Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Texture Pop: Episode 1: The Fate of Destiny

This is the premier episode of a new podcast series I will be doing with my friends Sam, Chris, and Garrett. We basically discuss what we have been doing in our spare time. Fortunately for you, this typically results in long conversations on all things geeky.

Fair warning though, this thing is a good 2.5 hours long. Hopefully, you have a long commute to work in which to listen to this.

0:00:00 Introductions
We spent this time talking about the overuse of Hitler, Crispy Creme, and pot in O-High-O. I would say I'm sorry for this, but that'd be a big lie.

0:02:47 I finished Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall,
I just wrote an article on Shadowrun Returns that came out today, so there's no point in doing into much further detail about it. Still, I would easily recommend that game. The reason Sam knew what I was going to say about it was that it was our second attempt at recording this podcast.

0:11:19 I finished The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 4
I honestly don't have too much more to say about Season 2. I just wish I had the impression that it was going somewhere. Between that and The Wolf Among Us, TWAU blew this season out of the water. I'd be interested in comparing the sales of both games, because I wonder if they reviews for The Wolf Among Us have been able to give it comparable sales to the hype coming off of the first season of The Walking Dead.
We also talk briefly about post-apocalypse logistics and how much we loved the first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead.
Also, here's a link to the imdb of the show that Sam and Chris were talking about during this segment.


0:25:30 I have been playing Kingdom Hearts 1.5: Final Mix
My fanboy-ism aside, Kingdom Hearts 1 aged very well. One thing I forgot to mention is that many of the bosses were recolored in the Final Mix. Purists would probably be upset, but I thought the recolors really added something to the boss designs.
I do want to add that not adding voices to the new scenes was both really cheap and REALLY lazy on the part of Square-Enix.

0:30:45 We take a brief detour to discuss Extended Play, G4, and Adam Sessler
I do miss that show, but after hearing all of Adam Sessler's stories of his work on G4, I'm glad that stopped. I don't need people to go through misery to produce my entertainment. That show had some ups and downs, but it was fun to watch. Again, best of luck to him and the former G4 guys in their current/future endeavors.
Then we go into a few of his "controversies." Specifically the ones regarding God of War: Ascension.

0:38:10 I started watching Season 1 of The X-Files.
I know that I'm more than a bit behind when it comes to this, but that's exactly why the internet exists!
And I take this chance to make a stupid pun. I REGRET NOTHING!
The reason I grow quiet in this segment is because the guys start talking about episodes I haven't seen yet.
I also completely forgot The X-Files had a video game at some point.


0:49:34 Garrett bought Guild Wars 2.
And we skip over that without talking a whole lot about Guild Wars.

0:50:15 Garrett played the Destiny Beta (and it's fuckin' boring).
I agree with Garrett that the whole Borderlands-esque semi-MMO elements to the game really don't add a whole lot. As another who has played the Beta, I found it immensely boring.
I should note that all the systems are polished and competently designed. The issue comes from the complete lack of variation. This COULD be reasonably explained by the fact that it's in Beta. However, if that's the case, then why release it to the public in that state. After all, this Beta is only to function as a stress test. The core design should be close to finalized by now.
And the plot, from what I have seen, is just too mystical for me to really get into. I can't help but compare it to Kingdom Hearts and Star Wars in its simplicity.
Sam makes a good point here. At least in Borderlands, although the core mechanic is shooting, each character feels unique thanks to their power set and distinctive silhouette. Even if different classes in Destiny are different, they look the same. Since I didn't play the other 2 classes, I can't be 100% sure, but it feels like they aren't different.

1:25:40 Chris's turn begins, and he played Shovel Knight
Chris's comments about Shovel Knight remind me of Egoraptor's sequelitis videos. Specifically, this one where he makes fun of the industry's tendency to over-tutorialize. Considering that we mention Game Grumps in this segment, there's some irony there.
I actually love it when developers make place those kinds of Easter Eggs in their products. It's a nice little touch.

1:33:25 I detour to talk about Kingdom Hearts again.
To be clear, the Proud Mode from the original Kingdom Hearts is not present in Final Mix. It is completely replaced with Final Mix: Proud. Now that I'm in the late stages of the game, and have access to a lot more skills, this is less of a factor than it was in the early game.
Also, I should learn to never worry about trophies. I don't know what I was thinking. X_X
Chris is being the smart one here.

