Previews

Dragon Age

Dungeons. Dragons. D20. Delicious!

Ten years ago, when the RPG masters BioWare released their first big game, Baldur's Gate, we were content with the highest fantasy: to play along with template elves and grinning kobolds. But something has changed since then.

With authors such as George R R Martin producing grittier, bloodier takes on fantasy, and film-makers like Peter Jackson emphasising the war and corruption at the heart of Lord of the Rings, it's no longer enough to fill a fantasy game with comedy orcs. Fantasy has moved on, and games are only just starting to make the transition.

Hence Dragon Age's entirely new world of Ferelden, custom-written to emphasise the bleakness of existence. In the world of Dragon Age, magic is dangerous and weird, magic users feared, and the consequences of great spells still being felt by a downtrodden and broken populace. Gone are the D&D cliches: the flick-of-a-wrist fireball, the saving throw. In comes inter-species tension, religious hatred, and good old fashioned betrayal.

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Consider the elves: tall, slender, smarter, almost idealised humans in most fantasy. In Dragon Age, they're nothing of the sort: in Dragon Age they're terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on who you talk to.

Dwarves live beneath society, literally and figuratively: those who choose to live above ground are treated like dirt, those who remain in their caverns are rarely seen. And no, dwarfettes don't have comedy beards.

Similarly, genre clichés are being wholeheartedly abandoned. Fights, while still viewed from above, don't rely on the usual crit rolls and queued spells of your favourite RPGs. It's as much about tactical use of the environment as it as about the size of your sword.

Meanwhile, potions are simply excised from the game entirely, alongside healing spells. To get through a tricky fight, you'll need to rely on your wits, not a backpack full of red bottles.

But take heart. This isn't a game about unremitting bleakness. It's meant to be a game in which doing good is a made worthwhile by the bad around you.

BioWare lead writer David Gaider says "We're not trying to tell a story about there being no right and wrong and how everything is grey. We do, however, want being good to be an achievable struggle. Even if all the world is against you, you will have love, and friends that stand by you."

We're going to miss the kobolds, those little scamps. But they're being replaced by something new and exciting.

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