Tag Archives: dragon age: origins

And pay no worship to the garish sun.

One of the things that I like about Lord of the Rings Online is that, in order to claim at least some sort of adherence to the spirit of Tolkien’s mighty work, they needed to keep the game’s armour and weapons towards the more subdued end of the General Garishness Scale as we can see in Figure A.

Figure A - General Garishness Scale

Figure A - General Garishness Scale

Dragon Age: Origins on the other hand is hard to place on the scale because it has, on the whole, a fairly sombre design philosophy with regards to armour and weapons, but has the occasional Warcraftian eyesore whose effect is only magnified by the fact that it keeps such sober company. Take the longsword version of Starfang, one of the better swords in the game, which appears to have been designed by the car stylists from The Fast and the Furious. With its vivacious eggshell blue neon glow from hilt to tip, I think it’s safe to say that it stands out against the more traditional steel on offer, but not in a good way to my mind; it has what I can only describe as veins of glowing neon blue running the length of its blade and it does seem to resemble a giant blue penis in sword form, as though Dr Manhattan had detached his wang and altered its molecular structure in order that you could beat Darkspawn to death with it. Now there’s a fanfic crossover idea.

I suppose that swords in these fantasy games are a bit like lady’s pleasure devices: most want a subtle, discreet unit that doesn’t draw attention to themselves and can be slipped in and out of a body without any more fuss than a modest breathless gasp on the part of the recipient; other people, and I’m not entirely sure that they aren’t either mythical or the sole preserve of fans of adult entertainment films, want a humungous intimidating thing, that glows and sparkles and which could have someone’s eye out from over six feet away, the primary design goal of which seems to be to scare the living crap out of pet cats sneaking around under the bed, or a partner who accidentally stumbles upon it whilst looking for their slippers there.

I don’t really understand the whole ‘the bigger the better’ and ‘if it glows it must be special’ idea behind items in these games, I’m sure the heritage of it lies in fantasy literature and Dungeons & Dragons, and it has since evolved as a cheap and easy way to allow players to quickly identify those with the biggest eRogenous Zone from some distance – half a continent away in the case of World of Warcraft – but all the neon and flashing lights and ridiculously inflated proportions seem tacky and uncivilised to my mind, doubly so when it appears in otherwise sober games like Dragon Age: Origins or Lord of the Rings Online where the starkness of contrast is at its most pronounced, like finding a Constable watercolour titled 37DDs Outside Las Vegas Casino.

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.

I’m suffering from a bout of that irrepressible excitement one often feels with regards to creating a new character; this time however, it’s for Dragon Age: Origins and not another of my innumerable MMO alts. It’s something I haven’t felt in an MMO for quite some time and which I dearly miss, but I think that’s more likely down to my general quietus with respect to MMO hype at the moment, than anything that MMO developers are doing specifically wrong.

To clarify: it’s that feeling you get deep down when you are inspired with a character concept and want very badly to plan out that new character and, more desperately, to see how your new concept pans out within the game. It’s that frenzy of creation that gets your text editor all hot and sweaty, and where Imagination, Anticipation and Expectation throw caution to the wind, discard their clothing and have a frolicking good roll around together between the spreadsheets.

City of Heroes used to drive me to distraction like this when I was playing it; the sheer number of archetype, powerset and costume combinations meant that I could latch on to the smallest thing, be it a single costume item, a combination of a couple of powers, or something else, and build an entire concept around them. Then out would come the spreadsheet and the lists of powers and levels and slots and enhancements, and a build would be meticulously planned. What was worse, as that character was being built, another powerset combination would leap out at me and I’d put the current character plan on hold whilst I built up that concept in my mind; each new idea was like the innocent trickle of snow that is in fact the prelude to an avalanche, a small idea popping unceremoniously into your mind, and before you know it you are buried alive beneath a metres-thick carpet of densely compacted thoughts on costumes and names and builds and all of the overwhelming potentialities.

