Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick Notes on Dragon Age

I'm enjoying Dragon Age: Origins. I'm about 20 hours in, and it's felt like 5. I usually don't go in for the straight-up, Song of Ice and Fire hardcore fantasy stuff (except for Tolkien), but the setting has really hooked me, and the gameplay is the best PRG mix I've seen in a while. There is a TON of dialogue and text, which is usually pretty high quality. If I have one complaint, it's that sometimes I'm stuck in the 10th long dialogue tree in a row and I haven't fought anything for an hour, and my sword arm starts getting real itchy.

The dark, gritty, realistic nature of the world is what really hooks me. I shy away from swords and sorcery in general because I expect it to be trite, stereotypical, and unoriginal Mary Sue fantasies for insecure boys (sorry, fantasy fans!). But the story, setting, and characters in Dragon Age are complex and live in shades of grey, rather than black and white (making the players title of "Grey Warden" especially fitting). Unlike, say AoC, where "mature" means "boobies and blood", Dragon Age is the most actually mature game I've ever played. You will make hard fucking choices in this game. Almost every quest leaves you to decide who lives or dies - with no obvious, easy answer. There are overarching villains and heroes, but you'll find that though the individual story areas almost always have apparent "good guys" and "bad guys", neither of them are quite what they seem. It will always turn out that the good guy did something horrible, and the bad guy is actually just misunderstood, or something like that. The game is all about choices, and almost none of those choices will be easy.

Not that there isn't plenty of blood. Comically so if you leave "persistent blood spatter" on in the options menu, which causes the blood shed during a battle to remain on character models during the following scene. It's hard not to laugh as the characters carry on a normal conversation, apparently unbothered by the spatters of blood ALL OVER THEM. I had to turn the option off to take the game seriously when, after the first battle in the game (which, in a nice piece of self-awareness, actually has you kill exactly ten rats) all of the characters were literally soaked from head to toe in rat blood and I couldn't suppress my giggles as they continued normally as though they, you know, weren't soaked in blood.

And the game is mature in so many ways, but it still just can't hide the fact that it was made by a bunch of young men for an intended audience of young men. It's just as obsessed with boobies as AoC. Demons are, of course, always depicted as naked women, and the worst of it is that one of the main storyline characters wears a "top" that's really just a loose scarf draped over her nipples. I have never seen so much side-boob in a game in my life. Don't get me wrong, I love to look at boobies. But it really takes me out of the setting when a guy runs into battle fully clothed alongside women with nothing but tassled pasties over their nipples and vajayjay. Boobies are the greatest destroyer of suspension of disbelief known to man, and in an immersive game like this, going so overboard with the adolescent, immature sexual imagery is a major misstep. Thanks, BioWare. Real "mature".

As an aside: I normally love Final Fantasy games, but I hated the most recent installment. The combat system and economy just felt so grindy and boring that I gave up halfway through. Though the tactics system in that game seemed like a great idea in a series where most fights consisted of you tapping through the "normal attack" option as quickly as you could. You set up a series of if>then statements for each party member that lets you automate them in combat.

Dragon Age copies that system almost wholesale, but for some reason I actually like it here. Maybe it's because I'm playing on a PC and I expect a deeper RPG experience here while I expect Final Fantasy to be a superficial game tacked on to an incredibly high-production-value story. Maybe it has something to do with being able to zoom out to tactical overhead view, or maybe it's because the abilities you character have are more interesting and varied. I really can't put my finger on it for sure yet.

The only other nitpick I have with the game is actually part of its greatest strength. The Dragon Age developers did an incredible job of creating the illusion, especially through dialogue, that every single response you make in a dialogue tree matters, and you actions can lead to different outcomes. And to a large extent, this was true. But there were a few fights where I died and had to reload, forcing me to rerun the same pre-fight dialogue tree again. And the illusion shattered as I tried different options and found that, though they slightly modified a line or two of the NPC's response dialogue, in the end I was being siphoned inexorably down one or two possible paths for the conversation. It shattered the illusion.

But that's like condemning the developers for not being able to perform a miracle. In the end, I'm loving the game, and expect that once my Human Noble Berserker runs through the game as a neutral pragmatist, I'm going to enjoy re-running the game as my Dwarven Peasant Rogue with a Heart of Gold and my Totally Cold-Hearted Bitch Elven Mage. Dragon Age is a triumph because choices matter enough that changing the way you act can breath new excitement into the game, and it's married to an RPG system interesting enough that I want to try all 3 classes.


Ixobelle said...

whatever you do, don't go to the toolset forums, as 9.99/10 threads are "hey, you toolset guys, MAKE ME A NAKED TITTY MOD LOL"

Hatch said...



Y'know, I can't say this emphatically enough:

*I love naked breasts.*

But there is a time and a place. Well, 90% of times and places are great for exposed boobs. But the other 10% include fantasy battles against monstrous demons, family reunions, and anywhere in the vicinity of a douchey guy.

Tesh said...

To be fair, the ESRB thinks "mature" means exactly that sort of thing. The whole industry is saturated with this sort of idiotic thinking.

You'd almost think that none of them have ever actually looked the word up in a dictionary.