This post is in the theme “A Long Waltz Through Nerddom”. Read the first.
January 12, New York: This is an inherently nerdy post. It is, in fact, so rotten with nerdstuff that I am going to divide it into two parts, one for a non-nerd audience and the second specifically for my nerds out there.
Dragon Age: Origins for the non-nerd
I stopped playing video games at some point in my teenaged years. Aided by the fact that my father never allowed us to own a video gaming system— only ever a desktop computer— gaming was something that most often happened at friends’ houses. As I grew older and moved over to Mac computers, my focus became casual games or passing the time with a little bit of Sid Meier’s Civilization. The multi-hour first-person epics were built for Playstations and Xboxes and PCs that I would never own.
It was Robin who first sold me on Dragon Age. He explained it as a fascinating evolution in story-telling techniques. Video game technology had come to a point where it could look about as good and feel about as rich as a movie, it just happened to be interactive. And the creators of Dragon Age had made an incredibly satisfying genre story— the fantasy role-playing game— with a rich and multi-branching story. This is what is great about this game: your game is substantively different based on the choices you make. Are you virtuous or are you sinister? Two different games.
I first played Dragon Age in a year that Jill and I had to spend multiple months apart. It was perfect to pass those long weeks. I would come back to my apartment and wile away the hours. This year I had less available time and it seemed to take forever. I started playing it again in July and I only just finished it in January. In all, I committed sixty hours of gameplay to this. Sixty! And you know what? It was pretty fun.
Okay, here’s the nerdstuff.
Dragon Age: Origins for my nerds
I never thought I would play this game a second time, but I’m so glad I got to. That first choice you make— who will your character be— is so deeply important. The first time, following the rules of all RPGs that the early game is easiest with a sword, I was a human warrior. Bo-ring. In Dragon Age’s real-time tactics gameplay you mostly just set the warriors off to go hack and bludgeon things and you spend your time with the mages being creative.
So this time I played it totally different: elven mage. I made my character black with dreadlocks and answered every question sarcastically. It was a very different game!
It was so much better to play the mage, especially as the game progressed. I could end a battle before it really began by charging out and firing off the right combination of spells while my warriors hung back and picked at their teeth with their battle axes. The climactic one-on-one battle with Loghain in the Landsmeet ended before his blade ever once touched my robes.
It was also a supreme advantage to have played before and remember the secrets. I got to the final battle with the Archdemon and made a beeline for the ballistae. I’m pretty sure I had to look that up on a strategy website the first go-round, after failing a dozen times to defeat it. This time? Beat the Archdemon on my first try.
Both my first play of Dragon Age and this one ended with the same resolution: I want to play more contemporary video games. Luckily, there’s a new installment that’s just out. But even beyond this one: there is a whole world of deeply complex branched storytelling out there to explore. My only challenge is being a Mac-based gamer. And also all that time. Who has sixty spare hours these days? Oh right, that’s also about the length of The Wire.
Go ahead and give in to your nerdself, buy and play Dragon Age Origins. And then, later this year, let’s all play the new one.