If there's one thing that we know BioWare is good at, it's role-playing games. Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and of course Mass Effect have all emerged from their Canadian womb. A track record like that definitely instills some confidence that their upcoming title Dragon Age: Origins will be worthy of adding to that list of quality titles.
So what do we know about Dragon Age: Origins? Firstly, it's a fantasy RPG, and a spiritual sequel to Baldur's Gate. It's set in a new universe that BioWare are pushing as mature, dark and sophisticated, while still retaining traditional fantasy archetypes. Perhaps with Dragon Age, Bioware can do for fantasy what they did for sci-fi with Mass Effect; create a universe that's understandable and familiar, but also builds up a new mythos all of its own. You take on the role of a Grey Warden, a guardian of sorts tasked with defending the world and ultimately defeating a nasty inconvenience called the Archdemon. Grey Wardens are few and far between, making your role an important one in the context of the game's world.
You're able to select from six character backgrounds: Human Noble, Human Mage, Dalish Elf, City Elf, Dwarf Commoner, and Dwarf Noble. Which of these you select will determine your Origin story, a prologue/tutorial that takes place prior to the game's main story, with a runtime of two to three hours. Selecting the City Elf story, for example, sets your starting point as your wedding day, which is disrupted by some rowdy human guards. That sort of rudeness can only be responded to by cutting them down, and that's exactly what you may end up doing. The Dwarf Noble story has you as a member of the royal family, but a Dwarf Commoner would entrench you in the poverty-stricken Dwarf underworld. The gender of your character can also alter the course of events. While each Origin story lands your character at the same starting point to the main plot, what takes place in that story will affect your game in unique ways down the track. Actions taken in the Origin story may have significant ramifications when you return to the area it took place in. The tendrils of cause and effect may reach even further than that.
In addition to your character background, you'll also be picking a class. The three base classes are Wizard, Fighter and Rogue, but these will branch out significantly as you make your way through the game, pushing you to upgrade your abilities and stats and explore more advanced, specialised classes like Templar or Berserker. There appears to be plenty of room to move in terms of customising and perfecting your character to suit your playing style. Combat runs in real-time, but can be paused at any moment for the player to queue up commands. What abilities and attacks you'll be able to use depend, of course, on your character's development and the NPCs in your party. Spells can interact with the effects of other spells. Casting a fireball spell upon a grease spell can cause an explosion, with numerous other spell combinations likely to be uncovered through experimentation. Remaining consistent with BioWare's promise that this game will feature a grittier brand of fantasy, the violence of combat looks bloodier and more confronting than your typical fantasy title.
Backing you up will be up to three NPC's, who BioWare are trying to push as something more than just 'three meat popsicles'. Each will have their own agenda and their own moral compass, meaning you can draw their ire if you do something they disapprove of, and they may refuse to assist you full-stop. You'll also be able to develop relationships with other characters, some of whom are open to something a little snugglier than fighting monsters. The dialogue system is somewhat reminiscent of Mass Effect, though you'll tend to be choosing ideas and emotions to convey rather than specific phrases. Of course, you can't have an RPG nowadays without some kind of morality monitor, and while it doesn't seem you can fundamentally alter the course of the game's story (though there will be multiple endings) the emphasis will be on what the exact shape of the world will be by the time you're done with it. You'll have the influence to determine which kings rule, which nations form and dissolve, and which races survive, which promises some pretty hefty beard-stroking (or thoughtful hair twirling for the ladies) as you weigh up your options.
Finally, you should know that the legendary Tim Curry voices the game's main villain, Arl Rendon Howe. Awesome!