In Which I Critique A Game I Have Not Played In Three Thousand, Nine Hundred And Thirty Nine Days, Give Or Take

Doc Burford
48 min readJan 1, 2022

You’re going to have to trust me on this one.

It happened at GDC. We were walking through the expo hall — I couldn’t afford a pass to the talks — and we were talking about a game. “What happened with that?” one of us asked. I won’t tell you who, I won’t tell you how they knew, all I’ll tell you is that they drew in a quick breath and said, more or less, that you shouldn’t ask anybody at Bioware about Dragon Age 2, because they didn’t have enough time to make the game.

That much is plain to see. Publicly, we can simply look at the release dates — work on Dragon Age Origins began in 2003, and the game didn’t ship until six years later, in 2009. Meanwhile, Dragon Age 2 released just one year and three months later. I’ve worked on enough games — ones I can talk about and ones I can’t — to know one fact: you’ll never be happy with what you ship, not totally; an old art teacher of mine once told me that you’re never finished with your art, you just have to accept that it’s done at some point and start working on the next thing. He didn’t know about Duke Nukem Forever, another 2011 video game, but he might as well have explained why developing a game for 14 years never works out.

But, hey, burnt toast is still burnt toast, you know?

That’s the difficulty in talking about games. As a developer, I’m empathetic. As a critic, I’m… still empathetic, but I also have to talk about the end result. There’s not beating around that bush — a reviewer’s job is to let customers know if they want to buy something (despite game writers arguing to the contrary, that is what reviewers have always been), and a critic’s job is to discuss that same thing (when you’re a reviewer who says “I don’t want to write buyer’s guides, I want to discuss the work” you’re literally just trying to rename reviewing into criticism! It already exists! Just say “I don’t want to write reviews, I want to write criticism!” You don’t have to redefine reviewing into the same thing as criticism. It already exists!).

When I wear my critic hat, I’ve got to explain.

The goal, as always, is to be useful.

But the question is: what use is there in talking about an old game, especially one developed under impossible constraints?

But first: hey, if you want to support me in my writing (my attempts to post helpful, educational things for free with no paywall, hoping that you will find my work valuable enough to offer your support), here’s the places you can support my work. This all goes toward medical bills, equipment for streaming, games to research and cover, all that jazz. Basically, if you give me money, I turn it into staying alive and more educational essays.




venmo: @forgetamnesia

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If you don’t want to or aren’t able to support, that’s totally understandable, especially for those of you who are low income. My belief here is that you shouldn’t miss out on access to helpful, educational stuff just because you can’t afford it. I know I’m distributing it for free and people may choose not to hit up the tip jar. I get it. I feel this is still the right thing to do, so I will.

So. Dragon Age 2.

For most of my years commenting on and writing about video games, I was known as The Shooter Guy — I literally wrote Kotaku’s bible on shotguns, even though I didn’t know it was a best-of article at the time (they asked me for a list of good shotguns as examples during the edit process, I gave it to ’em, and when I checked out the piece as it went live, to my horror, I discovered it had become a ‘best of.’ But hey, the only change I’d make if it was is that I’d put the Gnasher from Gears of War on the list lol) — but what you might not know about me is that my #1 most played video game of all time, aside from Unreal Tournament 2004’s first demo (at an estimated 400+ hours of bot play. i wasn’t allowed to play games as a kid, so I had to play it in secret after I got it from a maximum pc demo disk), was Dragon Age: Origins, which, I did the math once, was like… I don’t know, 350 hours of play or so? I played a lot before Steam added in time tracking.

Dragon Age: Origins would eventually be overtaken by my 2,500 hours in the Destiny series, but until that happened, it was my most played game of all time. I still occasionally go back to it because I genuinely love that game and how it plays.

The mystery, for me, is… how much of it I don’t like. In fact, this is why I have never written about it, and it’s why I’ll probably continue not writing about it. I love the game. I do. But also I think the entire mage and dwarf questlines suck, and the elf one is only good if you side with the humans.