1:36:45 Chris plays Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.
The "uncompressed audio" joke is a reference to Titanfall. That game's install on PC is 50 GB because all the game's audio (for all languages) is uncompressed.
As for Sly Cooper: TiT, the game is actually a really good homage to the original trilogy. I'm glad it was released, even if I felt it was a bit easy.
The Spyro and Jak & Daxter concept art in their respective links.

1:43:45 Chris talks a bit about playing Tribes: Ascend.
I don't have much to add here at all.

1:48:50 Chris discusses his experiences in Titanfall and we go into AI voices.

1:51:55 Chris detours to new information regarding Avengers 2.
And I learn new things about the Marvel Universe.

1:56:00 Continuing with our movie discussion, we all start to talk about how sick we are of grimdark.
I stand behind my theory that darkness in media is partially a reflection of the way we think our world is worse than it actually is. It's actually pretty sad to think about. Hopefully, we can get some more positive movie messages out there to help counteract all this grimdark.
I should also remember to tell Chris to stop looking at the Escapist forums. No good can possibly come from that.

2:03:30 Sam played Counter Strike: Global Offensive

2:06:55 Sam purchased Gods Will Be Watching

2:08:25 Sam talks about how he lost all of his computer files by install Windows 7.
And the rest of us wonder why he never performed a backup.
This also happens to be how we lost the first of three recordings of this episode. This show was slated to start last week, but we lost the recording.
Like I said in the podcast, losing that many saves and that much progress might cause me to cry and scream. Just one 100% complete save put me in a mad tirade back in middle school. That, might make me stop gaming for a few weeks.

2:23:05 We briefly return to comics to talk about Spawn, Spidey, Cyclops, and other bizarre crap.
To talk a bit about Image Comics. The summery is that Image Comics was originally founded as a safe haven for artists to keep their IP. Then, Todd McFarlene basically destroyed that haven later on.

2:26:30 We end the podcast.
You can find my Shadowrun Returns article here and my game length article here.

Impressions #9: Shadowrun Returns

In the time I have been writing about video games, I have gone back to play many games from the past. A great portion of those game were old RPGs like the first few Fallout games, Baldur's Gate, and Planescape: Torment. As a result, I have become familiar with the tropes, designs, mechanics of CRPGs. This is what inspired me to play a game on my Steam list that has been out for a while, but I had never played: Shadowrun Returns. For the record, I am not referring to the shooter called “Shadowrun”, released in 2007. Rather, I am talking about the Kickstarted CRPG developed Harebrained Schemes. Having just completed the Dead Man's Switch module that came with the game, and the Dragonfall module released later as DLC, my mind is still fresh with thoughts on it.

Given the modular, user-generated content focus of the game, it is great that one of Shadowrun Return's greatest draws is its setting. I would feel incredibly comfortable saying that the Shadowrun RPG setting is one of the most interesting ones out there. Though this is ignoring some of the finer minutia of the lore, the basic gist of Shadowrun's world is that our world ran as it normally did, until an event known as the Awakening happened. Afterwards, magic came to the world, along with many of the typical fantasy races such as elves, trolls, and so on. Furthermore, world governments have weakened in power, leaving private corporations to fill the vacuum. Mercenaries called Shadowrunners (which will typically include player characters) get hired by various people in different positions of authority to complete jobs and acquire their next paycheck. Without a doubt, the mix of science fiction and fantasy, combined with the highly political relationships among corporations, lead to a lot of potential for many diverse and interesting modules/campaigns.

And with such potential, it is crucial for Shadowrun Returns to have a robust character creator. Fortunately, the game has exactly that. Whenever the player starts a new module, they must create a new character for that module. If players wish, they can directly spend their initial karma, which is the equivalent of experience points in Shadowrun, on the various skills available to them. Alternatively, they can select one of six pre-made classes to help guide them. The first is the Street Samurai, which focuses on weapon skills. Next is the Mage, who is an expert in spellcasting. After that is the Decker, who can infiltrate the Matrix, a more advanced version of the internet, in order to acquire files and hack various devices in the world. The Shaman can summon totems. A Rigger can control combat drones. And lastly, a Physical Adept can use their chi energy to augment their physical abilities.
As players complete missions in a module, they gain more karma. That karma can be used to enhance attributes, improve old skills, or unlock new skills. It is crucial to develop a character's stats, because that determines the caps for their skill. For example, Ranged Combat relies on the Quickness stat. If my character has a 4 in Quickness, they can only have a maximum of 4 in Ranged Combat. The fact that both stats and skills are raised with the same resource encourages players to specialize. In general, there are not many “wrong” builds in Shadowrun Returns. Should the player specialize in only a handful of skills, they will generally find themselves able to handle most situations. Even outside of combat, a specialist would usually be able to find a dialog prompt that requires those talents.

