30 Days of Video Games: Day 21, Best Story

So if you’ve been reading throughout this month, you’ll have likely noticed my obsession with story.  I like games with good characters and settings and stories beyond graphics and gameplay, though those definitely have a major role in games.  As a medium of culture, the graphics and gameplay are sort of what separate them from movies and novels, after all.

Also if you’ve been reading the 30 Days of Video Games project or any of my blog at all, you’ll see my undying, unwavering, frightening obsession with I mean love of Dragon Age by BioWare.  So it will be no surprise that I choose Dragon Age (as a series) as having the best story.

The story of the Dragon Age universe is what really has me hooked on the franchise.  Of the games, Origins is my favorite.  I have my set of issues with DA2, but I like what it does to continue with the storyline of the world of Thedas as a whole, and I respect BioWare for branching out and trying something different (even if time constraints make for obvious issues with the gaming itself).  In most cases the DLCs contribute to the ever-expanding story, and the cast of characters keeps things interesting.

Origins and its expansion, Awakening, tells a common story: it’s the hero’s quest narrative, with the hero having to unite unalike forces against impossible odds.  If we’re to take it at that face value, we’d figure it’s the same as any other game, novel, or film and cast it aside in favor of something else.  But the beauty of Dragon Age, and most anything BioWare produces, is that the surface story is just that: surface.  It’s what goes on below the surface that makes it so fascinating.  Below the surface is a slew of political and religious issues.  There’s the old war hero who fears the decisions of the boyish, foolish-appearing king and takes matters into his own hands; the more he realizes he’s screwed up, the more he tries to cover his mistakes.  There’s the issue of what the darkspawn really are, and who and what the Grey Wardens really are.  There’s romance and revenge.  There are moral and ethical issues at stake.  You must decide what’s best for you or your country, or try to do what’s best for both.  It is these undercurrents of the story, the subtext and subplots, that draw me into Dragon Age and keep me going back.

And then there’s Dragon Age 2.  Initially I couldn’t really get into it.  “It calls itself Dragon Age, and there are some darkspawn… oh and there’s Flemeth for a bit, but… it’s not Dragon Age,” I thought.  I looked for the familiar, and upon not finding it, I figured I’d just get through the game.  But the more I played, the more I began to see that it is Dragon Age, just a very different angle of it.  The issues of mage treatment, played out via a holy crusade by the Chantry in Kirkwall, makes for a dramatic backdrop.  The events happening throughout DA2 are events that shape Thedas as a whole; they cause ripples that affect all the nations, not just Kirkwall.  Even Orlais, the religious capital, is badly shaken.  While the game is on the surface about Hawke’s rise to power, there’s once again more to it than just that.  There’s the religious issues: how long do we let the system of religion dictate policies out of fear?  There’s the political one: watching a weak leader strong-armed into doing what the religious order wants.  There’s the issue of fear, and how long we let our fear shape us before finally standing up to it.

Each of these two games allow you to play as different backgrounds (less so with DA2, of course).  Your background determines how people react to you and how you interact with the world around you.  In Origins, each backstory is detailed and forces you and your Warden into a world outside your comfort zone.  As Hawke you choose your class, which can also determine quite a bit of how things play out.  I played as a rogue initially, because I love playing as a rogue; but I found that playing as a mage gave me a whole new perspective on the story.  The crux of the story is the issue of mage treatment and the Chantry, so playing as a mage suddenly felt “right”.

I also think I like the Dragon Age games so much because of how I have the capacity to shape my story.  While some may argue that the endgame is the same regardless, and there are certain quests that must be done to get there, how my character gets to those points and interacts with the characters around him or her is what really interests me.  Why, for example, would my human noble Warden kill Loghain, when he fought alongside her parents during the Orlesian occupation?  Why does she feel more loyalty toward the Grey Wardens than toward a great hero?  Or why would my Hawke choose to forgive Anders, and become a fugitive herself, after having found a place to belong in Kirkwall?  Did she ever truly belong there, or was it merely an illusion?  It’s these questions of characters and motives that really fascinate me, because they help shape the story for me regardless of quest necessity or endgame results.

Also, the Dragon Age series is laden with lore.  The codex entries reveal loads about characters and places, but also about history.  Different quests expose different chunks of Thedosian history and it becomes clear that the world in which you are playing is an old one, full of pain and pleasure and promises kept and broken.  It has seen war and peace; it has seen the darkest recesses of men’s hearts and the very best humanity can offer.  Though you may be playing in only Ferelden in Origins, you still learn a great deal of what is happening in the rest of Thedas.  And though you’re in Kirkwall in DA2, there’s a lot happening in Orlais, Ferelden, and elsewhere that you learn about.  Though you’re in primarily one area, you’re not insulated; you understand that it’s not a vacuum.  Things are related, and causes have effects.

Overall I love the story as set out in Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2, because the story is so much vaster than just what’s happening in the games.  I’m looking forward to what the still-hypothetical Dragon Age 3 has to offer toward the story!

Tomorrow: Day 22, a sequel that disappointed you.  I have this one all queued up…

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3 comments on “30 Days of Video Games: Day 21, Best Story

  1. “frightening obsession with, I mean love of”

    No, no… you were most definitely right the first time. 🙂

    “It’s what goes on below the surface that makes it so fascinating.”

    THIS!!

    “the more I played, the more I began to see that it IS Dragon Age, just a very different angle of it.”

    Wow. I have never seen anyone phrase it this way before, but YES. Just… yes.

  2. How in the Fade did I miss this??? Probably because I play on PC, and I have the skip the Fade mod….

    I agree. And by agree I mean ^THIS. I think the start of the series counted on people not knowing or caring much about the Ferelden history. But the world it creates is immense…

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