Nick's Gaming Blog

My Dragon Age Chronicles Part 1 (SPOILERS)

Introduction

Let’s start this post with something I hate: partial SPOILERS.  People tell you that they’re only going to talk about, say, an overall impression of Knights of the Old Republic, and then go on to reveal the plot twist, one of the biggest ever.

What I’m getting at is this: if you haven’t played Dragon Age: Origins and you think you might, DON’T READ THE REMAINDER OF THIS POST.  If you’re playing Dragon Age: Origins and haven’t completed it, CONTINUE READING AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Granted, I’m not done with the game, but because I might have made different decisions/done things in a different manner and/or order, I don’t wanna take any risks.

Where does one begin with a Bioware RPG?  You mean, aside from allocating 30-40 hours of your life that you’re utterly comfortable with not getting back?  Aside from calling up friends and relatives and notifying them that your social contact with them, no matter how dismal it was before, is only going to worsen?  Aside from spending disturbing amounts of time deciding which party member to “put the moves” on, instead of pursing an actual romantic interest?

Insert witty line about I'm more than certain that Leliana's lock-picking abilities could "break into" my pants. Also, "insert line" about how I am single and have been forced to vicariously live relationships through ventures like this.

Let’s begin with the fact that Bioware RPGs (is that redundant?  Bioware RPGs?)  scare me.  I’m not much of a monogamous gamer…I’m all about weathering a small difficulty or two…but the moment a game wants to know if we’re “going steady” or burdens me with the question of “how would you define us” I jump ship…as there are other fish in the sea  (Did I cram enough nautical-based allegories surrounding the topic of relationships into that sentence?).

Did I mention that Bioware’s games tend to create those “I’m REALLY obsessed with this one game” people.  They’re a lot like “Lostaholics”.  Now, let me quickly make one thing clear.  Sheer obsession does not a good game guarantee.  I just finished Bully: Scholarship Edition, and while I enjoyed it, and it was a quality title…I don’t plan to return to Bullworth Academy anytime soon.  Alternately, several friends of mine were obsessed with Gladius several years back; proof that it doesn’t take a critically lauded, but an above average title, to generate whatever triggers obsession.  RPGs, in general, promote obsession.  Not that anyone reading this site didn’t already know this.

Anyway, I’ve set those fears aside (along with the hours required to get through this epic tale) and booted up Dragon Age: Origins.  I figured I’d dedicate some posts to writing about my experiences with Bioware’s latest and/or greatest fantasy RPG.  At the very least, it’ll allow me some space to store my thoughts on the title, which could prove useful, considering that (and some of you know this/are a part of such) I’m a consultant on MCC’s Advanced Game Design project…a mod of Origins.  For those that are obsessed/have completed the game…keep in mind that I have not.  Also keep in mind two other things: that I will frequently post questions/problems here before really digging into the issue and that I will likely (like all of my other posts) joke about the game/be sarcastic in general.  If you can’t stand someone taking a couple cracks at Bioware’s baby, I’d also stop reading.

The Origin of my Dragon Age experience–took longer to get “up and running” than I would have thought.  See, Kurt pushed the “back” button one time too many when attempting to return to the original stat points distribution screen…hoping to exploit a cheat that worked with the PC copy of the title.  Please note the emphasis on “one time too many.”  About a half hours worth of character customization vanished into nothingness.  “I spent like seven minutes on my character,” Kurt said, insinuating that I should do the same.

“Yes, Kurt,” I said, “But if I cannot create a character with my likeness, just how do you suggest that I strike terror into the hearts of my enemies?”

Kurt had little to say in objection to that.  I will say this about the character creation system of Dragon Age; to have so much customization, and still have 90% of potential characters still look human…(some even aesthetically appealing) is impressive.  No matter how hard I tried, every character I made in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion looked like the “Ugly Tree” (you know, the arboreal fortress from whence “ugly sticks” come) had repeatedly fallen upon them.  Come to think of it, that might have been why that game didn’t have any romantic interests.

