Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More games like this, please!

My first video game experience was limited to a few of those old Tiger hand held toys (I think there was a 6 bit black and white tank that didn't move and picked up keys) and of course Tetris.

We had a Super Nintendo growing up so I knew well the amazing powers of time loss that Mario held especially with his little raccoon tail and warp whistles (I also learned that there are a lot of really bad games out there too. We had Where's Waldo, possibly the worst concept for a game ever. You look for a small stripped man in a sea of stripped white men and wait for the clock to run out because there's no way you can make him out on your TV).

Then I put down the consoles and didn't go back for a long time. Some of it was my horrible luck with cliffs. If there was a cliff, hill or slight rise I'd fall off it somehow and die. But the more I look back the more I'm beginning to wonder how much of it was also the constant media pressure that girls are just no good at games. It seemed to be blasted from every cliff as I grew.

Fast forward a few years or so to my Junior year in College and I'm playing the Return of the King game with a fellow floormate at first dying an awful lot as I try to wrap my mind around the controls (last I knew there was just A and B, what's with all these other buttons and knobs). But it's different this time, sure I die a few times but I'm also swinging that Dwarven axe like nobodies business cutting up Orcs.

Something was rekindled inside of me. And not just a love of cutting demons off at the knees (though that's always a great way to relieve stress). The thrill of solving puzzles, or navigating a tricky situation or just getting your character to a certain level to unlock the super cool skill.

For our wedding I'd registered a few video games including the PS2 version of God of War and we got it as a supposed gift for my husband. Yet it was I who chopped off the Hydra's heads, saved the Oracle and killed Ares.

I give this long dull backstory because I want to talk about a recent game I got my husband for Christmas that you may have seen kicking around here and there: Dragon Age Origins.

At first commerical it just looks like a typical hack and slash world where all the women are lust demons and archers and the men big brutes who will either kill you or sleep with you. But I learned a long time ago to never trust a commercial, especially from EA.

The real story of Dragon Age revolves around a blight upon the land. Darkspawn (aka this version of Orcs) have been unleashed and are invading and the only ones who can stop them are the last two remaining Grey Wardens in the land.

It's a rich history and story you have to pay close attention to to understand and catch all the complexities and motivations of the various characters. And if you're looking for a good RPG game with a nice balance of character manipulation but not super overkill (the way Oblivion could get sometimes) then you can probably stop reading right . . . about .  . now!

I generally keep most video game finds to myself or a few choice comments I reply to, but this is different because this is one of those rare games that it isn't just fun to play, it's wonderful to play as a woman.

There are three female characters you pick up in your party throughout the game and almost none of the RPG stereotypes in play. I don't want to give away too much of the plot but they each are governed not by their chromosomes and womanliness but by their own motivations and needs (which you slowly learn over time).

And probably most surprising of all, the main male character you learn is actually a virgin which isn't really played for laughs (well unless you want to piss him off). But he isn't supposed to be a basement dwelling nerdling type either, he's a warrior and possible future king instead.

Approval is another interesting aspect of the game. You have conversations with all the characters and from that not only do you learn more of the plot but you can also get them to like you more. But it can be quite the mindfield (pun intended) in someways. Where one would like a joke at one time he's all serious another time, or one would just like a few words and nothing more or would just like you to kill all birds.

I haven't even gotten into the six different beginning stories for your character either. There are three races, the humans, the elves and the dwarves and I'd have to say it's a toss up between the dwarves and the elves which has the more interesting (or there's the mages).

The dwarves are a caste society and if you or your ancestors ever went up to the surface you are considered branded and are nothing but scum on the sidewalk. I also detect a touch of Pratchetts dwarves in the society as well especially with the fear that they may fly off into the sky if they leave their tunnels.

You can start as either a dwarven noble or a casteless outlaw. I haven't tried the noble yet but it's fascinating how sucked in you can get when your character gets snide comments about being a Brand or unclean or unwelcome every step of the way.

I am almost sad to say that I may find the elves the more interesting. I've never really cared for the typical fantasy view of elves, all powerful, immortal and smug as hell but in this version the elves are on the fringes of society after having been enslaved twice and have a deserved distrust of humans.

A city elf starts out life in the slums about to be married when the Arl's (the leader of the city) son appears looking for some "fun." Let's just say out of all the heads I chopped off his was by far the most satisfying.

This is the rare game where I am happy to play as a woman and may only make one male character just to see the difference. So many others I'd much rather be male because they get better stats, better armor or don't have insipid comments or conversations.

In fact I may even go so far as to say it's a much more inviting and richer story if you do play as a woman than a man, yet you wouldn't know it from the way the game has been advertised. (In fact the land is set up so their Prophet is actually female which draws some interesting parallels to our own world if the same had happened).

So there's my little review, if you're big into RPGs you got to get it. If you like to game but have never tried the hack and slash RPGs I'd suggest giving it a go. And video game industry, more games like this where the woman can cover up if they so choose and relationships actually feel real instead of like two highschoolers got a hold of a mic and less of well everything else.

As for me, I'm off on another hack and slash mission. We must reclaim the roast of the pot! Who's with me?


Anonymous said...

No way!! I have been playing Dragon Age: Origins nonstop every weekend since Christmas, and I love it. I completely agree with everything you wrote in this review, especially about how satisfying it is to play as a woman. It took me a while to get used to some of the controls (the radial menu is a bit of a PITA on the PS3 -- I suspect it's better on the PC). I haven't tried the dwarf stories yet, but they're next on my list.

Anonymous said...

I am definitely not a gamer, although Santa brought us the WII Fit for xmas and I am getting addicted!

Linda said...

From what I've seen of Dragon Origins it's definately good. Not the usual turn based RPGs I'm used my hubby playing.
There are too many controls for my taste. Probably why I like the Wii better :)

Lady Jaye said...

Bioware, the studio that made Dragon Age: Origins, is known for its plot-based RPGs with female characters that aren't your usual in-game bimbo. If you like sci-fi, there's also Mass Effect on the Xbox 360 and PC (the sequel is coming out next Tuesday). Although all the trailers and screenshots of the game focus on the male Shepherd character, you can also play the female version, who has an interesting, slightly tomboyish look (and a scar over the left eyebrow). Only thing with Mass Effect that might or might not be your cup of tea: it's also a shooter, ie. when there are enemies, you shoot them, you don't just let the action stop to choose the next move, like in Fallout 3.

It sometimes feels as if Bioware's the only developer to offer the possibility to play as a woman who's not just eye candy and wearing very little clothing. I love playing fighters and am always annoyed when I have no choice but to play a male character because the female characters are either archers or sorceresses.

Oh, there's also Oblivion that you'd like, although it's more gender-neutral (but at least you can also have a female character that kicks some butt).