On My Shelves: Dragon Age



(When I went to post this, I mis-typed the title as "Dragon Abe"; I now have a vision of a draconic Abraham Lincoln)


     Around the same time I got Oblivion I also purchased Dragon Age, both highly recommended CRPGs for my new PS3.


     Dragon Age, also, did not disappoint.


     There were multiple possible character paths to enter the main plot, and I played several of them. This contrasts with Oblivion (and its sequel Skyrim), which will allow you to do all sorts of customization of your character during startup but you start out in exactly the same location with exactly the same problems and follow, for the first few portions of the game, exactly the same course.


     These lead-in adventures were very useful in conveying a flavor of the world, and of the particular circumstances that your character would have grown up in: a Mage in the Tower of Sorcery, a useful but feared tool, watched by a whole group of trained warriors whose sole duty was to kill any magic-user who looked like they might go bad… or even just go free; an Elf of the Dalish, forest-dwellers, living on the edge of something they do not understand; a noble son of a great house, betrayed in the midst of what should be celebration; and others. Each of these moderate-length lead-ins is detailed and, if you get "into" the characters, emotionally affecting.


     Once past the lead-in, the character is recruited to join the group called the Gray Wardens, legendary warriors fighting the "Darkspawn" who are the major adversaries in the game. According to in-game legend, the Darkspawn are all descended of a group of super-powerful wizards who essentially tried to conquer heaven and were cast down and cursed for their arrogance.


     I won't spoiler the major plotline; obviously you end up having to do much of the important work in leading the fight against the Darkspawn as they rise again. But along the way, you can gather quite a number of companions to assist you, and much of the fun of the game is in how you gain these companions, and what you learn about them as things go on. You can forge friendships, have affairs, or even deep romances, with the various characters (and it's not even limited by sex, though it may be harder to manage a same-sex relationship – I'm not sure).


These relationships and how strong you make them can have a pretty significant effect on things that happen later in the game (and even into some of the later DLC material). There are several ways to advance a relationship; there are in-game events which will affect the attitude of your companions, and there are also items you can give them to improve their outlook; special items can have a huge effect.


Many of the missions you are on have strong moral decision components, and it's not always immediately clear what the right decision is; often you have to understand both sides to make your decision. Sometimes you can justify EITHER decision path because both have consequences which will feel better or worse depending on the type of character you've selected.


Both of these features contrast strongly with Oblivion, Skyrim, and the Fallout games, which may have a lot of fun missions but have very minimal character interaction and moral choices are rarely difficult to make.


The battle system is fairly smooth and in some ways quite interesting; I rather liked the fact that Dragon Age (similar to some other games like Neverwinter Nights) shows you where your area-effect spells will cover, so you can judge exactly where to cast your firestorm or watever.


The climax of the game has several variant paths and endings, which pleases me immensely; in contrast to both Skyrim and Oblivion, one of those endings DOES include you becoming the ruler, having saved the country from all its threats.


Dragon Age does have some downsides, however. While it has some variant decision points in personal relationships and some diversity in the endings, the plot itself is very nearly on a railroad. There are a relatively few side-quests you can get involved in, but the main plot moves on rails and has only a few stops along the way.


This is partially a consequence of Dragon Age acting rather like many Japanese console RPGs in that it has a small set of locations that can be accessed; travel between them may end up with a random encounter or two, but in general you just go from point to point to point. This compares poorly with the wide-open world of Skyrim, Oblivion, or the Fallout series.


Still, Dragon Age is an excellent CRPG. Ideally I'd like something that fused the good points of Dragon Age with those of Oblivion or Skyrim, and maybe someone will, one day, get around to it. But even as it is, Dragon Age is well worth the hours you put into it.










  1. Weird error up there, looks like a link to a local file?

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