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6:40pm on Sunday, 14th February, 2010:

10 Hours In


I finally started playing Dragon Age this week.

I bought it as soon as it came out, but I put off playing it because I was a little concerned that I'd been looking forward to it for so long I could be disappointed (as I was when I started Oblivion). After the very pleasant surprise of Mount & Blade, though, I steeled myself and started.

10 hours in, and I may have reached a point where I don't feel I'm playing cut scenes.

The story so far is pretty well just that — story. It's like a piece of superb quality machinima that makes you have combat between the segments before it will let you watch the next piece. There are decisions to be made, but they're like in choose-your-own-adventures, where you're not entirely sure they're meaningful or merely an illusion of self-determination that covers what was going to happen anyway. Am I playing a game with interstitial story, or following a story with interstitial game? Add the fact that if you don't win the combat segment that follows a cut scene/dialogue then you have to play the through cut scene/dialogue all over again, and it's very frustrating. Oh, and when you do win, the story is likely to pick up of its own accord and carry you away before you can loot the chest you saw or complete the sub-quest you put in abeyance, meaning that if you don't do everything in the right order you have to reload and start again — that's if you managed to save the game before the cut scene/dialogue started.

What's kept me going until this point is the characterisation. I don't know if this is standard across all versions (I've deliberately avoided reading up about the game), but the humans I've encountered so far speak with an English accent, the Elves are American and the dwarfs seem to be Australian. That makes a change from the usual American, American and Scottish standard. The party NPCs are very well thought-out, though (well, except the dog, which has a personality but doesn't say much; I guess it could later if it develops the power of speech). If it hadn't been for those, I'd have given up.

Now, though, I finally have a few sub-quests I can do in any order, I think. I also picked up a rogue (nice touch giving her a slight lisp, whoever designed her), so all those damned locked chests I kept seeing can now empty their secrets. Oh, and a merchant who would sell me the flasks I needed to make potions (I had plenty of ingredients, just no flasks). The frustration is subsiding.

I mention all this because because one of the two MMOs I'm really, really looking forward to is the Star Wars one from Bioware (the other is CCP's White Wolf world). This isn't because it's Star Wars, as I'm not actually impressed with the Star Wars universe per se; rather, it's because it's Bioware. Bioware make Dragon Age. That being the case, and knowing the calbire of the people who they have working on it, I think I can safely say that whatever they do with the MMO will be stupendous.

I just hope above hope that they do actually allow players to make their own story, and not merely follow the one they've written for them. Dragon Age nearly lost me, and could still lose me if I don't get to play it rather than watch it. If that happens with Star Wars: the Old Republic, I'm going to despair.

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