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Dragon Age

August 7, 2010

So I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Origins quite recently (I got it from Marc Thursday) nd am pretty impressed by it. DA:O isn’t my first RPG (I’ve played Oblivion a lot before) and neither is this my first playthrough. I got DA:O I think a year ago but stopped playing it for some reason I forgot…

Well, I remember it now. One, the system requirements are really a beast. I played on the lowest settings and a modest resolution and my FPS dropped to I think the low 10s when the action really heated up, e.g. combat scenes. Two, the entire gameplay is linear for an RPG and reminded me of an FPS with a linear storyline, say COD4. Though there are a ton of sidequests, the thing that really turned me off is the lack of progress you can make without touching the storyline. In Oblivion, the storyline is completely optional and you can do pretty much everything without even starting the first quest (giving the amulet to Jauffre). You can fast travel to all the cities, join all the guilds, finish all the sidequests, etc. In DA:O, you can’t even leave the camp without advancing the story.

It’s quite evident that there is a huge difference in the way Bethesda does things in an RPG compared to the way Bioware does it. You see this trend is Mass Effect, KOTOR or Jade Empire v. Fallout 3 or Oblivion. Bioware wants you to advance the story and to their credit, their story is definitely much more polished and definitely better done than Bethesda’s. I would liken Bioware’s games to a fantastic, gripping movie or a storybook while I would draw parallels with Bethesda’s games to sandbox-styled games like The Sims or Civilization.

To be fair, DA:O does have a few stunning parts that make it absolutely fantastic. For one, the story is very well crafted and everything just fits together. There aren’t any gaping plot holes (or maybe I’m not particularly observant) as far as I can tell, and the cutscenes are beautifully written, rendered and voice-acted. I also like the fact that Bioware has individually crafted every single face in the game. Meanwhile, Bethesda just throws in some random face generation software and the end result is a piece of crap. Every NPC in oblivion has a face that makes me want to puke, aside from the Argonians and the Khajits. The faces in DA:O actually look believable, not like something that was the evil crossbreed of your mother and a dustbin.

Though one must take into account that Oblivion was made in 2005 and Dragon Age 2009. Software has improved since then. Yet KOTOR’s faces are all also very attractive and it was made in 2003. This once again reflects on the way Bioware and Bethesda treat their RPGs – in Bioware games, everything has to be lovingly crafted – end result a wonderfully polished piece of work that sadly fails to deliver in sheer availability of options. Meanwhile Bethesda takes the “throw everything together and we’ll overwhelm the player with a lot of shit” approach – end result a freeform game with a lot of options but everything seems cobbled together and unpolished.

I place a great value on freedom in a game, and this is why I like Oblivion a lot. In Oblivion you can do pretty much everything and it really seems that you aren’t restrained in the slightest. Meanwhile, DA:O ties you down with your Grey Warden bullcrap and you’re pretty much railroaded for the entirety of the game. You can’t rest and explore the gameworld with a horse while you’re busy saving the world from Genlocks and Hurlocks, for instance, but when the portals open everywhere in Tamriel and monsters start streaming out you can still mess about and kill guards. (In Dragon Age, you can’t even attack guards.)

I had this same problem with Prototype, in which it bills itself as a freeform game but YOU CAN’T UNLOCK UPGRADES IF YOU DON’T PROCEED WITH THE STORYLINE and AS YOU PROCEED THE GAMEWORLD GETS LESS AND LESS ATTRACTIVE WHICH DOES NOT APPEAL TO ME. I lost interest with Prototype fairly quickly, because I got bored of killing random citizens.

Anyway, back on track: Admittedly, the Bioware style of doing things is more realistic, but if I wanted reality I’d go to the kitchen and make a sandwich or something. (You have to give Bioware credit for something, though: the game appears to give you a choice through the variety of dialogue options, and you never feel like you’re railroaded. Throughout my playing I did feel a compulsion to carry on with the storyline of my own accord, while in Oblivion I was all “screw the king, I’m going to pilfer some jewels”. So kudos on that.)

So who does it better? As usual, I’m going to give some namby-pamby, inconclusive answer. If you’re the type who doesn’t mind getting railroaded, the very goal-oriented type who plays the RPG for the main quest alone, then Bioware’s games are definitely better for you. The story is much better written, it’s more polished overall, and everything looks really, really good. (The cutscenes are what kept me playing for so long in DA:O – I kept playing new characters just to view the dialogue cutscenes again and again). If you’re that kind of person, then Bioware’s games will give you a hell of a ride.

Meanwhile, if you’re the kind who wants to play in a large sandbox, and is the GTA-type gamer, then you should choose Bethesda games instead. They’re more open-ended than Bioware games and you can do a lot more without “unlocking” parts of the game through following the story.

For people like me who stand in the middle here who love cutscenes (Many of the people I know don’t – they skip everything, spamming the Esc key- I actually listen to everything a person says. I must have spent hours whosyourdaddy-ing the W3 campaign, skipping all the gameplay just to get at the cutscenes. I’m weird that way.), love a good story, but also don’t like to “unlock” things you can do by advancing the main plot or relish the fact that one can drop the main plot at any time and goof around. What to do then? If you could combine the story, the graphics and the cutscenes of Dragon Age with the open-endedness of Oblivion, it would be my perfect game. (I am not immune to pretty lights and nice graphics, after all.)

Meanwhile, I’ll be playing Dragon Age. It might not be perfect, but I’m bored of Oblivion – for now.

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