Dragon Age: Origins • Page 3

Hands-on with console and PC versions. Ogre and out.

If our stereoscopic glimpse at the PC version gave us a sense of the title's storytelling potential, hands-on with the 360 game allows us to gauge how it will play for those with their hands on a controller rather than a mouse and keyboard. Once again, it's a short demo - a single boss fight against a giant ogre - but it's also well-suited to the task of displaying the steps BioWare has taken in squashing dozens of hotkeys onto a pad's handful of buttons.

So while the PC version has a permanent tray of selectable moves mapped along the bottom of the screen, the console version has opted for something akin to Mass Effect's menu wheel. But the wheel has evolved: a squeeze of the right trigger pulls up the radial, showing basic actions - things like spells, skills and items - while each selection then pushes you out onto a second ring, where you can make more specific choices, such as which magic attack to unleash, or which trap to set. Bringing up the menu pauses the action, but you can also toggle between two trays of hotkeys mapped to the face buttons for more instant mayhem, while either bumper allows you to slip seamlessly between controlling the different members of your party.

It's a layout that can seem rather busy for the first few minutes while you try to get your head, as well as your hands, around it all, but the good news is that in the heat of battle it works brilliantly, allowing for quick switches between melee and spell attacks, and effortless transfers between your team members. Even better, the combat is as entertaining as it is elegant, with some dazzling spell effects on offer. Standard electrical and ice powers explode into action in a satisfying blur of particles, while more complex offerings, like the Walking Bomb, which inflicts incremental damage over time to any affected character before causing them to explode when they ultimately keel over, provide some really creative toys to play with.

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Didn't see any dragons in this demo, but I did drop my pen on the floor a few times, so I may have missed them.

The character models haven't been too damaged in the squash onto consoles, either, even if the camera is a little more sluggish on a thumb-stick, and the animation throughout is excellent, the giant ogre looming in, snatching team members and smacking them about with a real sense of weight and swagger.

Both epic and clever, then, Dragon Age: Origins appears to be shaping up well on both consoles and PC. Along with smart combat, a promising party system, and hints of a narrative that will deliver genuine replayability, there are flashes of humour and intrigue that are so often missing from Western RPGs. BioWare's been biding its time with this one, fitting in almost two separate jaunts across the Mass Effect universe in the space it's taken to get the basic pieces of its dark fantasy working together, but this is a company that's never been short on patience. The good news is that, for the rest of us, the wait is almost over too.

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