This is part game review, part cry for help.
I admit to having an addictive personality. I smoked for a couple of years in and after college, and still miss it (even though it’s been around fifteen years since I quit) as a girl I played Defender obsessively on my Atari, Final Fantasy obsessively on Gameboy and PlayStation, and then as an adult, yes, World of Warcraft. I quit WoW a couple of years ago, thank goodness. And, like smoking, I miss it sometimes.
And now there’s a new addiction: Dragon Age.
I know Bioware has done immersive RPGs before. I played Baldur’s Gate, and tried Neverwinter Nights, and they were fun, but both failed to hook me. Then I got Dragon Age, with its golden, barbed hook that felt soooo good...
Dragon Age is a game that allows you to, yes, save the world from the horrendous monsters, but the real attraction of this game is the plot itself and the deeply-detailed dialogue trees you can use to change the outcome of the game or learn more about your NPC companions’ pasts and secrets. Other RPGs like Final Fantasy have romance that’s pre-set and limited (in Final Fantasy VII, the most wiggle-room you have is the male PC go on a chaste little date with the woman you’ve had longest in the party; if you have played the game with neither, you go on a confused date with Barrett, one of the male NPCs.) But in Dragon Age you can have romances with several of the characters, some are bi-sexual, and your experience all depends on how you treat them in the dialogue trees.
Unlike many RPGs, there’s no real good or evil alignment. You can be kind to the point of being a wuss, and you can be mean to the point of just gutting people in conversation if you don’t like them. Your companions will have opinions on your actions, though, and may choose to leave you if you keep being a right bastard and cutting open everyone you meet.
I prefer to play the game with the strategy guide—I don’t see it as cheating because these don’t feel like “games” to me. They’re interactive stories, and if I have the strategy guide, I can see all the parts of the story that I want to. The clever bastards at BioWare have made it necessary to play the game through multiple times to see all the stuff, too. You can start as a human, dwarf, or elf, and you can be warrior, rogue, or mage (with specializations coming at higher levels). Each has her own origin story showing her life at home, and then Something Happens to make her leave the warm confines of home (the dwarven noble gets framed for her brother’s murder, the human noble escapes her family’s slaughter, etc) and then gets sent to be part of the Gray Wardens, an elite army with admittedly questionable hazing rituals. Chugging beer at frat houses got nothing on being forced to drink demon blood, and oh yeah, you might die.
Incidentally, for some reason, the game doesn’t think it’s bad for you to strip your companions bare before the hazing—er, the “Joining”—and then, after the ritual, sell their stuff for gold. Not that I have done this. Terrible practice. Really.
So besides the sweet dialogue romancing, you also have a chance to invite your companions to “join you in your tent” at camp. You have your choice between the cranky mage Morrigan (voiced by Claudia Black from Farscape) who’s strictly hetero; the innocent, bisexual rogue Liliana; the shy, delicious, straight, wry, virgin warrior Alistair; and the bisexual male elven rogue, Zevran, who you meet farther in the game than I've gotten. You can apparently romance more than one at a time, although they may notice and confront you. So, uh, can you tell which one I’m trying to currently romance? Yeah. Like I said, people: cry for help, here. Even though Alastair says adorable things like, “Have you ever llllicked a llllamppost in winter?” during an innuendo-heavy discussion.
I've yet to entice Alistair to lick any lampposts, sadly. He gave me a rose and I thought he was good to go, but when I invited him to my tent, he turned me down. Too shy. Dammit.
(Brief aside: In searching the web for images, I did find many of Alistair. Apparently characters in Dragon Age wear nothing but undies under their armor and end up nearly nude if you strip them. It seems people have a habit of stripping Alistair, arming him with a sword, and sending him into battle. This is terrible. I did not enjoy these images at all.)
What, gameplay? Oh all right. It's quite good. It has to be; even kick-ass storytelling and character interaction are not enough to keep me going through a shitty game experience. Some of the combat is rather difficult if you don’t have the right party or have the right tactics set up, which are very simple commands to dictate your NPCs' actions: if Enemy is <50% heath, then attack with fireball, or if PC is about to die, then heal them, etc. But this game shines in every aspect. Some games you pay $50 for your game to give you a couple of hours of gameplay, but Dragon Age promises scores of hours, and that’s only with one play through. I game on the PlayStation 3 but it’s available for XBox 350 and PC, as well. (Wikipedia claims it’s out for the Mac, but I’ll be licked like a lamppost in winter if I can find it.)
So if you’re a stronger soul than I am, I recommend this game. I don't recommend it if you're liable to become its very willing slave. In fact, it’s lunchtime now. I get my half hour to eat, or play Dragon Age…. Coming, Alistair!
Mur Lafferty is an author and podcaster. She is the host of I Should Be Writing and the author of Playing For Keeps, among other things. You can find all of her projects at Murverse.com. She isn't really infatuated with a cartoon character. Anyway, no one will replace Hong Kong Phooey in her heart.