EDR & the Kings of the Decade

We come to it at last – the great games of our time.

So here they are, the Big Two. The two games which, in our opinions, jut proudly from the ocean of Zoo Tycoon 8 and Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust to declare themselves the Emperors of Games. There can, of course, be only two. This has presented EDR with a few problems.

How to pick the two? We had five games to choose from, any of which would have a very reasonable case for the top laurels. However, each one, by it’s inclusion, would render some of the others unnecessary (no need to include Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust when you’ve already included Magna Cum Laude – you see?). So we had some choices to make, and blow me down but they were tough choices. Tell you what, this occasionally-writing-things-about-games-on-the-electroweb business is harrowing stuff.

So what are the two games, the Kings of the Decade? Well, the first is…

/drum roll

"I'm 34, actually. Why do you ask?"

…DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS.

I’m so predictable.

I feel your disappointmet, EDRites. “Yes,” you thought, “he did bang on about DA:O for a while but maybe he’s had a change of heart. Maybe there’s some exciting masterpiece he’s been sitting on until now, ready to surprise and entertain us all. Maybe he really did like Leisure Suit Larry.” Well, I’m sorry. The battle for my King of the Decade award came down to a two sided fight, and adventure gaming’s finest sex pest was out of the running. It was an all BioWare final.

For the past six years, Knights of the Old Republic was unnassailably my most favouritest game ever. My God it was brilliant, a spotlessly perfect encapsulation of a specific type of game – the re-enactment, the hero fantasy. KOTOR was the first game to really make the player feel like a part of Star Wars, managing to repackage the story of the original trilogy into one game, while allowing the player character to be Luke, Vader and even a bit of Han all at the same time. It looked like Star Wars, it sounded like Star Wars – it was Star Wars. In fact, it was probably better than Star Wars. It was an easy game to love.

Dragon Age is a hard game to love. Sure, it’s functional and it plays well, but most people I have sat down to chew the Dragon Age fat with have been left mildly disappointed. “It didn’t grab me,” seems to be the most common complaint, with gamers trudging despondently towards the final boss fight feeling rather underwhelmed. Similarly, the reviews have not been kind. Bar the odd “RPG of the decade” 94% four pager, most of the time Dragon Age staggered out on the other side of the review bruised, humiliated and stamped with the 70% mark of “bleah.” Underwhelming. Disappointing.

Well yah boo sucks to the meanies, I say. Somebody loves you Dragon Age, and it’s me. Dragon Age was the game that took my breath away over and over, managing the impressive feat of returning to game design elements that had been buried with the 90s while forging ahead with a daring and magnificent handling of character and story. After the first hour, I’d forgotten all about Knights of the Wotsername. I was swallowed by Ferelden, clawing to find my place in and change the future of this grimy world of ones and zeros for the better. I stormed through the game in six days flat, hungry for revenge and glory and polygonal characters snogging.

Vitally, I cared. I cared deeply. I cared in way which games very rarely manage – the hard, personal way which makes the Quiet Man’s barely considered comments look so laughable, so ignorant. Games are capable of so much, of affecting us powerfully in a very different way to books, films, music. The potential of this medium is boundless and Dragon Age is an avatar of that potential. Coming scant weeks after CODMODWAR it swept away the rainclouds of non-interactivity, of the player as unimportant observer, and showed us the bright blue sky of possibility.

I’ve written more than enough about Dragon Age already so I’ll draw this to a close, but not before one final huge sweeping statement; the brilliance of Dragon Age lies in the designers’ instinct to challenge us. Most modern games companies see challenge as something to be avoided, something that will drive off key demographics and cut into their margins. Yes, there are games that are still difficult, but they tend to be in genres that have a level of fiendish challenge integral to their design – Rogue-likes, for instance, or masochistic platformers (yes, Trials 2,  you count). Dragon Age is a challenge – in the difficulty of its fights, and crucially in the difficulty of its story. Dragon Age serves up punishing fights with pregnant monsto-dwarves** alongside punishin consequences for people who you really would rather weren’t made to suffer, and it is wonderful for doing that.

But here is the best, the top, the very final reason for DA:O’s top game status – it is happy to be a game. It recognises the need to explore and find out just how a game must work to tell a compelling story. Crucially, it is not the work of frustrated film-makers desperate to be cinematic. Dragon Age is proud to be a game.

For all those reasons and more besides, it is one of the Kings of the Decade. Richly deserved, old man.

_________________________________________________________________________

**Surely one of the nastiest episodes in mainstream gaming this year. I did not like that bit. No sir.

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2 Comments on “EDR & the Kings of the Decade”

  1. Scruffy Says:

    Well I will have to admit that I was so worried about DA:O not living up to expectations that I wasn’t going to buy it until you told me to. So the next day I bought it and started downloading, a time later I sat down in preparation for the opening scenes, already planning my evil goals (those that know me well enough, will be well aware of my slight habit for trying to be the most evil character in a game) however a few hours later I realised that the plan had gone out the window. Thinking back, I cannot think of a single moment where I gave in to temptation and went evil, true I did set out with murder on my mind after certain events, but every single time I was given a reason to step back and think about what I was doing. At times those decisions were incredibly hard to make and others appeared so simple but in fact waiting for you choose them just so something horrible could happen as a result.

    Never in a game have I felt so torn on doing the right thing, mainly I think because DA:O has got its choice consequences so very right. Not a single decision was made without me considering my actions. I was always honest and always managed to forgive people, admittedly others hated me for it (and some unexpectedly so) but in the end I felt as though I had done what to me was the right thing to do.

    I am going back to DA:O sometime soon, even if I end up making exactly the choices as before, and that’s because of the simple fact that I think it realy is a great game.

  2. The Slag Says:

    This post makes me feel that KOTOR has given you the best years of it’s life and now you have dumped it for a younger, hotter, Bioware-like model. Shame on you


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