Which is like…

A lot of the game.

I also don’t know why I can’t play the game unless I’m listening to Electric Six anymore, except that one time after a particular song started grating on me, I turned some music on, Electric Six’s Switzerland album started playing, and I was off to the races. I can see it all in my head; I know the places, I know the moments. I lived in a church library at the time, for reasons I won’t get into, and I remember pausing the game, padding off to the restroom to get a glass of water, that soft-scratchy feel of the carpet giving way to the wooden floors, changing to the not-fluffy carpet in the nursery, becoming the linoleum or vinyl or whatever slightly sticky (in the way that cheap linoleum flooring is) bathroom. I remember walking back, sitting down, and, to my horror, realizing I hadn’t paused the game.

I remember realizing, with some relief, that my tactics had been so well set up that the big, purple pride demon you encounter fairly early on had been soloed entirely through automation (if you aren’t aware, Dragon Age: Origins had a complex series of conditions you could set up for characters to do certain things).

I have nearly perfect memories of so much of Dragon Age: Origins, even my aborted attempt at a human mage origin, or trying to ebay codes for preorder DLC that I hadn’t been able to nab with my Steam copy, trying to make absolutely sure that the code would be emailed to me, not mailed, so I didn’t get in trouble for buying game-related things.

I am explaining Origins instead of Dragon Age 2 because it’s important for you to realize that what might’ve been one of my five most beloved games at the time (alongside STALKER, Halo, Unreal Tournament 2004, and System Shock 2) had me really, really excited for, uh,


i want you to know these were captured on maximum settings. the npc elves just look like this for some reason.

Even at the time, I knew Dragon Age, much like Mass Effect, was not the most original series. It was, like most AAA video games, one of those things that the gen-xers and boomers who lead the industry derived from much more imaginative and exciting works of art.

So, Dragon Age has your humans, elves, and dwarves. The elves are immortal and mystical, the dwarves like gold and alcohol. There’s a church, but it’s Catholic, because Catholicism has a lot of iconography ’cause of all the pagan shit grafted onto it. It’s got dragons at the top of the food chain, God has a boring name like “the Maker,” and it’s got orcs. I mean, the game got its start in 2003 or 2004, right when Lord of the Rings mania was at its peak, so this shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

I don’t think I recall Bioware staff citing Lord of the Rings, though I recall a lot of people citing A Song of Ice and Fire, which, I’ve got to be honest, isn’t something I see in the work at all. But, hey, Bioware is known to have forbidden the Anthem developers from talking about Destiny while cloning all of the worst parts of Destiny inside of the most exciting conceit anyone’s had in years: “what if you put on Iron Man’s suit five hundred years after the world ended? and it was co-op?” so uh, maybe that was a conscious choice.

Originality should not be why you play Bioware games, because that’s not what they’re there for, except, well, Anthem, and we all know how that turned out.

Again, I love Dragon Age: Origins. It’s not perfect, it’s not original, it’s very much a Bioware game — there was this chart I used to cite that shows how formulaic Bioware story structure could be — but man, I found it endearing as fuck. I loved so many of the characters (my favorite party setup involves Wynne and Oghren because of their dialogue), aside from Morrigan, who, despite being the most popular character for fanservice reasons (not just being oversexualized by way of that particularly gen-x “she’s sexy but she chooses to be that way” thing that plagues writers like Joss Whedon, but also because she’s played by sardonically by Claudia Black, who a lot of nerds from that era remembered from her roles on Farscape (which is great, as far as I remember, no shade on Claudia here)), and Alistair, who’s like, The Most Generic Dude From 2005 If He Were An Inexpensive Stephen Merchant Impersonator Who You Ill-Advisedly Hired For A Birthday Bash. No, really, look at his hair.

