Retrospective: Dragon Age: Origins

I meant for this to be part of a larger post where I explored a bunch of games and explored why I would or wouldn't want to play them. However, the content for some of the games got a bit too large, so I thought it'd be better to split them into seperate posts. These are retrospectives, and will be mostly concerned with negative aspects of the game, as the reasons I stopped playing them will usually be the most fresh in my head.

I've owned Dragon Age: Origins since it released on Steam. I downloaded the character creator tool before it came out, and designed my character completely. I spent hours on their face. I planned out their backstory. I couldn't decide which voice to choose. I was waiting for this RPG to blow me away like nothing since Kingdom Hearts.

And it was... meh. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting. It was the biggest anti-climax since Final Fantasy XII.

Whilst the story was entertaining enough, I found something really lacking. I couldn't stay addicted to the story. It didn't pull me along like it should have; it lacked a compelling hook for me to care about. I'd met the Teryn, and I kinda liked him. The king was a complete fool and the Teryn seemed to be the most sane person in the camp. When he failed to show up at the battle, I thought it was a fair assessment of the fact that the king was fucking bonkers. I didn't blame him for leaving, even though I'd totally expected it. I didn't feel anything for the slaughtered soldiers or the Grey Wardens; and why should I? I didn't know any of them except Duncan, who whilst a nice guy, I'd just seen him murder one of the two guys I had formed a connection with earlier in the game. It's a good way to start a game; a political-revenge hook to an adventure, but I felt that I had need intent for revenge. A lot of the time I was playing simply to speak to my companions, whose acting and characters were sublime. Mass Effect had almost the same problem. Saren was a dick, but he wasn't enough of a dick to cause me to hate him and want to kill him.

However, Mass Effect had something that pushed me onwards; that made me actually want to complete the game and laugh in Saren's stupid face. A protagonist. 'Jane' Shepard was actually a character, much unlike the emotionless statue-esque avatar I controlled in Dragon Age. Towards the end of the game, I loved Shepard. I loved her little foibles and the way she said things. I loved her take-no-nonsense, yet tender attitude. It was me the entire time, but it really made a difference that she had her own voice and her own way of phrasing my dialogue choices - she had emotions, and they showed. She was visibly upset at the loss of one of her team (Ashley, the useless bitch). She was the leader of the team - and it showed. In Dragon Age... I'm a camera. I got to choose a voice at the start of the game, but my character didn't talk. Alright, it would have added hundreds of hours of time to add all of those voices for each of the races and each of the genders, but in that case why let me choose different voices for what would anyway be the same damn character? It's not like I ever hear them say anything outside of a 'yah!' or 'ha ha!' in combat. After Mass Effect's totally immersive and believable main character, this static and pointless main character completely lost my interest. I could have forgiven Bioware this had it not been for Mass Effect showing what could be done. By the same damn company! In Shepard, they gave me one of my favourite characters of all time, and they even made her unique to me. In Dragon Age, they gave me a camera to watch the other characters interact with. And that's what it felt like. I loved the other characters; Alistair, Morrigan, Sten and the Mabari were my favourites, but it seemed obvious that I was a spectator to their story. I didn't feel involved, and I didn't feel my character's urge to defeat the Big Bad, unlike Shepard's quest to kill Saren. The other characters deferred to me as the leader, and I still have no idea why. I'm on a mission to save the world! Who should we pick as the leader? The stony-faced mute proficient with the many weapons/magics he keeps on his person? Frankly, that seems like somewhat woolly logic, and would lead to picking a total psychopath. Not to mention that they seem to have known him for about five minutes before choosing to follow him. It's actually rather perplexing, almost a Doctor Who effect, but without the charm or, ironically, the humanity.



So whilst Dragon Age seemed to give me so much creativity with my character, and so much choice, I actually felt a lot less than I should have, due to the lack of basic human interactions. I've heard it's an amazing world, with an amazing history. Obviously it's filled with great characters, but I find it hard to get past my character being... well, not a character. And that brings me to the crux of this post; I do want to play this game again. But I'm so lacking in motivation to do so. If it came up in my game lottery I'd be pretty happy with it, and I'd probably play it for the whole week and enjoy myself. But I still feel as if Bioware slipped up with the game on a basic level that they had already shown themselves capable of hurdling with ease and flair.

This is, of course, a retrospective based on one aspect of the game that stuck hard into my head, and I do actually enjoy the game. It's just not what I expected it to be at all. Basic human interaction I saw in Mass Effect is just not in this game. And it shows.

Damn, I really want to play Mass Effect now.

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