Sunday, 6 September 2020

Dragon Age games are a noble fusion of RPG and philosophical parable

Dragon Age games

We decided to tell you how a new star appeared on the firmament of the best RPGs in 2009, what happened to the Dragon Age series since then and what we can expect from it next.

RPG from studio Bioware is high time to separate it into a separate genre, because unlike many other role-playing games, they all combine high-quality action, a well-thought-out role-playing system, and a deep study of the game world, and especially the relationship between the characters.

Buying a new game from this company, we already know that we are in for a whirlpool of dark secrets, piercing revelations, and intimate conversations with party members, who in most other games have a maximum of one or two personal quests. But for the fantasy direction in the studio's work, it was Dragon Age that was the first attempt at writing new worlds, and not using other people's franchises.

DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS (2009) - DASHING TROUBLE BEGINS

For a long time, Bioware was known mainly as a brilliant personification of other people's ideas in the RPG world. The Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series told delightful stories set in well-known worlds that had become popular long before the Canadian studio was founded.

Everything changed in 2007 when Mass Effect saw the light of day - the first part of the legendary space opera, which in many respects turned the idea of how a game about space should look like. In parallel with it, a fantasy RPG was also being developed, the action of which was also for the first time supposed to take place in a world completely invented in the depths of the company. It was announced a year after the release of Mass Effect - in 2008. Few people knew that at that time the game had been in development for about five years.

Unlike most cases, such a long development only benefited the game. Releasing to the great joy of RPG fans in 2009 on both PC and consoles, Dragon Age: Origins quickly topped the list of the best games of the year, earning Bioware acclaim from most of the leading critics and multi-million dollar profits. And it is not surprising, because unlike studios that spend time constantly rewriting game concepts, changing technologies, and reformatting development teams, Bioware has spent 6 years saturating the game with content, finalizing the story, and constantly testing.

Obviously, Canadians wanted to create a masterpiece from the very beginning, and they did it. But not only is the quality of performance the secret of the success of "Age of the Dragon". Although this game was originally positioned by the developers as a "heroic dark fantasy", the resulting result contains much more deep philosophical thoughts than other representatives of the genre.

The developers not only caught up with a dark atmosphere and forced the players to watch the world torn to shreds by numerous interracial conflicts, political intrigues, the confrontation of magic and religion, and the invasion of hordes of Ancient Evil. Each side in each of the conflicts present in the game has its own motivation, its own beliefs, and, of course, its own dark secrets.

Forbidden blood magic is an absolute evil (which does not prevent magicians from quietly teaching it and using it, including for good purposes), but is it not a lesser evil than the Templars' Ritual of Suppression conducted over magicians, the closest analogue of which in the real world is lobotomy?

Dragon Age games

Thayrn Loghain's act at the very beginning of the game looks like an insidious betrayal, but towards the end, we learn that he really had reason to suspect the young King Kailan of surrendering the interests of the country, whose independence Loghain won for so long with Kailan's father. After all, the potentially deadly ritual of Initiation into the Gray Wardens itself, combined with unlimited Right of Summons, raises questions about the cost of fighting evil. After all, the one who kills monsters must be a bit of a monster himself.

At the same time, all the conflicts present in the game have many parallels with the real world, which makes the Dragon Age series of games not just a beautiful and abstruse fairy tale, but a real parable. Interracial conflicts are not alien to the modern world, the conflict between the church and science is clearly guessed behind the confrontation between the magicians and the Templars, but the dependence on lyrium and the accompanying health problems inherent in both magicians and Templars does not require comment at all.

Even the party members here like to do things that are very controversial from a moral point of view. What is at least the final twist performed by the dangerous beauty Morrigan, who gets her way in almost any scenario?

And the idea so beloved by the studio that every even the smallest deed has its own consequences sometimes finds much unexpected embodiment in this game. So, the support of a nobler candidate for the throne, Orzamar, leads to the continuation of the decline of this dwarven kingdom, while an insidious and cruel intriguer may end up being a relatively good ruler. And like the Mass Effect games, every decision you make when importing saves into sequels affects the game world and can significantly transform it. So the entire Dragon Age series is, in fact, one huge game that tells, albeit from the point of view of different characters, one huge story.

Moreover, further events are influenced not only by various obvious moral dilemmas, but also, at first glance, by little things - for example, with whom of their party members our protagonist/heroine will romance, how far will this relationship go, and how it will end. And given the modern politically correct requirements, romantic interests are presented here for absolutely every taste.

After the release of the game, a lot of DLC came out to it, which can be downloaded directly from the game's launcher. Despite the fact that these official mods added entire regions, many quests, and even a party member, fans of the game demanded that it continue.

DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS - AWAKENING (2010) - WHAT SHOULD WE BUILD A TOWER?

