Monday, April 11


Foreshadowing, How Not To Do It

In Dragon Age: Origins* there are as far as I can tell three ways to end the game; two are tragedies and one is a very, very bad idea indeed.  From an in-game point of view, that is; from a player's point of view it might be kind of fun.  The game doesn't end until you win the war, so there's no actual way to lose, no bad ending (unlike, say, Planescape: Torment, which had quite a number of different endings, from ignominious to sublime), but the implications for your character and your companions vary considerably depending on your choices.

You don't actually know how the game will end until very close to the end; in fact very close to the end a couple of different and unexpected possibilities open up, though one subsequently falls three hundred feet onto a stone pavement and effectively removes itself from the game.  But while the broad scope of the ending is never in doubt - it's just a technical matter of somehow killing an immense immortal dragon with the soul of an Elder God** - while you know all along you'll play a part in this outcome, you do get to decide what part.  And if you do it again, and make a different decision, it will end differently.

In Dragon Age II*** you play the Champion of Kirkwall.  That's handed to you by the framing narrative.  You don't have any say in the matter and it's never in doubt; you're going to succeed at this and this is what you're going to succeed at.

Even without all the other signposts that would have had me feeling like I was running through a maze in some insane psychology experiment this is something of a turnoff.  And it's not an interesting maze, either.  I start out as a dirt farmer and become a hero, hurrah, except that there's no notion as to why the place needs a hero at all.  It's just an occupation, as if champions were as commonplace as chartered accountants.

But it occurred to me overnight (I couldn't sleep because things blew up at work on the weekend and my sleep schedule got screwed up again) that there are two very obvious ways that the creators could have made this a much deeper and more interesting story.

First: The framing narrative I mentioned has some chick who looks, dresses, and acts exactly like Servalan from Blake's 7 - i.e. pretty much a textbook slinky female villain - interrogating the dwarf who's recounting your story, seeking information about this champion.

You know what I would have done?  I would have kicked Little Miss Slinky out of the meta-story and replaced her with an earnest greying soldier type looking for the Butcher of Kirkwall.  That is, you know that at some point in the future you're either going to do something horrible or be blamed for something horrible, and then the entire game has you doing good things for good reasons that lead you, one way or another, into disaster.  From which you would perforce extract yourself in the upcoming Dragon Age III, given that II ends on a cliffhanger.****

Second: Alternately, if you keep Slinky-san where she is, you pick up a little throwaway item that's already there and run with it.  The first you see of the main character is when our dwarf starts telling the tale and you drop into a tutorial mode with the Amazing Emo Twins single-handedly battling a darkspawn army.*****  Then a dragon pops up to eat everyone.

And then you cut back to Slinky-san who's saying That's not what happened.  And the dwarf admits that maybe he embellished just a little and picks up the tale as it really was, you create your character, and off you go.

So run with that.  You're playing in a framed narrative with an unreliable narrator.  At any dramatic junction you could be suddenly be dropped out of the story back to Slinky and the Dwarf and get spun off into a different version of events.  Now that I would have played, regardless of the many other flaws in the game.

But no, the writing of Dragon Age II*** is about a subtle as a sack full of pigs.  You know, when you have a rushed game what you usually see is an attempt to produce something good that didn't pan out due to lack of time or money or both.  Here we just have lazy storytelling.  Lazy or simply incompetent, and actually probably the latter because they honestly don't appear to have any idea how badly they've screwed things up.  I think they hired Firefox UI engineers as scriptwriters.

Update: Seems that they did think about the second option but didn't bother to do anything with it.  Which maybe tilts the balance back towards lazy, not that this improves the game in any way.

* That's the good one.
** Answer: Shoot it in the eye.  No, wait, that's FFX.  Answer: You spent the entire middle of the game raising an army.  You have a battle you cannot possibly win on your own.  You work it out.
*** That's the bad one.
**** Warning sign eleven.
***** The ones I wanted to see eaten by darkspawn.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:36 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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1 You're implying that there are characters you DON'T want eaten by darkspawn?

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Wednesday, April 13 2011 02:02 PM (pWQz4)

2 Good point.  Certainly everyone who's appeared so far I'd cheerfully watch disappearing down an ogre's gullet with the possible exception of spoiler alert Bethany who actually did.

I think the only possible way to wring any enjoyment from this wretched game would be to play it as a total arsehole and choose the worst possible thing to say in every conversation.  Indeed, since regardless of your choices you end up murdering almost everyone you meet, why not cut through all the bullshit and put a crossbow bolt through their brain before they get close enough to engage in idle chit-chat in the first place?  And then we would have the Dragon Age: Butcher of Kirkwall that I proposed at the start of the post.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wednesday, April 13 2011 06:32 PM (PiXy!)

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