Truly, This Is The Age Of Dragons
BioWare’s Dragon Age series has long been a favorite conversation topic among the Gameological commentariat, and the discussion that followed Ryan Smith’s review of the latest entry, Inquisition, was typically enthusiastic and enlightening. Fluka, widely recognized as a Dragon Age superfan, weighed in with some early impressions:
I’m still fairly early in the plot, due to taking my good sweet time and reading all the codex entries (Best ones so far: reviews from the Randy Dowager Monthly) and also chatting up my coworkers like crazy and being guilted into returning people’s lost animals. (Druffy had to go home.) The world is so beautiful and a genuine pleasure to spend time in.
However, I’ve spent enough time in the game to determine that it is something very dangerous indeed: a mixture of a BioWare-style character-driven narrative and Skyrim-style open world exploration. I actually remember dreaming about such a game when I first played Dragon Age: Origins and Skyrim in succession back in 2011. I have already spent far too much time crafting my Enchanter coats with just the right materials, and it’s a real pleasure to be back in Thedas with Varric. Even the silly little fetch quests feel so much more meaningful than Skyrim, however, as they grant you power and Agents to expand your reach in the world, rather than just the usual loot grab.
I think what I’m most pleased by, however, is the number of times the game allows you to stop and reflect on your character’s personal feelings, whether about a mission, their past, the purpose of the Inquisition, or their position as a religious figure. While I’ve been very happy with the plot, the character work—both the Inquisitor and their companions—may be some of my favorite in a BioWare game to date. This game will own me from now until 2015. I’ve missed having a new BioWare game so much, and this made me very happy indeed.
TheKappa expanded on that point about the hero’s opportunities to reflect on their newfound lot in life (as, possibly, an accidental messiah):
The reflection comes up in weird ways, too. It’s not always some big moment. There are lots points when people will say something like, “Do you really think you are divine? Like, really really? Because if so, that’s going to change SO MUCH.” And you have to actually think about it. So far, my character has been unwavering in their belief that something saved me, and yes, I think it was Andraste and that I am the Herald. Even though I definitely have my doubts, I feel like by staying the course, I can almost will it into being real.
Games almost always treat religion and religious groups as an enemy or corrupt, though. It’d be nice if you can really rebuild the chantry into a force of good. I suspect the hard part is going to be similar to what the Knights Templar had to deal with: It’s not that easy to just drop your swords and give away your lands once you’ve become a giant empire.
And Merve took that as an opportunity to applaud the way Inquisition has handled its religious institutions:
This is an important point. One thing I’ve quite liked about the game so far is that it’s about good people trying to contend with or work within imperfect institutions. (This is a subject The Wolf Among Us also handled really well.) Rather than placing blame for difficult situations solely on individuals, the game’s lore and story point to stresses and norms within organizations as the root causes of conflict.
This idea is especially apparent in your conversations with Mother Giselle. She’s obviously trying to do the best she can to work within the Chantry and steer the organization toward helping to seal the breach and assisting those in need. However, when you ask her about the other injustices present within the Chantry’s structure (e.g. the exclusion of men and non-humans from priesthood), she admits that she just doesn’t have the resources to fight for reform in those regards, having devoted all of her resources to helping the less fortunate. She wants to effect changes, but the Chantry is an organization saddled by inertia and path-dependence, and she’s powerless to engender those changes in such a system.
Inquisition begins with your apparent nobody of a character being forcefully shoved into the role of holy savior. NakedSnake wondered if it would have been better to delay that spotlight-stealing moment:
That’s too bad that you actually start the game as The Man With the Magic Hand or whatever. I find that epic RPGs work best when the epic part of them sneaks up on you. In games like Baldur’s Gate or Morrowind, you started out as an undistinguished farmboy or an unwanted foreigner. In both cases, I found the first half of the game much more enjoyable than the second. Without a distinguished pedigree or an epic mission, I was free to try to make my way in the world, taking odd-jobs and quests to support myself like the shiftless wandering adventurer that I was. As the games went on and the main story arcs were gradually revealed, I took some satisfaction in the fact that nobody like me was even involved in events, much less at the center of them. If, on the other hand, you start with an epic story at the outset, the burden of your responsibilities begins to weigh on you. You’re stuck with feeling like a humorless prick who has to take care of business at all times, or a total burnout adventurer bum who can’t handle the pressure of the big stage.
Merlin The Tuna argued for a slightly different alternative:
I agree that the unwashed-peasant start is generally more palatable, but even that grates on me a bit. Kill enough rams/sewer rats/radscorpions, and suddenly you’ve leveled up enough that over the course of an in-game week, you’re 1000 times stronger and have far outstripped the world’s grand masters.
