big dragon shooty fun time

Having felt rather stressed as of late, I’ve spent a fair bit of time avoiding World of Warcraft for the simple reason that one of my responses to stress is to become increasingly avoidant of people so I can get more time with myself and my own mind. Consequently, I’ve largely spent my free time on other games – quite a varied mix too, including several releases of MechWarrior and – as a source for this post – Dragon Age.

Dragon Age and I have a strange and tumultuous relationship – on one hand there’s several aspects of its mechanics and a fair few sections of it that I find a bother to deal with at best, on the other.. there’s also several aspects to it that almost utterly embody one of the major motivations behind why I play games to begin with.

A Character Journey.

For all its faults, all its mechanical weirdness, all its facination of blood and gore to somehow make a “darker” fantasy.. Dragon Age: Origins is a character journey, and if the characters, the world and the narrative manages to catch you, there’s a solid journey in there, finally presenting the eventual outcome of where you went, and what all the various choices, twists and turns led you up to. And while of course the journey is fixed.. there are some options to take it in directions I find compelling.

For me, the mechanics are something of an obstacle in Dragon Age – and the reason why I haven’t replayed it nearly as many times as I have Mass Effect 1 or 2.. with the result that ultimately, I had not saves around for the slowly upcomming Dragon Age II, which BioWare only recently managed to convince me I should even care about, after finally taking the matter out of the hands of their marketing department who spent pretty much all their efforts so far painting the game as ugly, uninteresting and totally not worth my time. So with BioWare finally earning my interest enough to get a preorder, I decided I needed to go through Dragon Age: Origins, and Awakening one more time to set the record what my canonical warden was, to leave a trail of footprints and see just how much of that BioWare would let my Hawke see. Which, of course, led to the greater question of just what my particular warden would be like.

For awhile I was dead set on reviving my old dwarf, Princess Saeri Aeducan – I like the dwarves in Dragon Age, they have an interesting design and I rather liked the dwarven noble origin, especially as a warrior. There was something special about the first playthrough, going around with the Shield of Aeducan and bashing in faces with it, even if Dragon Age really didn’t give the sword and shield combination much in the ways of oomph. I gave it a try, even – this time going by the means of swinging a two-hander and tearing down scores of darkspawn through sheer force. But.. there was something lacking, beyond the fact that I didn’t really have anyone to pick locks since I actually don’t care all that much for either Zevran or Leliana. So.

Instead, I ended up playing Erin Cousland – scout, capable archer and a teyrn’s daughter.. eventually also Grey Warden, Dragonslayer and who knows what else.

Over time, I’ve found that the Human Noble origin is ultimately the origin I enjoy the most – not only because of the origin itself, but because it really intertwines itself with a large part of the game – the end especially. As I recall, one of the complaints I had when I first wrote about Dragon Age: Origins over a year ago was how I felt the reactions to Saeri being Princess Aeducan felt very underplayed – especially with your companions. It’s not like I expected them to fall on knee and praise her royal blood or anything, but a “wait.. you’re who?! would’ve been welcome. This, then, is where the human noble origin felt like it really shined, because throughout both Redcliffe and the later Landsmeet, the game seemed almost filled to the brim with small moments of recognition where all kinds of characters would recognize Erin as the daughter of Teyrn Cousland, and one even offered her a regiment of archers to help retake her teyrnir.

Of course, that’s not the only reason..

I admit, I have a standing affection for both happy endings and Alistair, and as a female human noble, those two can be combined quite well with a persuasion check and a willingness to throw caution into the wind and obtain a fairy tale ending so full of puppies and rainbows that I’d probably be nauseous if it didn’t make me grin with inexplicable glee. Of couse, Dragon Age does love its sacrificial endings, and you do have to throw caution in the wind and potentially cause a large amount of doom much later and end up cursed and burnt out of history for it, but it was a nice, hopeful sort of ending that I quite enjoyed.. and really something I’m very curious whether Dragon Age II might reference.

After all, King Alistair taking the throne of his late half-brother seems like it’d be something you might hear about. Especially since as I understand it, one of the possible companions Hawke can pick up in Dragon Age II just so happens to have fought alongside Alistair’s rather badass queen and wife during Awakening.

And I will admit, Alistair is one of the aspects of Dragon Age: Origins that I was positive about from the start – sure, there’s the amusing callousness of Sten and Shale, the druken antics and sometimes verbal comedy gold that is Oghren.. but I found it fun to be able to banter with Alistair and throw all kinds of remarks back and forth, not to mention the romance always felt like a slow, gradual and growing thing, rather than the very limited checkpoint sort of system Mass Effect romances tend towards, and every so often there’d be slight dialogue variations (or, at least, options for variations) available with a romance going. Of course, I’m told that the other romances have their good parts too, but.. I never really had a thing for either Leliana or Zevran – there were always other characters I’d much rather bring.