World of Warcraft did a similar thing but on a smaller scale, with every class appearing deeply appealing, as though they were all attuned to some fundamental primordial genetic trait that is inherent to MMO adherents. Talent specialisations initially served to expand the horizon to the good ship Customisation, offering tantalising hints at new lands that players might discover with their characters, but alas in this case the world turned out to be flat, and players who did not follow the tried and tested paths were doomed to fall off the edge of the world and be lost to the game forevermore.

Many other MMOs have offered the same: EQ2 almost drove me insane with the options and potential for my character. Maybe it did. I wouldn’t be entirely confident in denying the fact that I’m actually still sitting on the floor of my room, rocking back and forth while surrounded by a cityscape of sheets of paper, some crumpled into balls, others folded into obscure shapes, all of them covered in tiny blocks of illegible scrawl and connected by crisscrossing lines and arrows which, unknowable to anyone but me, attempts to plot my perfect character in the world of Norrath. I also expect that other MMOs would provide similar excitement if the game itself appealed to me, Fallen Earth’s expansive skill trees sound like a potential Petri dish of breeding material for the rapidly multiplying bacterial disease that is my desire to build new and interesting characters, for example.

I’m glad that I have, for now, found the bug again through my enjoyment of Dragon Age. I’ve just recently completed the game on its easiest setting whilst skipping many of the side quests, just in order to get to the end and experience the core of the game, something I am notoriously bad at achieving; I am not a game finisher, in the main. However, having finished and got an ending that was pretty much all that I had hoped it to be, I am left wanting more. Thankfully there is plenty more to be had: I have many side quests to complete, party character personal quests, and other such content to explore. I can also try the game now on a harder difficulty, knowing that it won’t put me off entirely if I have to replay a fight a few times and attempt to be more tactical about things rather than just charging blithely in and hoping that it will turn out for the best.

And of course I get to create a new character. I played a Warrior the first time around, a feisty noble lady who become a Templar and a Champion and swung a huge two-handed sword at her foes. Now I’m tempted by an Arcane Warrior, a mage who can get into the thick of melee and mix it up with the best of them. So there are spells to consider now where my Warrior had none, and which armour would be best, and what weapon. I won’t be able to wear my beloved Templar Armour this time around – the most gorgeous looking heavy armour outfit I think I’ve ever seen – both because it’s restricted to Templars only, and also because it is not the best armour in the game; I could afford to wear what looked best when playing the game on the easier setting, but the rules of the Maxminati come in to effect at greater difficulty levels, and so style has to be eschewed for stats, as is regrettably the way in so many RPGs, MMO or otherwise.

So here’s to you, Velkyria, Grey Warden and champion of the people of Ferelden. Enjoy your retirement travels with your dear Leliana, and I will see you again with the coming of the next DLC and Dragon Age 2.

VelkyriaVelkyria in Templar Armour

Until then, I have a spreadsheet and a few text editor windows burning a hole on my desktop.

The world’s a forest, in which all lose their way; though by a different path each goes astray.

Here be Dragon Age spoilers.

I had a memorable moment of mirth whilst playing Dragon Age this past weekend. My new venture – Grey Warden Adventure Tours of Thedas – was taking off, and having enlisted the help of the Circle of Magi to create the special effects and theme park rides for Grey Wardenland, I moved my attention to the Dalish elves of the Brecilian Forest with the hope that they could provide cleaning and catering services. The elves didn’t seem terribly keen about the idea, something about the centuries-long oppression of their race at the hands of tyrannical men. Or something, I wasn’t really listening to be honest because I was more interested in having my plate armour shined and my cuticles attended to. After the elves had finished my Brazilian wax and licked the party’s horses clean it was pointed out by the more stuffy members of my party that I should probably offer to do something to help the elves. I claimed that the various ticks and bugs that they had licked from the horses would nourish those two elves for at least a day, what more could I possibly be expected to do? And as is usually the way with these things, ‘saving their entire race from a hideous centuries-long curse’ was the answer.

I performed the standard RPG ritual: running around the camp to see if anyone had any other errands that they needed me to undertake; seeing as I was going into the Forest of Death and Blood anyway, I might as well go and collect old Uncle Frank’s long lost colostomy bag, or see if I could find little Timmy’s favourite teddy which he lost. And if I can find the undead corpse of little Timmy, enter the Fade, solve a series of complex puzzles, slay the demon controlling him and lay his soul to rest too, well, that’d be swell.

