Hey all, I was doing some thinking on a new post and I thought of the idea of character archetypes and the idea of "categories" in characters that so many of us players seem to fall into. This was brought to mind for me when I was playing Dragon Age: Origins and I looked at the way they did their character classes. There's three of them. The warrior, the rogue and the mage. So, rather, the way I've been looking at it, "The strong one", "The agile one" and "The one that uses magic."
This kind of brought me back to thinking about how we are about character creation and how we tend to design around a character's function in battle. "How is my character going to down the bad guy?" (or at least contribute to it).
After giving it a little thought, I don't really think there's anything wrong with that. As things are, combat is a big part of the game, like it or not. If your character can't cut it in a fight somehow, no matter how much you like role playing, he's probably dead-man-walking. Encounters are much more the "game" part of the game.
Note: As of 4th edition D&D, more focus has been put on Skill Challenges and making some role play situations more like encounters, but that's an instance that is a maybe, from what I've seen. Skill challenges tend to require some contrivances from what I've seen and done in my DMing and what I feel to be true role play feels much more organic. When it comes to a situation that's dire or intense, I'll use skill checks, but designing a skill challenge for role play feels like too much focus on dice, using a difficulty system for something that I feel should be more organic. That's not to say that I don't like skill challenges, but I feel it's much easier to think on your feet and ad-lib without them, more often than not.
Anyways, as I was thinking, the thing that occured to me was that those three things really do seem to encompass all the functions of "action" in a D&D game. I couldn't figure out how I really felt about that. Was it good that things could be broken down so simply or was it bad? I like to think that there is so much customization available in role playing games when really, when I look at it, it's rather simple, with lots of little options; which seems to be 4th editions modus operendi.
I suppose that when it comes down to it, I just like when there is variety. I like when you can pick something that can really and truely be different from the eight previous things you've played. It all changes with role play but it really forces you to rethink "I hit it with a sword." There has to be flourishes. There has to be embelishment. There has to be all sorts of things to differentiate things from your old characters.
I just look out at the RPG landscape right now and find myself unable to wait for a revolution where there's a breakthrough instead of all of us treading on ground that's been walked a thousand times over.
When I look at Dragon Age, it comes off, to me, as a refinement of a refinement of a refinement of what's been done already. Is it good? Yes. It's exceptional. Does it break the mold? Not really. The origin stories, I think, are the biggest point. That's moving us in the direction of real organic pen and paper RPGs. You have 6 completely separate starting stories that contain a few hours of content that set you apart from the other stories available. It's not cookie cutter, where you'd just plug your generic character into a plot that isn't really going to change no matter what you do, you're an individual with craftable motivations and choices that all relate to where you are and where you've been.
I can't wait to see video games expand to do what a pen and paper RPG can do. It won't replace the fun you have with your buddies around a kitchen table with books all over the place, but it'll be awesome none-the-less.
Thanks for reading!
Alright, so, I realize that I could probably play Dragon Age for 150 hours before actually thinking I've played even remotely close to everything so here's my review.
First off, I'm just going to get this out of the way. Dragon Age is awesome. Like, no-holds-barred fantastic. This is, bar none, the best RPG experience I've had in only God knows how long and if you can get your hands on it, do so.
[Some SPOILERS ahead but I'll try to keep them to a minimum]
So, were my hopes realized? Yep, for the most part. The character creation offers enough variety to make characters look different, but it's not so deep that you'll sit there for hours upon hours. That said, it's good. Quite good. The character development is really neat too. Do you craft your own story? Yes and no. You will play one of 3 races, each having 2 backstories possible, depending on class. You play through a unique intro depending on what you choose and then you, by some way or another, end up playing a Grey Warden fighting against the blight.
You'll run into a BUNCH of different characters and creatures, eacg of whom have unique backstories and histories to explore, depending on your relationship to the characters and the choices you make. The moral choices in the game are interesting too. It's quite possible to make a choice that you think is really and truely correct and still a member or two from your party will disagree with your actions. It's at the same time awesome and frustrating because on the one hand, it'd be nice if all your party members liked you and you could really get to know each and every one of them but at the same time, having that uniqueness and individuality makes each playthrough interesting. "Which characters am I going to explore this time?"
The voice acting is stellar. All the actors play their parts well and you really feel the characters. They don't seem like famous actors behind some computer animation, you really feel as if they're a real being, within the bounds of the game. The other sound work is excellent, and it's what you'd expect from a top notch fantasy game.
The thing I'm very impressed with is the actual presentation. They make heavy use of cut-away scenes but not in an annoying way. They utilize in-game graphics to create the scenes that display huge battles, political machinations between nobles and other plot events and the voice acting and shots are so well done that it's just really awesome when one comes one and you get to sit back and go "Oooh cool, what's this?"
