Tag Archives: mage

Gameplay, Class, and Story in Dragon Age

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bioware games lately, and the role of class and race in storytelling. It was just Bioware month after all – did you catch me on Justice Points? If not, check it out.

In the typical Western fantasy RPG that lets you create your own character, there are two big choices to make at the start – the class you want to play and the race you want to be (and your hairstyle, obviously). Your class – warrior, rogue, mage are the big three though some games offer many more specific classes like druids, priests or rangers – dictates the types of abilities you can use. Your race – Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, etc. – can impact what classes you can choose and may give you certain traits or attributes.

What class you play in RPGs generally has the most impact on mechanics and how you solve problems as opposed to the narrative. Where a warrior may break down a locked door, a rogue may pick the lock or pickpocket the key, and a mage might use a Knock spell. Some games offer quests or things like guilds that can only be accessed by players of a certain class, but these generally don’t have a huge impact on the story. Combat is a big problem to be solved in most games, and class has a huge impact on that. The combat experience of a sword & board warrior is quite different from that of a spirit mage and most players have a preference when it comes to combat style.

Many RPGs can boast that your decisions and character background shape your game experience in some way, but the Dragon Age series in particular takes things a bit further. As evidenced by the name, the first Dragon Age game puts a lot of emphasis on the origin of your character. You can choose to play one of 6 different origin stories – You can be a Daelish elf or a city elf, a Dwarf Noble or commoner, or a Human Noble. Or you can be a Mage. Each of these 6 character types has it’s own unique origin story that acts as the prologue of the game, but the difference in experience doesn’t stop there. If you’re a dwarf from the Noble caste, you’ll have a different experience and understanding of what happens in Orzammar than you would if you were a human. If you’re a city elf you’ll have different conversations when you revisit the alienage in Denerim. If you’re anything but a human noble Alistair will stomp all over your heart after you make him King. Yes, this is a lingering trauma. These little differences based on your origin, along with the changes caused by your choices make the game worth replaying. That’s not where the differences end though, as the Mage class throws you a curveball. While being a warrior or a rogue makes no difference to the game’s narrative and doesn’t impact your origin story, being a Mage changes everything. When you’re a Mage you get a whole different origin story and whether you’re a human or an elf (dwarves can’t practice magic) doesn’t matter. Being a Mage trumps everything else.


Dragon Age Origins mage spells

From a narrative standpoint, this is thematically appropriate and is a great bit of world building. The tensions between the Circle of Mages and the Chantry is one of the defining parts of Thedas. When it’s discovered that someone can use magic they’re shipped off to the Circle where they live under constant surveillance, it doesn’t matter where they came from or what race they are. It makes total sense that being a Mage is going to have a great impact on your experiences in the world as opposed to being a rogue or warrior which really has no impact on story.

Choosing the Mage class in Dragon Age 2 also has a significant impact on how you experience the game. As you make your way to Kirkwall with your family, one of your siblings is killed and who it is is based on your class. If you’re a warrior or a rogue, you go through the rest of the game with your sister, Bethany, a Mage. If you’re a Mage yourself, it’s Carver, the warrior who survives and may become a Templar later on.

Bethany Dragon Age 2

Again, this makes sense from a narrative standpoint. The troubles between the Circle of Mages and the Chantry and Templars is even more at the forefront of this game, eventually reaching a boiling point. Much more tension is created by putting your sibling on the opposite side of the issue from you. Also, it aids in the ability to create a balanced party at the start of the game.

However, as much as it makes sense in the scope of the game world, having your class impact your experience of the story so much causes some issues for me. I like being a mage, I find their abilities more interesting than the other classes and I find them more fun to play. The spells have real synergy and you can change your combat strategy quite considerably based on which skill trees you invest in. There are area of effect spells, direct single target spells, spells that hit in a cone, plus buffs and heals for your party. Warriors are really dull to play. Rogues are a bit more interesting, but still rather button mashy. From a pure mechanics standpoint, I always want to play a mage. That means I’ll probably never get to see things as a Daelish elf in DA:O. In Dragon Age 2 I always have to make a choice – play the class I prefer and never get to experience Bethany’s story or choose a class I’ll have less fun with so I can see this other side of the game. It’s a long game and playing as a class I don’t like will definitely impact my enjoyment.

I can’t think of any other games where the class you choose so greatly impacts the events of the game. It makes sense, in the world of Thedas, that being a mage limits your options. But in the real world, where I want to have fun while playing games, it’s disappointing that fun combat mechanics and differing narrative experiences can be at odds with one another.

Ding!

I now have my fourth level 80. The winner of my alt race was Feyyd, the fire mage.

Four fire mages

Immediately after dinging my kind-hearted guildies let me come to a VoA run (i.e. carried me through a VoA run.) Toravon almost one-shot me every time he cast Whiteout. Thank goodness for Frost Ward. I won T10 gloves! Feyyd seems pretty lucky, I never saw anything but PVP gear when I did VoA on my hunter or druid. After the run, someone asked for a port to Dalaran. I looked through my spell book…and realised I hadn’t trained that yet, which everyone got a good laugh out of.

I also did 8 or 9 randoms. Fire AoE is so much fun: Blast Wave! Flamestrike! Dragon’s Breath! Flamestrike! Dead mage! (wait, that’s not a spell). Now I have an itch to gear up. Funny how heroics become exciting again when everything is an upgrade.

