Why I love Dragon Age!!!
I love video games!! My dad and my uncle helped me get into them growing up. I love playing hack-and-slash to fighting games to Japanese dating sims, but my absolute favorite series to play is Dragon Age, a popular role-playing game created by Bioware. I don’t think I’ve invested as much time and love into a series. Most of my friends know that I’m a huge high fantasy lover! Elves, dragons, giant magic swords of power, and epic quests are right up my alley! Take that and add character customization and excellent storytelling, it’s not hard to see how I fell in love with such a series. I won’t bore you with the history of Dragon Age; there are plenty of videos and articles out there on that topic. I’m here to say why I fell in love with this series and why it’s truly a special game to me.
Now Dragon Age is not just one game. It’s three main games that take place in the world of Thedas. In each game, the player can create a different protagonist and become a hero of legend, infamous rebel, or a herald of change. Player choice is a huge defining factor of the games; however how you experience the game will never be the same with every new play through. I have over seven Wardens, six Hawkes, and thirteen Inquisitors, and yet there is always something new I discover in the games when I roll a new character. I did the math and I have clocked in around 1,500 hours for all my characters! That’s not even counting all the other times I dove into the comics and novels! What is it about this series that hooked its way into my heart and has become an obsession of mine? It’s one of the few games I truly could roleplay as myself.
For most gamers we inhabit a character’s body and play their journey for them. In God of War, you play as Kratos. In Kingdom Hearts you play as Sora, (or Roxas if the second game is your favorite). With these games and similar ones like it, you are playing on a predetermined path for the character and usually on a singular journey. This is not to say those type of games are bad; in fact they are excellent games! The stories are a blast to play, and the mechanics of those characters make them iconic and cool. I can’t, however, become a Keyblade Master or the God of War and It’s hard for me to get into the mind of these characters while playing them. With Dragon Age, I can create a character that looks like me, and can actively make decisions and dialogue choices that I would totally say! The first time I played the series, it was around Thanksgiving in 2014. My dad had sold my PS2 (RIP) to buy a PS4 and Dragon Age Inquisition. I created a black female mage character with hair just as short and curly as mine. She was witty and used powerful electric battle magic. She even had time to romance the commander of her army while she went off to save the world. I never truly understood the appeal of role-playing games until that moment. For the first time, I literally saw myself as the beloved hero on screen.
Now I played all through DAI first before I played DAO. For fans new to the series this was their introduction because up until this point the series was well received by a niche audience. It wasn’t until the success of DAI that the series truly took off to a mainstream audience. However, because I didn’t play the previous titles, I felt like I missed out on a larger adventure whenever characters would recollect a past hero or event. After beating DAI a few times, I decided I needed to play from the beginning and luckily for me my dad had both previous titles and game guides to boot. I can honestly say DAO was unlike any game I had ever played. My party was engaging, the story was epic, and I fell in love with the Grey Warden Alistair! There were many romantic gestures and conversations with him that made my heart beat so fast that I squealed with fangirl delight! I could name many other characters who gave me a warm fuzzy feeling when I romanced them, but the Grey Warden was my favorite. With this series, it all boils down to how I can craft the story to my liking. Every time I roll a new character I always know I’m going to find something new. The game is so massive, you can replay it over and over.
DAO was released in 2009 and I can be honest and say the gameplay, and customization sliders have not held up over the years, but the storyline remains its best and most memorable feature. You can choose to play as one of three races and classes. You can play as a human, elf, or dwarf. Then you can choose to fight as a warrior, rogue, or mage. As you start and live the life of your character you are then ripped away from everything you ever knew and are conscripted to join the Grey Wardens; a legendary and ancient order who are tasked with saving the world from the fifth Blight. A blight occurs when an old dragon god is corrupted by zombie like creatures known as darkspawn. They then proceed to infect other living creatures, pollute lands, kill people, and there is no cure to prevent it, stop the sickness, or stop a horde of zombie like beings (which is even harder to do). A giant undead dragon leading a large army of blighted zombies would seem to be a major motivator for uniting the people and banning them together to stop them, right? What makes this game special, however, ‘are the people’ and your quest to unite them under your banner. As Grey Warden, you and your rag tag team journey together to gain allegiances and build your army. While doing so you determine the political landscape of two kingdoms, the underground dwarven kingdom of Orzammar and the Kingdom of Ferelden. You either save or condemn a tribe of elves cursed with lycanthropy, and/or save a tower of mages from abominations. There are no right or wrong decisions here, but I can definitely say some of your party members such as Alistair, Morrigan, or Leliana will have words once all is said and done. DAO plays as an epic fantasy on the scope of Lord of the Rings, with the large battles against ancient evils and how clear the line between good and evil seem to be. Dragon Age 2 is a large departure from that formula, and it is my favorite game because of it.
