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When you organize content for a gaming website, it is easy to see which games don’t just have the hype machine firing on all cylinders, but are really getting gamers interested. Being bombarded by commercials for console titles doesn’t really tell you much about a game. When knowledgeable gamers, people who have played for decades and written about playing for years, line up outside your virtual office, all pitching content for the same game, you know a game’s pre-release hype has penetrated the veteran gamer’s desensitization to buzz.
The game everyone has been in my ear about this time is BioWare’s upcoming cross-platform RPG, Dragon Age: Origins. So why are my jaded writers shedding their customary ennui for Dragon Age? What does this game have going for it that has everyone’s tales and tongues a wagging? What kind of Dragon Aged themed weapons should I give the writers when I make them fight to see who will get first pick of assignments?
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History: Because BioWare Is Making Dragon Age
When gamers, especially RPG gamers, hear BioWare, their pointy ears (the fake cos-play ones, anyway) perk up. Baldur’s Gate is near and dear to many hearts, to an even greater extent than the still very successful Neverwinter Nights series. What blew people away though, was a twist on RPGs that has resulted in some of the decades best games. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, almost always referred to as KOTOR, had RPG mechanics in a slick pausable-action wrapper.
The story, an original tale taking place in the Star Wars universe, was also excellent, but the previously unseen advance in gameplay was the RPG-action mechanic. You would level, choose skills, manage a party and its inventory. You would then run around in what looked a lot like a third-person action game. But, when combat broke out, you could pause as often and for as long as you wanted, selecting targets and skills with which to attack enemies.
As you got better at it, you could pause less and less, and choose how combat was paced. The combination, along with a vast story of Jedi Knights, proved irresistible to legions of pausing lightsaber wielders.
The formula was refined through Jade Empire and Mass Effect, where not just the gaming but the Intellectual Property were BioWare’s. This showed the gaming public that the Western Canadian outfit could not only make a great game in an existing universe, but build the universe as well.
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So BioWare = Awesome, Therefore Dragon Age: Origins Will Be?
It’s a very good sign, but stops short of a guarantee. The game will be published by Electronic Arts, and actually, Electronic Arts owns BioWare. We know BioWare had the magic touch with KOTOR, because its sequel was made by Oblivion Entertainment, not BioWare, and the only good parts of it were the engine Oblivion got from BioWare and the Star Wars license. BioWare’s brilliance doesn’t outsource well.
Can BioWare still perform magic feats under the supervision of their new corporate overlords? It looks like EA is doing a better job of leaving them to their own devices than they have with other developers they were able to turn and burn for quick cash to make a financial quarter. What happened to Mythic with the Warhammer MMO may have been a learning experience for EA. It certainly was for the former Mythic employees since sent looking for jobs.
What’s really scary is that the BioWare/EA entity is also responsible for Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO currently in development. To MMO or Star Wars fans, as well as people who think the most fun game is to watch these companies try to make players and shareholders happy at the same time, the success of Dragon Age: Origins is being watched as a sign of how well EA’s BioWare buy is going.
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Dragon Age: Origin Goodies
Looking at the game itself, why is everyone ready to throw on some armour and engage in outright bloody combat? It will have the pausable action RPG formula from BioWare that is immensely engaging, and promises the largest amount of content they’ve jammed into one game since Baldur’s Gate 2. If you never played Baldur’s Gate 2, then just think of it in terms of having more content that KOTOR or Mass Effect. Yeah, that’s a lot of ground to wander, stuff to fight, and plot to uncover, with a great game play mechanic.
Actually, the mechanic has apparently been refined to be better than ever, with more detailed character leveling and skills along with even more engrossing and varied combat. There is a full fledged crafting system, and modders will rejoice in the development tools included with DA:O, which appear to be some of the most powerful modding tools ever available with a game. Graphics and sound are expected to be great, but, along with the story, may be too dark and violent for some gamers and many parents.
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Will Dragon Age: Origins Be Violent, or Outright Gory?
Throwing pointless violence into something can always get attention, and usually get a few sales, but it rarely impresses the gaming press who would rather think of themselves as professionals in a responsible industry than blood thirsty sensationalists, our staff included. Throw in that games that tout their controversial aspects tend to offer very little in terms of actual game (is anyone looking forward to actually playing Dante’s Inferno, do we know a single thing about the gameplay?), and we can assume that we’re looking for more than realistic amputations.
What we’re looking forward to isn’t gore a plenty: we just like something for grown ups now and again.
BioWare ruffled some feathers with the nudity in Mass Effect, but those chirping were generally people outside the industry. People who played Mass Effect generally found it to be an intelligent game with a deep, fully-featured, and yes, mature, plot. Similarly, the FAQ from the official page explains that:
"Dragon Age: Origins is a very gritty, often bloody adventure with mature themes. It has elements of traditional fantasy like heroes, villains, and magic, but we're not pulling any punches - you're going to be immersed in a brutal, dangerous, and sometimes shocking world."
Personally, I can do without "sometimes shocking," and would like to think that was more of a marketing brag than a developer goal. But, after years of rather sanitized fantasy RPG settings leading to rather staid stories in games, some of the excitement is that we finally get to enter a world where bad things can happen, difficult decisions have to be made, and when you hit someone with something sharp, yes, they bleed. Making a dark, mature game with violent combat in an appropriate way is just another feat we are expecting BioWare to pull off in making the oh-so-highly-anticipated Dragon Age: Origins.
All photos in this article are from EA's Media Page.