Dragon Age: Origins – “Ancient Lore”

Seldom have we felt such dismay and sheer disappointment when presented with a new Bioware title. Theirs is surely not the most consistent of libraries, but it would be a disservice not to recognize their continuous establishment of new standards in the western role-playing genre. But “Dragon Age” seems to be a mere compendium of all that has been done before under the Bioware banner, with every element screaming of unfathomable familiarity, just now stripped of its time-bound ingenuity that granted its past appeal. This makes “Dragon Age” feel, from the very early moments, awkwardly dated. Such matter is all too evident in the tactical combat system – a hark back to the old days of over-complicated micro-management and hard-plodding of “Baldur Gate’s” “Dungeons & Dragons” skeleton, with but a scent of modern game design in the form of a poorly implemented “Final Fantasy XII-esque gambit system. This spirit of sodded revivalism goes to the point of overlooking simple technical evolutions, with a return to pre-“Mass Effect” dialog trees and generic character designs and animations. Such musings may not ruin the experience, and could even content players who still revere those massive tomes of rules and numbers and written lore that defined pre-computer role-playing, but their nature is ill-fit for the realm of the video game, where the experience of adventuring and storytelling can be made so much more elegant and dynamic, not to mention more intuitive and natural to the senses, with real time interactions and cinematic exposition.

Granted, such glaring faults could’ve been easily downplayed, as others have in the past, should the narrative background prove captivating enough to warrant involvement of players in that world. But Ferelden, the realm where action takes place, is probably the most derivative piece of pseudo-Tolkien fantasy since “Neverwinter Nights”, more even, one visibly corrupted by Peter Jackson’s film adaptation and a hedious, absurdly violent, comic-book dark-fantasy aesthetic. And one cannot even immerse in such a poor virtual world properly, because exploration feels confined by claustrophobic loading screens and over-world maps, robbing the space of that precious sense of physical presence and vast, unshackled exploration that recent RPG’s such as “Fallout 3” and “Mass Effect” reveled in. But most telling of all coming from Bioware, is the lack of a proper cast of characters (with minor exceptions) and a mere skimming of Drew Karpyshyn’s traditional themes of morality. This, and the fact that development was helmed by what appears to be a secondary team inside the studio (Brent Knowles, Mike Laidlaw and James Ohlen), makes it painfully clear that “Dragon Age” never was meant to be one of Bioware’s finest, but a mere back-step in their long run of role-plays.

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  • Comments (7)
    • Kyo
    • March 4th, 2010

    yeah, Dragon Age’s awful. I’d check it solely for the voice of Simon Templeman, but then again I think I’d be better off watching his character’s scenes on youtube.

    • Felix
    • March 5th, 2010

    I don’t intend to get into much discussion (and I find this game also disappointing), but I would disagree on the point of the project’s supposed lower priority visible in assigning Drew Karpynshyn to a different task.
    It’s obvious that they like to change their teams on every project, and I would surmise that the distinct experience and preferences of the writers themselves are taken into account as well. David Gaider, the lead writer of Dragon Age, wrote for the expansion of Baldur’s Gate 2, and also contributed to Drew Karpynshyn’s major science fiction debut KOTOR with at least two quite popular figures in the form of Han Solo substitute Carth Onasi and the sarcastic assassin droid.
    Bioware’s status was strongly built on their fantasy epics, and it’s not a dubious decision to give a passionate and promising fantasy writer the opportunity to jump in when they want to continue this part of their past, while their inhouse Star Wars novelist is assigned to creating a new scifi franchise (although they changed the lead again in Mass Effect 2).
    It’s also notable in this regard that James Ohlen, who helped to create Dragon Age, is a Bioware veteran from Baldur’s Gate days and is currently working on Bioware’s biggest project to date, the Star Wars MMO.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 5th, 2010

    Just because they are veterans doesn’t mean they’re any better šŸ˜‰ The end-result speaks for itself.

    • Felix
    • March 6th, 2010

    Sure, but I would still rank Baldur’s Gate 2 higher than Dragon Age, if only for immersive qualities, although the latter showed a greater focus on social themes. That tells me at least that Dragon Age could have been more convincing even in a different way than Mass Effect. I think it was more accidental that the result was mixed rather than a lack of “faith” in the project.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 7th, 2010

    I think you can’t compare a game that’s more than ten years old with one that’s contemporary. Surely “Baldur’s Gate II” is much more relevant, considering when it came out. “Dragon Age’s” problem is that its authors actually thought that, today, in 2010, we needed a “Baldur’s Gate III”. We don’t. And most of all, not a “Baldur’s Gate” that doesn’t add anything to what has already been done in the genre, and is even retrograde in many of its aspects. “Dragon Age” is as fresh as pile of overly ripe fruit – it’s mushy and inconsistent, stinks of a strange mold and can only remind your palate of how great it would’ve tasted a while back.

    Still, I don’t find “Baldur’s Gate II” to be a masterpiece to the point of giving a blind check to its authors, specially considering the secondary role that the DA folk had in it. In a nutshell: it hasn’t aged well. Now “Planescape Torment”, which preceded it, was already far ahead of it at the time, and in that period, still sticks to my memory as an infinitely more adult and provocative tale.

    Cheers, Felix!

    • Felix
    • March 7th, 2010

    When I said it could have been more convincing in a different way than Mass Effect, it was actually not a very good point. What I thought before release was that its premises of social dynamics and consequences had the potential to put anything in ME and KOTOR in its shadow. Nothing says that it couldn’t. But I think this goal proved too challenging and large and they ended up with something more conventional, peppered with more essentially human dilemmas, and stretched it with far too much grinding (among other issues). Well, that’s my perspective.

    But now I have drawn this out enough.

    So, cheers!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • March 7th, 2010

    I don’t think it was too challenging, I think it was too challenging for a mediocre team. “The Witcher” nails that social theme beautifully and comes from a team with much less resources and company legacy.

    Cheers felix!

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