Dragon Age: Origins — Great Game or GREATEST Game?

My in-laws bought me two games for Christmas, both of which were high on my little-kid-wish-list, and both of which I expected would keep me well occupied for the next year. In this expectation, I do not believe I will be disappointed, except that Dragon Age is so wonderful I can scarcely leave.

I’ve got over ninety hours into the game so far in about a month, which is flippin’ crazy. 52 of that was my first play through over winter break, so it’s not like I had work or anything, but in the 3-4 weeks since then my gaming has become no less focused. I’m very close to beating the game a second time, and I’m about 1/4 through on a third character already. The game demands at least five full play throughs to satisfy my role-playing desires.

Dragon Age appeals to me for a few different reasons, and they’re not ones that appeal to everyone. I know at least one person who hasn’t enjoyed it (though as far as I’m concerned, he never gave the game a fair shake–I don’t think he even made it past the introduction), and it’s certainly not for everyone. But there are two things that you may have loved when you were a bit younger, and if you loved them then I think Dragon Age will nestle comfortably into your arms. These two things are Baldur’s Gate and Choose-Your-Own Adventure books.

Baldur’s Gate was a role-playing game some 10-15 years ago where you could control one character and fight battles in real time or pause and control each character individually. Your party would range up to five members, each with unique voice acting (though full conversations weren’t generally recorded, but when you clicked on them or they did something they would vocalize that) and personalities. It was good sized world, and the expansions only made it better. I can’t recount how many hundreds of hours I played BG. Dragon Age has been touted as the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, and it is.

No one but me seemed to check out the Choose-Your-Own Adventure books from the library, but I always really enjoyed them. In particular, I enjoyed seeing the different paths available, flipping back and forth through the book to see what might have been if I’d made a decision differently. The multitude of possibilities fascinated me, and that’s what keeps me playing Dragon Age long after I know the overarching theme and plot. I know that at the end the good guys will win, but I don’t know how that will play out. Different alliances can be forged, different people can join or leave your party, and there are many different things to experience. I keep playing the game over to see what would change if I did something differently. Dragon Age doesn’t disappoint. Its art is beautiful, its voice acting is really good, and its decisions are myriad and challenging. It’s like reading a book and getting to interact with it at the same time.

The only problem with it is 1) I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed 2 as much as I would like to have, though I’m also really enjoying that game, 2) I haven’t written as much as I want, though I don’t regret this too much considering how stressful the last few weeks have been and how playing a game on the weekend has rejuvenated me, and 3) Mass Effect 2 is coming out in a couple of days, which is another life-consuming-OMG-let-me-replay-it-over-and-over game. ME2 and DA:O are by the same company, by the way.

Anyways, yeah… that’s what I’ve been up to. If you have been wondering whether to check out Dragon Age or not, this probably won’t convince you if none of the other nerds on the Internet frothing at the mouth over how great it is hasn’t already pushed you into trying it. But I wanted to express my continued appreciation, excitement, and joy over it. Good times.

I miss you Babbage’s

Some stenches take a long time to leave my nostrils, and subsequently I don’t visit the mall very often. The crowded corridors are difficult to forget, and the cacophony of crying children, whiny teenagers, and rabid salespeople makes the mall an undesirable destination. Nevertheless, there are some occasions for visiting that cesspit of humanity, and with its claws dug so recently into my neck, I found myself ranting once again about inconsequential and irrelevant things.

The problem is that I irrationally blame the wrong party for most of the evils in our lives, and the mall gives me a billion different excuses to start railing against our society. In this particular instance, I happened to visit Gamestop to see if they had a copy of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 for Mac OS X.

Gamestop has become ubiquitous with brick-and-mortar game stores anymore. What was once Babbage’s in all its glory was purchased by Electronics Boutique some time ago, but the store itself didn’t change much so I didn’t really mind. It didn’t change because it didn’t have time, it turns out: EB was quickly purchased by Gamestop, and the world as we knew it came to an end.

Computer games have taken a number of evolutionary steps in the last two decades, each step angering gamers more than the previous. Increased focus on graphics and flash rather than story, cutting our manuals down to keyboard shortcut reference sheets, and the rise of first person shooters coinciding with the death of the RPG… Other than MMOs (of which there are few), PC games just haven’t done well the last few years.

Now it’s all consoles, and Gamestop reflects this. As I spun wildly around the store, eyes wide in horror, it occurred to me that my quest was doomed from the beginning. I don’t know why I even bothered to go in. Gamestop isn’t my gaming store, because the mass culture of gaming has degenerated to nothing more than vendors pushing crap on kids to waste some time.
Gamestop represents the death of the metagame, of thoughtfulness, and of harmony between gamers. And it’s not like their distribution model has resulted in lower prices; games have skyrocketed in price in the last ten years, until now it has become almost reasonable to pay $50-60 for a game.

Of course, I’m making some wildly insulting assumptions with the above observations and statements. I’m essentially segregating the gaming community into two camps: true gamers (old school) and kiddies (console pill poppers). And it’s particularly stupid because I own a console myself and love the toy. It would cost me well over a thousand dollars to build a computer capable of playing a game at an equivalent graphics level as my XBox 360, and I enjoy kicking back on the couch with a controller.

I just wish the rise of the console hadn’t necessitated the death of the PC game. Relatively few games are released for computers anymore, and it is harder and harder to justify doing so when the console market has become so profitable and far-reaching. But I also don’t feel that we get the same quality of games in regards to story and gameplay anymore. When I get with gamers to talk about games, we often gravitate towards titles released five, ten, or more years ago. Those are the ones we remember and crave, and I think it’s largely because of the metagame.

Older games didn’t have as much flash, and so they had to engage the player on more than an ocular level. The game was something you could “play” even when not at a computer by considering strategy, reading the lore and back story, talking with others about where they were going or what they were doing. There was more to the game than just the game… I feel like we are getting less for our money now.

It’s not going to change, and Gamestop will probably someday team up with Taco Bell and rule the world from their deep-fried brain-dead Tower of Hate. As for me, I’ll just have to avoid the mall for as long as possible to let these wounds scar over… and maybe take some vicodin before I come back.