When Game Mechanics Break Lore Pt. 1

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Dragon Age series.

 

As a writer and lover of world design, one of my favorite story aspects to games is their background lore.  Whether it is elves, aliens, or simply just some regular old human history, I greatly appreciate the amount of detail and depth it adds to any game world.  Even if the lore does not always play a part in the plot, I believe it is an important element if you want to have an immersive, fictional world.  Especially for those who enjoy exploration aspects, it makes the exploration more worthwhile and adds many hours of gameplay.

That being said, it can be a double edged sword.  Whether you’re writing for a game, a novel, or anything else, keeping your lore straight can be vitally important.  When it comes to having diehard fans, they will always be quick to point out when new lore makes an error.  While the severity of errors varies (from a simple typo of a year to a totally new event that doesn’t fit established history), they can potentially ruin the immersion.  These sorts of mistakes remind the explorers that these worlds they invest their time into are not real, which speaking personally, is a huge downer.

However, when speaking of these sorts of lore mistakes, one usually hears about errors in flavor text or within the story itself.  Today, I wish to talk about an incident where it was the game mechanics that broke the lore.  Namely, we’re talking about the mage class of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

blood_magic

In Dragon Age as a series, every class has specialization options that give characters access to unique abilities for combat.  The mage class in Dragon Age: Origins has four specializations: Arcane Warrior, Shapeshifter, Blood Mage, and Spirit Healer.  Rather than just having these as a mechanics that exist, the specializations are tied within the game’s lore at varying levels.  For example, Arcane Warrior is supposedly a lost art developed by the elves and therefore locked to you.  However, one may unlock the specialization by performing a certain task in some elven ruins.  In so doing, the mechanic is not just there, but encased within the game’s lore in order to make logical sense.

Of the four specializations named, however, Blood Mage and Spirit Healer are probably the two that matter the most as far as the games’ lore and story goes.  In Dragon Age lore, magic, while accepted, is frowned upon because of its raw destructive power.  As a background setup, mages are carefully watched for signs of corruption and treated as glorified prisoners in some respects.  Blood magic in particular is considered forbidden, since it is not only more powerful than mana based magic but generally involves making deals with demons.  As one might guess, blood magic is a pretty big deal in the Dragon Age world; whether you seek to become a blood mage, fight against blood mages, or anything else, it is invariably tied to a lot of quests and lore.

Now, as one might expect with games, the next iteration of the franchise changed the mechanics some in attempts to improve the experience.  In Dragon Age II, the number of specializations drops to three for every class.  This time, the available mage class specializations are Blood Mage, Spirit Healer, and Force Mage.  While the third specialization is a bit more tacked on, Blood Mage and Spirit Healer become even more important to events in the game.  For the character Anders, being a Spirit Healer is immensely tied to his whole presence in Kirkwall, the game’s setting.  The player even first finds him healing people in one of the slummier areas of the city.  Tying a specialization to a character’s background as such makes it feel very much a part of the world’s setup.

Blood Mage, however, is by far the most important specialization of any class in Dragon Age II (as far as lore is concerned).  This is due to the fact much of the conflicts in Dragon Age II are about the worry of blood magic and potential corruption in the Kirkwall Circle.  There is a lot of tension in the city because of these problems, whether unfounded or not; the end of the game is literally the beginning of a war between mages and their guardians, the Templars, after this paranoia over blood magic erupts.  The concept of Blood Mages sets up Dragon Age: Inquisition somewhat, since the world is vastly changed by this war.  Inevitably, Blood Mage is a very ingrained specialization as far as lore goes, since this part of the lore constantly informs the story.

 

Unfortunately, for all this established lore, everything starts to go downhill come Dragon Age: Inquisition.  Please tune in to tomorrow’s post to find out what went wrong in the mechanics and the lessons we can learn from their mistakes.

 

Dragon Age is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Screenshot- From Dragon Age: Origins; a blood mage taking down opposition.  Obtained from the Dragon Age Wiki.

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