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When it comes to Dragon Age Origins, its all about choices

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When it comes to Dragon Age Origins, it’s all about choices
By Michael Lafferty

“Think about this as Choice 2.0”

BioWare’s Mike Laidlaw was trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to stifle a smile. Here was the lead designer for BioWare’s upcoming release, Dragon Age Origins, about to talk about one of the big elements of the game and his enthusiasm was on the verge of derailing the media demonstration with unbridled pride.

Of course, though, he had plenty of reason. Dragon Age Origins is simultaneously doing what BioWare does best and that is creating a vibrant, living fantasy world based with deep storylines and tactical role-playing and party combat schemes and driving it forward … How much forward? Well, let’s just say that Dragon Age Origins may be a genre redefining moment.

Ooh, I’m intrigued; tell me more???

Nope, you will have to wait until the 15th for a hands-on preview of the game, but suffice it to say that when BioWare pulled in the 11 or so journalists to Edmonton for two days of game-play experience, we were all treated to an extraordinary moment in gaming.  

Laidlaw’s demo, though was about one element of the game, as it impacts the story being told, the story that you – as the gamer – are at the heart of.

“Think about this as Choice 2.0,” Laidlaw began, and that was when the demo started up.

Dragon Age: Origins PC screenshots

“We try to hit choices that have impact and deeper meaning,” he said. To illustrate that point a pivotal moment was shown in the game. The lead player had a choice to make – destroy an artifact so that no one could use it, or leave it alone. In the first run-through of the scenario, Laidlaw’s character destroyed the artifact, which outraged two of his party members – those characters with deep and distinctive personalities that had been part of his group for some time. But what he did was morally offensive to those characters and they attacked him and the fourth member of the party. Using a little developer magic, Laidlaw’s protagonist killed those members (which were then lost to him for the remainder of the game), and then proceeded to kill the guards and guide who were responsible for him being at this point. The idea was that the artifact was too powerful to wind up in the wrong hands and it was better to not let anyone else get hold of it.

But wait, what if he made a different choice. The scenario was replayed and this time the protagonist set the urn up as a symbol of hope for the beleaguered lands trying to combat the Blight and Dark Spawn threatening to sink the world into eternal evil. One party member grumbled and standing was lost, but the two that had attacked so willingly before were joyful and the protagonist’s standing with them went up.

“There are so many choices to make, so many combinations to be made,” Laidlaw said. “The game will remember your choices and react to them.”

Dragon Age: Origins PC screenshots

Of course, now things might have a different outcome if you had different party members with you. Add to that there is no right and no true wrong; what determines the paths taken through the game is how the player perceives his or her character and acts out their morality within the context of the gameplay.

It is an expansive and intriguing system, that has so many branches that it can seem daunting but really is not. Some of the dialogue choices will loop back to the path that eventually leads through the conversation, but some open up new possibilities, new intrigues and new story elements.

“We have hit a high not in the choices we can make,” Laidlaw stated.

And that, perhaps, will be one of the key ingredients to the success of DAO – the way the game becomes a personal experience for each and every player. BioWare understands that to create compelling gameplay, you have to involve the player. Dragon Age Origins gives players the chance to live in this wonderful but threatened landscape, to walk the path they wish and to make choices they feel their character would make. Not only is that immersive, but the replayability factors go up.

The game itself has linear moments – like at the start – but then it opens up and players can go where they wish and find adventure in a lot of different areas. Some may require a bit more leveling up and some will simply require that you understand who you are and what role you perceive you have in this world. You cannot please everyone you meet in Fereldan, but you can be true to yourself and therein lies the key to this game. It also makes for some dynamic storytelling.

Dragon Age Origins is published by Electronic Arts and is slated to release on November 3 for the PC and 360, and will also be available on the PS3.

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