dragon age

I Want To Feel Important

It'd be an understatement to say 2014 has been a downer for me. In January and February, I felt myself stagnating. In March, my mom died. In April, I got rejected from a job I had pursued with all of my (remaining) energy. In May, things have settled into a routine, and I've been able to trick myself into having a good time on most days with some success.

Books, TV shows, movies, and games all make me feel things. Games in particular stand out as a way for me to feel good because they place me into a larger world. I've written before how Animal Crossing has been my go-to game when I feel sad and overwhelmed since New Leaf's release because it is simple and cute. That's good in short bursts, but when I've been sad for this long, a band-aid of adorableness doesn't cut it. What I need is to kill some dragons.

Blood, guts, weapons, magic, different races, a deep history, and customizing my own character. This is what I needed.

Dragon Age: Origins had enough material for me to chew and forget about my world for a few hours. Not all games need to be, or even should be, about escapism. Some games should reflect the world and comment on personal experiences. But other times it's great to jump into a fantasy world and be someone else for a change. Instead of being the freelance writer still trying to get into the thick of things, I was a hero capable of summoning large fire tornadoes and blizzards, taking on dragon hordes, and solving political disputes. I will never be that important in my real life. Some games make you feel good by making you feel important. After all, the protagonists of many stories were either destined for greatness or got roped into things and ended up becoming great; either way, they were heroes by the end.

Players can customize the protagonist's appearance in Dragon Age, choose what to say from a list of dialogue options, and influence people ranging from companions to leaders. The game takes place in a well-established place -- a country that recently regained its independence, but it's a country with complicated politics, and plenty of racism. A part of what makes me feel good when playing Dragon Age is being able to persuade and intimidate other characters when they make racist comments. Playing as a disenfranchised race feels so good when you get to point out the hypocrisy of people in power. It's the triumph of the underdog and the destruction of power structures that favor those already in power. This is often a dream in the real world, which is why I find it so important in media.

Ferelden is vast, and among your travels, you encounter humans, elves, dwarves, men, women, templars, mages, opportunistic merchants, refugees, and nobles. Each place has its own culture that you learn about by discovering documents and speaking with the people living there. These vast worlds within games remind me of my childhood glee of getting wrapped in Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, two very different series with a lot of world building. These pieces of media are so fascinating because they are different from our lives.

But let's be honest here -- sticking a sword through the archdemon's face is exhilarating. There's a lot of joy to be had in taking down twenty as many enemies as you have characters in your party.

Many of us are not powerful. We are victims of illness, circumstances, poverty, power structures, and loss. If killing darkspawn makes you feel important, go slaughter as many hordes as you can.

Choose your path: Dragon Age Origins review

I'm a JRPG kind of gamer. I've been playing RPGs for a long time, but they're almost always made by Japanese companies. Dragon Age: Origins was my first experience playing a western RPG. Made by US company BioWare this western RPG looks like it's out of a typical fantasy setting. There are several towns each with people speaking with European-esque accents (all of which my dad loved to comment on). There are monsters, townspeople, crooks, beggars, benevolent rulers, and power-hungry tyrants. This in itself doesn't sound too different from any other kind of western fantasy setting, but the game uses that setting and then adds an interesting story and well-developed characters to keep you engaged.

You begin Dragon Age: Origins by customizing your character and picking your storyline. You can be a man or a woman; you can be a human, elf, or a dwarf; you can be a warrior, mage, or rogue; and depending on which options you chose, you can pick where your character's home is (such as in the city or in the forest). You can also customize your character's appearance.

I've only played one beginning so far (Circle of Magi), watched one beginning (City Elf), and heard about one other (Human Noble). From the half I know, each one is different and will give you background information on that place. For example, because I started as a mage, I learned about the Fade before a dwarf, a human, or an elf in the city or in the forest would know much about it. I learned about the tensions between people in the Tower, so when I later revisited the place, I knew why it was in chaos.

The origin stories aren't very long, and my only complaint is that there isn't much of an impact on the overall plot regarding which background you choose.

Regardless of which origin you choose, you will be enlisted by the Grey Wardens, a group of powerful warriors whose job is warding off the darkspawn and protecting their world from the Blight. It is here you will meet Duncan and Alistair, and you'll be with dorky, special snowflake Alistair for the rest of the game as he tries to deal with his feelings for Duncan.

Just look at Alistair yearning for Duncan. 

You can have up to three others in your party at a time, and you will recruit many others to choose from, including a war dog. The majority of the characters are pretty interesting. It's hard to learn about some of them because some are closed off and don't like to talk about themselves. (Sten kept hating me for asking him about his people.)

You can also choose your own dialogue options. With high cunning and willpower, you can shape others into doing what you want. You can also straight up choose to kill people. You can be an asshole or you can be a mild-mannered Grey Warden. Play the race or sex card, make people uncomfortable when you're a mage--it's all up to you. That freedom is what makes the game so enjoyable.

You'll fight dragons, go through some crazy dungeons (and in the Circle of Magi, a dungeon within a dungeon: DUNGEONCEPTION!), settle political disputes, travel to each unique city in Ferelden, and make your teammates fall in love with you if you so desire. 

The one glaring problem with Dragon Age is a glitch near the end of the game at Redwall Castle. If you're not standing in a certain place, an ogre will never come to fight you, and you can't get inside the castle until you've killed that ogre. And you can't continue the story if you can't get inside. 

The game is on the PS3 and Xbox and PC. It also came out in 2009, so if you're late to the game like I am, you should be able to find a used copy for around $20. The sequel came out in March and was listed as one of the biggest disappointments in gaming of 2011. I haven't quite decided whether I want to pick it up, but I may check it out if I can find it for a good price to at least see why so many people were upset with DA2.