It's happened to all of us. After questing for hours, losing yourself in the intricacies of an immersive role-playing world, your party falls in battle. Sometimes you're legitimately outmatched by a powerful new enemy. Other times the death can be chalked up to experimentation or laziness on the battlefield. As the battle turns against you, you drop the tactical exercise and hedge your bets on your tank standing tall in melee combat and outlasting the final opponents. After all, with the handy autosave feature backing up your every move, what do you have to lose? If your gambit fails, you can simply pick up from where you left off, right? Wrong.

A few beers and hours into exploring world of Ferelden in Dragon Age, I got careless. Wandering the back alleys of the massive city Denerim, I was approached by a band of thugs who dropped all pretenses of pleasantry and drew their swords. My party was a band of seldom used characters. Sick of Leliana's bubbly spirituality, I dropped her for the rogue Zevran (who, by the way, has the worst character introduction in role-playing history. Who adopts an assassin right after they try to kill you?!). I rounded out my band of misfit companions with the sarcastic golem Shale and the ever dismissive Morrigan, who hates me a little bit more every time I take another sidequest. As the battle started, I let my new comrades run loose see if they had the mettle to find permanent spots in my party rotation. As the fight turned ugly, I came to the conclusion that without some series tactical revision, these health poultice addicts were good for nothing but draining my supplies. Rather than waste half my medical goods, I let the fight run its course in anticipation of picking up where the autosave left off. Having taken on and completed several quests around town over the last few hours, it made sense that there would be an autosave not too far in the past. Boy was I wrong.

When my last save point loaded, my jaw dropped in astonishment when I saw my former party in Honnleath. It took me a while to recollect how long it had been since I had freed the golem in that village. Retracing my steps, since my last hard save I refitted all my companions with new equipment in the party camp, had a heart to heart with Alister about the Arl of Redcliffe,  defeated the Trickster Whim on the road to Denerim, and completed countless quests within the city confines. WHERE WAS THE G@DD@*$#D AUTOSAVE?! As I sat there letting disappointment take hold, I flashed back to the countless role-playing games that burned me in the exact same fashion. Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - you name it, and I likely spewed a deluge of swear words at the screen when a save failed me proper.

I've been a fan of lengthy RPGs like Dragon Age since the first time I journeyed to Brittania in Ultima decades ago, and meticulous save files have always been a necessary part of the equation. When you're looking at an uphill climb of over 60 hours to finish the narrative and its complementary sidequests, the pain of forgetting to document your every accomplishment and the arduous trial of recompleting quests can be such a maddening experience that it ultimately breaks your spirit and makes you abandon the game altogether. Rather than picking up the pieces in Dragon Age, I ejected the disc from my console and opted for a game of Madden to cleanse the palatte.

The most frustrating part of the autosave failures is that these games are at their best when I'm not thinking of saving every five minutes. As my conversations with my companions grow deeper and the missions become more involved, I forget the necessarily mechanical dimension of interactivity, the barrier between the controller and screen disappears, and I'm left with the nakedness of the experience. With a forgiving autosave system that chronicles your every achievement or location change, this naked interaction could be preserved, even if on a whimsy I play fast and loose, falling ingloriously in a routine battle. Tomorrow I'll resume Dragon Age, but you can *** well bet I'll be hitting the start button every five minutes to make a hard save.