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3:37pm on Saturday, 8th May, 2010:

Dragon Age Reprise


I finished my second run through Dragon Age: Origins today. This one only took 58 hours, as I did it in easy mode. Oh, and the fact I noticed that when characters in my party got killed it turned out they weren't actually dead helped, too — it meant that if one of them collapsed near the end of a long fight, I didn't have to re-run it (which is what I did the first time round; I wondered what that "revival" spell was for). I found a few different quests I missed before, and missed some I got before, and I spent a lot more time talking to party members (gawd knows how long it took Bioware to record all the speech they have in it). The narrative experience was a bit different. However, the gameplay experience was pretty much the same except (because it was in easy mode) I didn't need to drink as many health potions.

I found myself using pretty much the same party as I did the first time round, which was a bit disappointing. A party consists of four members, of whom you need at least one each of mage, rogue and warrior. The available characters are: mage (Morrigan and Wynne — both female); rogue (Leliana, female and Zevran, male — both bisexual); warrior (Alistair, Oghren, Sten and a dog — I called mine Mutt — all male). The first time round, I played as a (male) warrior; I swiftly discovered that you don't need more than one of these. Basically, the warrior tanks — attracts the attention of the enemy — so a second warrior only has to do damage and occasional off-tank duty (ie. keeping unimportant enemies occupied while everyone else focuses on the main target). There isn't much call for off-tanking when there are only four people in the party, though, which means that a second warrior really has to cause a lot of damage to be of use. What's more, this is usually melée damage, not ranged damage. Now although you do get a lot of damage out of a greatsword, you tend to take a lot of damage because you're standing right in the middle of the action. This means you need a lot of healing. Healing in Dragon Age is done by mages. If your mage is healing two warriors, they're not casting damaging spells. So, your second warrior may well be doing a lot of damage, but it's at the expense of the damage the mage would be doing if you didn't keep needing to be healed. Also, it means the mage can't use so many area of effect spells, because it's harder to make them avoid two people than it is to make them avoid just one.

The obvious answer is therefore to use one warrior to take all the heat, plus one mage to do healing and steady ranged damage, plus a second mage for serious damage and emergency healing, plus a rogue to open locked chests and stuff. When playing as a warrior myself, I therefore made very little use of Alistair, Oghren, Sten and Mutt (indeed, I didn't even manage to recruit Sten). My only choice was whether to use helpful, idealistic bard Leliana or sneaky, disloyal, tried-to-assassinate-me Zevran (whom the second time round I killed on the spot rather than recruit). So in the first game, it was me (tank), Wynne (heals), Morrigan (nukes), Leliana (sneaks). In the game I've just finished, I played as a mage and used Alistair as the tank; I kept Wynne as healer and Leliana as rogue, and only swapped in Morrigan when I needed some more crowd control (there's a "cone of cold" type spell that freezes enemies in place for a while which is a main staple of most fights — well, the ones that don't involve dropping a blizzard followed by a death cloud on people so they drop dead while you stand a safe distance away twiddling your thumbs). So again, half the characters were of little use to me. Sten doesn't talk much and the dog doesn't talk at all; I therefore suspect the designers were aware of some imbalance here. Maybe some of the excess warriors are there for a sequel or something...

I was expecting most of that. Now for something I wasn't expecting...

As I reported, the second time round I played a female character in the hopes of getting better luck with Leliana, the female party member I'd tried and failed to woo as a male the first time round. I succeeded, too. I thought that would be the end of the matter, but no, it wasn't. Alistair, the most complete of the party members in terms of content, hit on me. I don't know what I did to provoke this; I very particularly avoided any dialogue which might give him the slightest hint my character was interested in him romantically, and I was also sort of assuming that the fact my female character was having regular bump and grind sessions with another female character would perhaps give him pause for thought. Nevertheless, he came over all sweet and embarrassed, so I said OK, I'd sleep with him, just to see what would happen.

I didn't see what would happen.

The second the cut scene started, I knew I'd made a mistake. I had to leave the room, I couldn't take watching it. It's the exact same tasteful animation as I'd seen with my mage and Leliana, just with the Alistair model instead of Leliana. I wasn't expecting it to be a turn-on, and it wasn't; the problem is, it was quite the opposite: some primitive and alarming feeling kicked in, telling me I had to get out of there. It's bizarre: I'm male in real life, but I can play a female character who has a romp with another female character and I feel no discomfort at all; it was a bit of a laugh, in fact. Yet when my female character gets on down with a male character, GAAAAAAH! I doubt it would have felt any less disquieting if I'd been playing as a male character and had accidentally hooked up with Zevran (the bi option among male party members). I would have been fine watching the exact same scene except with me as my male character entwining with Leliana; what seems to be important to me here isn't that my own character is male, but that my character's partner isn't.

Ah, the limits of role-playing: I'm great at transvestism, but choke on homosexuality.

Leliana gave me a hard time of it after nooky with Alistair, so I reloaded. This time when Alistair came over all sweet and embarrassed, I ripped his heart from his chest and stamped on it, laughing. He seemed to get the message after that. Leliana still gave me a hard time of it, the jealous little vixen, but soon cheered up when I gave her some new shoes.

Hmm. I think I'm all Dragon Aged out for the moment. Maybe now I'll go back to my Football Manager 2010 game, which I stopped playing a few months ago because on my old computer it was giving me a jittery screen. At least when team members give you trouble in that, you can transfer list them...

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).