Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hype Backlash is Back

So a game is released within the Dragon Age universe, and reception is mixed. Would it make a Grey Warden proud? Once again, it seems, the real story is not the game itself, but an initial negative reaction towards Dragon Age II which may well have been unwarranted; the demo is simply not a good representation of the final product. We are speaking, of course, of hype backlash. Sure, the fact that the character creation has been narrowed down to only humans is a letdown, since, if you are anything like me, you might have played Dragon Age: Origins as an Elf Rogue, and even a Human Mage, but never as a boring Human Noble; at least Alistair was a "royal bastard."

Yet the story, or backstory, is quite astute, and it expands on ideas from Origins. The conflict between the Templars and the Mages has now become exacerbated; both see each other as extremists. Other groups, like the cryptic Qunari, are occupying the city with military force. In the middle of all of this, is the Hawke family, to which your character belongs, having fled the Blight in Ferelden. Their rags-to-riches drama unfolds against the above-mentioned backdrop of social unrest. With some exceptions, most characters are well-rounded, though it is the Elves who steal the show; from Merrill to Fenris, and Tallis, who appears on dlc, and should have had a more vital part.

The Witcher 2, gorgeous as it was, was lacking not only in combat, but in an engaging story which went beyond politics. For a story to work, it has to have some degree of melodrama mixed in; a perfect example of this is the second season of the series Game of Thrones. DAII offers multiple pairings which create sparks, especially from the second act onwards. There is Merrill and the Dalish Keeper; Merrill in particular being so well portrayed, she is clearly DAII's own Morrigan, given her importance, except she is a Blood Mage, not an Apostate.

Then there is Anders, a Mage and ex-Grey Warden, whose inner turmoil is shown literally, as he is the host for a spirit called Justice. Aveline is a Templar who, given her occupation, is wary of any and all Mages; her character represents a strong woman, and done so with much class. Varric seems like a one-note character, that is, until we see his relationship to his greedy brother develop. And these are just the main characters, not the ones involved in bureaucratic intrigue.

There is something about the art design; it is much too pristine, not dirty enough, and hence not too evocative of Origins in that regard. Even the Game of Thrones RPG looks more lived-in. This is no accident, though, it is a clear artistic design decision relating to Kirkwall. Considering the fancy interlude animations, it's as though a graphic designer was in charge of some of the art design. I am led to believe that the decision was made to keep the Morrigan story for a third act perhaps, and introduce a contained story in this second act, so newcomers could get in on the action. With all the great stories being told in gaming, one can't help but wonder, after Ricciotto Canudo claimed that film was the seventh art and then Claude Beylie stated that television was the eight and comics were the ninth art, if videogames deserve to be finally called the tenth.