Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

2009 in Review: Dragon Age

Posted by deckard47 on January 16, 2010

At the behest of some of my supporters (er, I mean readers), I’ve decided to do a 2009 year-end summation type article. I’m late on this, and I’m unsure how to do it. I’d love to just steal from Simon’s version, but then he’d know, since he reads this. So, originality. Tricky. This will be the first of many posts, I hope. This one is about the game that I wish I could leave off this list. I love it too much to exile it, as you will see:

The worst game that I still genuinely enjoy, and actually kind of love: Dragon Age

Dragon Age. It’s a game I’ve been waiting for for a long time, a game I hoped would replace BG 2 as my go-to CRPG in the years to come (when that old itch showed up), and a stop on Bioware’s road to their ultimate narrative-centric RPG (they sure haven’t perfected it yet). It’s a game I’ve played at least 40 hours of, and one  I still can’t bring myself to finish. The setting is wearing on my nerves, I’m having trouble getting excited over new, high level powers, and the silent protagonist stands out among her verbose companions. I still love it though, and it’s still Bioware, but for me, whatever magic they brought in BG 2 is less in evidence here than I thought it would be. They’ve shifted it, focusing on Mass Effect more and more of their considerable, admirable talents. I fully expect that game to be as brilliant as I thought the first one would be (and I think the first one is brilliant). Dragon Age is stilted, static, and turgid. I love the characters, much of the writing, and the spirit with which the game thrusts its universe into your face.

In comparison, in Mass Effect, conversations felt dynamic, fast-paced, and exciting. They weren’t perfect, but they sold the immediacy of the world much better than DA can possibly manage. Every conversation in DA is interesting and deep, and the characters are wonderful, but after a while I just wish they’d get to the damn point. Bioware’s strength these days is in highly cinematic (yes, I know, I mean that their attempts to replicate certain filmic visual gimmicks is always better and better, in-cutscene, that is) conversations and small groups of NPCs. Dragon Age just throws to much shit at me. Maybe I’m getting older and nastier, but I don’t care about my avatar, my hero, unless she’s a talker, a doer, and an obvious agent within the game. My character in Dragon Age tries, but she just doesn’t seem to do much, unless she’s having awful stilted sex with another robot.

Still, this game is, without a doubt, the most impressive thing I’ve seen this year (last year now, I know). For the first 30 hours or so, I wasn’t overwhelmed, I was swept up in their fiction, for all its faults. It’s a fictions as thick as any I’ve ever seen in a game, and it doesn’t rely on cheap tricks and tired methods of exposition to tell you the story of its world (although that codex is just unwieldy). It avoids the increasingly annoying “journal entry” and “voice recording” filler that stands in for a fully constructed world, for exposition delivered in an interesting fashion by characters, and in turn, by every inch of the world itself (not to say that Dragon Age does this, but it does a better job at letting its world and people tell a story than many games full of video diaries, blabbering NPCs (who we’re told, lyingly, are not cutscenes. THEY ARE), and loquacious robots and mysterious guides. I’ll finish it, because it proves to me that Bioware is on the right track in many ways (let’s consider this award from Able Gamers, for a moment, linked here), and that they’re hearts are in a better place than most. They’re creating games that are less and less marginalizing, offensive, and exclusionary. They’re so far ahead of so many companies, it’s just a bit sad. So, here’s to Dragon Age, the one game that shouldn’t be on this list (if this list is a tally of what I consider to be the best games of the year), but is so good, it found its way on anyway.

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3 Responses to “2009 in Review: Dragon Age”

  1. Alex said

    Oh, Dragon Age… it has its issues, but really it’s just the best. The thing I love most about it is how funny it is, and how the humor comes from the personalities of the characters and how they interact with each other, which is my favorite kind of humor. Awesome.

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