Jennifer has been a gamer chick for over a decade, but particularly enjoys the "Mass Effect," "Red Dead Redemption," and "Far Cry" series.
If anyone knows anything about me, it's that I become extremely invested in the video games I play to the point at which I—gasp!—actually learn something. I have done a similar piece for Far Cry 3, which taught me more than I'd like to admit, and Dragon Age was equally educational but a little easier on the nerves. And so, in a symbolic gesture of appreciation, here are the five things I learned while playing Dragon Age.
1. Get to Know Yourself
I believe that in role-playing games, we project ourselves and the people we'd like to be into our characters. This is true for my little female elf warrior, Minerva, who was both brave and highly prone to getting walked all over by her companions. I cringed whenever I made a decision that reflected poorly on her image, causing her party members to lose approval points. I cried inwardly when Alistair broke her heart (more on this later) and cheered her on when she told him to bugger off towards the end. As with many characters from role-playing games, part of the experience is watching your beloved character grow and progress through the experience. At the end, depending on how long you've been playing the game, your character becomes a kind of digital friend that you'll probably have to say goodbye to.
Yes, these observations define my nerdiness. And no, I'm not ashamed.
After the Mass Effect trilogy came to a close with the death of its main character, I drifted through life in a daze for a month. It was a bad time for me. Dragon Age didn't have such an enormous impact on me because of the way that some things played out, but I did care about some of my people and most certainly about my little warrior. So essentially, inject as much of yourself into your character for a truly genuine experience. Observe your characters closely because your own truth lies within them. Looking back on my first Dragon Age experience, I was able to relate much more closely to this character than my badass Shepard from Mass Effect; she, like me, was often not taken seriously because of her short stature and was typically the first choice for people who just wanted to use someone. So, in reality, I believe that we enjoy putting ourselves into our virtual people's shoes because it makes us happy to see at least a little part of ourselves achieve.
Note: this does not apply if your character is classified as "chaotic evil," because we don't need any more of those in the world.
2. Never Shy Away
Bioware has a track record of slamming their games' main characters with impossible burdens. In Mass Effect, it was saving the universe. In Dragon Age, it was saving the world from the Darkspawn infiltration. Single-handedly, the main character is responsible for traveling to all ends of the known world, uniting each race of that world under a singular banner, and convincing these races to accept the fact that most of their members would perish in the ensuing battle.
I felt sorry for the main character of Dragon Age. She just had so much going on. Save the world, kill Alistair, unite the various races of Ferelden, lead them into battle against the Archdemon and his minions. Easy enough, right? Wrong.
What I really did learn during the progression of the game because of these expectations was how to prioritize better. Getting everything completed is difficult work and takes self-discipline, motivation, and most importantly, the ability to prioritize.
(Which is why setting up Oghren with his former flame came before meeting the Archdemon on the battlefield.)
But the game itself—and especially if you've downloaded the DLC—is expansive and has the potential to occupy its gamers for months at the earliest. So if you really want to live the Dragon Age experience, prioritize so that you are able to complete everything in a timely yet enjoyable fashion.
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3. Never Trust the Pretty Boy or the Pretty Girl
I fell for it—the same trap that has ensnared many female Dragon Age players: Alistair. Boy, do I hate that guy now.
Essentially, the main character and Alistair enjoy a cute romance for most of the game until it is decided that he will assume the kingship of Ferelden. And then, without ceremony, he breaks up with the main character, refusing to answer any of her questions and leaving her with very little information and a rage-filled heart.
I was seriously upset about this situation. How dare he dump me, and where the hell else is he going to go? I haven't been dumped in years! No one else wants him! Thanks, Bioware, for that little surprise side of heartbreak.
There is also the question of the interaction with Morrigan. She has the potential to break your heart at some point during the game, regardless of whether your character is male or female. She is also somewhat of a shady lady, with her witchy and manipulative ways. I learned too late to watch out for her, and if you've already played this game, you'll know why. But if you haven't, develop a relationship with her and then sit back: she's full of surprises!
4. The Difficulty Level
I learned during Dragon Age that it's okay to turn the difficulty level down...and keep it down. For the entire game. Just to be safe.
I was having difficulty staying alive for the first couple of hours of the game. It might have been that my character was so weak and I just kept running into higher level characters who could eat both me and my entire party as a snack, and eventually I had to turn the difficulty down. With Mass Effect 3, I was able to keep it on the highest level of difficulty but I just couldn't hang in Dragon Age. It's an awful thing to have to do, but if the rate at which you die affects how enjoyable the game actually is, it's a necessary sacrifice.
Just do it. No one else will know. In fact, doing so might even affect the quality of your gaming experience.
Imagine doing something that is incredibly difficult to the point at being nearly impossible. Then imagine that despite this, you continue to do this incredibly difficult and nearly impossible thing over and over again (Note: please refer to my Far Cry 3 article for the definition of insanity). Now, contemplate how much more enjoyable things might be if you make them easier. This isn't an argument about whether or not to try to succeed to accomplish something that's difficult; rather, it's a simple suggestion that perhaps the philosophy should be "work smarter, not harder" more often than it's not.
5, Explore More
There was so much to see in Dragon Age, and equally as much to accomplish. I am usually not one for exploring the landscape—especially when there are enemies around every turn—but exploration become more pleasant as the game went on. Orzammar was one of my favorite places in the game and there are several locations within its walls to get into, including the Diamond Quarter and the Shaperate. I also came to appreciate the various estates that I could wander around without being harassed too much or too often. Simply put, there are a lot of beautiful things to experience in this game, and the graphics aren't too bad even for the first game of the series.
On one occasion, however, I explored a little too much. On the mountain top, I stumbled into the lair of the High Dragon, completely unaware that this place was both a lair and home to a dragon. My equally oblivious party members followed faithfully behind as I wandered over the the gong, activating it and thus awakening the dragon. Needless to say, I was dead in about 30 seconds. Cue the pity laughter now.
I typically struggle with the open-ended world parameters of games such as World of Warcraft; there is usually so much to do and see that it becomes too much of an experience for it to be enjoyable. However, Dragon Age employs a somewhat abbreviated version of an open world, providing you with plenty of places to wander through while still providing boundaries of where you can actually go. It is a great game for open-ended exploration, and you'll need to be adventurous in order to earn the coveted "Wanderer" achievement anyway.
Dragon Age is an entertaining game, and depending on the type of character you choose to play, your beginning story changes so that your experiences are different each time you begin. It is lengthy and exaggerated at times, but the moral of this story is to project yourself into your character and hang on for the ride. Avoid Alistair, put your explorer cap on, and get out there to experience a medieval world full of thrills and terror. Oh, and learn something while you're at it!
Will on September 15, 2018:
Ive played thru all of both mass effect and dragon age. The relationship aspect of as always been one my favorite parts of those games. Allowing for multiple play thrus, with totally different endings.