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Hoygeit avatar 10:12 AM on 09.06.2008  (server time)
PAX Dragon Age Booth Video Impressions

Mind if I take a moment of your time? I'd like to talk about a game I was eager to check out during PAX:

Bioware's 'Dragon Age: Origin' is being touted as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate. While it doesn't take place in any Dungeons and Dragons realm (which is a bit of a shame since D&D 4th edition was released not too long ago and would have been cool to see), it appears to have all the trappings of a fun fantasy RPG.

I would like to point out that I do NOT have an unbiased opinion about Bioware. Ask me about any of their games. I'll probably tell you it was awesome, or at the very least, probably was awesome. This write up continues this shameless tradition and will not be useful for those who are looking to justify their purchase.

What was available at PAX was a closed booth showing off the game. You would have to line up around the booth and they would bring in groups of people to check out a video demonstration of their game played by one of their developers. No hands-on unfortunately. They had these tattoo sleeves to give out as swag during this period and I believe Butmac got one later in PAX. Hopefully he'll be able to share a picture with it on in the near future! :)

Starting out - The first half of the demonstration discussed the setting as well as showing how the dialog trees would work in the game. The dialog trees are akin to older Bioware games which I felt was a step back though I can always replay Mass Effect if it bothers me that much. The over arcing story appears to be standard fair. In short, an ancient evil is awakening and it'll be up to you to stop it. Very few hooks are as pervasive as this one. The expectation that it will turn out well is based entirely on faith. It's in the execution where Bioware seems to excel and I imagine the story will have plenty of twists and turns along the way to firmly place it as an enjoyable story in it's own right.

Character designs are a bit bland in my opinion. Facial appearances are solid though I guess I haven't seen enough distinguishing traits that I can recall what the characters look like without bringing up an existing video. It doesn't have a consistent look for all it's characters that is either a.) very gritty realistic like Total War or Assassin's Creed (not sure about Altaïr) nor is it b.) extremely stylized high fantasy like World of Warcraft or Castle Crashers. They cited 'A Game of Thrones' as well as Frank Frazetta as their inspiration (thank you Wikipedia) though that's a very delicate balancing act and I'm not sure if they succeeded until I see a bit more of the game. The final result reminded me of Oblivion- the two mixed freely rather then a more homogenized look. This isn't a bad thing per se but it's an aesthetic that I think you have to grow to appreciate rather then something that can immediately garner your attention.

Engaging in combat (with a cut scene in-between) contained the second half of the presentation. Pausing battles at your leisure to issue orders is still prevalent. Hot-keys at the bottom allow the user to quickly select abilities and you're able to zoom in (third person) and out (to isometric) to view the battlefield and better understand where your characters are in relationship to the enemy. A huge step up was the interaction between the characters during fights. It's not simply just two models swinging their weapon around until the other falls over, there are quite a few animations where the player's party and the enemy seem to genuinely interact with each other. There is a sort of brutality to it, which makes it more interesting visually, and may help keep the player immersed longer.

Some other key points I'd like to briefly mention:

Music - I wasn't able to hear anything at PAX with the other booths going. Checking it out after the fact, it appears appropriate and will probably be a lot more memorable once I'm able to associate more of the game to it. Effects are really well done. The magic effects have a visual punch that don't overwhelm the screen and the blood (especially during a beheading during a combat sequence) added a visual satisfaction that was gory without passing into the cheesy realm.

Encapsulating the user experience - Maybe it's just me but the UI seems very heavily influence by World of Warcraft. It appears functional and leaves a lot of screen real estate though I wish they added just a bit more to distinguish their UI experience.

All in all, it's looking like exactly what it set out to be: A 3D Baldur's Gate. The game is shaping up to be a must have for any PC RPG enthusiast though it's a refinement of the formula more then anything else.

On a unrelated note, I'm about to share something I'm proud and terribly terribly ashamed to share. It seems that I have no qualms to use an exploit as well as I also have a high tolerance for monotony to see it through. SHAME!

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