After managing to undo Kurt’s eagerness, it came time to select my race/class/favorite Power Ranger/origin story.  I’m one that generally spends my first playthrough of RPGs taking the path of “least resistance”; namely whatever path has me cleaving all in twain murdering all that dare make eye contact with my character…or that suggest that he should help in reuniting their family.  So don’t ask me about making poultices, or enchanting equipment, or anything else that would likely be taught in the Home Ec. classroom of fantasy realms.  First play-throughs are reserved to the act of running up to things, sifting through my inventory for the sharpest object, then repeatedly gouging said item into wherever I can presume the creature’s vital organs are.  Otherwise, I just go for the eyes.  I find its easier to take on the role of overpowered bug zappers (mages) and lock-pickers (rogues) once I’ve already got a handle on the basic controls/interface, the enemies I’ll face, as well as how the story generally evolves.  That, and when I try to review a product, my primary (or only) playthrough tries to take into account the experience that most gamers will choose to have.

On the left is a ferocious demon, on the right is you, brandishing a sword. If you're struggling with what comes next, or think that it might involve something akin to a U.N. Peace Treaty...don't play this game.

And most gamers don’t froth at the mouth at the thought of casting support magic onto allies, effectively raising their movement speed by 15%.

Please note the emphasis on “most”.

I would like to know just why if one is a human, they’re stuck with two origin stories, and one of which they conveniently share with the elves.  So that’s like 1.5 exclusive origin stories.  The dwarves have 2, and the elves 2.5.  Can we not have a “rags to riches” human tale…or is there so much oppression and discrimination in the elven origin stories that the notion of a poor, disempowered human isn’t likely?  I dunno.  There should be a “country human” origin story, where you drink tall boys of PBR, and drunkenly shoot at any moving object that dares to come within a distance of your trailer.  Just an idea. Maybe someone denies you the right to marry your cousin, and that sets you off on an epic quest to, in the words of Captain Picard, “Make it so.”

Second Issue: Okay, let me get this out in the open; why do I have to be a Grey Warden?  Granted, there are limited parameters, but I still have some say in my race, class, look, and origin story, and that’s just the short list.  Why is the act of being a Grey Warden not optional?  Especially in a mod that is sticking to the canon and universe of Origins, is it possible to move away from the fixation with the character being a Grey Warden, taking into consideration that the protagonist will likely not be trusted with the same obligations that main characters were dealt in Dragon Age: Origins? Furthermore, “Grey Warden” appears to be a highly-generalized status regarding your aptitude as an individual (re: Small rodent & Darkspawn removal).  But there isn’t any sense of the risk/reward principle involved in such…and rightfully so, as there is no choice involved in being a Grey Warden.  Now, obviously, from what limited knowledge I have of the game, I can at least tell that there are benefits to “downing shots” of Darkspawn blood…namely the ability to sense when they will appear.  Of course, following the manta pounded into our heads over and over again during the Spiderman films (namely that “with great power comes great responsibility”) this must also be a burden.  Couldn’t having the dreams about the Darkspawn and whatnot necessarily drive a weaker mind mad?

"So this is how this is going to work. You're going to drink from this cup of demon blood. It, in turn, is probably going to kill you. And if you get 'cold feet' I'll kill you." Questions?

In addition, we haven’t even touched on the whole…well…what I’d call the “Russian Roulette Communion” service that Duncan enacts during the whole “Joining ceremony” shindig.  How many people knew that you’d make it, and that the other two proverbial “red shirts” wouldn’t?  Come on, raise those hands.  Let’s be honest, I didn’t ask them any of the questions about where they were from, etc…because I knew they were going to bite it from the first moment we stepped foot in the Kokari Wilds.

