So Dragon Age 3 is happening, while future content for DA2 is shelved. Bioware is looking for feedback on the future of the Dragon Age franchise, and the first thing I thought of is, where can the story go? There are a ton of plot hooks out there, and any number of them could make up a worthy Dragon Age game. Here are the ones I can think of:
The Warden and Morrigan – Morrigan leaves with the child that may or may not have the soul of one of the Tevinter’s old Gods.
Corypheus – Speaking of, it’s strongly hinted that he has possessed the body of whichever Warden party was still alive after Legacy.
Qunari – Especially this, in light of their importance in Act 2 of DA2 and Mark of the Assassin. They have spies everywhere, and nobody really KNOWS what they want.
Mages VS Templar smackdown – I like this one, as it can involve folks like Wynne again, perhaps as leader of an ‘anti-resistance’ of mages that just want to get things back the way they were, and don’t want to resort to blood magic.
Flemeth – Still around and causing trouble, implied to be even more powerful than we’ve seen. How do you kill something that seems to just pop right back up again?
Dalish Elves – A wild card in all this. Could try to establish yet another homeland, though this might not be ‘epic’ enough to drive forward a whole game. Maybe DLC or expansion material.
Tevinter Madness – We’ve so far only seen bits of these crazy mages so far, with Fenris and such. Lots of evil possibilities here.
Something Else – Thedas is massive, and the little corner we’ve seen only scratches the surface. Many all-new adventures could happen, and might make sense since there is unconfirmed (to me at least) talk that our save games won’t be imported into the next game.
I’m sure I’m missing an obvious future plot hook, so if you know one, comment it up. I’ll add it to the post. What would you like to see, plot-wise? I’ll look at game mechanics in a later post.
My talk is actually a warning, about why we shouldn’t tell stories with our video games. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s a waste of resources and time and money, and more importantly I think it actually stunts, and has stunted over the last 10 years or so, the medium of video games. Sort of at our own peril. And to be clear, I’m not talking about player-authored stories, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s kind of a buzzword these days amongst designers, but basically, a player-authored story is something… I mean, the best example these days is… Skyrim and Arkham City are wonderful, but you can also go down the chain of scope to a game like Angry Birds. A player-authored story is basically where the mechanics and the interactive is so compelling and so engaging that the player, by the very act of playing the game, creates a narrative in his mind.
Now, there’s a good bit here to agree with. I love Skyrim, and if you read the site, you know I’ve actually written an adventure or two I’ve had in it up as a story – a literal player-authored story. I’m not the only one either. Other games – MULE jumps to mind – are ripe for this as well, since it’s different every time you play, and can really engage your creativity if you role play it. But Jaffe’s logic breaks down for me when I think of some of my all-time favorite games, Dragon Age: Origins and Starcraft. Looking at Starcraft, there was a developer-made story, progressed in a linear fashion, but it HOOKED ME. I finished that game – I cheated to finish it the first time! – because I HAD to know what happened. I didn’t create that story, and maybe Jaffe would tell me it would’ve been better as a book or a movie, but I don’t agree. I felt like *I* did all those things, I was betrayed by Mengsk, I fought the Queen of Blades, it was ME. Maybe that’s still a player-narrative in his mind, but it doesn’t happen without Blizzard’s story. Without the story, Starcraft is just a series of skill challenges, which can be plenty of fun, but it’s not the game I love.
I think Dragon Age: Origins is a great example of why a developer driven narrative is still needed. While I’ve built up quite a player-narrative in my head for the game, often referring to ‘My Warden’ as a unique individual starring in a story of my imagining. But again, it’s BECAUSE of what we went through. We killed an Archdemon! I let out a “Hell YEAH” when she killed that asshole Arl Howe. How much of that could you strip away, and still inspire me to think of my Warden like that? To make in-game decisions actually in-character?
It’s worth noting that there are plenty of games I love that work exactly like Jaffe describes, but I don’t know why there can’t be variety. Just because one set of games works this way, doesn’t mean they all need to or should.
Reading some of the reviews and discussions out there on Dragon Age 2 got me to thinking – Did Bioware do a disservice to themselves by declaring this game a sequel? They call it a sequel on the game’s official site, and they put a ‘2’ after it, but it may have damaged the perception of the game a bit to do so. Even the CNN review says it “isn’t exactly a sequel” and I agree with them. A sequel, to use the wiki definition as an example, is:
a narrative, documental, or other work of literature, film, theatre, or music that continues the story of or expands upon issues presented in some previous work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as a previous work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.
