Don’t You Know There’s a Blight On?

My time has recently been sucked away by a video game – Dragon Age: Origins.

Bioware bills this game as a dark fantasy roleplaying game, the spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate games, and I can see that. It’s also taken a lot of influence, especially for the character interactions, from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – the original, not the initially-brilliant-but-ultimately-disappointing sequel.

I really like this game.

The emphasis in Dragon Age is the story. The story drives everything forward, and the vast majority of the quests are concerned with moving the main quest forward. The few side quests that don’t contribute directly to the main story have an indirect contribution to make – getting a piece of gear or a companion to aid you, or winning the trust of a companion to help them aid you better. This focus on the main story and, to a secondary degree, the development of relationships with your companions, is something I’ve been looking for in a game.

Now, I also played through Fallout 3 this summer. I loved that game, too, but I prefer Dragon Age. See, the two games take a rather divergent view of building the story in the game. Fallout gives you a fairly thin main storyline, and then fills the sandbox of the world with a myriad of side quests, interesting areas to visit, interesting people, and other things to keep you busy. Every now and then, you wander back across the main storyline and advance the plot a bit – right up until you land on the plot railroad and rush madly to the story’s end.

It was a fun game, but the story, as noted, felt a little thin a lot of the time. The side quests were often of more interest and, at times, seemed to have a bigger impact on the world than the main story.

Dragon Age takes the opposite approach. The main storyline is deep, and rich, and features a number of interesting twists and turns. You stay on the main quest for most of the game, with only a few distractions here and there to follow up on something a companion wants, or something a merchant mentioned.

The only downside is that the Dragon Age approach has less replay potential than the Fallout approach. After all, by the end of Dragon Age, I will have played through almost all the quests and scenarios – like about 90% of them. Whereas in Fallout, there were a number of side quests and areas to explore that I jut didn’t get to. I figure I managed to play through about 60% of the content.

Playing these two games has got me thinking about this dichotomy in computer game design. The two schools both target the same base audience – the CRPG player – but each is optimized for a different segment of that market. One targets the story junkies like me, who want to squeeze the narrative out of any game we play. The other targets the action junkies, who want to always have something new and interesting to explore in a game. Both, of course, have features that will attract the rest of the audience – lots of neat battles and interesting quests in Dragon Age, lots of stories and interesting characters in Fallout – but the designers obviously made their choice about what the game was going to be, and stuck to it.

And I say good for them. For both of them. I’d rather have a game that unashamedly knew what it was and stuck to that than a game that tried to be all things to all people.

One last note of interest: Dragon Age is coming out as a pen-and-paper RPG, as well. I’m very curious.

Now back to the game. Ferelden needs me!

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3 Responses to Don’t You Know There’s a Blight On?

  1. I think that playing Dragon Age is very much the console version of 4th edition D&D. Roles are as important as characters [the tactics options even have builds for each character for roles like Defender, Damager, Controller, Support], though I like that you have a ‘stable’ of NPCs to pull your party from at any given moment. I was [pleasantly] surprised at the direction Chris Pramas and Green Ronin Publishing are going for the tabletop game. I expected a very rules-intense, heavy-on-the-detail, game system, but it looks like they are going the other route. I am really looking forward to the TTRPG.

    Now back to Ferelden!

  2. Penny Staples says:

    Interesting – my reaction is probably the opposite of yours, in that I find myself feeling a bit railroaded by plot in Dragon Age. Don’t get me wrong – I am enjoying Dragon Age. I just don’t always enjoy its pieces. For example, at the moment we’re stuck in the dream-lair of the Sloth demon. It’s something of a puzzle – you have to figure out which islands to go to and in which order, or you can’t defeat the demon and get out. We’ve been slogging through it for a while and I’m bored with this particular puzzle (you can spend an hour and a half battling possessed people and monsters, only to discover that you’re missing some vital thing that you needed to have gotten on some other island, so then you have to pick a different island and see if that’s the one you should have gone to first. Frustrating as hell). But we have to do it so that we can save the Circle so that we can save the kid back in Redcliffe so that we can save the Arl and thus complete one of the victory conditions for saving the world.

    I prefer the wide-open sandbox of Fallout 3 and Oblivion with their random encounters, where there are interesting things to do even if you decide to avoid the main plot for a while.

  3. Pingback: King Cailan Wants YOU! | What's He On About Now?

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