The End of a Dragon in Dragon Age: Origins

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In most roleplaying games, the content of the title in question is often served up either through storylines or combat. Depending on the RPG in question, you might get a more of one than the other – JRPGs are notoriously long-winded when it comes to story and the Diablo series is a great action-RPG – but these two elements are always in integral part of the roleplaying game experience.

Dragon Age: Origins is no exception. Along with the vast array of choices placed in front of your every step of the way, the ability to get to those decisions is derived from your skill with a blade or the magical forces. While the combat system still hasn’t been detailed in full – nor will it be in this article – we did get a glimpse of it during the GamesCom 2009 demo.

To start, if you haven’t read yesterday’s column “The Consequences of True Choice,” please go back and read it now. Since this is coming at the end of Mike Laidlaw’s temple walkthrough, his party decided to clear a path for pilgrims to see the Urn of Sacred Ashes. Unfortunately, one of the game’s nastiest predators, a High Dragon, perched atop a cliff face just waiting for them to come and try their hand at killing it.

The High Dragon that we encountered outside of the temple was a massive creature (as you can see from the screenshots). Unlike the dragons that you’ve seen in Dungeons and Dragons or in the movie Dragonheart, the High Dragons in DA:O are sleek and almost snake- or horse-like in appearance. As with most of the other scenes in the game, the creature is absolutely gorgeous and the animators certainly took their time creating this monstrosity.  

But it was as deadly as it was beautiful. Mike Laidlaw was on hand to give us some of the details about what the dragon could do.

“The dragon is certainly equipped to take on our entire party,” he explained. “It can attack in full 180 or 360 degrees. It can sweep with its tail, kick with its back feet, buffet people with its wings, and blast people with fire, to name a few attacks. Up until this point in the game, this is probably one of the biggest fights you’ve ever seen.”

And Laidlaw wasn’t joking. And Laidlaw wasn’t joking. The High Dragon, compared to the adventurers, was absolutely enormous, looking like a small house compared to the likes of Leliana, Wynne, and Morrigan. As our party engaged the beast, the creature immediately began to waylay into us, using all of its attacks to destroy the party. But the party did the same to the beast. Wynne and Morrigan stood at range with their magic spells, blasting away at the creature with all sorts of effects that appeared to be based on electricity, fire, and some sort of darker energy that wasn't completely obvious at first glance. The male protagonist stood at the front lines with his sword-and-board, hacking at the creature while Leliana moved around behind the monster.

But the scariest part of the whole encounter was the moment where driver of the demo pulled the entire party back out of range. That's when the audience knew their worst nightmare: The dragon fights intelligently. Rather than simply lumbering about and chasing the enemy with the highest aggro, the High Dragon decided to launch itself into the air and take on any party member that had drawn its ire. Sword and magic collided with scale over and over again.

When it was clear that the High Dragon was not going to be killed in the length of the demo time (an example of just how tough this monster was) Laidlaw gave the signal and pulled a little developer magic. The dragon was brought down to almost no health and finally killed, but not just by a simple swing of the sword. On the contrary, Leliana jumped onto the head of the dying dragon like some sort of crazed spider monkey and proceeded to dig her daggers into the beast’s head time and time again. Blood sprayed everywhere – as was necessary with a creature that size – and finally the creature fell. The developers made it sound like this sort of cinematic ending to high end creatures wasn't a one time occurrence, but might happen much more often than that.

The demonstration ended with Leliana standing over the downed creature. Whether it was the developers intention or not, a lot was left unsaid and a lot of questions went unanswered. Would someone else employ the kill shot if Leliana wasn’t in the party? How long does the dragon fight actually take? Is there a way to not fight the dragon at all?

All of those questions remain floating in the ether, and none will be answered until people begin getting their hands on the game. But the very fact that we have these questions is proof that people are interested in what BioWare’s doing. Let’s just hope they deliver on all of their promises.
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