Of course, keeping both Alistair and Erin alive and together through the end does require a sacrifice, and considering what you have to ask of Alistair to get there.. I quite liked just how ominous and difficult you can make the attempt at convincing him.

But going back to character selection – one of the things too that I rather liked about playing Erin was the choice to class her rogue – though pumping up strength enough to be able to wear medium armor is perhaps a rather strange choice – I hate the look of light armor in Dragon Age, for the record – meaning that beyond her utility in a fight, Erin ended up fully capable of picking just about every lock, and able to pass nearly every persuasion check she ran into. And while a prior incarnation of her I had had her dual-wield weapons of various sizes.. I decided to try something different and give her a bow this time, a choice that I actually came to like quite well, with the Dragon Age combat being what it is. No need to elbow around the melee camp trying to get a space to introduce some foul cretin to Mr. Sword, just long range pew, stuff dies.

“It appears we’ll need to fight the entire blight ourselves.”

Then, with the additional abilities added in Awakening.. I actually came to sort of enjoy the combat bits – playing on easiest, mind you, which eradicates all but the most basic tactics and makes it more of a shooting gallery, but I was never a fan of the tactical RPG bit and I always used to praise Planescape: Torment for reducing the importance of combat (at least on easier difficulties), so the ability to near one-shot basic enemies and cause some serious ouchies to more dangerous one while planted safely at long range was something I welcomed. In spite of having tried the demo, however, I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be playing in Dragon Age II – I’m leaning towards two-handed warrior for iconic slaughtery fun, but it’s a tough decision, and probably one I’ll be debating with myself all the way up until I first create a character and have my first playthrough. Not to mention, it’ll likely depend a bit on what characters there are to fill what roles.

But I’m rambling and getting sidetracked so I’ll get back on the intended topic: the character journey. This is one of the major reasons why I play games – the trek from start to end, not just within a story.. but within a character. Sure, not all games with story offer that, and they can definitely be satisfying enough to experience, and sometimes all I want is to jump inside the cockpit of a 60-ton BattleMech and just fire some lasers and missiles at something without any additional context to complicate matters, but it’s ultimately the character journeys that tend to come back to revisit me.. and that’s sometimes regardless of whether the character is “mine” or not. There are some games I keep coming back to every so often just to re-experience that journey, some of the Legacy of Kain games in particular stand out for that, but there’s also other titles like Mass Effect or – indeed – Dragon Age that provide that glimpse.

And so Erin Cousland has had a long journey – of course, with there being no voice, very little in terms of facial expressions and highly limited decisions.. there’s much about her journey that could only happen in my head.. the road from a young Teyrn’s daughter who wasn’t at all interested in joining the Grey Wardens and ultimately only did so when pleeded to by her dying father.. to the junior recruit forced to deal with events going even further pants, finding kinship and comfort in her other fellow grey warden.. her eventual vengeance on Rendon Howe and ultimately rising to resolving curses, slaying dragons, settling political disputes and ending blights, all in a day’s work.

I ultimately have no idea how much or how little of our actions in Dragon Age will be mentioned in Dragon Age II – it would honestly surprise me if it’s really all that much beyond a few hints and nudges in some places. Still, beyond the possibility that Hawke’s journey might be as interesting as that of Erin and by that means be something I find rather compelling.. I’m really looking forward to seeing just what kind of footsteps Erin will have left behind come Dragon Age II.


21 Responses to “big dragon shooty fun time”

  1. March 1, 2011 at 03:20

    Did you end up playing the Dragon Age II demo?
    I did play the rogue archer for a bit, I think you may find it more amusing.
    Dragon Age II is a very fast game, highly going for action.

    From what I heard Steve Valentine has voiced in the Bioware voice over studio, so Alistair might make a cameo in DAII.

    • 2 Nhani
      March 1, 2011 at 09:09

      I’ve tried the demo – at a glance so far it seems I’m most likely to play a warrior swinging a two-hander unless anything happens that make me feel like I need to pick my own locks or fit another role or I end up preferring another visual style of armor. There’s a fair bit about look and feel that needs to be satisfied.

      Ultimately though, Dragon Age II seems to have fixed most of the issues I had with melee in Origins – weapon swings happen more often than once a week and due to adding a short teleporting charge/jump to quickly get into the fray, there’s much less elbowing around trying to shove characters around to find space.

      As for Alistair making a show.. that might be highly interesting if it happens, depending on what form it might take and to what extents he might reference his earlier travels. That said, I’ll hold off on the excitement at the moment – after all, I did with some amusement that the mother of Dragon Age II’s lady Hawke had the same voice as Erin’s mum teyrna Eleanor Cousland.

      • March 1, 2011 at 12:07

        And that the Human Mage Warden is related to her, very interesting.

