This isn’t just about Dragon Age, really it’s an issue for all “non-linear” “player driven” games, but one of the the biggest problems with this game is that it’s terrified I’ll break it.
Case in point. There’s a character in this game who sets you up with thief missions. In one of the missions things don’t go smoothly and it turns out that you’ve been led into a trap. After the mission you confront your connection and ask him what happened. He’ll feed you some nonsense about how he was misled and he vows that he’ll set up another job so that the two of you can get revenge.
Now here’s the thing, from my perspective this guy screwed me over, it would be totally within reason to slit the guy’s throat and leave his body in the street for stray dogs to clean up. But killing him isn’t an option.
Bioware will allow me to kill a lot of other people for much less solid reasons but this guy is off limits. Why? Because he’s still got another quest to give me. Bioware know that if they let me kill him now I wouldn’t be able to complete this strand of the plot. I get why they do this but to me it feels like moddle coddling. See I’m not stupid, I know that killing this guy means I won’t be able to complete the quest. But hey maybe I’m cool with not being able to complete the quest if it means I get to do what I feel is appropriate in the situation.
[Image via Timu_Kun]
Most big “go anywhere do anything” games suffer from this problem. The designers are so afraid you’re going to break their crafted experiences they deliberately limit your interactions with the world. Even when designers try and give us “emergent gameplay” instead of “authorial narrative” they fail at this. In Far Cry 2 why must I play along and be a mercenary thug? Why can’t I just walk into the offices of the two factions, open fire and kill their leadership?
The argument against this would be that allowing you to do that would break the game. If you killed the leadership at the beginning of Far Cry 2 you wouldn’t get your orders and the game would grind to a halt because what little purpose you had would cease to exist. But honestly I am totally cool with that. Because ultimately I can always just hit reload. You should let me break the game because you should have faith that I’ll actually want to reload and do it “properly’. You should never be terrified that I’ll miss content because if I like your game I’ll probably replay it to see what I missed.
You should always give me the final say on what my character does even if it totally screws up what you’ve got planned.
Look this isn’t some impossible to achieve pipe dream either. In 1998 the original Fallout made every NPC (with the exception of one) killable. It doesn’t destroy the game or make the plot unstable. What it does do is give the player a hell of a lot more freedom than GTA IV, Far Cry 2, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age: Origins ever do.
More importantly it makes me responsible for my actions. In Dragon Age if I can kill a guy I can be sure I’m not going to be penalised for it. That’s a strange position to put the player in. It’s a consequence free playground where evil is played “for the lols”. The argument can be made that Fallout is still a consequence free playground but at least pretend consequences are a reasonable response to pretend violence. Pretend violence that is sanctioned and protected by the game design is something different. Which isn’t to say it’s immoral or anything just that such issues become irrelevant if you drop the training wheels and let the player break the game.
Just trust us and treat us like adults. I promise we’ll be gentle.
This is the final post in a series about Dragon Age: Origins to read the first entry click here.