As such I found a couple of quests. One was to unite a couple of estranged lovers in harmonious matrimony: she refusing his advances because he hadn’t completed the ritual of The Hunt, and therefore wasn’t a man. Which was obvious to me because he was clearly an elf, but there’s no telling some people. Essentially I think it was a cunningly veiled metaphor: she was concerned about his inexperience because he hadn’t been ‘out in the world’ and ‘shot his arrow’ into a ‘warm, throbbing, piece of meat’.

I thought her worrying overly that he was going to accidentally poke her in the bum hole on their wedding night was not really a valid reason to put off their eternal love and told her so, gave her some lube, and watched them join together in eternal blissful matrimony, ’till death us do part’ and all that. It turns out that that was a bit of ominous portending, and no mistake.

As well as reuniting the sexually inexperienced lovers, I also found a craftsman who told me that if I could bring him a piece of Ironbark he could make me a mysterious item from that material that I would probably find useful. “I can’t tell you what it is, but it will prove most handy in a battle” he winked at me. “Ooo, how mysterious!” I said, “Is it a bow?”. “What?” he yelped like a dog who’d just had his paw stood on by accident. “A bow. You know, wooden thing, bendy in the middle, shoots pointy sticks. Useful for cunningly veiled metaphors. Always carried around by elves, just like dwarves always favour axes, and humans their massive sense of self righteousness.” I explained. “I…uh… yes.” he said, looking like a dog that had just pooped in his own food bowl by mistake. “Right-o!” I said, and off I went into the Forest of Death and Blood.

So after much adventuring in the forest – read: wandering around fighting mob spawns until I found the entrance to a dungeon – I made my way into the heart of the werewolves’ lair and reached the final confrontation with their fearful leader. Who turned out to be an incredibly hot, mostly naked spirit called the Lady of the Forest. I was so glad that I’d had my forest tended to with a Brazilian wax by the elves before I left, I can tell you, because there was going to be some fire in the forest tonight if I had anything to do with it.

“Let me explain the curse of our kind” she spoke to me through bluish lips, moist like violets in the morning dew. “I must explain things that Zathrian, the leader of the elves who sent you here, has not told you. It was he who first…”

“D’you want me to kill him?”

“I… uh, pardon me?”

“Kill Zathrian, is that what you want? Because I’ll do it. I’ll kill them all if you want.”


“The elves. All of them. Everyone, anyone, just tell me and I’ll kill them. Just say you’ll be mine.”

“I… was going to tell you about the curse, how Zathrian came to curse the humans who lived here, and how he has maintained that hatred, beyond all reason, for centuries. How I have taught these noble savages to control their rage, and become more human again, even though they maintain their bestial form. I… I… was going to provide you with a morally grey choice, about whether to bring Zathrian here to negotiate, to slay me, or…”




“Or to kill him and… hello? Hello?! Where have they gone?”

Her werewolf companions could only point to the dust cloud in the doorway and shrug sheepishly as the sound of receding footsteps echoed from the corridor beyond.

And so back with the werewolves I went to confront Zathrian. He wasn’t too happy about it I can tell you, all sorts of curses and hatred poured forth, but none of it could stand against the beauty of the Lady of the Forest’s perfectly formed moist breasts. Lips! I meant lips.

And breasts.

So the stage was set and the battle joined; it was over almost as quickly as it started though, because ‘Cloth-wearing Noncey Elves versus Blood-raged Werewolves and Plate-wearing Grey Wardens’ gets a pretty high entry on the chart of top 100 one-sided battles. The fun was during the battle though: the first people I encountered were the newly married couple, who were true to their vow of death and the parting thereof thanks to my well timed two-handed sweeping arc attack that took them both out. More amusing still was Ser Ironbark the bow-maker, who came charging at me with his sword, all the while over his head shone the ‘Quest Completed’ arrow; I tried to hand the quest in, I really did, but he wasn’t having any of it. Whether this was due to the fact that I had brought about the slaughter of his entire people, or because he had six feet of my best steel sticking through his chest, I couldn’t tell you. Suffice it to say that I didn’t get my bow, which was most vexing. We had a contract and everything.

