Versus Mode – Debating Dragon Age: Origins

by Kimberley Wallace on May 26, 2014 at 03:00 AM

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features managing editor Matt Bertz and associate editor Kimberley Wallace debating Dragon Age: Origins. 

Kim: So I'm a big fan of Dragon Age. I love the world, the dilemmas, the character interactions. I know you enjoyed some of your time with it, but you had some major gripes. What didn't you like about Dragon Age: Origins?

Bertz: My party. It was the largest cast of insufferable companions I've experienced in a modern role-playing game. Let's run them down to refresh our memory. The crybaby heir to the throne who won't seize the responsibility. The moody witch who complains whenever I show some empathy to another human being. A drunk elf. A religious fundamentalist who only wants to talk about her beliefs. A grandmother enchantress who complains about being tired all of the time. And that's the group BEFORE we get to the murderers – an elf who tries to assassinate me when we first meet and a strong and silent Qunari who slaughtered an innocent family of farmers. Instead of questing with this dinner party gone horribly awry, I decided I would be better off hanging with a golem who had zero personality and my dog. Man, I really wished one of them knew some spells…

Kim: That's funny, because I actually enjoyed the party interactions the most. You had all these different personalities with different upbringings, and I felt BioWare did a good job at showing different sides to the issues. I liked that they had flaws and didn't all get along. That'd be boring. The Alistair and Morrigan banter is just pure gold. Plus, the different viewpoints really enhanced the world BioWare crafted. It also made me choose between what I believed and who I liked. That was a good dilemma to have. For instance, Wynne could get under my skin with her devotion to the Circle, but then I still respected her for the truth bombs about life she'd drop. I mean, isn't it realistic for these characters to be flawed? Do you really ever like everyone you meet in life?

Bertz: Well, that's the interesting thing. I generally consider BioWare to be great crafters of characters, from Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur's Gate to Mass Effect and Jade Empire. I loved the diverse personalities and character rivalries in Mass Effect especially, because for every complete *** like Kaiden or racist like Ashley I had two or three other characters I could slot into that tactical position that I enjoyed spending time with. But with this crew, my campground felt like the room in Sartre's No Exit. Hell was other people.

Kim: Haha! See, I think what's really interesting about Origins is how your upbringing and where you come really has an impact. Right from the start, I began making my own story, as a common dwarf. People reacted to that and I liked turning my character into a somebody. This extended to the party members. I just loved how Dragon Age used the fear of magic and created this whole structure of checks and balances around it. Morrigan rejected it. Wynne embraced it. Leliana needed redemption and devoted herself to the Chantry. It just felt like a good place to go. All these characters have different takes and it challenges you to make your own decisions. I actually put certain party members in just to hear them argue. I feel like Dragon Age is about having arguments, seeing different sides, so I felt that reflected well in having the party members so desperate for you to see it from their side. Do you think they just needed to tone it down a bit? Was it just too overdone for you?

Bertz: Extremists are rarely fun to be around, much less converse with, which is what doomed Leliana for me. Morrigan's disdain for helping other people was funny at first, but by the fourth time she chided me for lending a hand I was ready to lend her a backhand in response. You know who the best character in that game is in my opinion? Loghain Mac Tir. I loved the shades of gray BioWare used to paint this protector of the realm who always thought he was doing to right thing even when that took him down some dark roads.

Kim: I agree with Loghain. You have a point; at times characters try too hard to represent an issue, but I felt like BioWare had places where they would open up more to you and feel like people, especially if you did romance them. Oh gosh, do I dare ask if you even romanced anyone and how that went? And actually, I'm interested to see if you felt like you had to romance a character despite not liking any of them?

Bertz: Romance was definitely not in the air with any of the characters, but when a conversation option is presented I typically try to walk down that road, you know? I ended up shacking up with Morrigan, because part of me knew she wouldn't expect much in return. Holy s---, I sound like a man-whore! 

Kim: What I found interesting about Morrigan is she basically wanted to just have her way with men, use them, but if you kept at it with her, suddenly the walls would come down. However, even with that, at the end of the game, she still knew she had her own destiny and left you behind to do it. Some of the romances aren't the greatest, but boy did BioWare surprise. I went for Alistair, because Zev was too easy. I won't spoil anything for our readers, but if you play a female and romance Alistair, that end stuff with Morrigan is so messed up and tough. I think this speaks to BioWare's ability to really make you connect. If I didn't care, none of this would have worked. 

Bertz: Alistair?! I don't understand the draw whatsoever. And you were on Team Kaiden in Mass Effect as well, weren't you?

Kim: Well I had a love triangle in Mass Effect. Garrus was involved. But Garrus always felt like he was meant to be my best friend, not my boyfriend.

Bertz: Haha. Garrus is a badass. At least I get that one.

Kim: So I went for the dreamboat. 

Bertz: Did you just call Kaiden a dreamboat?

Kim: He has some great abs. 

Bertz: It's tough to see those abs when he's continually crying about his implants.

Kim: Migraines suck! Give him a break. But see this is what I loved about BioWare. People will passionately defend their choices, right down to the romances. I mean, I still don't know in Dragon Age who I support really. I feel bad for the mages. Everyone assumes they're a ticking time bomb and need to be restrained. But everything is an assumption. On the other hand, having people walk around with magic without any rules? Scary. 

Bertz: Digression aside, just because I disliked the cast of characters doesn't mean I disliked Origins. From the old-school combat to the role of magic in the world you just alluded to, I enjoy what BioWare has brought to the table with the series. I'm excited to see what the studio has in store with Inquisition. 

Kim: What do you think they need to do better in Inquisition? (You know outside of the obvious more varied environments.) Which, speaking of Morrigan, she's back for that. 

Bertz: I want to see a livelier world. In the age of Skyrim I think it's harder to get away with having stationary characters always standing around town – show me the hustle and bustle of these epicenters of commerce. Give the NPCs personality. I also hope the larger worlds introduce exploration and that my cast of companions is more endearing. I love my warhound, and would rather have him guarding my base than put him in harm's way on the battlefield.  

Kim: I'm just excited to get back in the world and see what carries over from what I've done in previous games. I'm excited they're bringing back some characters and interested in the new ones. You know me, I love my banter and arguments. So I suspect, that's going to occur even more now in the role of the Inquisitor.