        Though personally i’m sad your/our Warden will not make a appearance since we all spend a lot of time building him/her.
        I love the dwarves and sadly we’ll only have just one in our party this time, the restriction of playing just a human is a tad sad sinc I do identify with them more then the humans in Ferelden.

        Mass Dragon Effect indeed…..

        However like you the combat is EXTREMELY satisfying, as is Bethany….oh yes.
        I wonder if you can have children in DAII with your love interest.

        • 4 Nhani
          March 1, 2011 at 13:16

          To be fair, it would be strange, not to mention difficult, to put our characters purely in the hands of BioWare. With all the various decisions, all the personal motivations.. it feels like it’d just as likely backfire with complaints about mischaracterization as it is to be appreciated.

          I’d be perfectly content with, say, Alistair making an off-hand remark how lady Hawke might remind him of his beloved badass Cousland wife and queen who sadly couldn’t be present because she’s busy visiting her brother Fergus in Highever.. or something. Enough that she exists, that she had effect and that she’s remembered.. but still ambiguous enough that it doesn’t utterly misrepresent her.

  2. 7 LolDrood
    March 1, 2011 at 05:40

    OOooo, DA2 demo, you say? I’ve been meaning to dabble into this, see what’s what.

    I’d really like to see Them do more with carry-over saved games across installments. With actual story alterations, rather then just changing a few set pieces and dialog trees. IE, them rachnii better pay off MAJOR dividends in ME3, or my paragon shall be annoyed.

    Oooh, DA2 demo just finished downloading.

    • 8 LolDrood
      March 1, 2011 at 06:36

      Well, this is clearly a game that doesn’t want players to sully its style by being playable.
      I like to think I’m a pretty seasoned gamer, so I’m confused as to why the first level of the game, on normal, rips my face off and shoves it down my throat.
      This could just be some weird difficultly glitch, the same thing happened in ME1 until I restarted the game, and “Easy” finally decided to work and make the game playable.
      Or maybe the whole point is to make the player feel like Dr. Tran, I dunno.

      Character models sure are pretty, though. And look, Convoy!


      • 9 Nhani
        March 1, 2011 at 09:14

        Hm, sounds weird – I played it on normal out of not being arsed to put it down to easy and I didn’t have all that much trouble with it, even with pretty much ignoring what my inept team of AI were doing. (Though I did teach Bethany to heal, which I guess helped quite a bit)

        We’ll see how the mechanics feel in the full thing – I don’t expect to adore them to pieces, but they seem like I might find them a little more tolerable a little less like an obstacle to my amusement.

  3. 11 Xel
    March 1, 2011 at 07:26

    “obtain a fairy tale ending so full of puppies and rainbows that I’d probably be nauseous if it didn’t make me grin with inexplicable glee.”

    Ahh, thank you for that bit; I needed a good laugh. Gotta say, from the male character perspective, that I enjoyed Morrigan’s roller-coaster, gritty romance over Lelianna’s.

    [Possible, unintentional spoilers follows here if you haven’t played DA:O *SHAME ON YOU*]
    In my first play-through, however (and my favorite play-through, go figure), I played a female elf mage who falls for the free-spirited, songbird appeal of Lelianna. Being that Lel was a cloistered sister, I thought there might be some suspicion or dialogue between our characters concerning the evils of magecraft, but instead the object of race came up instead. I remember actually feeling rather offended towards Lelianna for her unintentional racial profiling during one dialogue, because it was not what I had expected. The best part of the romance, though, is the ending, where my Warden runs off to enjoy the world she’s saved and experience a world she’s only heard about from inside the confines of the mage tower; all this while accompanied by someone who knows her and accepts her, regardless of history, and vice versa.

    Perhaps that was part of the reason I didn’t enjoy Lelianna’s romance as a human nobleman, in that there was just no conflict in gaining her affections. It was just so…fake, I guess. I can just easily imagine that character parting ways with Lelianna after DA:O, if only due to a lack of common goals and interests (except he died, hah!).

    And then, of course, there’s Morrigan… </3

    • 12 Nhani
      March 1, 2011 at 09:40

      Racial profiling in Origins is fun. Upon meeting Alistair as a human woman, he tells you how it just occurred to him how there’s never been many women in the Grey Wardens. Upon meeting him as an elven woman, he says the very same thing. But to dwarven women, he goes on how he hasn’t seen many dwarves in them instead.

      I’m pretty sure Aimo even made a comic of sorts about the fact, somewhere. (but even if it is missing, her other output is smashing)

      I never quite got on with Leliana myself, my main playthroughs being Dwarven Noble and Human Noble; it’s not that I resent her and immediately try to throw her out or anything – she’s a good enough friend of sorts, but that’s about it, really. Common ground with Leliana: not found.

