[25 March 2010]
Having now completed the first large-scale expansion for Dragon Age: Origins, I have this to say: Death to Text!
Bioware, you’ve spoiled me. All your quality voice acting has left me unwilling and uninterested in reading on screen ever again, at least while I’m playing your games. I loved Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. I’ve played through both of them, twice. I love dialogue trees and chatting with my fellow party members and all the rest. I don’t even mind the fact that Dragon Age looks kind of terrible and everyone’s swords float three inches away from their backs. It’s an age of dragons after all, so, um magic!
But what I can’t stand anymore is all the text. I want to hear my character! I want to hear my veteran rogue speak some lines besides, “Done and done,” and “That was easy.” I want her to be a character where right now she’s just sort of this blank faced, voiceless mannequin surrounded by much more interesting people. Mass Effect‘s choice to have a dedicated voice actor (two in fact) and a dedicated name for the main character was clearly the better way to go. I get that this would be a challenge for a game with two different genders and three different races. But you know what? It would’ve been worth it. I hope that the next game does. Because right now, the conversations aren’t working dramatically. I hear an actor speaking one side of the conversation, and I read some necessarily short dialogue options for the other. It just doesn’t work anymore.
And if there were a real, live voice actor behind my hero, you could also do something about the clunky way that you hand out side quests. Throughout the Awakenings expansion, I picked up letters or objects that suddenly granted me a new quest. I’d have to pause and open the quest log to see what the hell that was all about. Wouldn’t it be grand if, instead, one of the party members said, “Hey, what did you pick up there?” and then my character explained it to both the party member and me (the player) at the same time? See how elegant that is? Elegant and costly and memory hogging and what not. I know, I know. But I know that you’ve got it in you.
All of which leads me to my biggest gripe, my major complaint, the text that drove me bonkers. If I’d had a real character with a real voice, you never would have had the gall to put that tacked on ending in Awakenings. There’s just no way. I see how not having a voice is a problem there because the moment calls for the hero to make a speech, to say something profound. We won! Let’s talk about that. I wonder what happened to our other friends? But no, the quickest end boss cut scene in history. Enemy defeated, give it a blank look, turn to leave. Cut to . . . text boxes! Text box after black text box.
Even without a main character supported by a voice actor, someone should’ve been narrating this stuff. There should’ve been some animations. As it is, the game just ends, and we get to read about the consequences in squinty little white letters. The first game did this too of course but only after we’d had a chance to watch a long, interactive sequence and then talked with all our old comrades. Here, nothing but dry, history book-style text.
Look, there’s a time and a place for the written word. Right now for instance, with me ranting about it this is a good time and place. The finale of an interactive experience? Not the place. If I’d been reviewing this expansion, it would be a significant ding against Awakenings‘s final score. The disappointment was that big.
In many ways, Dragon Age: Origins is only a partial success. As noted, it looks less than thrilling a lot of the time. The combat can be clunky and frustrating. But the story, ahhh . . . the story. That’s what keeps me coming back for more. I’ll happily play along with the graphics and combat as is if only Bioware will just live up to their true, fully voiced storytelling potential.