Primarily developed for the PC, the game features plenty of World of Warcraft-style action buttons across the bottom of the screen in that build of the game. Porting that directly to consoles would seem a challenge. After getting my hands on the Xbox 360 version, outfitted with a prototype interface, that question was answered soundly: it plays fine. Three of the face buttons are mapped to spells, and the left trigger acts as an alt-toggle, offering six mappings to the PC version's ten. One bumper key takes over healing duty, leaving only a three-button disparity between the two builds.
Unfortunately, beyond the controls, I came away from the Dragon Age E3 demo feeling oversold--particularly on its sexuality--and ultimately underwhelmed.
The presentation began with lead designer Mike Laidlaw spending ten minutes explaining how players can have sex in the game. There was no lead-up to this segment, mind you. This was the headline topic. This was the new shit.
Laidlaw loaded up the "party camp," essentially a bonfire where your party members hang out. Walking up to a red-headed woman, Laidlaw noted that the player has "reached the point where she'll really do anything," and I cringed.
Then it was on to the sultry wizard Morrigan, who normally plays the tough sorceress, "but she's really been hitting on us." Players can earn the favor of their suitors by way of persuading them in conversation over the course of the game, but apparently it'll take a little bribery to go the distance.
So how does one copulate in BioWare's latest? You hand out gifts, of course. Laidlaw promptly wooed Morrigan with a book of arcane magic. This has gameplay application, as Morrigan will earn magic points by reading the book. "But there may be other gains as well," said Laidlaw, and I wanted to throw up a little.
"It is cold in my tent," said Morrigan, inviting the hero in for fantasy fulfillment. Laidlaw chose the "let's see what happens," option, and then there was a brief tease of sex, set to what sounded like Celine Dione.
This encounter angered the jealous redhead, thus creating a dynamic love triangle. Laidlaw offered us the choice of who the player should eventually "get with." Someone yelled out "redhead!"--no doubt a devout fan of Alyson Hannigan--and I wanted to leave.
CD Projekt's The Witcher handled its promiscuity with an over-the-top approach. Reducing women to trading cards made for a system that was impossible to take seriously, and played into the rest of the game's misogynist sense of humor. BioWare's own Mass Effect handled its sex in a no-frills manner, reducing it to one fairly brief instance in a much larger narrative.
But in creating what is essentially a sex sideshow within Dragon Age, BioWare is fully entering territory that I'm not sure it can conquer. Sex in games is still in the pubescent stage. Hammy voice acting and stiff 3D models--Mass Effect's character animation still tops Dragon Age in my estimation--make for awkward, pimply approximations of intimacy. One can only hope these early efforts lead to eventual maturity. In the meantime, they can be painful to watch.
Anyway, the remaining few minutes of the demo were relegated to the reveal of the first dragon in Dragon Age. It was an impressive fight, but I've never doubted BioWare's ability to create an engaging fantasy combat system. It's the engaging fantasy world that I want to see evidence of.
Dragon Age: Origins hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on October 20.