Like A Fine Wine: How Well Do Older Video Games Age?

As someone who hasn’t been gaming since they came out of the womb, like some of my other friends have, I’m always interested in hearing their opinions about how older games hold up compared to other games we have now. Do the graphics still look good? Is the game still an enjoyable experience to play like the day they first played it? My friends always have something to compare it to, while I simply don’t. I became a late bloomer kind of gamer and most of the games I play now have better graphics and technology to work off of. It came as a surprise to me when I actually found a video game I have an opinion on when it comes to how well it holds up as it gradually ages. Which game is this? Dragon Age, of course!

I know, you’re probably sick of hearing any mention of Dragon Age from me. Maybe more on my own blog than anywhere else these days. What can I say? There’s just so much to say about this series and I doubt it’s going to stop anytime soon while Inquisition is still a new game. Deal with it, readers! All kidding aside, just bear with a girl whose gaming experiences aren’t as extensive.

Dragon Age: Origins was released back in 2009. I didn’t start playing this game until 2011. By that time, the game was already two years old but I was impressed by the graphics, the open world scope, and the very foreign idea of playing a video game that gave you the option to romance characters in this game and have these relationships you forge become meaningful in some way. Or not, if you’re the type that likes to have flings with your characters because who has time for love when you’re saving the world from total destruction by Darkspawn?

Soon after finishing Dragon Age: Origins and its expansion pack Dragon Age: Awakening, I already moved onto Dragon Age 2 by 2012, just one year after the game was released in 2011. By marathoning these games back-to-back, I was already able to see the difference in graphics. The look and design of their characters and the interactions in Origins were already attractive enough to want to get to know them more closely. The environments were different and fascinating to want to immerse yourself in these new areas. Despite all this, there was a sense of the overall graphics in the game looking somewhat stiff and lifeless.

The characters kind of remind me of talking, moving animated dolls where the skin was too smooth and lacked obvious features like blemishes or veins to make these characters look lifelike. Clothes lacked movement and the folds on something like robes looked painted, similar to what you’d see on figurines or statuettes. The color palette in Origins was darker, muddier, and drab at times. I understand the story and world of Origins can be dark and depressing sometimes, but certainly not all the time. Staring long enough at the game can make it feel like a downer if it wasn’t for the characters and action keeping you distracted from noticing these things too much.

Leliana in Dragon Age: Origins.
Leliana in Dragon Age: Origins.

Playing Dragon Age 2 in comparison to Origins, you can see the developers were already using a different engine and the graphics being vastly improved from the first game. Hawke and her companions were starting to look more like flesh and blood people and the environments themselves were starting to have more life to them and more splashes of color than what we’ve seen. It was almost easy to forget that this was merely a game and not a movie you were watching.

The release of Dragon Age: Inquisition has taken the graphics to a whole other level. Like most games you see now, the details in the people and places are much sharper and fluid. People have moles and slight imperfections on the skin. Leaves on trees and blades of grass blow freely in the wind with photo realistic detail. We still have a long way to go before games start becoming almost indistinguishable from reality, but it’s getting close with the advances in technology we have.

Leliana in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Leliana in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

When you compare images of all three games side-by-side, you notice how time has changed the game drastically. The graphics makes Origins dated and even Dragon Age 2 is showing its age and inferiority next to Inquisition, but I think the previous two games would still hold up well enough. Would going back and playing these games again give me a feeling of something sorely lacking after I’ve played and beaten Inquisition? Not exactly, but I’ll probably long for the crisp, detailed, and technicolor look of Inquisition. Games similar to Inquisition can spoil you like that.

Take a look at Cullen for instance:

Exhibit A: Cullen in Dragon Age: Origins is a bit meh. He's certainly no Alistair.
Exhibit A: Cullen in Dragon Age: Origins is a bit meh. He’s certainly no Alistair.
Exhibit B: Cullen in Dragon Age 2 starts to look a bit better but hardly anything remarkable to pay attention to.
Exhibit B: Cullen in Dragon Age 2 starts to look a bit better but hardly anything remarkable to pay attention to.
Exhibit C: Cullen in Dragon Age: Inquisition has my full attention now and me proclaiming, "Hellooooo Commander!" When you look this beautiful, how can I ignore that?
Exhibit C: Cullen in Dragon Age: Inquisition has my full attention now and me proclaiming, “Hellooooo Commander!” When you look this beautiful, how can I ignore that?

It’s interesting to me when people tell me they go back and play an old game again only to feel like it isn’t as good as they remembered it. I’m not entirely sure if it’s time or age or both that contributes to these feelings, but it’s a curious thing when your gaming memories change when you go back to a game you’ve loved before and then a new experience with the game after so many years have gone by ends up changing your opinion. Sometimes in a negative way.

I have yet to find out if my feel good memories with Origins then will change now if I played it again. I haven’t had the ability to test that theory out yet, but I truly hope not. I want to feel the same high I felt the first time I beat the game. Not many games have had the same effect and age shouldn’t matter when it comes to how the game made me feel.

How well have older games held up for you?

6 thoughts on “Like A Fine Wine: How Well Do Older Video Games Age?”

  1. I have to say that older games is way better and more beautiful in many ways than new games, even tho new games are technically “better looking”. Like Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2 and Planescape: Torment. Beautiful games.

    1. I’ve heard many good things about Baldur’s Gate, probably because it’s from the same developers of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and would love to play it if it wasn’t an old and really hard to find game now. I think old and new games have their fair share of pros and cons. Sure, the graphics are much better now compared to older games but some older games do better at story, combat, etc. I also think you tend to appreciate games more now when you remember all the games that came before them. In a lot of ways, older games have set the standard for what’s possible now.

  2. I have to agree with the other commenter that lots of older games look great! Metroid Prime, which is now over a decade old, looks fantastic! Maybe it’s not as “realistic” looking, but it’s just as bright and spirited as ever. Same goes triple for Super Metroid, which is even older. And some games just never go out of style — Mario, Donkey Kong, Mega Man. Sure, Super Mario 3D World is absolutely beautiful and plenty of fun, but so is Super Mario 3.

    Sometimes though, it come down to personal preference. If you like photorealistic games with massive stories, then maybe an old-school platformer isn’t for you. But that doesn’t mean those old-school games are worthless. Many of them have aged very well!

    1. I definitely agree. I still love playing classic Mario since I have so many fond memories attached to it, even though I wasn’t a serious gamer or really a gamer at all when I was a kid. Some games really do stand the test of time and I always hope people don’t dismiss a game based on looks alone or because the graphics aren’t as great as a lot of the current games we have now. You never know what you’ll be missing out on!

  3. Games become sterilized with later incarnations. Mass Effect, as mentioned, looks like the cover of a 90’s Sci-Fi novel and has a soundtrack on par with Blade Runner. FFW to part 2, you get clean lines and smoother meshes, but it lost that classic science fiction feel.

    Finally, MA:3 looks like the surface of an iPod, and has just as much character.

    I feel the same about the Dragon Age franchise, with one exception. 2 was sterile. Whereas 3 is polished where it should be, and detailed where it needs it. I still go back and play DA:O for the feel of it. But DA:I looks like Braveheart meets Darkspawn.

    Great topic to broach, btw.

    1. Thank you! I’ve watched YouTube videos of old games I’ve already played and beaten, like Dragon Age, and it’s amazing how different the graphics, feel, and overall look of the earlier games compare to the current one. A lot of the times, the improvements are welcome, but I also like going back and seeing the “roots” of the game, so to speak, as a way of appreciating the changes a series has undergone. And of course, nothing really beats a classic either.

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