On the other hand, what better use is there for your character and their abilities than to fight. Shadowrun Returns utilizes a system extremely similar to the one found in X-Com: Enemy Unknown. In fact, they are so alike that players of the latter will feel quite at home here. Turns have one phase each for the player, the enemy, and any neutral parties. On the player's turn, their character and any allies accompanying them each get 2 Action Points. AP can be spent completing action like firing a weapon, changing position, casting a spell, or going on Overwatch to intercept an enemy on their phase. Each enemy will also get 2 AP on their phase. Phases will alternate until either all player characters or all enemies have been defeated. At the end of combat, the player party's most recent wounds will be healed. Both modules contain many interesting and varied enemy formations. Combined with a very solid system, this allows for highly tactic combat. Finding strong positions, taking cover, and keeping pressure on the enemy are key to keeping the player and their entourage in good enough condition to fight on.

However, there is one element that RPGs thrive on above all others, their stories. Fortunately, both the Dead Man's Switch and Dragonfall modules are extremely strong in this category. To avoid spoilers, I will not speak directly about the plots to either of these games. However, I will say that the writing is top notch. Since the game uses an isometric 2D style, and does not have voice acting, the script has to be strong enough to make up for that. Rather than animate the characters, the dialog box is also filled in with descriptions like “She's hiding it well, but you can tell she's clearly out of her element.” It is very literary in the way scenes play out, letting players use their imaginations to great effect. Both stories also have a very steady build-up and pacing. Lasting only about 12 hours each, both narratives take a decent amount of time to clear without overstaying their welcome.
Dead Man's Switch ends on a bit of a low note with regards to its final dungeon, but it is otherwise very solid, if a bit on the easy side. On the other hand, Dragonfall does a very good job of stepping up the difficulty without being overly frustrating thanks to its smart level layouts and enemy design. It is also much more open than Dead Man's Switch's comparatively linear story. While both stories will eventually funnel players to the same end, Dragonfall feels much more organic and responsive to player action than Dead Man's Switch. There are obvious, yet subtle ways in which the world reacts to what the player does in the game. In any case, both modules have solid stories with intelligent and thoughtful design.

Shadowrun Returns is a truly impressive game in my opinion. I enjoy it so much that I would feel extremely comfortable calling it one of my favorite RPGs of all time, even more than Planescape: Torment. And Dragonfall is an excellent expansion to the game. Given the modular nature of the product, I am excited to see what kinds of creations players have made/will make. The setting and the mechanics are so solid that I rarely found myself in a position where I did not want to keep playing the game. Should you be someone interested in RPGs, I could not recommend Shadowrun Returns enough. You owe it to yourself to check it out if you have not already done so.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#73: THIS GAME IS TOO LONG!: The Myth that Length is Objectively Good

As an amateur, avid game critic, I follow gaming news and releases religiously. As I read press statements, game descriptions, and reports on games soon to be released, there is a sentiment that I repeatedly see among them: One that I cannot agree with. There is a notion from publishers, developers, and their fans that the length of a game should be a compelling selling point. A game that has “50 hours of content” should be more compelling than a similar game with “20 hours of content”. I see why this is an easy mistake to make. Nonetheless, this assumption is incorrect. Length in games cannot, and will not, ever be an indicator of a game's overall value. This week, I aim to explain exactly why that is.

The biggest reason for this is that the amount of content says nothing about the overall quality of that content. I have mentioned this point a few times in earlier pieces, particular a few pertaining to Assassin's Creed 3, but it is one that bears both repeating and elaborating on. A game can claim that it contains “40/50 hours of content”, as Watch_Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag both famously did. However, that point does not say how good or how bad that content is. For example, Assassin's Creed 3 is now infamous for how bad it was, especially in comparison to earlier entries in the franchise. Yet it sold itself partially on the claim that it had many untold hours of gameplay.
Hindsight has revealed it to be a pox on the franchise. The tale of Connor Kenway had terrible writing with laughably camp antagonists. Missions were overly linear to the point where even the exact path players took to their assassination was determined by the game. Collectibles and side content did not serve any purpose nor provide an adequate enough challenge/reward to be gathered for their own sake. Lastly, the ending is a standout for bad endings in games, even when the game was released in the same year as Mass Effect 3. Though the game has many, many hours of content, a lot of it is not particularly good. The only real standouts are the parts with Connor's father, Haytham. Were all, or even most, of the game's offerings up to snuff, many hours of it could be a fantastic selling point. However, in the context of the game, all that content ends up being a negative. Other games like Watch_Dogs can be said to suffer the same fate in different ways.

