Dragon Age: Your Ending, and My Summary

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After an epic 45 hour punctuated session of gaming, my journey in Dragon Age has come to an end … for now. It was a bitter-sweet ending — the Archdemon was slain (this surely can’t be a spoiler if you were paying any attention at all), life goes on, my fellowship of NPC companions split up and everyone went their separate ways. I think I did right by them, mostly, but at the end it was just me and my faithful dog, Bitey, and the long open road.

Was my character still the same self-centred but basically well-meaning casteless Carta bruiser that was introduced in the dwarf commoner origin? I think so, but she’d changed. She’d seen the world above, faced horrors underground, faced her inner demons on a religious pilgrimage, and locked horns with some hard bitten political mavens in the Landsmeet. And killed lots of darkspawn, too. A story where the characters have room to change and grow is a good story. My Dragon Age story could easily have been told from the perspective of any one of the companions too, because they also changed and grew and faced their own inner demons.

I enjoyed reading how other peoples’ stories ended in an rpg.net thread setup for the purpose (link is full of spoilers, you’ve been warned). Because rpg.net was originally a community of pen and paper roleplayers, you’ll see a lot of people describe how they RPed their characters, why they made decisions IC, and where that led.

And although there are good endings and less good endings (depending on your point of view), I don’t get the feeling that this is a game that you win or lose. Either way, you have your own story.  I’ve also felt strongly while playing Dragon Age that I wanted to talk to people about how their stories were going, what choices they made, and to compare experiences. Even though it’s a single player game, it was an experience I very much wanted to share.

And now, I’m already planning on playing through it again:

  • I want to try playing on a harder mode now that I understand the mechanics more fully.
  • I want to play through as different origins and races.
  • I want to  learn more about the lore by playing through the game differently. How does Orzammar treat non-dwarves? Does the Landsmeet treat you differently if you are a human noble?
  • I want to tinker around with the storyline by trying different options and seeing what happens.
  • I want to get to know different companions. I only had time to strike up in depth relationships with a handful of them.
  • My dwarf girl was not the romantic type. (I laughed at Zevran and told him to get lost when he called me a sex goddess.) I’d like to play a more romantic type and see how some of those play out.
  • I’d like to do more of the sidequests and dragon slaying. In my play through, I decided that stopping the Blight was my first priority so I didn’t want to waste too much time or take too many risks outside hat.
  • I want to try some of the DLC content – I could do that on my main character but it might be more storywise to run through it on a second one.

So there’s plenty of incentive to keep playing the game, although I think I’ll take a break first. One thing I do note though – I have this notion of ‘playing around with the story’. I’ll be able to go back in and try out some ‘what if’s. There’s no other media than games in which you can approach a story in that way. To rewind and try different choices or different approaches and then see what happens. You can’t do that with a book (barring game books) or a film.

The experience players have with the Dragon Age story isn’t just of going through cut scenes and railroaded platform or combat sequences. You engage with the actual story as a gamer. Your choices drive it, your roleplaying decisions guide it,  and although you control the direction, you can’t always predict how the story will go because it drives you too. The story is the keystone of the game, and its emotional heart.

Is it limited? Yes, it’s only a computer game, and what you end up with are variations on a theme rather than radically, utterly different stories. But I think they are different enough and interesting enough to compel me to want to play with the possibilities given.

I dismiss  the complaints about lack of originality. The best parts of the game are the less original sections, and all fantasy relies on using existing mythical threads to weave a story that appeals to people on a very instinctive level.

For example, the section where you search for the Ashes of Andraste is very clearly based on the Arthurian grail quest. There are monsters to fight, hardships, moral dilemmas, puzzles, revelations and a strong sense of religious pilgrimage. But even a story so well known as the quest for the grail feels fresh and different when you are experiencing it alongside your character. If the emotional core of the story is present and is appealing and FUN, it really doesn’t matter if it is original or not.

(Conversely, it’s easy to tell an unusual story in a way that’s confusing or fails to grab people.)

Issues and Pacing

I love Dragon Age but the game isn’t perfect. There are ways in which it could be streamlined and better presented, although I think the game does succeed totally in many ways.

It is a long game. Sections like the Mage Tower and the Deep Roads can drag, especially if you try to play them through in a single session. But it also simulates a long and difficult journey very well. The sense of ‘oh no, not another set of darkspawn’ is part of the story being told.

From a gameplay point of view, it’s open to discussion whether some segments are too drawn out. (It would be slicker to have decided what the optimal length of game session was and to design the sub-quests around that baseline.) But that decision is an artistic storytelling decision on pacing, not a gameplay one on ‘how many mobs should be in that pack to challenge the player?’

I enjoyed the sense of the long and drawn out journeys in my quests so I don’t have an issue with the pacing there. But as I say, that’s a subjective opinion, others may differ or might have wanted an option to let the game know that you wanted things sped up.