Let’s examine DA2 in this context. It *is* in the same fictional universe, though DA2 starts during DA:O, not after. You’ve got a bit of character overlap but not much, but the most important character from Origins is not directly present, the Warden. The new game is set in the same world, but all new locations. The DA2 story has some elements you came up against in the first game, which I won’t spoil, but still, to me, doesn’t seem like all this adds up to clearcut sequel status. It became clearest to me when someone mentioned Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, a game my wife and I very much enjoyed, but played quite a bit different from other BG games. DA2 doesn’t stray THAT far away, but it did move.
That isn’t a bad thing, though. The problem is not with the game, but how it was sold to the consumer. When I hear ‘sequel’, I’m thinking of games like Diablo 2, Warcraft 2 and the like. Games that are bigger/better/MORE of what came before. Yes, there are new features, graphical upgrades, but you see the progression. You don’t see that so much with DA2. There’s enough things that are different (some would say downgraded) and enough gameplay has changed that it really feels more like a spinoff than a true sequel. Instead of slapping a ‘2’ after the name and calling it a day, Bioware should’ve titled it something like “Dragon Age: The Champion of Kirkwall” while simultaneously announcing development of a true sequel 2-3 years down the road, closer to the Elder Scrolls dev cycle. Those playing the Kirkwall game wouldn’t necessarily be expecting ‘more of the same’ as DA:O, and a real high fantasy epic world-spanning adventure ‘true sequel’ would still be very welcome. Everyone is happy, and we can be done with the whiners complaining about not having all the origin stories in the game NOT named Origins.
I don’t think I ever officially review DA:O in this space (but I love it), but I thought that now that all the DLCs are out and the game is basically done, I’d take another look at the ‘story based’ addons. SPOILERS ABOUND.
First, in case you can’t tell, I love the game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be still playing and talking about it. The story is deep, and some of the moral choices made me think. I enjoyed many of the characters, and a single player game is a nice change of pace from trying various MMOs and being continually disappointed. Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the game, the expansion, and the DLCs:
For Origins itself: Good story, like the characters and the interplay between them, though the darkspawn as an enemy are not too exciting. Some pretty tough fights, difficult choices and cool gear (sorry, that’s the Diablo player in me talking). The Origin story aspect is really what I love, though. It really can work to make each play-through different, where you meet someone again and now they take on a whole new importance. Very few RPGs compel me to play through over and over, but this one is (on the third go-round now).
Awakening: Excellent. Talking darkspawn are much more interesting, the Mother is gross, the new companions are quite interesting to me for the most part, especially Nathaniel Howe (again, moreso if you’ve played the Human Noble origin). I kind of wished this module could’ve made notice of Soldier’s Peak somehow, as it did seem odd to have gone to all that trouble to reclaim it for the Wardens, only to ignore it when it might still be needed. Would’ve loved to be able to bring a different companion over (though Oghren is cool enough) but I understand the voice acting limitations there. Cost too much when it came out, but has quite a lot of content, to me at any rate.
Warden’s Keep: So-so for me, it does tell a bit of story you may have been wondering about: Why were the Wardens expelled from Ferelden?
The Stone Prisoner: Little sidequest set to get you a new companion, Shale. One of the Golems made by the Dwarves, the module adds a bit of fun to the whole game as Shale is a funny companion to have around, and unique to go into combat with.
Return to Ostagar: The gear you reclaim here had been passed by, stats-wise, by the time this DLC finally came out, but I wager it will fit in better within the course of the regular game. For Duncan and King Cailan!
Darkspawn Chronicles: Just not interested in it. Not well reviewed, and I like my Warden, thanks.
Leilana’s Song: A favorite of mine, but then Leilana was my love interest in my first play-through. You play as Leilana as she helps her mentor/lover bring the Orlesian game of intrigue and assassination to Ferelden. If you ever wanted to know her story, here it is. Also seems pretty hard to me, though it may just be the fact that it’s lower level stuff than Awakening. Not really very replayable, though there are different choices you can make for different endings.
Golems of Amgarrak: A return to the Deep Roads for your Warden (though sans your other companions), as you search answers about a group of Dwarves trying to recreate Caridin’s work in Golem creation. The final critter you fight is supposed to be the toughest battle in any part of the game, though I am not there yet. Fun, tough, but again, I miss my companions.
Witch Hunt: Hinted at during the Origins campaign, it was finally released just recently: the story of what the heck happened to Morrigan after the Blight was ended. Except that it more hints and some of those answers, which bothered some folks mightily. I loved it, and not only because you get your dog back right smack-dab at the beginning! I am easy to please.
Well, that’s about all of it. I’m not going over all the little piddly DLCs (like the Feastday pranks or whatever). Any other thoughts on Dragon Age out there?