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GDC 2009: Dragon Age: Origins

People love them some Bioware. Ever since the days of Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, the good doctors have redefined the importance of Story in video games. Known for their branching storylines, multi-choice conversation interface, and belief in the power of multiple pathways through a plot, gamers eagerly await the next thing to come out of Bioware's offices in the chilly North.

Citing a desire to return to their fantasy-themed roots, Bioware have been working on a new IP -- Dragon Age: Origins, a "spiritual successor" to the Baldur's Gate series. They very kindly offered a look at the game during GDC 2009, and I braved the journalist hordes just for you, O Learned Audience.

The storyline involves a sort of Guardian Angels-like group of warriors known as The Grey Wardens, and their overarching mission in dealing with an invasion of menacing creatures. The reason for the title's secondary name, Origins, lies in the character creation options. You'll be able to choose from among the Human, Dwarf, and Elf races, and have as your history either a Noble or Commoner upbringing. These origins directly affect how you navigate the sociopolitic atmosphere of the world, and which advantages and disadvantages you'll have to reckon with as you go. As befits a complex world, characters all have their own prejudices and motivations, and your actions as the group leader may be at odds with what your teammates might want to do. In fact, it's not outside the realm of possibility for your character to lose a member due to their being angered by one of your choices.

One of the more interesting choices Bioware has made with their racial building is the fact that, unlike so many other fantasy-themed games and novels, Elves in DA:O are perceived as a lowly race, subject to insults and poor treatment by other races. Doubtless this sort of inter-race communication will play a large role in managing your team, and thus the whole of the game.

Dialogue seems to be the main way you'll interact with your team, and how you'll try to keep your disparate group together and strong. When speaking with them, or with any NPC, you'll occasionally see a parenthetical prefix to one of your dialogue choices. These let you know that there is a chance for you to be a little more affective with what you say. For instance, one of the choices might have [Persuade] in front of it, meaning that that choice will affect the respondent a little more strongly than others might.

Your party's morale is more than just color for interactions; negative morale will cause their attacks to be less effective, while positive morale will buff them slightly. The good thing is that it will be clear that your individual teammates are feeling grumpy about your choices, so you will have the option of initiating conversation with them at will, and therefore will be able to bring them back from the brink somewhat.


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