Game Industry Quest, Part 02

A few topics strike my fancy, one in particular related to my previous post.  GameStop has recently published a formal apology to customers along with a $50 gift card and a buy-two-get-one-free used games coupon.  With regards to their written apology, it’s…very intelligently and carefully worded, though not altogether transparent.  Still, it’s to be expected and certainly a step in the right direction.  Still, I can’t help but wonder why GameStop put themselves in such an…unenviable position.

The other topic I wanted to address was the idea of consequence in story, and with that, the Dragon Age universe as a whole.  This was something I meant to address in the last post regarding Dragon Age 2, but decided to put off as it’s a topic worthy of its’ own post, and the last post was large enough as is.  Also, I should warn any would-be readers that spoilers are fast approaching.  Consider yourself warned.

The expansion to Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (how many subtitles can a game have?) was a strong, fun effort by Bioware.  In that particular expansion, we were introduced to a new companion character named Anders.  Looking somewhat like Alistair, he behaved similarly to the bastard child of former King Maric, and was an apostate mage to boot.  He was eventually recruited by the main player character into the Grey Wardens.

Anders from Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening

I didn't do it.

His one-liners weren’t as amusing as Alistair’s, but still, he was certainly amusing.

Another character introduced in Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (most unwieldy title ever) was Justice, a spirit of Justice from the fade (the world of dreams) trapped in the dead body of a Grey Warden named Cristoff in the land of the living.  Taking the name Justice, this recruitable warrior stands ready to smite Darkspawn and evildoers alike.

Justice from Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening

For Justice...Mmm...Braaaiiins...Mmm...

A more serious character than Anders, he served as a tank for gameplay purposes.

The reason I mention these two characters is that when the game ended, I was treated to screenshots with paragraphs depicting the fate of these two companion characters.  The same occurred with Dragon Age: Origins.  For Anders, he more or less stayed with the Grey Wardens.  As for Justice, he eventually returned to the fade, leaving the body of Cristoff to a grieving widow who can now move on from her loss.

Except apparently, none of that happened.

Instead, in Dragon Age 2, I learn that Justice merged with Anders.  Justice for his part is now gone, twisted from Anders anger at the Templars to a spirit of vengeance (Ghost Rider, anyone?)  Wait…when was he so angry against the Templars?  Anders always seemed cheerful, always running away instead of being so angry all the time.  If he was so angry, I’d think he’d come off more of a brooding character (maybe more Loghain-ish) rather than the mage version of Alistair that the character began with.

This would happen to be a case where it feels like Bioware wrote themselves into a wall.  Though come to think of it, their short production life cycle may have had something to do with it.  Nevertheless, it would be best to speculate on what I know rather than what I suspect happened, and I know that by using Anders/Justice the way they did…I can’t help but wonder if it really added anything to the game.  That is, if Bioware created a new, original companion as opposed to recycling Anders / Justice, if it would have been better.  Or alternatively, did using Anders / Justice add anything to the game?  Could any original character have been put in that specific role?  I would argue that recycling these characters did not add to the game, and perhaps they could have been worked in the way Alistair and Leliana were, making cameo appearances.  A new, original character who seems angry at the world could have filled the role Anders eventually did.

To be honest, the bigger picture was how it felt like the decisions I made no longer mattered.  I knew how Anders story ended.  I knew how Justice’s story ended.  Except what I knew was apparently untrue.  It begs the question of how consequences in the game should be made to matter, especially in story-driven games like the ones Bioware develops.  By that token, I am in no way suggesting it is easy to do these things.  Keeping track of all the decisions one makes in a single Bioware game, let alone a series of games, would require supreme organization.  As Dragon Age moves forward, I am hoping that retcons (retroactive continuity, used abundantly in superhero comic books) and reboots are kept to a minimum.

With all this said, there’s a time and place for everything.  Perhaps the day will come, sometime around Dragon Age X-2, where a retcon is necessary to progress the series forward, similar to what Star Trek did with their latest film.

Ultimately, it feels like the consequences to my actions in the Awakening expansion were rendered meaningless.  And this is a trend I would like to see minimized in any story-driven series of games.  If the consequences of actions the player made are rendered meaningless, then what’s the point of telling this story in an interactive game?  Perhaps the story could have better been told in a movie, television series, or comic book.

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