In Dragon Age’s you don’t have to worry about building up light side points, renegade points or any other moral integer. You’ll still be making the same binary moral choices but Bioware have finally realised that they don’t need to keep score. Because, really, I already know when I’m being a douchebag I don’t need to be told by exactly how much.
Instead they’ve decided to try and code a rudimentary form of peer pressure. I honestly think it’s a great idea, one with a lot of promise but I’m not sure it works here. Or more accurately there was a glorious few hours where it worked and then it got wobbly.
Certain characters will approve of certain actions. Alistair the stalwart templar is suspicious of magi but mostly a Kant’s moral law kind of guy. In comparison, Morrigan the witch is a true Ayn Rand bitch all about the survival of the fittest. So if I help poor people by forcing a price gouging merchant to lower the price of his wares Alistair will approve but Morrigan will not. This will affect their individual approval rating, increase this rating enough and they gain a stat bonus from your “leadership” skills. Let it slide into the gutter and they’ll either up and leave or maybe even try and kill you.
When I had both Alistair and Morrigan in my party this really worked well. Every moral choice turns into a little debate and truthfully I never found myself siding with one or the other. I mean I probably sided with Alistair most of the time but Morrigan occasionally had a pretty good point. But then I met Wynne.
Wynne is a mage, the games grandmother character and insufferably nice. She’s also a spirit healer and in this game healers are worth their weight in gold. Wynne was a life send, before I met her I was wiping constantly and sucking down health potions like it was going out of style. There was no way she wasn’t going to be in my permanent roster. So naturally she replaced Morrigan. Suddenly there was no counter point to Alistair’s relentless cheeriness. Worse when I occasionally felt like doing something a bit more ruthless or dare I say it evil, well there the two of them were telling me it’s wrong.
And normally I’d just tell them to get stuffed and go ahead and do it anyway. But, well, these guys were vital to my team. Alistair is, for most of the game, the only warrior you meet who wields a sword and shield meaning he’s the only really effective tank in the game, and Wynne is the only really effective healer. Now I’m sure other people have different play styles and never had the same problem but I needed them. Which meant I’d be stupid to not keep them happy, which meant I had to do what they wanted.
And even if I agreed with what they wanted 100% of the time then that just means there’s literally no conflict. I enjoyed the debates because interpersonal drama is something these party based games desperately need more of.
Personally I think if Bioware try this again (which I hope they do) they need to find a way to game the system to ensure you’ve got at least two people who disagree on fundamental matters of philosophy at all times. I mean I get that people like to pick and choose their party members but I think it’s a matter of basic game balancing that we shouldn’t all end up with simpering yes men or worse become one ourselves.
Oh yeah and scrap the ridiculous DOA: Extreme Beach Vollyball gift giving mini-game.
This is part of an ongoing series about Dragon Age: Origins to read the first entry click here.
Finally: Let Me Break You