Where DAO was a traditional epic fantasy, Dragon Age 2 is a tragedy. DA2 was released in 2011 and when it came out some people were disappointed. It wasn’t another grand scale quest to slay the evil dragon or large battles, the levels were repetitive, the game is relatively small compared to its predecessor, and you could only play as a human. Fans of the series are divided on this title. Some claim it is the worst of the three games, and some love it so much they roll as 12 Hawkes and will fight anyone who claims they have a problem.
You play as Hawke, a Ferelden who fled the Fifth Blight and see their journey from a poor refugee to the Champion of Kirkwall, the greatest title bestowed to a person for their great service to a nation. The entire game is told as a flashback from one of the most iconic characters of the series, Varric Tethras, the best roguish dwarf ever and the author of your story titled “The Tale of the Champion”.
As Hawke you flee to the city of Kirkwall and attempt to help your family survive this dangerous city filled with nobels, gangs, radical mages, corrupt templars, and even an invasion of Qunari. The Qunari is Bioware’s version of the Orcs from World of Warcraft. They are large, grey, horned giants who follow a strict religious code called the Qun. They are always at odds with the Chantry, a religion based off of Catholicism, and Hawke has dealings with everyone of these factions within the game. By the end of the game you become the Champion of Kirkwall, and become politically involved in the war between the mages and the Templars, but that title comes at a cost. One of your party members instigates an event that brings the conflict to a head and you must choose whether to sacrifice the few for the many or vice versa. By the end of the final battle, you are back on the run but this time from everyone. No matter what I chose I never felt like I made the right decision and that’s why I love this title the most!
How the Dragon Age series takes it a step further is by showing the consequences of your decisions. Player choice is a huge factor for any Bioware game and Dragon Age is literally crafted around how a player’s choice will affect them for the rest of their ‘play-through’. This goes beyond stat boosts to certain character classes and races. Depending on your race you can be treated like a second-class citizen such as the elves, or even viewed with contempt because you are simply a mage. For role-playing, it is truly amazing when a game takes the time and effort to create a complex history and give context to why everything is the way it is. What is even cooler is during each game you have the choice to help make things better, worse, or even try to maintain the status quo.
Good or ill, the player can see how their choices affect the NPCs (non-playable characters) and shape their worlds, no matter how small or how large a choice may seem. Depending on your choices the rulers of the three large kingdoms can differ greatly, or Hawke’s legend can be a Pro-Mage or Pro-Templar rallying figure. It’s a special feeling to see an NPC you save in a previous title appear in the next game just living life. There’s a moment in DAI where you talk to Dagna, a dwarven smith who specializes in enchanting from DAO, and she speaks reverently about the Grey Warden who helped her so much. This was in reference to my Grey Warden in DAO and the work and time I spent fulfilling what was just another quest to me, but for this character it was a life changing experience. Taking the time to reference past choices always makes me giddy because for me, those are precious memories. The good folks at Bioware even created a site called the Dragon Age Keep to keep track of all your decisions and save time on crafting a new character. The Dragon Age Keep helps them create a new world and makes them feel included and caught up to speed when past events are referenced. It sure helps me out when I just keep creating new characters every other month.
I love dialogue. It’s great when characters can have conversations with each other and with you. I like gathering information about my party members when we’re out in the wilderness hunting baddies. It makes my party feel more organic and not so dependent on me. In the role-play mindset, it helps me to flesh out the world more, especially when the NPCs are motivated and their lives are independent from the main player/character. It’s a huge reason why I love the series so much! I’m that dork that looked up youtube videos of conversations between all the characters. It really sucked that I could only hear the unique dialogue through those videos on youtube for DAI because the dialogue was buggy on the consoles. This was an issue for many people because the ambient dialogue was an important aspect of the game many people have come to expect.
I have great memories just mixing up my party to hear different characters talk to each other, just to see how they feel about each other and what their feelings on the journey is. Alistair and Wynne from DAO have a great and friendly dynamic with each other despite the game clearly setting up the stereotype that mages and templars are supposed to hate each other. Anders and Fenris, from DA2, clearly have opposing views on what truly constitutes a slave in a world that has harsh restrictions for mages, but Fenris was an actual slave that had suffered greatly at the hand of mages. DAI has so many different political and personal interactions with characters that I could go on for hours trying to break down each party member and their interactions with each other. Their dialogue makes them feel real, and it makes my character feel like part of a family.