So, graphics and audio are great. Story is great, as is character development. How about the game? Exceptional as well (surprise, right?). I'll tell you this much though. Dragon Age will kick your butt. I was in one particular boss fight where a party member had been disarmed earlier in the dungeon. He used a 2 handed sword and all his moves are based around that. So, I gave him two regular swords so he had something to fight with, but it just didn't cut it. I got trounced over and over for a good couple hours, trying strategy after strategy, maximizing health potions, spell use, using the pause-delegation strategy, everything. Later, I finally loaded up a slightly earlier save, grabbed a different character that had the right equipment and it went a lot easier. This is all on normal mode and there are two difficulties higher than that.
Beyond that, I just want to say that my favorite part of the game has got to be the conversations. The role play choices you can make are really cool and sometimes just laugh out loud funny. The story is dark, mature and heavy and what's more, it's long. It's full of monsters, treachery, intrigue, laughs and violence.
This sets the bar quite a few notches higher for fantasy role playing games to come and I think it's ripe with ideas for any D&D game, both plot wise, strategy-wise and character-wise.
Again, if your computer can run it well, I would recommend the PC version. All the reviews I've read say that the console versions don't look quite as good (namely the textures are a bit compressed and muddy) and they don't offer the top-down strategic camera view, like the PC does. Also if you have the PC version, the toolset for creating your own levels complete with a lip-synching tool, cinematic creator, etc, is available.
So, all in all, go get Dragon Age and explore Ferelden. It's great!
In D&D we look for a lot of things. We expect many things that a video game can't deliver, at the moment and in that, it gives video games a lot to aspire to and try to emulate. I would wager that it will be some time before a computer can create a compelling story and allow as well as adapt to any player's choices; BUT, that said, there are a lot they can do. In the upcoming Dragon Age: Origins created by the folks over at Bioware (makers of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, etc) it appears that they will take yet another stab at a great fantasy epic that will raise the bar for all role playing games to come. I have it pre-ordered and plan to give it a run and these are some of the things I'm hoping to see:
Story: In a game like this, story is always paramount. It's just something you can't get away from. A shooter usually doesn't need much story to be great (look at Borderlands), but with an RPG (or any good one, if you ask me), everything is centered around it. I've talked with lots of friends and colleagues and most, if not all, agree that an RPG is different in that it's one of those kinds of games that really isn't about winning. In fact, with an RPG, "winning" is usually the worst part, because that means (sadly) that it's over. It's about the journey, the character development and the events and interactions you have along the way. So, my first hope is that the framework in which the game takes place and the events that unfold, are memorable. I hope that real care has gone into crafting a story that will draw in the players time and time again and that this be one of the new classics that any fan of RPGs or even just good story, should own.
Character Development: Variety. I hope that the variety of the game is huge and that it's possible to really make your character stand out. To a point, that's not really the aim of this game. There is obviously a story to be played through and they make it plain that you're set on a path, at least by some point in the game. That said, I hope that everything is done in such a way where you feel your character is unique and original and has impact on the setting.
I hope there is excellent character interaction as well. Bioware has done a good job of making their characters interesting and I hope things get kicked up a notch.
Gameplay: I just hope that things are crisp. It would be good to see an RPG that handles tightly as a game, espescially with combat, as it does with physical interaction. From what I've read, it's very strategic and that watching a fight play out is really great to watch. I hope the animations are smooth, the combat options are robust and that the interface works smoothly so that it's painless to direct the action in front of you.
Replay Value: I'm already confident in this one but I want to make a note of it all the same. From what's reached my ears and eyes via previews and interviews, there are three races to choose from as well as 6 different backgrounds. You're talking 18 possible combinations just with race and class. Throw in gender (if they really make that matter, which I hope they do), that doubles it to 36.
On top of that, I've heard they have a passive alignment system. Some of you might be asking "What the heck do you mean?" Well, in games such as Knights of the Old Republic (also made by Bioware), you had a meter that told you how "light side" or "dark side" you were. This allowed you to make decisions to lean yourself one way or another for whatever reason you had. Dragon Age takes what sounds like a much more subtle and intriguing go at this. The system is completely background. You never see it. On top of that, you're given choices that tend to be much more morally grey than "Kill him or don't kill him?" This gives some time for anxiety and some beard-stroking as you contemplate your actions and the impact they will have on the world and try to pick the dicision that will have the smallest likelyhood to turn around and bite you in the rear.
Overall: I hope that Dragon Age does role playing games proud. I think we need more great RPGs and if this succeeds it could have a distinct influence on future RPGs to come. It can be a shining example of what to do or a glaring example of what not to do. I have a feeling it will be the former and I hope it won't be the latter.
What this means, in relation to D&D is that they will keep making video games based on D&D and this is also a dark fantasy epic. This will most likely have some impact on how developers go about the next video adaptation of our beloved pen-and-paper game. So, in a way, I hope it does fantasy role playing games justice and points us in the right direction.
As a final thought, beyond all that stuff up there, I just hope that it's fun!
Dragon Age: Origins releases Nov 3rd and is available from your local game stores. It is available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.
Dragon Age: Origins is rated M for Mature. The game will contain a healthy dose of combat related mess and much more mature themes. Parents, if your kids are small, do them a favor and look into it before buying it for them.