So the elves were slaughtered and I had myself an army of werewolves instead, which is by far the better option if you ask me. “Werewolves or effeminate tree-huggers? Hmmm. Hmmm. Now. Let. Me. Think.”

And of course most importantly I received the promise that the Lady of the Forest would turn up again to aid me in the final battle against the Darkspawn. Hmmm, I must remember to get a fresh Brazilian wax before that battle and wear my extra sexy lace undies. She can be the lady of my wood any day.

It is your destiny.

My primary problem with Dragon Age:Origins is the same as it has always been with Bioware RPGs, and it is currently my primary concern for their Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Dragon Age comprises a world which is ruled by old and powerful Gods who control the fate of all existence, which they bend to their will and whim.

We call these Gods developers.

And they are fickle.

A small spoiler now follows for Dragon Age, you have been warned.

One of the early objectives of the game is to enlist the help of the Arl of Redcliffe. When you reach Redcliffe village you find it under attack from the undead, and after defending it from attack you make your way into Redcliffe Keep to find the source of the evil and rescue the Arl. The source of the evil turns out to be the Arl’s child who has been possessed by a demon. When you confront the boy and his mother she pleads for you not to harm him and to find another way to defeat the demon, with the more immediate option being the death of the child by your hand. At this point you are presented with a choice: kill the boy and thus the demon, or travel to the Tower of the Circle of Magi and try to get the help of someone there to exorcise the boy. My offer to go and get Jane Fonda and exercise the boy was met with quiet contempt.

Now I already knew that the Tower of the Circle of Magi was in some sort of trouble, so getting there and back was going to be tricky and possibly involve epic quests. For a change. Since the boy was possessed by a demon that was bent on slaughtering all the local population (which had been reinforced by my having to defend the village first before entering the keep) I took what I thought was the hard decision to kill the boy, sacrificing one innocent life for the many. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that his mother was an annoying whining bint who had caused the whole problem in the first place, honest. Of course the game let me know through various lengthy patronising conversations what a monster I was for doing such a deed, and yet I imagined the situation if I had gone to the Magi to have been worse: coming back to find everyone who lived in Redcliffe to have been slaughtered in the intervening period. Zoso happened to choose that route, and so happily informed me that, no, you can take as long as you want to go and get the help; the demon seems to be distracted from its previous plans to destroy all life in Redcliffe for the entire time you are away. Perhaps a really good episode of MacGyver was on Fade TV, who knows?

I became a bit fed-up at this point because I was being made to feel like I had done the wrong thing, when in fact I felt that I had taken the harder choice with every good intent in mind; but my good intent was negated by the fact that the developers had decided that the seemingly obvious thing that would happen if you went away – demon enjoys its temporary reprise by slaughtering everything with a pulse and then raising them as an army of undead slaves in an attempt at world domination – doesn’t happen at all, instead the demon suddenly has a pang of existential crisis long enough for you to conveniently fetch help. There are villains in the 60’s TV series of Batman that feel less contrived. I couldn’t help but feel that the developers were laughing behind their hands “Oh ho ho, you thought *that*? Ha, surprise!”.

I’d put this all down to my unreasoning belief that all game developers are out to get me, but I have another brief example from a different Bioware RPG.

You’ll have to excuse any inaccuracies because I’m recalling this from old, worn sections of my brain. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic you encounter, at some point, a beggar in the street asking for credits. When you ask them how much they want you can choose to give them nothing, the amount they ask for, or more than they ask for. Being a noble Jedi Knight of the Shining Order of Smug Superiority I gave them more than they asked for, since I could spare it, it felt like the right thing for a Jedi to do, and because you never know – help someone out now and you may run across them later on and gain something in return. Now altruism like that, as opposed to genuine generosity, is possibly a learned perversity that these games encourage, but regardless of the fact, I thought I was doing a Good Thing. You do indeed meet the chap again later on, dead in an alley, mugged because of all the credits he had on him. Credits that you gave to him.

“Oh ho ho, you thought *that*? Ha, surprise!” say the developers in my mind.