What really gets me are the romances. I giggle wildly in my gaming chair whenever I flirt with my favorite characters. They aren’t integral to beating the games, but they’re the extra part of the games that truly snag me. Unlike dating games, where the main goal is the romance, Dragon Age romances are a great way to explore your characters romantic interests through role-play. The romance system has changed from game to game and I find it interesting how each game handles its romance aspect. DAO was a fairly simple system. You could find gifts in chests or by looting enemies and give them to each of your party members to get them to like you. There are only four ‘romance-able’ options in the game. Two are straight options for men and women, and two are bisexual choices. Everybody gripes that everyone being bisexual in the game isn’t realistic, and I agree, but I’m glad they did the option so everyone, regardless of sexuality, could romance everyone. There was a meter that kept track of how much or how little a character was a friend with you. Getting a high enough ‘like’ on your meter gave your party member useful buffs to their abilities, but it was like bribing someone to like you. It cheapens the friendship with a character if you get a large disapproval dip; but all you have to do is give the mad party member a bunch of gifts to get your friendship meter back up. Overall, this system I liked the least.
DA2 took the friendship meter from the previous game and tossed out the gift system. What they instead added was a ‘rivalmance’ system along with your friendly romance. The idea behind your party members in DA2 is that they would have personal lives outside of your adventures. They aren’t part of your group because you are destined to save the world, but they still want to be your friend. I don’t agree about everything with my friends in real life, and I can apply that same mindset in DA2 without too much consequence. The rivalmance system, however, always came off as weird to me. Imagine being in love with someone who is constantly mad at you and all you do is disagree with everything they say and do. I tried to rivalmance a couple of party members and it felt awkward to me. The voice acting was great, but there were moments I had to ask myself ‘why am I pursuing this, when I don’t like your life choices’. It does give you more options on how to role-play your Hawke, but I think the rivalmance system could have been handled better. As for regular friendly romances, I am an absolute sucker for Fenris! I love my dark, broody, Final-Fantasy ripoff elf! Gideon Emery’s voice sounds like melted chocolate running through a stream. I will literally roll a new Hawke with the intention of romancing anybody else, but as soon as I hear Fenris’ intro I throw my hands up and hit every flirt option without fail.
DAI is the first game of the series that was more realistic in terms of approaching different sexualities for your party members. The Dragon Age series was always LGBTQ inclusive, and I’m glad they really branched out with this cast. You have some party members that are gay, pansexual, straight, human, just a group of elf-females and one who is a goddess that deserves all the love and respect in the world (I’m talking about Vivienne)! Due to the cast having very specific tastes this forced me to play as races and genders I normally avoid. I almost always play as a female, but because I loved Dorian as a party member, I decided he needed some lovin’ and rolled a male character just for him! Totally worth all the time and effort! Now there is one character I have to talk about and that’s Solas. The hobo elven mage. I romanced him just to try something new. What I didn’t expect is to get my heart ripped out of my chest! This is the only romance in a Dragon Age game were I wanted to throw my controller at the screen because this man breaks up with your character with no explanation whatsoever and this is the culmination of your romance with him! Turns out he’s the real ‘big bad’ of the series and him loving you was an unexpected hiccup. This is the mix of romance and tragedy that drags me into the series even more!
At the 2018 Game Awards, after Bioware showcased their new and upcoming game Anthem, many Dragon Age fans found themselves heartbroken with not a word about their favorite series. Then the lights dimmed and suddenly there was a minute teaser hinting at Dragon Age 4. It was only a close up of a picture and an infamous character’s theme, but this set the community on fire. That’s right! There was no game footage or a high definition story trailer; it was just a single image! Within hours there were speculations on Youtube and multiple Podcasts with theories as to what the game would look like! Dragon Age fans are a crazy community all on their own, but It takes real dedication to break down a single image and come up with complex theories and predictions.
Whenever I talk about video games to my friends I always find myself gravitating to Dragon Age; whether it’s comparing the plot, game mechanics, or how the in-game-lore caters to a diverse audience. Amazing and dynamic, Dragon Age has become the new standard for what I look for in games. With multiple-choice variations, you can even create detailed characters which resemble different diversities. Here, dark skinned characters have a chance to shine. Furthermore, Dragon Age doesn’t discriminate; even when it comes to multiple romance options catering to many different sexualities! Although I do play other games and get excited when I hear new titles coming up, Dragon Age will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the first game I honestly felt like the hero to my own epic story.