Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Part 1 of Dragon Age Review: Alistair's Kitten and Puppy YouTube Videos

This review is long overdue and I do apologize for the lateness of it. I am in the process of writing two research papers and working on my Master's Thesis for Mass Effect. So here is part 1 of my review of the Dragon Age franchise:

The Dragon Age Franchise may have begun in 2009 but the game has been reciving some recent retread and scholarship (well mostly from me on the schloarship part). Since Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming out in 2014 (honestly, the wait is going to kill me more than the wait for the 3rd Season of Sherlock and Dr. Who combined), I figured it would be best to take a look at Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2.

Since I am reviewing Dragon Age: Origins, there are some things to note. I am pretty sure that there are some people that have already played the game, but there are others that haven't, so please be awesome and do not spoil the game for everyone else.

The first thing that I am going to get out of the way is the gameplay and visuals. My reviews function a little differently than most because I think that the plot and characterization is what really makes a game great. Great gameplay and graphics, will strengthen the game even more. With this in mind, the graphics to Dragon Age: Origins are stunning and lovely. However, there are a few bugs in the game (this is for all consoles mind you and for the PC) but that's nothing a few patches can't fix. The most striking detail of the graphics in Dragon Age: Origins are the facial features of the characters. Utilizing the latest tools at their disposal, (with the budget they had to create the game) the facial features and facial movement is impressive (however, L.A. Noire, does this much, much better than DAO, but that's for another review later on). The background graphics and action in the game are fluid and effortlessly animated. At some points, it gets a little choppy, but it's not detriment to the experience whatsoever.

Random Grey Warden: So I heard your YouTube Channel is a sensation.
Alistair: Oh yes, the internet loves cat videos!

The gameplay style of DAO is akin to a chose your own adventure, however, the descisions that you make in the game will affect the outcome and also reverberate in Dragon Age 2. You can choose to be on the side of good, neutural or evil, choose to be man or woman, elf, dwarf or human, a different skin color, have a romance, the possibilities are endless. The great thing about DAO and games like it is that you can experience the game in many different ways and create your own narrative.

One of my points of contention is the character creation process. While you can create your character any way you want, there is no option to change their body shape, bodily features and height. I wanted my character to look like me (I am a curvier and fat woman, mind you) and I am sure there are many gamers (male and female) that want to put themselves into the game as well and tend to do this in most of these types of games. What I don't understand is that if Soul Caliber 4 and 5 have this option, why doesn't Dragon Age or even Mass Effect for that matter? If it's an expense issue, then it's understandable, however, this is a subtle form of marginalization, seeing as how in the BioWare universe, fat men, fat women and fat intersexed people do not exist and that is problematic.

The music and sounds in the game are beautiful and subtle. They work very well with the ambiance of the game and nicely convey the action and the scenario without being too bombastic. Unfortunately, the score for me was forgettable with the exception of the opening theme and ending theme (Dragon Age 2 has this same exact problem).

Now we get to the meat of the game and that is the plot and the characters. The plot, yes it's a save the world from evil monster narrative (though Godzilla being the final villain would have been funny) but its the characters that make that narrative fresh, lighthearted and even funny. If you choose the human route, you have the option of being either a noble warrior or thief (you will be a Grey Warden, whether or not you choose the noble or mage origin), or mage in the Circle of Magi. If you go for the elf option you too have the choice of the circle of magi, but there is also the option of being among the Dalish in the forest (depending on which occupation you choose) and the option of being a dwarf, but you can only be a theif or warrior, since apparently dwarves do not possess magical aptitude (haven't the developers of BioWare seen Williow). Each origin choice you make will affect the narrative and romances in different ways. You will also be a Grey Warden as well with whatever race you choose.

 All of your companions are diverse and come from different backgrounds and cultures, so there is going to be a lot of witty banter, arguments, flirting and intimate conversations that go on throughout the game. The plot of course, is for you an your companions to unite all of the citizens of Ferelden to fight against the Archdemon. A noble cause indeed, but remember the old addage that it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey? This game follows that addage. The charcters really make the game an enjoyable experience and your decisions do influence their opinion of you. You can also have a romance with them as well. Of course, having a romance with your companions requires work to build up and maintain, but you can choose to engage in it or not. However, you cannot romance Ogrhen (berserker dwarf), Wynn (human mage) or Sten (qunari warrior). Why is this? Is it wrong for a player to want a romance with a qunari, an older human woman or a drunken dwarf? Again, another point of contention with me (once again, Dragon Age 2 has this issue as well).

It's not everyday that you get to play game that has Aeryn Sun and Captain Janeway.

Your companions on this journey are Alistair, a fellow Grey Warden who seems like the type of person to have a YouTube Channel devoted to kitten and puppy videos, which is adorable actually, Morrigan, a shapeshifter with a sharp tongue and Captain Janeway, her mom, who has an even sharper tongue, Wynn, a Circle Mage who may seem like the kind of grandmother who would make cookies for you, but has a wild streak in her, Sten, a qunari who is the strong, silent type (no he really is, that's not even a joke), Oghren, a drunken dwarf who parties harder than Lindsey Lohan's and Charlie Sheen's liver can handle, Leilana, a young woman who works for the Chantry that likes to sing, dance and tell stories, but is not afraid to use stabby, stabbity death when necessary (Alistair's words, not mine), your dog (who you can name whatever you want, mine was Rimmer. If you get the reference, you win the Internet for a day), Zevran, an assassin elf who thinks he's Antonio Banderas (he's a poor elf's version, really), and Shale, a stone golem who reminds me of Mallory Archer with a really deep voice and a love for crystals, but a hatred for pigeons (she is actually my favorite in the game). There are other NPC characters that are notable too, but the companions really make the experience and make the game fun, sweet, poignant and heartfelt at times, especially at the end.

My only issue, if I had any with the characters, is Sten. I feel that Sten, as a character was underdeveloped and I wanted to know more about him and his past, but he's not forthcoming about it. whether this is intentional or not, it is still disappointing because I, as a player wanted to know more about him, seeing as how he is moved by literature and art.

Overall, Dragon Age: Origins is a fun and interesting game. There is a lot of sociopolitical rhetoric and commentary in the subtext and context of the game that many scholars would love and a lot of humorous dialogue and witty banter that the player can enjoy, whatever way they want to experience this game and there really is no wrong way to play Dragon Age Origins.

Now Dragon Age 2, that's a different story entirely (I didn't hate the game, I liked it, but I really have a lot to say on it)...

I'm the Meta Fatale and I review it so you don't have to!