There are a few video game companies that I will always stop to check out what they’re putting out. Ubisoft is one, due to their “Assassin’s Creed”, “Prince of Persia” and “Splinter Cell” series. Another one is EA Sports, who between their “Madden NFL” behemoth, their “FIFA” soccer series and the old classic “NBA Jam” games own so much of the genre. And then there’s Bioware. The small Austin/Montreal-based video game company founded by three doctors makes the best RPGs today. From the classic Knights of the Old Republic line (seriously, where’s the third game?), the underrated Jade Empire (need more, need more) and their recent success Mass Effect, what they do is make you play through epic storylines that weave characters and guide you down towards morally-ambiguous choices that can be, at times, just as hard as any book or movie.
Of course, any time you mention RPGs, you must deal in the realm of fantasy. It’s almost mandatory that you have a game that touches on high adventure, features noble elves, gruff dwarves, gigantic dragons and nasty villains. Bioware did with their “Baldur’s Gate” series and they’ve continued it with the recent Dragon Age series. The first game came out a few years ago and then just released its sequel, Dragon Age 2.
In a way, what sets this series apart is how adult it is. But this is a reflection of a shift in modern-day fantasy away from the stereotypically-chaste and pure Middle-Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien and more towards the darker, more sexual and more morally-ambiguous world of George R.R. Martin. The world of the Dragon Age series is no different than Westeros.
So, a little background? Dragon Age 2 occurs at the same time as the events of the first game, Dragon Age: Origins. You’re a refugee, fleeing with your family from the Blight (a massive army of monstrous warriors led by a gigantic dragon). You end up fleeing for the northern city of Kirkwall and there, over a period of years, set to build a new life, re-establish some roots and try to find a way to keep the various factions that are simmering in various degrees of anger and indignation from killing one another.
Or not. Perhaps you choose to let them have at it. Unlike so many other games of this type, there is no happy endings – for your character or the overall story. Characters you like die. Characters you befriend may turn on you. And even if you do everything well, all still ends in flames.
And that is what makes it so great. At some point, you will be forced to make a choice between two decisions you don’t really like. Some will stand with you. Some will oppose you.
Who knew video games could be so similar to real life?