That being said, there are other dangers to relying on the length of a game as a measure for value. When it is, the temptation arises for developers to artificially add more content into the game. As a direct result of these additions, the game's pacing can be negatively affected. I posit that happened in the creation of Dragon Age: Origins. I already laid out the premise of The Fade in last week's post and discussed how it hurt the overall game, along with The Deep Roads. While I cannot be sure of it, I am willing to claim that at least The Fade was added in after the fact in order to reach some artificial length for an average playthrough. It is the kind of section that has almost no bearing on anything else in the game, not even in the Circle of Magi module that it is a part of. Modders have proven this to be true thanks to “Skip the Fade”. There are other such examples of content that feels artificial even in other games, like the Navajo scene in Beyond: Two Souls or latex nuns in Hitman: Absolution. Most of them contribute adversely to the narrative pacing.

My final reason for why length of a game does not make for a good measure of quality is that using it in such a way could end up lowering the overall quality of a game's content. My logic for this is as follows: A developer who believes that quantity is important will attempt to provide as much content for their consumers as they possibly can. Creating all this content requires the developer to spread their resources thin so that more content can be created. When content is created with such limited resources, it will be lesser in terms of quality. Therefore, creating as much content as possible will result in at least some of that content being not as good as it otherwise could have been. While treating length as the end-all-be-all does not necessarily imply that a game will be poor, I would be willing to make the claim that, using this logic, it is safe to conclude that it raises the odds of a lesser quality.

As a final note to this piece, I want to say that I do not mean to say that length should not be a factor in purchasing decisions. What I actually mean is that it should not be treated as the most, or even one of the most, important considerations. When a developer says that there is game “has X hours of play”, you should sit down and think for a second. You should wonder if the game's design was affected just so that the publisher could use that length as a talking point when discussing the final product. Marketers do count on us being easy to manipulate. That is just the nature of their job. It is the responsibility of us, the audience and the consumers, to be aware and to think about why and how our games were designed the way they are.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

#72: Narrative Pacing: The Oddity of Games

It has been some time since I finished my adventures in the world of Dragon Age: Origins and its various DLC packs. To that end, I have been comparing my experiences with that game to others that I have played. What I was pondering through this introspection is the question of narrative pacing in the world of video games. As with most properties of storytelling, the general rules governing narrative pacing undergo changes when applied to this new realm of media. Since a lot of my problems in Dragon Age: Origins came from its pacing, and Awakening felt better because it improved said pacing, it would be pertinent to contemplate the topic in this week's post.

One of the things that stands out most to me with regards to video game pacing is how players are willing to wait a little longer for the plot to advance, in comparison to consumers of other media. In a book, if the plot was about solving a murder mystery, and then the author spent an entire chapter discussing the philosophical nature of crime scene investigation and criminology, people would wonder why that decision was made. While that information may certainly be tangentially related to the plot and interesting in and of itself, it would not be relevant to the mystery and the main plot of the book. Film also has this kind of problem. If a movie character in a spy movie was talking to another character, then some random bad guys step into the scene for the protagonist to beat up for five or ten minutes, followed by the protagonist resuming their conversation where they left off, the audience would be completely confused. They would think to themselves what the point of that detour was, why it took so long, and why it was not cut from the final product.
However, this is demonstrably not the case in video games. As players, we accept when a conversation in a video game is interrupted by an attack by random gang-bangers. In fact, that tends to be fairly normal as far as games are concerned. The reason is pretty obvious. People purchase video games so that they may play video games. It is okay for the story to briefly take the backseat, because more often than not it is not the reason players are sitting on their couch with a controller in hand. We can comfortably go dungeon crawling for about an hour or so without any advancement of the main plot until the end. The model of story->gameplay->story->gameplay has been a mainstay in gaming for as long as games began to focus on their narratives. Most other mediums would consider it weird for the plot to go so long without advancing in a meaningful way, but that is so common that it still remains a very ingrained model for game designers.