In addition to leveling my mage this weekend, my fiance and I spent some time on our little alts. We’re now level 40 and have purchased our dual-specs. He went feral and I am disc. Incoming instant dungeon queues. On Saturday we logged in at Booty Bay, where there was quite the party going on. It was the 2010 Proudmoore Pride Parade. There were fireworks, flares, disco balls and dancing naked elves everywhere. We joined in the celebration for a little while, which was a lot of fun.

Pride celebrations in Booty Bay on the Proudmoore server

In non-WoW news, the G20 is in my city this week. I find the 12-foot chain link fencing everywhere quite fetching. The security checkpoints and 6000 police officers milling about are also endearing. I’ve always wanted to live in a police state. :-/

Altoholic?

Over the last couple months I’ve been a little bored in WoW, as many people seem to be. I am quickly running out of things I want to do on my mains. Last week I decided to dust off my alts and did some questing and random dungeons for a bit of a change. I’ve never been that into alts. I like to build up my main as much as possible, but was never willing to spend a whole lot of time on secondary characters. Now that I’m actually playing my alts, I’m really having a blast.

One of my goals before the xpac is to get a 4th character to level 80, but I don’t know who it will be. There are a few contenders:

Penthesilia – Level 77 Draenei protection warrior

Penthesilia - Draenei protection warrior

My warrior has a bit of an advantage, being the highest level of my alts. She’s also a tank, so the quick queue times for randoms are very nice. Except for a brief stint as Arms in BC, Penth is all prot, all the time. Leveling prot from 1 – 60 was…interesting. Who am I kidding? It was horrific and I must have been some kind of masochist to do it. Now I find leveling as prot quite enjoyable. It’s fun to shield slam my way through mobs and be able to take on whole packs at a time. Prot warriors also have a lot of abilities to use. I like pushing lots of buttons.

I’ve become much better at tanking instances over the last couple times I’ve played. At first the prospect of tanking dungeons with a group of players I didn’t know was daunting. I was always nervous I would suck at holding aggro or be difficult to heal. I’ve gotten much more comfortable with it now. I rarely forget my cooldowns, and I’ve become quicker on taunts when some fool mage doesn’t understand that the skull over one mob’s head means “kill me first!” I even wait for healer mana before pulling.

Feyyd – Level 76 Draenei fire mage

Feyyd - Draenei fire mage

My mage is fun, but squishy. I’m quite erratic in terms of how well I play my mage. When I’m in a dungeon, I do everything I can to stay alive and help keep others alive. I’m always using my Ice Block, or Frost Nova to keep mobs away. I like to Invis. I even use my Gift of the Naaru to help heal people when I can (I can’t help it). When I’m questing alone though, I’m completely suicidal. I run head first into packs of mobs, pulling as many as I can. I completely forget about my life-saving abilities. I die a lot. I’m definitely more interested in (and better at) dungeons than solo stuff on my mage. It’s fun to DoT up a group of mobs with Living Bomb and watching the explosions go off. Fire good.

Lamens – Level 70 Blood Elf ret/holy paladin

Lamens - Blood Elf paladin

Leveling progress on my Paladin has stalled. I burned through Azeroth and Outlands then arrived at Howling Fjord and lost interest. I’m quite tired of the Northrend starting zones after doing them on four other characters. While I enjoy the utility of the paladin, Lamens doesn’t get played much. Most of my experiences with the low level random dungeons horde-side have been negative. Add 40 minute queues to that, and they become a bit of a chore.

I’m trying to build up my healing set so it’s easier to get into randoms. I healed for the first time last week and it was an interesting experience. The healing style is completely different from my druid or shaman, so it was a nice change.

Apocalyss – Level 33 Draenei shadow priest

Apocalyss - Draenei shadow priest

I created this character a couple years ago, but she was abandoned shortly after. However, my fiance rolled a new druid recently and was looking for a leveling partner. I was happy to oblige by dusting off my priest. I’m really liking it. DoTs are great, I’ve been having lots of fun Psychic Screaming mobs in dungeons and Mind Control is cute too. I also love Power Word: Shield. I can’t wait to get to level 40 and dual-spec Disclipline.

There are only two problems I’m having so far with my priest. First, no AoE until level 75?!? Ahh! Also, there are five different things to buff yourself with every 30 minutes (more often for some) which gets a little tedious. Regardless of those two things, the priest is a lot of fun and it’s nice to play with my sweetie. I predict Apocalyss will level up very quickly.

I also have one alt that is level 80 who I don’t play much:

Hettu – Level 80 Tauren restoration shaman

Hettu - Tauren restoration shaman

One of these things is not like the others…

Hettu was my main Horde character from the beginning of Wrath until midway through Ulduar. I enjoyed shaman healing for a while. Direct, non-instant healing was interesting to master after druid healing for so long. I really liked the Lesser Healing Wave/Riptide spot healing approach. Then came the game breaker. Chain Heal was buffed, and Tidal Waves no longer reduced the cast time of LHW. It now seemed like there was little reason to cast anything but Chain Heal. That was not my idea of a good time. It also didn’t help that my guild usually ran with 7-8 healers, so healing was a little dull. I switched back to my hunter as my main, and poor Hettu was forgotten.