The end game doesn’t allow enough time to tie up loose ends emotionally with the rest of the NPC companions. If you’ve gotten very close to any of them, it would have been nice to have some extended conversation options on the night before the last battle, it would have given a better sense of closure. Tamarind discusses his story here (spoilers behind the link) and explains why he really needed to have words with Alistair … if the game had allowed it.

The DLC is handled awkwardly at the end. The problem here with the storytelling is that this game definitely has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The DLC should logistically happen in the middle while your character is out adventuring and before the final battle. But clearly players are going to finish the story and Bioware still wants to sell DLC to them.  So after the final set of cut scenes and ‘this is what happened to your companions afterwards’, you’re left back in camp and told that for the purpose of ‘continuing your adventures’ you can assume you’re back in the midgame.

I don’t have the heart to really complain about this. I’m glad I had my neat ending and wouldn’t have wanted to skip that just to leave my character in a convenient spot storywise for DLC. A story that was designed at the start to have up to two years of optional but available DLC wouldn’t be able to have that neat ending, it would be more MMO like. Maybe in future games, they’ll have better ideas for how to make this gel more neatly.

Anyway, I’m back to Lothering with my new mage-in-search-of-a-husband. Instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it’ll be like Pride and Prejudice with Darkspawn.

And thank you Bioware, for restoring my faith in storytelling in computer games.

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7 thoughts on “Dragon Age: Your Ending, and My Summary

  1. I read about halfway through, and the bullet list. I was always afraid, I would read some tidbit about the ending I am not supposed.

    Also: the archdemon dies at the end? OMG! You ruined it for me!

    As far as your bullet list goes, I would most definitely recommend going through the origins stories, they are each about two hours anyway. I am playing as a City Elf, partly because it was one of the last origin stories I played, and partly because I liked the idea behind the story.

    I have been ridiculously busy with life and other gaming pursuits in general, so in short, I have managed to visit Lothering, rescue Shale, visit RedCliffe and Denerim, and I just managed to recover the Urn of Sacred Ashes. I haven’t touched the mage tower, Orzammar, or the Brecilian Forest yet, I haven’t even brought the ashes back to Arl Eamon.

    I have a feeling my journey in Dragon Age will take a lot longer than yours. Because the above mentioned has taken me a good 27 hours already. But then again, I am the guy that stops to chat to everyone, listens to the dialogue and indulges in the lore.

    After this I really want to try out the Dwarf Noble campaign, just to see what the reunion with Gorim will be like.

    I have a question for you: Warden’s Keep. Does it matter when you do this DLC? I don’t want to go through it if it gets too easy after completing the main campaign. If you have played it, what do you recommend?

    • I did try to write this one without spoilers :)

      As far as easiness goes, the mobs scale with your level so just go when you feel like it. I don’t have the Wardens Keep yet (planning to get that next week) but I have done the golem quest — do that before you finish the campaign if you’d like the golem as a companion. It’s very amusing.

  2. “There’s no other media than games in which you can approach a story in that way.”

    The real tragedy is life isn’t like that either. Many times I would have loved to have gone back and tried a different route just to see what would have happened.

  3. I just finished the game and stumbled on this post after some googling. I would have to say I’m largely with you. The story had been so driven by character interaction that it is a pitty that there are fewer “tidy bows” at the end, especially in regards to the romance plots. This may have a lot to do with the ending I chose as well. You may know what I mean!

    It’s just great to hear other people have been enjoying this game as much as I have. I’d really like to get a different take on things, as well, with another playthrough. But, in order for things to be notably different, I should probably play a “bad guy.” In Dragon Age, bad is pretty freaking bad: I’m not sure if I have it in me!

    I think we have a common interest in the social potentials for this sort of game. Maybe Bioware’s “Old Republic” will capitalize on that sort of thing. I spent years and years playing WoW, and I’m not sure I can do it anymore after this sort of quality. Yet quality is always so much more enjoyable when it’s shared!

    So that I don’t keep blabbing, thanks for the post! Glad to run into it, and happy replays.

    Yours,
    Chad

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  6. Am i the only one that finds the summary at the end of the game slightly frustrating? No matter what i do it always says all the companions seperate, on one playthrough from the dialogue i went through after the archdemon’s death i got the impression that Leliana and Zevran would come travelling with me, however there is no mention of this in the epilogue. Also, am i the only person who has no mention of the Dog in my playthrough summary?
    But the strangest thing i find is that on a human noble playthrough i did, i made Anora queen and then said to alistair i would stay with him and rebuild the grey wardens, yet in the summary Alistair wasnt even mentioned let alone explaining what i had agreed with Alistair in the dialogue. Anyone else had any of these things?

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