In the recent days, I started a new character in Dragon Age: Origins. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a Western RPG that is focused on your choices altering the epic story that is present. Its particular highlight is its origin stories, where you can play through one background story depending on the race and class you pick. This is probably going to be the 5th or 6th time I’ve played through the game, so this certainly isn’t my virgin experience with it. My first play-through back in 2009 was a Human Mage, which I chose because, frankly, mages are my favorite class. That being said, I did want to experience the other origins/character background stories, so subsequent characters had to be warriors or rogues to fulfill that end.
This time, for my new character, I was struck with the desire to create an Elven Mage. As mentioned, this is not my first ride, so going through the game I know what to expect generally speaking. Once I got to the sequence where you must climb the Tower of Ishal, however, I was struck by a sudden and surprising detail. Once you arrive at the tower, the game provides you with two NPCs so you have a full, four person party to deal with the combat. With my warriors and rogues, these NPCs have always been one mage and one warrior/rogue. With this play-through, I was taken aback by the fact both NPCs were warriors/rogues. Yet, it makes perfect sense! The mage NPC is there to balance out the team more. Since I am the one who is a mage this play-through, there isn’t a need to throw one my way for the balance. It was a small detail, but one that really left me in awe since I did not know it was a possible permutation.
This anecdote of mine leads me to my topic at last: small game details and how they enhance games. Usually when people are talking about choices that affect gameplay and/or story, they are speaking on a macro level. Did you choose a class that is going to have a huge disadvantage in a later fight but receives better rewards? Did you kill some character who would’ve become a powerful boss fight later on? These are easy to recognize cause and effects that can, of course, make the experience of multiple playthroughs worthwhile. Nevertheless, for me personally, it is the smaller details that leave me astounded. Did the game recognize I made a certain dialogue choice that, while inconsequential, seemed relevant enough to be mentioned later? Does the story reflect that my character is a bit of a jerk by giving them a tone that matches? I feel these small details are often ignored. Yet, I think they play a large role in enhancing the experience of a game, particularly when speaking of immersion.
So, with the inevitable eyebrow raises that must be present, let me explain my logic.
Visiting my above anecdote again, this change in NPC, while seemingly minor in the larger scheme of things, definitely did affect my experience. For one thing, as I mentioned, the point of making sure a mage in the party is for the sake of balance. Having two mages, while perfect for some, may not be ideal for the Tower of Ishal sequence, given how it is designed with one mage in mind. That being the case, this minor change that reflects your character’s status as a mage makes sure the player is optimized for the sequence. On a story level, I felt this change actually made the game more immersive. Rather than just feeling like one of my old characters, this character suddenly felt like their own person; the game made sure I had this little personal touch that reflected some of my base choices. In so doing, the story, while not changed on a larger scale, felt nuanced in a way that was different from my old characters. Dragon Age: Origins generally does a good job in doing this with smaller details, which allows each character to have their own story. Even if the plot points are the same and you make similar choices, the varying differences in dialogue concerning your race and class can give nuances to each character. Thus, it gives each playthrough its own hint of originality.
Please tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this three part analysis. In the next segment, I will analyze details of a game in a different genre.
Dragon Age: Origins is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.
Image: Screenshot- From the Dragon Age Keep with a screen head-shot of my Elven Mage.