Tag Archives: story

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.

Fallout (4 ) Never Changes – First Impressions

I’ve put about 10 hours into Fallout 4 over this weekend. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the time it will take to complete the game, but I think it’s enough to get a handle on the positives and negatives of this new iteration of Fallout. I’m not writing a full review – I haven’t finished yet, and writing a review of an open world game sounds terrible. However, I do have some assorted  thoughts on the game.


  1. Character creation. For the first time in Fallout my character isn’t an ugly, blurry mess. Borrowing from DAI’s face sculpting tools, you can actually create a decent looking character in this game.
  2. Setup. For the first time, we get to see what things were like before the bombs fell. It’s brief, but we are introduced to our character and their partner and child just minutes before they’re ushered into a Vault and the nukes go off. It’s nice to have a minute to appreciate Fallout’s distinct aesthetic in its prime before the world becomes a Wasteland.
  3. Story. The game tries to give us a more urgent and personal story from the get-go, but it doesn’t succeed. As we wake up in the Vault we see our infant son get kidnapped, so we go out to find him. However once you leave the vault and get a glimpse of the wasteland, all thoughts of the creepy baby are quickly pushed aside, as exploration is much more appealing. Sure, you can tell people in conversation that you’re looking for your baby, but so far I’ve gone 10 hours without following that particular story thread. There’s no emotional attachment there and frankly it’s just not that interesting.
  4. Urgency. There really isn’t any. At least so far. However, this is a problem with pretty much all open world games, so I won’t hold it too much against Fallout 4.
  5. Voices. For the first time, the protagonist is voiced. This is a very welcome change, though the performance of the female protagonist so far is not particularly inspiring. It’s not bad, but she’s certainly no Commander Shepard. Partially this is due to the writing – the dialogue is sparse and to the point. Though there is usually a sarcastic response option.
  6. Storytelling. Where I’ve always thought the modern Fallout games excel is visual and environmental storytelling. It’s not the big arc, it’s the small ones. It’s stumbling upon a sidequest while you’re on another mission, seeing a skeleton in a car and piecing together what happened, hacking into terminals to find the real story behind a location. Fallout 4 continues to excel at this.
  7. Robots. This game is full of sassy robots, who are full of personality. Not just your companion Cogsworth, there are many robots to meet in the Wasteland.
  8. Combat. VATS is still great, the rest of combat is still kinda shit. Though I’ve been reading in other reviews that the FPS combat has improved, I’m not really seeing it. Especially at the beginning of the game when most enemies rush into melee range, I don’t find the shooting mechanics are very good.
  9. Companions. Companions are quite helpful in combat when it comes to killing things. However, they’re also in the way. Like, all the time. Going down a narrow corridor? There they are, blocking you. Trying to shoot something at a distance? They’ll become an obstacle. If anything, I think this problem may be worse here than in previous games.
  10. Explosions. One of my biggest frustrations in previous Fallout games was that I’d often get blown up in combat, and have no idea where the explosion came from. Though they have added a little icon to tell you when a grenade is near, I still get caught in mystery explosions way more than is necessary.
  11. Saving. You can quicksave your game anywhere, though autosaving doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.
  12. Crafting. Fallout 4 has introduced a rather robust crafting system where you can modify your weapons and armor. It’s an enjoyable addition so far, and it’s nice to customize things to suit your playstyle or visual preferences.
  13. Workshop. Your home in the Wasteland can be built up to our specifications through the Workshop. While initially I didn’t think this was something I’d like, I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time with it. You can build beds, new houses, plant crops, build water pumps – everything a growing Wasteland settlement needs. People you help through the game will join your settlements. It is fun to build, though the game’s engine isn’t ideal for it. Placing objects is awkward. Some kind of overhead or simplified view of things would be great. You can build electric systems to power your base, but it isn’t explained very well. The best part of this is that all the junk you find in the Wasteland – the clipboards, the old telephones – can be used to build things rather than just as vendor fodder.
    One thing I’m not liking as I go through the game is that every place where you help people can be turned into a base, with a workshop for you to build up. While making one wasteland sanctuary sounds fun, making a dozen sounds like a huge timesink. I haven’t figured out what, if anything, happens when you ignore these bases. Does it matter if they don’t have enough food or defence?
  14. Exploration. I’ve been pretty burnt out on open world games lately and I have to say, exploration in Fallout 4 is 100x more enticing than it was in games like Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition. Part of this is due to the simplicity of the map. You see icons for major landmarks, but not every single place where you can gather a resource or fight a camp of raiders. So there’s mystery. There’s a reason to explore. It’s not just a matter of ticking off every box on the map. I’m sure there will be many little locations and items that I’ll never find. And that’s okay. The locations I do find are interesting, full of great visuals and stories that don’t need to be explicitly spelled out.
  15. Finding things. At the beginning of the game I found it really hard to locate items. So many games I’ve been playing recently help the player by highlighting objects of interest in some way, and Fallout doesn’t do this. Now that I’m a few hours in, I’ve gotten used to it, and it makes things feel less game-y.
  16. Text. Fallout has some of the best in-game text entries. RPGs are generally full of lore and codex entries, books and letters. I hate reading them. In Fallout most text is found on terminals, and I read every word. Text entries are put in the right places. It’s not just general knowledge or lore, these entries tell you about the places you are in  and the people who live (or have lived) there. They often tell a story from multiple points of view, they can contain hints of where to find item stashes, point you to other interesting locations. Log entries tend to be darkly humorous and the fact that you often have to hack into these terminals to find the information just makes it that much more intriguing. Reading information in Fallout feels like reading someone’s journal, not like reading a textbook.
  17. Overall. Fallout 4 feels like Fallout. The good parts of Fallout 3 are there – the exploration, environment, the storytelling within particular locations, the dark humour. And the bad parts are still there – the combat is mediocre, it doesn’t look as good as other current games, the story doesn’t have any urgency. Though some new mechanics have been added, I don’t find that the existing ones have been improved much. I wouldn’t want a ton to change, but it’s been five years since New Vegas, some refinements would be nice.

If you prefer videos, I’ve also done a mini video review. It covers some of the same stuff, and includes some gameplay footage.