(this screenshot is NOT one I took; unless I state otherwise, like i just did here, all screenshots are probably ones I took, unless i forgot to caption them accordingly. the dragon age 2 one with the elves above is 100% my screenshot, though. i know exactly where i was sitting when i took it)

But, hey, Sten is interesting, Wynne’s great, Oghren’s deeper than he lets on, there’s an elf who sucks, Leliana’s like, “i can’t tell if this is someone’s kink, but the weird mix of former rogue with an interesting past and Jeanne d’Arc is cool,” you have a dog… like, world aside, good god is that cast fun to run around with, and the combat is still the best combat in any Bioware game ever; it’s so good that I have literally never been satisfied by a single real time with pause “CRPG revival” project because Dragon Age did it better.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t expect Dragon Age 2 to be unique, but I was so excited to hang out with an awesome cast of characters, exploring more about the Black City (the most fascinating concept in the series, in my opinion), learning more about the Darkspawn, and so on.

I remember one time commenting how excited I was for Awakening, the expansion, but worried I wouldn’t be able to afford it. I know exactly which Kotaku commenter saw me and bought it for me, too, and I’ve been forever greatful, because man, that DLC is great. It also kickstarted my love affair with the idea of building up a central base location over time in games, even though I’ve yet to play a game that does it how I want (I don’t want to just buy upgrades, like in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, I actually want to fuck around with construction, but not like base-building games. More like a city builder…).

Anyways, Dragon Age 2 ends up being the worst game I’d played since Mass Effect 2.

Mass Effect 2 sucks. I won’t get into why here. But it does. I say this as someone who literally shouted “game of the year, game of the fucking year” when I finished it the first time and immediately went to replay it. That would take its own essay, though.

I’d like to talk about why.

So, first off, here’s some good things about it:

The concept of “a story that takes place over ten years,” much like how I’m writing about this game ten years later — which seems appropriate — is very cool. The way the city itself changes and grows is very cool, and designing a plot to fit that idea, rather than your usual “go between locations that are neat” ideas led to a space that’s pretty interesting to inhabit and look at.

The fact you can’t bang Aveline is cool (because games, especially Bioware games, tend to handle romance like the player is the center of the universe and never question how fucked up it is that a workplace boss might try to buy the hearts of their subordinates) because giving an NPC the ability to tell the protagonist no, with no way to ‘win’ is actually the way the world works, and the other way… sounds a lot like how shitty dudes in the games industry see people. Don’t get me wrong, I get where it comes from — for the game to be interesting, the player needs to be able to choose their next location, and you can’t do that if you’re not the boss, and dating in games is cool — and I get that it’s more of a confluence of two things rather than people thinking how those two things (being the boss and wanting to date) might lead to really weird power dynamics, but, like, I seem to recall some Bioware games actually calling this out? Like… I think there’s a Liara/Shepard conversation about this somewhere, but I don’t remember exactly where. Maybe it was Tali.

There’s probably other reasons to like it, but it was ten years ago, and they must not’ve left much of an impression on me.

I can tell you that the whole “press A for awesome” button, a meme that came out of some half-remembered interview where someone at Bioware said they wanted the combat to be awesome, like, every button press is awesome, is mostly accurate — the combat sucks; it’s the worst in the series. I cheesed a particular dragon fight in it and really only remember fucking hating the experience. The worst part is how dull it all is — so much of it was just teleporting enemies in (something that we could call lazy in a game with four times the development time, but is almost certainly just the result of trying to hit deadlines in Dragon Age 2), shouting “another wave approaches!” and then having you press a couple buttons until the enemies were dead. Gone were the fun factics and item use (as a rogue, I threw a lot of grenades) I’d considered core to the experience.

