dialogue options (an expected gameplay element from the Bioware camp). In this case, you can either demand that your mother not lose her will and strength, or be more sympathetic and concerned for her well-being. While a large chunk of these conversations and even individual dialogue options may have a greater effect on the storyline and how your character develops, depending on the character you're interacting with, these options may not have an effect on the outcome of the scenario at all.

For instance, early on in the demo, my party of three came across one of my man-servants, who frantically reported on the fallen state of the castle and wished to flee for his life. Again, I was met with a choice. Either encourage the man-servant to escape, or demand that he stay behind, be a man, and help protect myself, my mother and my dog. While the character is highly inconsequential (in fact, it matters not if he dies in subsequent battles, that is, if you demand he stay and fight), his presence may be beneficial later on from a tactical standpoint, when four fighting players are better than three, but his staying behind or fleeing has no effect on the plot whatsoever.

A few more rooms cleared and I made my way to the courtyard, where I was introduced to the concept of mages, who are infinitely more powerful than lowly soldiers and are really only susceptible to significant damage from behind. That is, you can try to pummel a mage head-on, but with their staff at the ready, they will zap your health into the red or worse in less time than it takes you to read this sentence.

If you do happen to die in combat, you are given control of one of your remaining characters and are allowed to fight as normal until you are victorious, and your fallen characters revived.

This mini-boss battle completed, I was led into the kitchen, where, in a back alcove I came across my mortally wounded father and Duncan, the leader of the Grey Wardens, a group of incredible warriors and mages sworn to protect the land.

After a truly emotional (and lengthy) stretch of dialogue, your mother leaves your party, refusing to leave your father's side until he has finally passed. Just before the demo ends, Duncan, having been impressed by your skills in battle, invites you to join him in the Grey Wardens in order to take revenge on the heathens who stormed your castle and ultimately took your father from your life.

All in all, Dragon Age: Origins is an impressive sight. The graphics are gorgeous, with a particular nod going to the synchronization of voice-acting to lip movements, the lack of which in other titles has always been a major annoyance of mine.

However, one area of concern did arise almost instantly, that being the tendency for battles to become a bit repetitive, and even hack-n-slash, button mash affairs. While your character comes equipped with a number of upgradable and customizable magic and otherwise ranged attacks (available through an upgrade tree in the menu - upgrade points are awarded upon your leveling up), the few battles I fought in the demo were much easier completed by simply targeting an enemy and bashing on the A button until their body slumped to the floor. Whether or not this issue will remain in the final version of the game remains to be seen.

Dragon Age: Origins is set for release on the PC and 360 on November 3rd, and on the PS3 later that same month. Check back here after the game's release for a full review.