Following the once fashionable trend of the single-addon-sequel, before the release of the numbered sequel, the Canadian studio decided to create a large-scale addon to its creation. This time Bioware used old developments in the new game, so the main change in this addon in relation to the original was the possibility of building your own fortress, which came straight from Neverwinter Nights 2.

In addition, as is usually the case in quality add-ons for good games, a lot of new content has been added here, including quests, regions, items, and skills. And this addon is notable for the fact that a couple of characters, significant for the further development of events, were introduced into the story.

One of them is undoubtedly the Architect - a unique intelligent Spawn of Darkness who realizes the destructive nature of the Blights and strives to fight them with all his might. True, by his actions he managed to make everything only worse. So we are faced with another philosophical question - is it necessary to judge by actions, or by intentions? And can you still believe one of those with whom you recently fought?

At the same time, we learn that not only the blood of the Spawn of Darkness allows sentient beings to become Gray Guardians, but the blood of the Gray Guardians makes the Spawn of Darkness smarter and even allows them to free themselves from the Call of the Old Gods. This makes the relationship between the forces of good and Evil in the Age of the Dragon world even more complex and confusing than in most conventional games.

DRAGON AGE II (2011) - BANG

Released two years after the original, the sequel was already very different from it both in the plot and characters and in some game mechanics. There are fewer specializations, mages are generally even stronger than in Origins, and warriors are now better at coping with crowds of enemies. The main changes concerned the logic of the plot's narration. If in Origin and the addon to it, the events developed smoothly, replacing each other in almost real-time without noticeable time skips, then the events of the sequel are clearly divided into several parts, between which sometimes take three years.

The storytelling itself, as we gradually learn, is built in the form of an interrogation by a servant of the Church of one of the party members of the protagonist, namely the cheerful dwarf Varrick. Such a generally original (although partially peeped from Assasins Creed) format allows you to intersperse the game acts with interesting dialogues, during which the interrogating gnome Cassandra Pentagast gradually changes his mind about our protagonist. At the same time, from the very beginning of the dialogue, despite several funny gags (when Cassandra accuses Varric of lying, and as a result we have to replay a small segment), hints of some very dark event periodically slip through.

Unlike the ending of the two previous parts, the denouement of the sequel has nothing to do with the Spawn of Darkness or the intrigues of the protagonist's enemies. This is why she is so shocking. After all, here the actions of our own party members lead to a tragic ending. And even replaying the game and knowing where everything is going - its plot does not leave the slightest opportunity to avoid it.

As it turns out, over the years since the end of Awakening, the charming renegade magician Anders who appeared in it has developed such a strong relationship with the spirit named Justice, which was a separate character in the addon that he eventually allowed this spirit to settle in his own body.

The rebellious spirit of Anders and the mysterious nature of the spirit itself eventually gradually lead to the fact that Justice periodically turns into its much more terrible form called Revenge. Observing the injustice happening around, Anders gradually loses control over the actions of the spirit. From symbiosis, this union becomes a real Obsession - the one that is why the Templars do not like magicians so much.

However, in the fight against the possessed mages, the Templars in Dragon Age II increasingly cross the line of reason. Pacification is applied to simply objectionable or suspicious magicians. As a result, Anders's roof finally slides down and he blows up a church full of parishioners with his magic. And the main character has to make some very difficult decisions, which boil down to choosing the lesser of many evils.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) - Out of the Flame into the Fire

The latest Dragon Age game was released in 2014. To the numerous troubles of Thedas, here is added a natural invasion of demons, which until then lived mainly in the Shadow and very rarely directly fell into this world, usually content with mastering the bodies of mortals. It is the struggle with this scourge that the main character will have to deal with while restoring the ancient order of the Inquisition, which aims to combat evil in all its manifestations.

Old acquaintances from previous games in the series will help him with this. Some of them, like Varric or Pentagast, who was present before that exclusively in the role of interrogating Cassandra, will become party members, while others - advisers. The events of the game finally reveal the secrets of the origin of the Blights and confirm that the insane experiments of the magicians of the ancient Tevinter Empire were their culprits. Unlike the previous parts, our hero Chosen from the very beginning, even if he does not know about it.

What's next?

The Dragon Age series of games asked many important questions even for the real world, gave players more than a dozen hours of addictive gameplay, and brought its creators' hundreds of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, the failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda dealt a blow to Bioware's capabilities.

Dragon Age 4 has been officially announced, but it's still a long way off. For more details, see our article on the upcoming game. Whether the new installment in the series will be as good as the previous ones is a big question. But the parable, which began in 2009, is not yet finished, because the modern world is almost as full of mysteries and injustices as the harsh fantasy world of the Dragon Age series of games.


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