Dragon Age is coming.
For those of you living under a rock, or possibly in a parallel universe in which Peter Molyneux has discovered the Energon Matrix and ascended to some sort of foul godhead from whence he dispenses pain and torment, Dragon Age is an RPG from BioWare, the genius devs behind modern RPG classics like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect and true classics like Baldur’s Gate. What sets Dragon Age apart, however, is the lack of fucking spaceships. This is important.
We really do not have a good dark fantasy console RPG. We do not have a good dark fantasy RPG period. Dark fantasy is a bit nebulous as a genre, but it is awesome when done correctly. It dispenses with the heroism and scope of epic fantasy to revel in the literary tropes and conventions of low or heroic fantasy. It takes the grit of sword and sorcery and weds it to the cosmic sense of the unreal present in supernatural horror. The worlds of dark fantasy, from Moorcock’s Melniboné to Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age, are some of the greatest in the literary canon.
Conan films and games have tended to disappoint; Warhammer is at best a pale shadow of what a good, literary dark fantasy game could be. Diablo comes close, but it is a computer, and not a console, game.
Enter Dragon Age, which will be console players’ first real taste of a thick, meaty, bloody hunk of dark fantasy.
I have been purposefully avoiding spoiling my virginal experience of the game by not looking at the story, but I have been playing Dragon Age: Journeys, a browser-based, turn-based Flash RPG that ties in to the game. For such a simple game that one can play right from Firefox, it is surprisingly deep and just plain fun.
The stats reflected on the weapons hint that the items available in-game will be complex, and players will have to think hard about maximizing their statistics before selecting a new upgrade. Differing weapons give differing bonuses against enemy types. Most weapons are random drops in the monster-infested warrens of dungeons.
However, the game has more depth to it than the basic hack and slash of Diablo, moreso even than Diablo II. From what I can gather through my rudimentary playing, the world is infested by the “darkspawn,” monsters of various types that live to harass and harangue the good people of the world. It is your job as a “Grey Warden” to find them, pull out a variety of very interesting weapons and spells, and go to motherfarking town on some monster ass.
In other words, it is like BioWare stepped down from on high, crushed the cutesy, stylized skull of Molyneux beneath their jack-booted feet, and presented me with ambrosia in digital form.
Next Tuesday cannot come fast enough; if a browser-based game makes me want to rush home from work to play it, I expect the “real deal” will chain me to my TV. Sorry honey, there will be no TV watching this week. Or the next.
Addendum: Demon’s Souls
I officially hate Demon’s Souls, and call down a terribly evil and painful curse on its developers and their line unto the seventh generation. You should only play this game if you hate yourself and wish to suffer endless frustration while looking at a very well-made, very polished, and very excellent game.