Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bioware : more awesome than Jack Black.

>At Electronic Arts' India Showcase 2009, they previewed a number of exciting titles from their upcoming line-up : Brutal Legend, FIFA 10 , Dante's Inferno and Need for Speed:Shift.

But I mostly had eyes for only one. While the crowds, quite predictably, milled around FIFA and NFS, I joined a few other wise men to feast my eyes, ears and brains on the only game among the lot that could go on to become an all-time classic. Yep. Dragon Age : Origins was there. And, going by my first two hours with it, Bioware could just have created their finest RPG since Baldur's Gate 2.

As soon as I got the chance, I grabbed my chair, put on the headphones, and shut out everything else – the other games, the lunch buffet, the air-conditioning, the scantily-clad girls (okay okay, I'm lying about the last bit). I had been waiting more than a year for this, a chance to test drive what promises to be a role-playing experience to please the most hardcore Dungeons and Dragons fans.

I'm pleased to report that it's an absolute classic waiting to happen.

From the first moment, you can see that this is the game Bioware has been waiting years to make. This is Baldur's Gate on steroids. This is the game Neverwinter Nights could have been. This is the game that will wipe away the softcore hangover from Jade Empire and Mass Effect. It looks simply beautiful – the environments are flawless and the characters are top-notch.

The writing – storyline, dialogues, descriptions – is vintage Bioware. And the storytelling feature that gives the game the tag 'Origins' is something that could redefine the much-vaunted 'replayability' that RPG developers bandy about so recklessly. Essentially, depending on the race and class you choose for your character, you will begin the game in one of six completely different locations. I played two origin stories – the human wizard and the dwarv commoner, and it was like playing two entirely different games based on the same engine. And, through a number of subtle visual, audio and environmental clues, the coherence of the universe is beautifully conveyed. WHen I was playing the second time as the dwarf, I noticed many references that overlapped with the happenings from my earlier play session – looking at the same world through a different perspective. It's absolutely brilliant, and every serious gamer will want to play every origin story at least once.

Bioware has abandoned the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset this time, and gone with a completely original role-playing system. Though it undoubtedly remains rooted in D and D basics, this is a slightly simplified, more intuitive and streamlined system that will please number-crunchers and newbies alike.

The combat, likewise, is a delightful mix of features from earlier Bioware classics. The tactical, top-down view from BG2 and NWN meet the pausable, queueable commands from KOTOR, and then some. Spells and special skills now have a recharge period, and can be cast again when fully charged. This adds a great layer to combat tactics, as you carefully juggle your command queue to outwit your foes.

Just listen to me rambling.

Don't get me wrong, the other games were great, too. In any other circumstances, I'd be raving about how much fun it is being Jack Black, armed with a demonic guitar, getting medieval on a range of hellspawn in Brutal Legend..

But damn. Dragon Age : Origins was so good, it completely distracted me from the other stuff. Sorry EA. I tried.

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