Being a Grey Warden is a position of power, both physically (from the abilities gained through the Darkspawn blood) and socially.  We take this for granted, but take a step back from the game, and ask yourself.  How would things have changed, had I been tasked with the same goal, and yet, was not a Grey Warden?  Think of the scenarios that you remedied or instigated simply by being a Gray Warden.  Especially take into account being a Grey Warden had there not being the whole “Blame the Grey Wardens” framing that went on.  People will join you, fight and die for you, and grant you access to things otherwise inaccessible.  Yet we don’t consider these things…we take being a Grey Warden for granted.

Allow me to end with a few quick closing impressions so far.

1.  The “small talk” that exists between party members when traveling?  Genius.  It’s the Fantasy RPG equivalent of Grand Theft Auto’s radio; filling in what would otherwise be awkward pauses of silence, or worse, the same 90 seconds of a Lord of The Rings knockoff score.  I don’t want to know how long it took to come up with all of that dialogue, though.  Sure, it’s not chronologically sensitive, but it does have to be written for every set of three party members you can have (though, at least from what I’ve noticed, it’s usually only two people).

2.  Tutorials that take the “oh, you stumbled on this menu tab…so I guess I’d better explain advanced battle tactics to you” approach?  Not cool, Bioware.  Not cool at all.  I want you to spell out every damn thing your game can do…even if, like most times, I forget about the nuances, and stumble through the manual later.  I’d at least like to have the humiliation that comes with forgetting the information in the first place.

3.  How about those randomized encounters while traveling on the world map?  Okay, I know those grind-aholics are probably upset that they’re limited in quantity, but I love how I can hop onto the world map to get a little experience…and be provided with an event that has a sense of theatricality/plot to it.  I can’t believe I’m about to write this.  *Gasp*  Here goes.  I look forward to randomized encounters in Dragon Age: Origins.  Except when I die.  That tends to be a bit of a bummer.

4.  Explain to me why some characters appear drenched in blood after a fight, while others look like they just got their clothes back from the cleaners?

5.  Telling me you have an autosave mechanism, then realizing that you save on a far more infrequent basis than my already fairly save-happy self…not happy about that either.

Overall, though, I’m loving it.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to be yelled at by Alister again.  What a whiny bastard.

2 Comments

    I like the “small talk” as well, though perhaps it’s just me, but it seemes to appear more infrequently as the game progresses. Maybe your party members run out of things to say or something. ^~^

  • Yes Zander, the small talk is limited. If you stick with the exact same 2 party members, they will run out of things to say pretty quickly, which is why you stop hearing the small talk. It’s Bioware’s way of saying, “Here’s another reason to vary up your party, even if its not that good of one.” They’re fun to listen to, but there are so many things in the game that can suddenly cut them off that you may end up missing out on some of them (initiating dialogue with an NPC, or merchant, switching areas, etc. cancels the small talks).

    Characters drenched in blood… Well, if you didn’t notice, the only ones who do get blood on them are the ones that are close to the enemies when they die, or the ones that deliver the “finishing blow” to enemies, which is what causes a mass explosion of blood that covers those nearby. Which is another cool mechanic that I think you missed. Next time you’re fighting, watch your, or your party member’s, animation when they kill an enemy. They do a fancy killing blow/parry which is pretty unique and enjoyable.

    The auto-save… well, you got lucky on this one. Until the most recent patch, there was no auto-save, period. It was for some strange reason permanently disabled for console versions, and then they snuck a fix in with the recent patch. Even with the fix, it sometimes still fails to trigger in areas that its supposed to. I don’t understand why they couldn’t get it to work; it works *PERFECTLY* in Mass Effect 2, and it’s hell of smart too. Go figure…

    Not being able to choose between being a gray warden or not… well, there’s a reason for that, and I won’t spoil the game so just finish it and you’ll find out why.

    The thing that makes me really disappointed with this game, though, is the plethora of bugs that terrorize this game. I don’t even know who to blame for that: Bioware for making the game, or Edge of Reality for their crappy port-job. Anyone who plays the console version needs to be aware of the bugs, or else you may end up breaking your game and being unable to fix it:

    http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/67/index/423972/1

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