Less, but still fairly, common is when the story of a game takes a detour in order to prolong the length of a game and allow for more gameplay. These kinds of additions can be hit or miss, depending on their context. For example, Fort Frolic is one of the most loved segments of the original Bioshock game. In terms of the central conflict of Atlas vs. Andrew Ryan, nothing major is accomplished in Fort Frolic and the plot comes to an overall standstill. Having said that, both the environment Fort Frolic and the madness of its master, Sander Cohen, are so interesting that most players either would not notice or would not care. Though it adds nothing to the narrative, the game is richer for the existence of this content.
By contrast, The Fade in Dragon Age: Origins is one of the most reviled example of this going wrong, for good reason. While attempting to rescue the mages in the Circle Tower, the player party is ambushed by a Sloth Abomination and forced into a deep sleep. In the world of Dragon Age, a person's soul is in a spiritual realm called The Fade, home to both divine and demonic entities alike, when sleeping. This sets up a three hour segment where the protagonist needs to break out of The Fade, rescuing his/her other party members in the process. Like Fort Frolic, it does not serve any real purpose beyond adding length to the game. Unlike Fort Frolic, it is not interesting enough in its own right and drags too long to hold the attention of the player. Along with the Deep Roads, The Fade has a major negative impact on the pacing of the game. It is so reviled that there are mods whose sole purpose is to remove that one section from the game. Regardless of the rest of the game, the mere existence of this content does make Dragon Age: Origins lesser.

There is also the fact that gaming is a unique medium in that the skill of the player can also have a direct impact on the pacing. A skilled, or veteran player will have an easier time completing individual sections of a given game, resulting in an overall faster pace than a newcomer/novice player. Books and films have easier times in pacing themselves because they do not require such skill, thanks to their passive natures. The game has a tougher time because the mechanics need to be paced as much as the plot or any individual gameplay section needs to be. Even then, there always exists the possibility than a player will never finish a game because they just cannot complete a difficult mission. It is a unique challenge that I truly do not know how to overcome.

In the end, it is hard to determine if there is a specific pacing that can appeal to the most people. Like many things in life, it comes down to the individual to decide if a game's pacing is fit for them or not. Movies and books tend to have very specific formulas for the way they are paced, but that is something others have discussed before. Because each game is so radically different from the next, they call for different structures and styles. Each such structure requires its own unique pacing to best take advantage of that. I do not profess to have concrete answers as to how games should be paced or how developers should consider the type of game they are making when considering pacing. However, I do think it is an interesting question to ask after playing a game like Dragon Age: Origins.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Impressions #8: Dragon Age: Origins

Bioware and I have a very strained relationship. I want to love their games. However, their games have a tendency to do everything they can to irritate me. Though I enjoy their writing more often than not (which is NOT license to tell me how much you love/hate Mass Effect 3), there is almost always an odd quirk or two that comes up so often that it becomes a real issue. This is why it has taken me so long to actually sit down and take the time to play Dragon Age: Origins. Last year's Steam Summer Sale proved the ideal time to purchase the Ultimate Edition of the game, but I had never actually played it up until now. Having finished my playthrough of Origins, I have quite a bit to say about it.

Let us start with the thing that irritated me the most: the combat. I could not stand the combat in Dragon Age: Origins. Battles take place in real time. When the player party comes close enough to an enemy unit, battle starts instantly. Characters draw their weapons and attack enemies, either with skills that consume mana/stamina or weapon strikes. Tactics can be adjusted by either manipulating the step-by-step procedure each character follows, in a style similar to the gambits from Final Fantasy XII, or by pausing the game to tell them what to do manually. At the end of the fight, health, mana, and stamina is restored.
This seems simple enough on paper. However, even though I was playing on Easy, the system presented a number of issues to me. For example, there were a number of times where I found my allies near death. I paused the game to order them to drink a health potion. More frequently than I would have liked, these actions were interrupted by enemy attacks. That is not where I draw issue. What angered me is that when they get back up, they pretend as if the order to drink a health potion never happened and resume their combat routine. In the period it would take me to pause and reissue the order, the ally would typically get knocked down again. This would continue until they died.
On top of that, the combat even outside of circumstances like the one described above felt much like a chore. With few exceptions, encounters fell into one of two categories. One type of fight was so trivial that just allowing my characters to whack an enemy's shins until they die was more than enough to take care of them. The other type was tough enough that the player would need to pause almost after every single action so that new orders could be issued and time was not wasted. In either of these cases, it feels more often than not that the game's battle system should have been Turn-Based, rather than Real Time with Pause.
Turn-Based Combat would give players a greater ability to make tactical decisions than the Real Time with Pause system used in Dragon Age: Origins. This would also free them from the burden of constantly needing to stop and pause the game, switching between characters and fiddling with their orders in just the right way. It brings a much needed layer of precision into the gameplay, allowing players to more accurately plan and perform combat actions without forcing them to repeatedly halt the action. Real Time with Pause did not really work in Baldur's Gate and it does not work with Dragon Age either. I found that fighting became much more tedious in both games because of that system. Not to say that Real Time with Pause cannot work at all. Rather, I do not think it was a strong fit for Dragon Age.

