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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Tale of Two Fantasy Games

I’ve had Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for a few years now.  I did not get it on its release date, but shortly after its release.  I love the game.  I have an extremely modded version on my PC right now and I am currently playing with a vampire battlemage character.

I have had Dragon Age: Origins for a couple of months now, ever since EA decided to release the game   I wasn’t impressed with it.  I have made modifications to the game in order to make it appear more playable (like being able to break open locked chests), but for the most part, I’ve left the game untouched.  I haven’t made it past Lothering as of yet and I don’t know if I am going to continue playing.

Why did I get DA?  It came highly recommended and was free.  I also had watched various videos about the lore and felt that it was an intriguing fantasy land, much like the one depicted in Skyrim.  The differences between the worlds of Thedas and Tamriel didn’t turn me off, but the differences in how the game world is interacted with did.

For one thing, in Skyrim your character can freely roam around the province.  While there are limits placed on where you go (there are invisible walls on the borders of Skyrim), for the most part you can go where you please.  On top of that, you have options.  You can entirely avoid the main quest, be an anti-hero, be a villain, be the noble hero, get married, build a family, or just live a solitary life.  All of this while being a member of one of several different races and picking your gender.  And yes, you can even engage in gay marriage.

While DA offers a customizable race and gender, its really just done in a tongue and cheek manner.  You could easily swap out the gender and race and have the same effect really.  On top of that, you are limited to what class of character you can be based on race and gender, something that Skyrim doesn’t discriminate against.

The combat system in DA is lame and not exciting at all.  It’s basically a real-time strategy style combat which breaks the whole immersion of an RPG.  While I am usually fine with real-time strategy style combat, it just doesn’t fit here.  For a game that proposes a rich and deep fantasy setting, the combat is not very challenging or surprising.

Skyrim’s combat is actually something that fits in with the immersion of the game.  And you can choose to engage in combat in any manner you see fit for your character, from casting a spell that makes your enemies fight each other to sneaking past them and avoiding combat altogether.

But what really irks me is the fantasy setting of Skyrim versus DA.  Now I know they are not the same worlds and there are going to be significant differences, but overall, Skyrim does it better.

The world of Thedas does have its positive points.  The usage of magic is tied directly to a realm known as the Fade.  The darkspawn, the main antagonists in the game, are a very intriguing concept as well.  The elves in this world are an oppressed slave class or a bunch of rogues, far different from the usual depiction of elves in fantasy.

But we also have religion depicted in the worse possible way with the fanatics being shown to be the norm.  The main religion worships the “Maker” which sounds like a dumbed down version of the Christian God, except as far as I can tell, the “Maker” has done nothing besides maybe creating the world, though that is even in dispute.  It would not surprise if a future game revealed that the “Maker” doesn’t exist and was completely made up.

In Skyrim, however, there is religion that is depicted appropriately in a fantasy setting.  You have your fanatics, to be sure, but there isn’t a negative overtone to religion in the game.  In fact, the stories (there is more than one in the game) are presented in a manner that shows an ambiguity to it all.  It can be argued that the civil war going on in Skyrim is a religious dispute between native Nords and the foreign High Elves.

Skyrim offers both moral ambiguity and moral certainty at the same time.  DA offers only moral ambiguity and even then it limits your choices.

And I think that is the my main problem with Dragon Age: Origins: the limitation of choices.  I know, it is hard to compare to the two games and each has its own positive and negative points.  But this is what I how I see it.

I'd rather play Skyrim.