I’m very early into Dragon Age II and I’m already losing interest. The kicker is—I’m not sure if it’s really Dragon Age’s fault.
Dragon Age I/II are both “high fantasy” games. We all have different ways of defining high fantasy and low fantasy and “grim” fantasy. Wikipedia has definitions if you are so inclined to read them. I find that as useful as the introduction to understanding poetry in Dead Poet’s Society. Just rip it right out.
I prefer my fantasy games and fantasy role-playing grounded in reality.
That doesn’t mean I am anti-elf or anything like that. You can make your world as fantastical as you want and I’m in, but it needs to have a proper context for human behavior – assuming your game world has humans in it.
Let’s start with an early scene in Dragon Age II and yes, this has spoilers of a sort so if you haven’t played it and can’t stand the thought of a minor scene being spoiled, well, stop right now….
You are trying to figure out a way to get into Kirkwall. It’s a large city with guards everywhere trying to keep the riff raff out because it’s overcrowded with refugees after the Blight. You start smooth talking the guard/captain fellow and he’s considering letting you in or at least contemplating it after you start name dropping. These other folks (all walking around in heavy armor which is something else I always find silly in these games) start to get pissed off. They’ve been waiting for four days to get into Kirkwall and here you come up with your merry band and this guy is considering doing it!
Well, obviously there is nothing else to do but THROW DOWN!
You mean to tell me these six or seven guys are going to ATTACK the group, in broad daylight, in front of the city gates, with umpteen guards sitting around watching it happen? The thought of death never crossed their minds I take it?
Continuing on, as the dead people, who simply wanted to walk into the city, lay in the streets, I try to get into the city. I team up with a mercenary who asks me to go kill some guys who owe them money. Wow, that’s quite the request but since I didn’t like the look of the smuggler chick (who was the other option to get into the city) I tell the merc that we’re in.
So, when do we leave? Cover of night? Do we have a disguise? Are we framing someone for this? I’m totally ok with cold blooded murder just give me the plan, man!
Oh…those dudes right around the corner? What…I just go up and start blasting them with fireballs? That is, I assume, highly illegal – and the guard is like…RIGHT THERE. This is out and out murder we’re talking about. I know these dudes are nasty and owe you money but come on…where am I, Deadwood?
Again, I’m poking fun at Dragon Age II when most RPGs do this.
But compare that scene with Assassin’s Creed II. If you kill a guard or get caught stealing money or even just walk around the rooftops and you’ll get chased down by the local authority. Makes sense, right? This level of “realism” goes a very long way in establishing your world as a believable one and right now Dragon Age II is as believable as a remake of Ishtar and it has nothing to do with it being a “fantasy” game.
I want the NPCs, especially the non-monster ones, to care about life and limb unless they have no other choice but to draw a sword or raise a firearm. Fighting in RPGs needs to be dangerous – life and death dangerous and I don’t mean just by raising the level of difficulty which usually doesn’t change the design but rather just adds a level of masochism to the equation. If it means less but more dangerous fights then so be it.
Perhaps the fights in Dragon Age II change as the game continues; I’m still very early on. But when I see people so eager to draw a sword and kill each other over seemingly trivial reasons it removes me from what I feel is such an important part of a game like this — when combat becomes less a thrill and more of a grind I start to think that I’d rather be playing Shogun 2.