Dragon Age is massive. Far too massive for me to complete in a decent time frame – especially when time its self is so scant at the minute. I want to talk about it though, and so did Tom – here is what we said.
Craig: So, Dragon Age is quite good
Tom: Yes, really really quite good. It’s actually slightly swallowed me whole over the past few weeks.
Craig: Yeah, same here. I’d say it’s the first time I’ve fallen in love with an RPG since Morrowind. And it’s the first time I’ve actually got into a Bioware game
Tom: I think it’s the most comprehensive world Bioware have ever come up with. And I find it fascinating. I’m genuinely interested in the races and their histories, and the crazy political wranglings.
Craig: I’m not sure where to start with all those points, but I think you’ve just laid out a lovely framework to use
Ok, lets talk about the world – because I think it’s fairly generic but at the same time brilliant. Sort of familiar but different.
Tom: When I think about why I’ve been sucked in to Dragon Age and not, say, Oblivion, I think that it’s the sheer detail that lies behind all of the characters in the game. The vast amount of writing and world building they’ve done leaks into the characters you speak to, it’s in the architecture of the places you visit. It’s just a huge and brilliantly realised place.
I agree as well that in a loose way it’s a cliched world. Dwarves still live underground, humans are at war with each other, there are elves in the forests. But when you’re actually in Orzammar, the Dwarven capital, and you’re getting in vovled with the nitty gritty politics there, and being horrified at the terrible poverty and the caste system, in those details Dragon Age isn’t ciched at all.
Craig: Yes, it’s drowning in character and …depth. It’s like every character you meet has a back story, political views, and definite opinions. And as you say, it draws you in.
With the cliche fantasy world, I’m glad they did it. If they deviated, people would denounce it. Bioware couldn’t win, so instead they sort of played it a bit safer but at the same time played it perfectly. There is enough difference from every other fantasy setting to make it interesting.
What origin did you start with?
Tom: I started with a female human noble warrior! having heard nothing about that origin, I wanted to be surprised and … kinda wasn’t. I think it’s one of the most straightforward and uninteresting origins, from what I’ve heard of other people’s experiences. What was yours?
Craig: I went for a Male City Elf Warrior (dual swords though). The story was good, and I suppose a complete success because I lothed the villain in it.
It really hammered home the inherent racism Humans have towards Elves too, and it really made me feel part of that. Supressed, angry; and I seem to fill out that role when I play now
Actually, my guy would probably have some strong words to say to your woman
Tom: Yeah, your guy would hate my woman. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, the riches of a noble heritage behind her. She ain’t no underdog that’s for sure. But she chops up Darkspawn real good.
Actually, like you, I really got really into the oppression of the elves in Denerim, and the Casteless Dwarves in Orzammar. I genuinely wanted to liberate them all.
I wanted to draw up campaign leaflets and run against the candidates for Dwarven King.
Craig: Are you finding you are filling the role? I mean, normally in RPGs I play as a complete cock. I just kill people for money, do whatever I can to just profit. But here I’m playing as an opressed elf who has become a grey warden; sort of harsh but fair and I help who I can. This has never happened before.
Tom: I’m normally a complete dick in Bioware games, because the evil choices were so obviously evil, and so corny and over the top that it was really entertaining to play that kind of character, but it’s not that clear cut in Dragon Age. You’re always siding with someone, and they’re normally not cardboard cut out bad guys. I didn’t find much opportunity to perform the rich kid saving the world role that the human noble origin presents you with, but I certainly put more of myself personally into the game because the choices I was presented with were interesting.
What you’re talking about it surely the pinnacle of the RPG. You are ACTUALLY role playing your character, with his history and his motivations.
Craig: Yeah, I think it is. And it’s so natural here – it’s not like I’m pretending, I’m IN THERE. You know? Plus I’m having inner turmoil because I want to do the right thing but I have a crush on Morrigan so want to side with her.
I’ve never had complicated relationships or decisions in games before.
Tom: Ah, the dangers of having a crush on a lady who can turn into a colossal arachnid and drink your blood. It’s an age old problem
Craig: Those 8 legs get me going. You know how it is.
Tom: I tried to start a relationship with the golem, Shale. Turned out it’s not possible, for several reasons. Some more obvious than others.
Craig: Your woman would have died if that relationship progressed
Tom: I think she was willing to make that sacrifice.
Craig: What do you think to the party characters?
Tom: I found it to be a mix. I genuinely really liked Alistair. Which is odd for me because I can tell that they’re really obviously going for a likeable Joss Whedon style guy, but I fell for it andhad him in my party all the time. But then others like Leliana I had no interest in whatsoever.
Craig: I fell for Allistair hopelessly too (not in /that/ way) – he’s dry, sarcastic, funny, a bit geekish – just what I look for in a friend. I basically have to have him and Morrigan with me all the time, then the last slot is open; I have wynne there at the minute because I need a healer, but I don’t feel attached to any of the other characters.
Tom: Alistair and Morrigan have brilliant banter throughout the game. They recorded so much extra dialogue for just wandering around the towns. Also I too had to take Wynne as a necessity. Having a healer is totally essential.
Craig: Yeah, I’m hoping to get Morrigan into healing so I can take Shale instead. What do you think to the combat?
Tom: I really liked it. It’s actually pretty challenging throughout, unlike many Bioware RPGs where you tend to become really overpowered in the final sections. The violence worked well and wasn’t as ludicrous as the trailers suggested. The best thing of all though is the magic, which, at later levels, becomes almost apocalyptic.
Craig: Yes, I was going to mention the magic – it’s the first time for me that I’ve seen magic physically connect. It feels right. Like you know when guns feel right in an FPS – that’s magic here.
The violence is brilliant I think, again, it adds the connection that (effectively) turn based combat usually lacks.
Tom: Yeah, I’ve only seen it work this well in Final Fantasy games, oddly enough. Though those are very scripted sequences. To see such explosive and devastating magic in a freeform engine is brilliant. Actually, I have to point out that the superb tactics system that lets you effectively script the behaviour of your allies is lifted from Final Fantasy XII as well
Craig: I like the Tactics system, though I think it doesn’t go quite deep enough. There are rules I’ve wanted to set that just aren’t there…maybe that’s because of the programmer in me though. For example I wanted Morrigan to freeze the enemy with the highest attack on sight, and Wynne to do a group heal if 2 people went below 50% health. The rules just aren’t there.
Tom: It doesn’t quite have all of the possible enemy status effects that you’d want in there. And more importantly you can’t programme where in the battlefield they should be, which is really important. You have to manually make sure your mage is at the back and away from trouble.
Craig: You can sort of set that – I find if you do set them to ‘ranged’ they pretty much stick to it
But, basically, I can’t find much to fault here, and any problems that are there they are so insignificant they are barely worth mentioning
Tom: Especially in a game that’s so damn huge
Craig: Exactly. It’s massive in every respect. I’m leaning towards masterpiece status but I need time to decide that.
Tom: Occasional rusty voice actors and some average facial animation and that sort of thing really doesn’t impact on the experience.
Craig: So, yeah, saying ‘I recommend this’ doesn’t really cut it.
Tom: I’d say it’s essential if you’re a PC gamer unless you really can’t stand RPGs
Craig: I’d pretty much agree, and it’s a mature game – the stereotypical counter-strike crowd might not find much here. But yeah, for the typical Gaming Daily reader, it’s essential gaming.
Craig: Plus it has Tim Curry in