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!
It’s November 18 and it’s a special day for all Dragon Age fans. And if you’re not a Dragon Age fan and have no idea what I’m talking about, then I’m surprised you’ve been able to steer clear of all the video game news bits leading up to this day. Dragon Age: Inquisition has finally been released in stores in North America and it’s literally like Christmas for the whole lot of us.
When we play video games and we’re coasting along just fine without any troubling hiccups, we sometimes find ourselves getting a little too comfortable. Maybe even a little overly confident. We think we’re going to get to the finish line or just be able to progress further into this awesome story we can’t stop experiencing as we play. And then the unthinkable happens. We encounter a boss fight that’s too damn HARD!
The buzz and excitement around E3 may have died down, but my own personal excitement over the presentation Bioware gave at the conference for their next installment of the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age: Inquisition has not. A new game trailer for the game has been released and its spectacular. Fans of the series are cautiously excited from the comments I’ve seen in articles pertaining to the game. Understandably, some are still sore over how the ending to Mass Effect 3 was handled and Dragon Age 2 wasn’t exactly the strongest installment of the series, but I’m particularly confident about Inquisition.
This week I decided to give Dragon Age II a shot. I previously confessed that I did not particularly care for Dragon Age: Origins due to the clunky gameplay and slow start, but I have been told that Dragon Age II would be more fitting for me, combat and pace-wise. I really enjoyed what little of the storyline I witnessed but I just could never bring myself to play it much, because of that I decided to dig in to the second game in the series.
I started off by picking a class and a gender and I chose a female mage. When I was a bit younger I really liked to play as warrior-type classes due to brute force and strength, but now that I’m a bit more experienced I prefer battle-mage’s or just the mage class in general. I typically find myself being a better support character than anything else so being a mage who stands back and attacks enemies or heals my allies feels right. My favorite character in Dragon Age: Origins was an elven mage, so it makes sense that I would choose that class again in Dragon Age II. My first contact with the Dark Spawn proved to me that my choice was the right one, mage combat is outrageously smooth in Dragon Age II.
I think that so far the combat is my favorite part of the game. It is so smooth compared to that of Dragon Age: Origins and it feels like something I will really enjoy throughout the game. I like being able to switch between characters, so that if Hawke dies I can control someone else, or if I want to use someone else’s powers I can. It’s much better than a game over or worthless allies. I like the amount of powers or abilities you have at your disposal in these games as well, it was the same with Origins as it is with this one and I really like that in both games. Having two tiers of powers/abilities to work with (six total) is really helpful as the game progresses, it seems.
So far the few characters I have met have been pretty cool. My character’s brother, Carver, is kind of annoying but I got over it. He is always mad at me for some reason, I think it’s because I am a mage. Aveline is a really fun character, I like her a lot so far. I think she will be one of my favorites in this game. Varric seems like an interesting character too, though I only just met him. The characters seem to have a lot of depth, which is something that Bioware is good at creating in their games.
One of my favorite Bioware trademarks is the plethora of dialog options in their games and Dragon Age II is no exception. One of my favorite things about the Mass Effect series is the amount of information you can get out of conversations and the ability to choose your character’s responses. Dragon Age 2 has the same sort of in-depth dialog and I really love it. It helps someone like me who missed out on the first game learn more about the world and what has happened in the past as well as what is going on now.
I’m not very far into this game at all but I can say with confidence that I will keep pushing further into it because I really like it so far. I know a lot of people had very legitimate complaints about the lack of unique environments used in Dragon Age 2 and whatnot but regardless I think I will enjoy playing through this game. It should get me somewhat ready for Dragon Age Inquisition, which I know everyone is really looking forward to!
I posted an article on PhoenixDown that showcased some of the first concept art that contained cut ideas from the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age 2. The “what-ifs” went insane. Particularly while I looked at the visual ideas of how Tali should look beneath her mask as well as the first unsuccessful communication between writers and artists about Merrill’s appearance. It really made me wonder just how different these beloved games could have been, but it also made me think of some deeper questions. What do we find aesthetically pleasing in characters? I first asked myself this after seeing Tali’s concept images. How would we have reacted if one of those had been used, especially if Tali had actually been unmasked in the 3rd game? Would her voice match our assumptions? Would our feelings change toward her if she didn’t carry the “pleasing” qualities that normally make alien characters like the asari beautiful?
I can’t honestly answer that question. And that makes me question my own preferences toward what I find “pretty” or “beautiful” in characters. Is it possible that I wouldn’t find Tali pretty enough if she had been fitted with this image? Would my Shepard still love her if they had previously initiated a romantic relationship? Or is it simply impossible to develop an actual answer toward a picture that only shows a glimpse of “what if”?
But I guess the opposite could be the same. What if Tali was actually a bombshell?! How would her voice and personality accompany this sudden realization? Would I be able to actually accept the connection between them? Or what if Tali was just something… unexpected? Not necessarily frightening or unpleasing, but something you just couldn’t possibly imagine while listening to her prattle along about engineering beneath her mask? It’s difficult to answer because I adore Tali’s character. I love the challenges she faces beneath her protective gear, knowing that just one foreign particle outside of her suit could potentially kill her. I love the tension her predicament creates when she realizes that she truly wants to be with Shepard romantically (if that’s the route you took in the game).
It’s so strange knowing that these tiny details in the span of such massive games could have potentially changed the way we looked at our favorite characters. When I first saw Merrill’s images, I was shocked… and a little bit terrified. Matt Rhodes, the BioWare artist that posted the early concept art on his blog, wrote about the challenges and communication that occurs between writers and artists.
“Designing Merrill was a great exercise in Writing and Concept Art learning to speak one another’s language. In her early descriptions I picked up heavily on her willful dabbling with blood magic. On paper she was scary, so early drawings reflected that. After the writers understandably freaked a little, it was explained how those more deadly aspects of her curiosity would unfold and we reined her in a great deal.”
Merrill could have been one freaky blood mage… definitely not someone Isabela would call a kitten, and certainly not a character I could babble about. Merrill is supposed to be cute! Her danger is supposed to stem from her inexperience and endless curiosity, as well as the desperation to reinvigorate something as mysterious and dangerous as the Eluvian. She is meant to be the character you say “yes” to when you should definitely say “no,” and that’s what makes her character so riveting to me.
After a long stretch of dealing with summertime obligations, I recently found myself with a little extra time to get back to gaming. Along with the occasional dash of Little Big Planet, I’m slowly playing through Dragon Age 2 and Metroid Prime. It’s been interesting hopping from the medieval-esque realm of DA2, which is considered a fine if not perfect game for the current generation, to the interplanetary opera of Metroid Prime, which has been called one of the best games of the previous generation. But beyond the mere look and feel of each game, these games offer much different levels of involvement, and I’m surprised at how attached I’m becoming to MP and how detached I’m becoming from DA2. It’s not that I dislike DA2 by any means, but I’m finding that I’m not as engaged with it as I thought I would be.
You hear the term “engagement” a lot these days. It’s usually uttered in relation to the service and cultural sectors – how teachers must “engage” their students, how museums try to “engage” their communities, how cities should “engage” their citizens. Over the past couple years this word has been applied to video games as developers search for new ways to “engage” players. One of the most common ways has been to create compelling stories, which sometimes works out well (Red Dead Redemption, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us), and sometimes works out poorly (a few Final Fantasy games come to mind). Both Dragon Age II and Metroid Prime have fine stories; and while MP revels in it’s simplicity, DA2 suffers in its convolutedness.