But I don’t really want to get bogged down nitpicking stuff that was absolutely the result of time pressure; instead, I’m going to talk about the only thing I really remember pretty well, insofar as I remember at all, about Dragon Age 2: the fuckin story.

i was still at my ‘try to make an idealized version of myself’ stage of using character creators, sorry

The Persistence of Memory

I’m writing this essay that isn’t done yet that begins with some section on like… the idea that if I ask you your favorite moment in any video game, nearly every single one of you will tell me about something story related. It’s all “that Yakuza moment where Kiryu…” or “when the Farmer spoke to Bill on the phone in Adios…” (snapping my suspenders for writing that scene, but also it is consistently the single most cited story beat of my own writing that people mention); this is because humans are emotional creatures, and memories? Oh, buddy, memories are driven purely by emotion.

Don’t believe me? Go listen to a song you used to listen to religiously as a teen and watch how quickly it is that the song can take you back to mood, thoughts, and feelings of a time long ago. Emotions do that — they’re tied to memories, and we often feel them stronger than events; we remember people shouting at us, hugging us, smiling at us, frowning at us more than specific words or phrases. I can’t remember a damn thing my Grandma G said to me before she passed, but I remember what it was like to hug her and tell her that her spaghetti was wonderful. I can still taste the spaghetti when I think about those feelings.

Feelings change memories too — it was interesting reading about the Get Back documentary, and hearing Peter Jackson say that Paul got nervous when he shared the rough cut with him, because Paul really only remembered the bad, and Peter showed it to Paul, and watched him as he realized just how much of it was really good, and it was what happened after that was bad, and how that seems to have affected the band’s memories for the worse.

But, hey, Dragon Age 2 is a game about an acclaimed fiction author telling a story that starts ten years ago and may not be fully reliable in his memory, and that’s what I’m doing with you right now, except that I can assure you that, to the best of my abilities, I am speaking nothing but the truth, and will continue to do so for a good long while.

Here is what I remember.

The game starts with some new guy, his mom, his brother, and his sister. One of the siblings will die in the beginning, and I swear I remember the mother saying, to her child, “I’ll never forget you,” which is deeply funny, but that may have been from the NeoGAF OT on the game (a gaming forum I used to visit until it was revealed that the owner was not a good dude, so I, and many others, quit).

I remember that you end up in Kirkwall, and you befriend a guy the game really, really, really wants you to like, because he’s doing the frame narrative thing, but he’s uncool in the way that uncool people trying to be uncool are, which is Varric. This is the one thing we don’t have in common; I don’t have to pretend to be cool when I know I’m doing uncool things. Sometimes it’s good to be a dork.

But, hey, you become friends with Varric, you meet up with your old pal Anders, who was the Alistair/Stephen Merchant character in the Awakening expansion (because Alistair could be dead at that point), but somehow he’d merged with… uh… a ghost.

Okay, okay, so Justice isn’t a ghost, per se. He’s a “spirit of The Fade,” which is a fancy way of saying he’s not a ghost of a dead person, he’s a ghost of an abstract concept, in this case, Justice (who’da thunk?). I forget how or why, but the two of them merged, which turned Anders into a neurotic wreck who sucks ass and ruins everything.

So, the core conceit is that ten years or so after Hawke — that’s the player character, like Shepard is in Mass Effect, a surname that represents you in spoken dialogue — shows up in Kirkwall — that’s the setting of the game — a templar possessing Unknown Motives interrogates possibly-unreliable-witness Varric The Novelist And Only Dwarf Without A Beard about why Hawke did… whatever it was Hawke did. This frame narrative gives us the driving question behind the game.

I quite like this. Getting people to want to know what happens next is hard, particularly in games, where most video game writing — not necessarily the writers, but the writing itself (just this week I read a sadly-true horror story about a writer pushing back against their COO, who was trying to force them to include a really bad story written by an artist — imagine a programmer trying to tell an artist how to sculpt, or a musician telling the programmer their music sucks! It’s weird people do this to writing and nobody else! I get challenged all the time on story stuff, but if I challenge back, boom, instantly people get mad. I learned the lesson fast; don’t make people mad, but also as a writer, you’re gonna have a lot of people making you mad by pretending you’re so stupid anyone could do your job) — is this dull sort of “this happened, and then this, and then this,” or too much lore that nobody cares about (sorry, writers, but lore is spice, it’s not a story, and it doesn’t hit emotionally, so it has no power for most of us, and the only reason I was reading the genshin lore tonight was because i was trying to find out about a now-dead fox priestess who won’t be in the game like I assumed when looking up upcoming characters, so mind your business).

