Crispy Gamer

The Five: Dragon Age: Origins

The Skinny: Dragon Age: Origins casts players as a neophyte Greywarden in service of a king who is defending his land against a crew of monstrous baddies called "The Blight." This third-person action RPG is "dark, gritty and adult in nature" and due to come out for the PC first, then follow on next-generation consoles. Here's what we know so far...

1. Remember the awesome dialogue system in Mass Effect? Don't expect to craft movie-quality discussions on-the-fly in Dragon Age: Origins. Your character is the strong, silent type with no voice acting. The game's one-sided conversations may be a direct result of option overload. The game offers so many potential races, jobs and approaches that it could be difficult (or cost-prohibitive) to record that much voice acting. It still feels like a step backwards, though.

2. Dragon Age: Origins doesn't hold your hand. Unlike World of Warcraft and the million games that seek to duplicate its success, BioWare's game wants player to stay immersed in its violent and beautiful world. That means you won't see bright yellow exclamation points hovering over the heads of characters with whom you can interact. So unless you're the type to charge straight towards the climax, expect to shoot the breeze with every guard, crook and king you come across.

3. When it's time for combat, players can opt to micromanage all members of their party, or simply focus on playing their lead -- though, in the demonstration we saw, it seemed like folks who choose to lead with a magic-user may need to manage their melee back-up in a pinch. Somebody's got to charge into the fray and start the fight, and you can't always count on the computer to know when you want the fisticuffs to begin.

4. Despite the need for bodyguards, it looks like playing a magic-user in Dragon Age: Origins will be fun. Those who dabble in the dark arts can cast spells like "grease" to slow down enemies with slippery pools of goo. Throw a fireball at the mess and the whole thing goes up in flames. Elemental spell interactions ought to go a long way towards making your sorceress feel like something more than a glorified archer.

5. The world of Dragon Age: Origins is pretty. The characters? Not so much. Many of the game's human mugs look like they hail from the cursed "Uncanny Valley," especially when they're talking. The environments, on the other hand, are downright lovely. While the game's lead character prowled a medieval village for quests, we spotted a towering Elven spire in the distance. A cloud of swirling crows circled around the top of the tower like a feathery black halo.

Prognostication, hopes and dreams: If there's one thing BioWare is good at, it's spinning a yarn. You can bet that Dragon Age: Origins will be rife with interesting moral choices. Trouble is, they haven't really nailed down great RPG action in a while. Mass Effect was awesome despite fairly dull combat. Hopefully BioWare has learned some lessons and plans to apply them here.

This "Five" was based on a publisher-driven gameplay demo at GenCon 2008.