And that’s what annoys me about these dialogue choices in Bioware RPGs, and why I really worry for Star Wars: The Old Republic at the moment. The result of your actions is based on the fickle whim of the developer writing the story, and it is entirely too easy for them to set things up in a way that appear very obviously to suggest one thing, whilst actually delivering something entirely the opposite. This, when used very carefully can make for an excellent plot twist and following dramatic dĂ©nouement, but Bioware seem to use the trick far too often in their games for no better reason than to keep players second guessing what the actual outcome may be.

It’s a tricky problem to solve because the opposite end of the scale is a game like Mass Effect where there were generally always three options, one piously good, one tediously neutral and one blatantly moustache-twiddlingly villainous, and whichever option you chose, you got the reaction and plot progression that you’d expect. It allowed you to build the kind of character you wanted but at the expense of any real surprises.

I still feel that Bioware are trying to experiment with telling an interactive story in their RPGs; they have a strong foundation for telling a good tale, but it seems that how the player interacts with and affects the plot is still very much being explored and trialled with each new game. I don’t know which route Star Wars: The Old Republic will follow with respect to story choice, or perhaps it will beat a new path all of its own, but the problem comes from it being an MMO. Without the chance to save and reload as you would get in a single player RPG, you will have to be very careful of any choices that you make because they may affect your character for the rest of its career. In fact, I plan to setup ChottBot right after I finish posting this, it will be an Internet database filled with every conversation choice you can make in the game and thus allow players to pick whichever options will build the ultimate munchkin character, or open all the contacts with the best loot rewards; plot, motivation or immersion be damned, because frankly the outcome of your choices are a lottery anyway.

My concern is that where conversation options in Star Wars: The Old Republic are concerned, ‘It’s a trap!’ may become a fitting mantra.

An age will always drag-on.

The empty wrapper flips and somersaults its way down the high street towards me, ducking in and out of the shadows between the downcast gaze of the streetlights. It’s the only thing moving in that once congested thoroughfare. The shops stand empty, the street silent but for the faint sound of the wind as it plays its mournful symphony, the percussion of the windows shutters above me and the reedy crescendo of letterboxes stuffed full of unopened mail.

Everything is in order. It’s not the dramatic apocalyptic scene that we’d always envisioned. Cars are parked neatly in their spaces at the side of the road; doors are closed and windows remain unbroken. That’s how it was when the Event happened: nothing really changed in the world, no big bang, no screams of pain and panic, and no news stories with rolling tickers at the bottom of the screen spelling out our impending doom. People just went home, kissed their husbands or wives, played with their kids and put them to bed, and then… were never seen again.

Hands in my pockets and coat collar drawn up under my chin, I wander aimlessly down the middle of the road. I turn into a side street, walk between rows of town houses, neon lightning flickering from behind the windows. Amber eyes watch me from behind a half-licked paw as I walk past. It feels strange to be observed now; I work hard to resist the urge to hold my hand up and shield my face from that haughty glare, the eyes hold questions and accusations “What you doing here two-legs, don’t you know that we rule the world now?” I want to turn and shout that we’re still here, all of us… here and yet not here, but my accuser has already closed its eyes and gone back to cleaning its face.

Everyone is here, yet no one is.

Except me, alone. All alone. I wander the dark streets and listen to the sounds coming from the houses, brought to me on a wind that sings the song of the end of all things.

Maybe one day, if I keep moving on, I’ll find someone else who isn’t stuck inside playing Dragon Age: Origins.

Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.

I decided to grab the Dragon Age: Origins character creator last night; I’ve no intention of getting the game any time soon because it sounds like it’s going to be one of Bioware’s typically epic games, and I really don’t have the time at the moment to dedicate to it.

But I’m a sucker for a good character creator.

So I downloaded the three hundred and seventy-odd megabyte installer, ran it and then launched the newly installed character creator.

The first thing that popped-up was an ESRB rating certificate, with the following advisory text:

“M for Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content”.

“Wow”, thought I, “this is going to be some serious character creation”.

So I rolled up my sleeves and got a box of tissues handy.

I’ve never been so disappointed to see a bunch of sliders, stats and text dialogues, in all my life.