by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
What you get when you polish Baldur's Gate for 10 years.
Few games are groundbreakers. Most are variations and (hopefully) improvements over games that came before them. A little over ten years ago, Canadian developer BioWare released Baldur's Gate which was one of those rare groundbreakers. The graphics were intensely rich, the characters well-fleshed out, and the main storyline simply sucked in the player like a Dustbuster attracts dust bunnies. Though the world map did, indeed, have borders, what was to be seen and viewed and interacted with within those borders was a myriad of possibilities and side-quests. But the clincher to all that was the character development, which was so in-depth that it was next to impossible for a player to exit the creation process without being seriously invested in that character. And the way that that personalized character development meshed into the main storyline... If there was ever a BG player that did _not_ find himself doing at least one all-nighter playing the game, I've never heard of him or her.
Since the advent of Baldur's Gate, BioWare continued to refine pretty much everything the game had to offer. BG was followed by an expansion pack and BG2 and another expansion pack. Remember that fully enmeshed character you had in BG? He/she could actually be the same player character through the two subsequent games. Besides, your actions actually helped to define and shape the unfolding story. Now, if that wasn't guaranteed to fully invest the player, I can't think of another way to do it better.
In 2002, BioWare, via publisher Infrogrames, reclaimed the spotlight with Neverwinter Nights. Think BG with a designer toolset included. The game starts and ends in the city of Neverwinter, which is located on the same world with Baldur's Gate. In between visits to Neverwinter, your party covered a LOT of that world's geography. That means that though somewhat removed from one another, the histories, mythology, and political events all intersect and merge with one another. In effect, the fantasy world of BG just became much, much bigger. And richer. And more entrancing. With the added benefit of the included toolset, it wasn't long before a lengthy series of modules appeared. With these modules, additional features like new sub-races, randomly generated dungeons, fully ridable horses, flowing cloaks, tabards and long coats, new monsters, etc., were added.
BG, all grown up.
Now BioWare re-emerges to the forefront with Dragon Age: Origins. It is described as the "spiritual successor" to Baldur's Gate by BioWare CEO Ray Muzkya, though the game is NOT based on AD&D RPG, or placed on the same fantasy world. Once again, prepare to be irresistibly sucked into the character creation process. The "Origins" referred to in the title has to do with the in-depth history of races, nations, communities, as well as people. People and places don't just spring into being one day and remain stagnant after that. They developed over time, as will your character. You will not so much build a character as grow one.
Your first few hours of gameplay will deal with your character's early years, before he/she was old enough to take up adventuring as a lifestyle. There will be a depth of personal history that is rarely - if ever, to be found in another CRPG (computer RPG). Furthermore, the circle of NPCs that surround the character throughout his adventures will be just as fleshed out. Each will not only have their own unique history, they will also have their own unique personality as well. Unlike it's BG ancestor, Alignment will not be strictly defined and tracked, though your in-game choices _will_ still affect the unfolding story.