That (mechanical) character arc can trickle down into companion interactions, too. I like a lot of the Mass Effect and Knights Of The Old Republic crew, but even they can slip into excessive hero worship. It always reminds me of the Lost In Translation scene where a prostitute is trying to play into a rape fantasy that Bill Murray wants no part of. Liara opens her mouth and all I hear is: “Oh Commander Shepard-san, you’re so great and cool!” while I sit there mashing the “Uh-huh” response. Then you get a weird sex scene and an achievement. I don’t need the hard sell on how amazing my character is, and at a certain point it’s really off-putting.
I guess my overall point is that I would love to see more RPGs use the arc of “good-to-great” rather than “schlub-to-awesome” or “awesome-to-super awesome.” For whatever reason, though, that territory has been marked off for action games that incorporate RPG elements, and no one seems interested in breaching that wall.
Unexpected Dave enjoyed the big start but wished the main character had a little more at stake:
I like that the game starts with a literal bang. The world is already in crisis due to the aftermath of Dragon Age 2, so there’s no way that a lone adventurer could freely explore the land. But it does strike me as a little lazy to give the main character a special power to make him/her the center of the action, rather than to give the main character a personal motivation for getting involved as in the first two Dragon Ages. (Maybe my opinion of that will change once the game goes on.)
This ties into something we were discussing in the recent Star Wars article on The Dissolve. The best Hero’s Journey stories are ones where the Hero has a personal stake. Luke Skywalker wasn’t just trying to save a galaxy; he was trying to save his father’s soul. Warden Cousland wants vengeance upon Arl Howe as much as he wants to destroy the Archdemon. These characters both had special powers, but their quests started before those powers had awakened. Even as the burden of their responsibilities weighs on them, they are driven to continue.
This Is The War That Never Ends
Joining ranks with many of his fellow game critics, Drew Toal was far from enamored with Assassin’s Creed Unity. Much like last year’s Black Flag, which Drew loves, Unity places less emphasis on the series’ present-day meta-story where an evil corporation is putting people into machines that let them virtually relive their ancestors’ memories via shared DNA. Or something. Anyway, CNightwing has a bigger problem with the story that remains:
For me, the most tired and tedious device in the series is the core truth at the center of all the stories: Assassins vs. Templars. Assassins are good and believe in truth and freedom; Templars are evil and oppressive and want nothing more than to enslave your grandma. In the context of the crusades, I suppose it had its place, but by the Renaissance, you were encouraged to think about who was on which side because anyone remotely famous must be involved somehow. It stopped making sense when Machiavelli turned out to be an Assassin, opposed to the Borgias, despite using Cesare as a figurehead of good leadership in his historical works. I dread to think how they frame the French revolution in Unity. Presumably the monarchy are Templars or Templar puppets, but then the leaders who found the republic must be complete bastards too, so…another Templar faction? Is Napoleon an Assassin who just goes bad later in his career? The whole device tries to turn the past into good vs. evil, when the most interesting thing about history is that it’s not that simple.
And elsewhere, The Ghost of Lazy E suggested either The Boxer Rebellion or The Boer War as possible settings for the next game in the series. Staggering Stew-Bum used this opportunity to take us on a glorious trip to Pun Town:
They’ll never stop Assassin’s Creed.
Have no fears they’ll have stories for years…
If they’re going to go China, I’d say 1860 is better than the Boxer Rebellion, as we’d have the Taiping Rebellion plus the second Opium War with the British and French marching on Peking and destruction of the Summer Palace.
Boer War, I don’t know, but Africa might be a good idea if only for this exchange:
Assassin: “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”
Dr Livingstone: “Yes.”
But they’ve done the old timey settings to death. Let’s get something more 20th century. How ‘bout these:
Vietnam with Assassinocalypse Now.
Stockholm in the ’70s with Assassin’s Swede.
Depression-era Oklahoma with The Assassins Of Wrath.
Late 1930s India with The Templars Of Doom.
1980s Wall Street with Assassin’s Greed: For Lack of a Better Word, Is Good.
How about, go centuries into the future with Assassins In Spaaaaaaaaaaaace.
Or an Assassin on a bus that can’t go below 30 mph: Assassin’s Speed. Okay, that one’s a bit silly. Instead, we could set it in a futuristic amusement park where Assassins are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques. I call it “Billy And The Assassinasaurus.”
We’ve reached the end of yet another Gameological week. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. Next week’s schedule will be a bit different. We’re taking off for Thanksgiving, so we won’t be around next Thursday or Friday, but we will be publishing a couple of articles on Monday, so be on the lookout. We’ll see you then.