  4. 13 Cobs
    March 1, 2011 at 11:36

    Totally went for Leliana meself. I’m a sucker for ginger hair, a French-like accent and that Sister robe… *cough*

    That aside, I also enjoyed the Human noble story the best, having finished it utterly. I’ve tried time and again both the City Elf and the Dalish Elf, but…I fall short every time. The supposed racism that’s to take place is so horribly lacking, I found.

    As for Dwarves, oh, they’re priceless. So gritty that it’s pure lurve. Initially I was rather annoyed by how they assassinate one another for power, most like due to me having the Norse view of them (they’re ours! Ours, I say!).

    • 14 Nhani
      March 1, 2011 at 11:54

      I actually didn’t mind their politics that much; though I admit, I was somewhat swayed by the awesome of Gorim and how he politely and utterly calmly asked “Shall I have him killed, my lady?” regarding some lower upstart noble that disagreed with the supreme wisdom and judgment of Princess Saeri Aeducan.

      • March 1, 2011 at 12:32

        Fine Dwarven crafts!

        • 16 Nhani
          March 1, 2011 at 13:05

          I always found that Gorim ultimately made a better warrior and second than he did a merchant; as a Warrior, he was honest, steadfast and loyal. As a merchant.. weeeelll..

          There’s something to be said for someone who exclaims “Fine Dwarven Crafts, direct from Orzammar!” and then follows that up with stating how they’re made by his father-in-law, the “best smith in Denerim”.

          Yeah, those aren’t quite the same locations there, Gorim ‘ol boy.

          Still, he’s voiced by Steven Blum, so I can forgive him.

          • 17 Cobs
            March 1, 2011 at 14:09

            Aye, did also leave me with pause when I encountered him again. I could forgive him, too, even if the bastard had married some other bint, even if he said he’d wait! Waaaaaah!

    • 18 Lander
      March 1, 2011 at 18:11

      Aye, Human noble for me as well, it’s just the one that fits the storyline better, like the bits Nhani mentioned of us being recognized by the other nobles. Alas no wedding for me since I played a male character.

      So I planted Alistair on the throne alongside Anora, because though Alistair is my best bud, I loved my country too and let’s face it King Cailan’s sons are not the best suited for politics, hence lets leave Anora there to do the running behind the scenes.

      As for my Warden, he had a torrid love affair with Morrigan, broke up when she pushed him away, had a brief fling with Leliana, conceived a demon god child with Morrigan and vanished into legend with her and the child. (Though the Witch Hunt DLC ended up feeling like I payed for a Dragon Age 2 add)

      • 19 Nhani
        March 1, 2011 at 18:33

        Ah, Witch Hunt.. it’s quite the sore topic for me for the simple reason that it was really, really bad. Where Lair of the Shadow Broker – released at about the same time – was like all that was good about Mass Effect 2 into a small but utterly refined package.. Witch Hunt was like a compilation of all that was bad about Dragon Age, without really any of what was good about it.

        Seriously, to this day.. I still wonder if they just got some team of interns to write Witch Hunt or what, because the thing was shit. It’s like they took some fan mod and hired some voice actors for it and decided it was up to scratch with a regular DLC.

        It barely answered anything, raised even more questions to begin with and unless you wanted to either kill or bed Morrigan, it seemed to even fundamentally lack any real sort of motivation to it. For me, the only thing that saved Witch Hunt from being a complete and utter waste of time was that by having played through it once.. it gave me few achievements which ultimately provided Erin with a quite awesome bow that lasted her all the way up until halfway through Awakening.

        • March 1, 2011 at 22:10

          To be honest I did enjoy the shenanigans with Finn, simply because he reminded me of Rodney Mcckay from Stargate Atlantis.
          However i wish the dialogue with Morrigan was a bit longer, actually getting a chance to see my son would’ve been nice, as well as other cameos from my other party members except dog.

          i mean they showed locations like Denerim and Lothering and Redcliffe, but we cant ever visit them. Would be nice to swing by Alistair and say you got a lead on Morrigan and ask if he wants to tag along. Or Oghren, hell oghren would’ve made the DLC AWESOME!

          But as I said the DLC wasn’t that bad, i do like the idea of having a new party to go adventuring with.

  5. 21 Arafor
    March 4, 2011 at 08:35

    Personally I always loved Morrigan and Zevran. Despite playing as a (mostly) good guy I always ended up with those two falling for me.

    I just love how Zevran tries to joke things away whenever you dig a little deeper, not wanting to let you inside. How he’s afraid of exposing himself to you. And of course his somewhat loose views on sex, which is always a rather nice thing to mix things up a little.

    And Morrigan and her almost PMS induced reactions to the strangest things. I just love her humor.

    Overall, I think I just like darker characters, they are so much more interesting.

    (Though I admit, I would bend Alistair over if he wasn’t such a shy baby but it would just have been a fling.)

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