previews\ Oct 14, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Dragon Age Origins - PC - Preview 4

Every once in a while a game comes along where the hype is rather high prior to its release. Some games live up to the hype, and a few falter. Then there are the rare ones that exceed expectations.

Dragon Age Origins is one of those games.

BioWare has gone back to its roots with a vibrant and compelling game that features group combat with a strong tactical and strategic edge. The storyline is amazing and the player has so many choices that can be made along the way that truly affects the course of the game. Graphically dynamic with sterling audio texturing, DAO will be the new benchmark against which other single-player RPGs are measured.

Yep, it’s that good.

BioWare recently hosted a media event and gave journalists a chance to get some serious hands-on time with the game – approximately 10-12 hours of a game that, if you try to accomplish all the quests and sub-quests, could take up to 120 hours to complete.

Dragon Age: Origins PC screenshots

The game is tiered with linear play that begins the game, and then it opens into a sand-box format that allows players to go where they will in the lands of Ferelden. The game begins with a player choosing one of six possible origins, and this will determine the course of the action and how you are perceived. There are three races and players can play as a rogue class, mage or warrior. As players level up, the classes get more specialized. A rogue, for example, can become a ranger. The customization options allow players to tweak faces in a wide range of ways to create a look they will be very happy with. Unlike previous BioWare games, like Neverwinter Nights or Baldur’s Gate, those customized faces will translate to the character portraits (which can also be uploaded to the community site).

The game begins with a set class –specific path that will end up with Duncan, a member of the Grey Wardens, intercedes and in order to save the life of the player’s character that player will have to journey with Duncan to Ostagar, where the battle is brewing between an army of Ferelden and the Dark Spawn forces.

As a back-story, several hundred years in the past, there were mages who were cast down and reappeared in the world as arch-demons leading the forces of evil known as the Dark Spawn. As the world’s armies were on the edge of defeat, the Grey Wardens showed up and turned the tide of battle. But as time drifted along, the Grey Wardens were regarded as legend. It appears, though, that they did not totally disappear and Duncan is trying to rebuild the Grey Wardens.

As the story evolves, there is betrayal and death and only a couple of Grey Wardens survive – your character being one of those. It is up to you to rekindle the unity that bound the various armies of the world and pull them together to combat the Dark Spawn before the world is lost.

Dragon Age: Origins PC screenshots

Aiding in those elements are a strong tactical element and strategic gameplay. Each of the characters you can invite to join your party has his or her unique personality and motives. As you make decisions along the way you will either gain favor with them or lose it; if you lose it, they can turn and attack you. Picking your party members for their strengths and the situations is key. You might pull in the war dog, which can charge quickly through to take out rear archers, or you might go with the typical tank, mage, healer, and rogue configuration. You can open the tactical interface and give precise situational orders for combat. If you play a mage, you might have your tank go into full taunt mode for any enemy attacking you if your health hits 75%.

The game allows players to go with the point-and-click style of gameplay or go with the keyboard-driven interface with WASD as the movement keys. You can view the game from the isometric viewpoint or zoom in for an over-the-shoulder perspective.

The world is amazingly realized, with vibrant environments that feel alive. The animations are also incredible. The sound texturing is tremendous and furthers the notion of an organic world. As you run through the realm, you can hear chain meal clinking and even when you stop, as the characters wearing chainmail or plate catch up to you, you will hear the sounds realistically react to the go-and-stop movements. In addition, there is background chatter that is clever and entertaining.

The character interactions are actually a compelling part of this game, but while the game has so many good points, when taken together, Dragon Age Origins is elevated to the ranks of a game that is a must-play. The game releases to retail on November 3 on three platforms – PC, 360 and PS3. While the preview was on the PC platform, DAO will bring a robust community element and will have the toolset available as downloadable content, allowing players to create their own levels and even alter levels within the game itself.

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