Though I do dislike the combat, that was not my biggest complaint. The thing that bothered me most was the exploration of the various areas in the game. It is typical RPG fare. Players and their party explore dungeons/forests/towns, completing objectives. Along the way, they can find side quests, treasures, monsters, etc. Traps will also be scattered throughout dungeons for Rogue characters to find and disarm. Classic fantasy RPGs are the main source of inspiration, and it clearly shows.
Unfortunately, this is as much a negative as it is a positive. What I mean by that is that most of the dungeons in the game are far too long. Exploring an area just enough to get through the main story can easily take two or three hours, and that is just one area. Dragon Age: Origins is also infamous for areas that can take much longer than that, like the Fade or the Deep Roads. Unlike most other games I have played, I rarely feel like I have made any significant progress in a single session of Dragon Age. The game feels artificially long because of this. As a gamer, I feel that if a single dungeon takes more than one hour to clear its main quest objective, it is far too long. Anything of greater length than that, for a single dungeon, is disrespectful to my time.
The level design was also made worse in the most of the padding came in the form of unavoidable combat. Were it not for all the many, many fights that I would have to go through to get anything accomplished in Dragon Age: Origins, I might have had a more favorable impression of the battle system. Unfortunately, the game throws waves and waves of enemies at the player. Most exits to individual zones are blocked by foes. Even as a Rogue, it was impossible to sneak around them. However, that has nothing to do with my, or my character's, ability to sneak. Rather, it is thanks to the way the game registers combat. Being “in combat” or “out of combat” is determined purely by how close the player character is to an enemy. When I walked silently across enemy lines without their knowing, I was still “in combat” because they were close to me. Sadly, players cannot change zones while in combat. Even though they did not see me and I was not attacking anything, I was “in combat” and could not proceed without killing everyone in the room. This can be made even worse when the game fails to see that all enemies have been defeated, and takes too long to transition out of combat.

And all of this begs the question. If I disliked so many aspects of this game, why on Earth did I stick to it long enough to finish? To answer that hypothetical question: I did so because the story and lore of Dragon Age: Origins is really interesting. So much so that I compelled myself to push through the torturous parts of the game to get to the next section of story and dialog. Though a lot of the plot is predictable in its own Bioware-way, there are enough twists and surprises to keep the experience feeling fresh. As one can expect from the development studio, the ensemble cast of characters in the game are very well written and come off as believable people. Player interactions with these characters are interesting and change enough small details that the game feels unique to each individual player. Also, unlike The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dragon Age: Origins makes the player feel like they are having an impact on the world and its people. The world reacts to events that happen in the game. NPCs even comment on and acknowledge past events and deed.
One of the most interesting ways this is accomplished is through the games various origin stories. Based on the player's starting gender, race, and character class, different origin story options are available to them. Rather than just be a wall of text, these origin stories serve as the start of the game, leading up to the point where the player character becomes the Grey Warden. I played as a Human Noble, and my origin story was reflected constantly throughout the game. I felt like the game tailored itself to my story and my character, which I have great respect for. The ending is also very different depending on the alliances forged and sides taken during the player's journey, taking the more positive aspects of old-school RPG design.

Ultimately though, I will probably never play through the other origin stories. Simply because that would imply that I have any interest in going through Dragon Age: Origins a second time. I enjoyed the story exactly enough to finish it one time. I could not possibly bear playing the game again. I see why it is a popular game among RPG enthusiasts. For better or worse, it is a love letter to the old school isometric RPGs brought into 3D space. In many ways, I like and have respect for it. However, the time commitment necessary to finish the game, and the annoyances generated by its combat systems, are simply too great for me to really say that I enjoyed the game. I hear Dragon Age 2 changed things around a bit. Maybe sometime in the future, I will attempt to play that game as well. First, I will need to finish the DLC modules for Origins because I hear Awakening is pretty good. Then, I will need to wash the taste out of my mouth with something more palatable.