Very rarely do games do the one thing stories need to do, which is to be compelling on a scene-to-scene basis.

There are reasons for this! Like… okay, because a game has to be played, we’re going to have to create spaces where gameplay occurs, and while that can be narratively-driven, like, say, a conversation, it’s often purely action, and while action can be emotional and interesting, in games, the designers must contend with the expense of scripting (generic mook with generic AI is easier to mass produce to give a game’s playtime some ‘body’ — as in, the body of an essay — than creating a unique enemy to recreate the Bruce Lee/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fight in Game of Death) and their players, who are going to try to play as optimally as possible (to get a high score, good rating, get through the fight quickly, win effectively, whatever), and, as the saying (from Soren Johnson, of Civ 4 fame, if I remember correctly?) goes: players will optimize the fun out of your game.

So, if you’re directing a game, you’re probably going to want to pace a series of engaging gameplay moments in a way that lets players feel like they’re partaking in an experience, as opposed to occasionally pressing a button while a movie plays. That means you’re probably not going to do a lot of curating in your narrative; now, if you’re Bungie, then you focus so hard on good level design that you can craft dozens of beautiful, unique fights with just five enemy types, the way Halo did with, say, the same enemy makeup as you board the Truth and Reconciliation or descend into The Silent Cartographer, and yeah, you’ll be able to tell a story, but that’s real hard to do.

Very few games pay strict attention to making sure each scene is dramatic. It’s often a fault of management — like the stories about Uncharted 3’s set pieces being built so the writers would have to incorporate them into the plot, rather than set pieces being built out of the story — but it can be the fault of the writers too, sometimes. We’re not so much concerned with blame here as raising awareness that drama is crucial; players need to feel impelled to continue. In a mystery story, you don’t just want to know whodunnit, but you also want every scene to keep the player moving ahead, giving them a reason at every stretch.

When you make a big open world map, that can be hard to do; the player sees the world and is told “you can go there,” but… why would you want to other than that you haven’t been there yet? This is a problem I had with Halo Infinite’s open world; sure, I loved running around and shooting things, I really did, but it wasn’t enough to keep me going; the relatively samey environment did little to spur me on.

It’s because the game wasn’t encouraging me to ask questions. I knew the various mission types — save soldiers, kill unique enemies (usually they have a name, a different visual, and more health and that’s all they appear to have), take over enemy facilities — and I knew the rewards (a unique gun, leveling up, some lore items), but I was never really going “what’s that over there?” — the questions didn’t drive other questions in the sandbox that led to any kind of emotional desire or response. It was just “more things to check off the list.”

For me, one of the Great Big Game Design Problems is how to create a sense of a journey with an open world map; most open world maps are meant to be traveled through multiple times. You can’t miss everything; the maps are small enough that you can go anywhere at any time. I’ve played open world games where I feel that the designer is going “look how far we’ve come” but, like, it was a fifteen minute drive from where I ended up by the climax. It doesn’t feel like a saga in the way that something like the Lord of the Rings movies do, because, well, it’s just kind of a small space.

Final Fantasy XV explores the concept of the road trip vibe by making you drive everywhere — but, thankfully, getting someone else to drive — so you are expending time via travel and fast travel doesn’t trivialize it, but that’s just for chapters 1–8, and chapters 9–14 are totally linear. STALKER creates a sense of space by having a series of disjointed maps and, as I recall, no fast travel, so once you get to the reactor, you would have to manually run all the way through several maps to get back to the start, making the journey relatively cost prohibitive, if time is a cost.

Open world games thrive on the appeal of opportunity, but the cost of producing them makes the relatively small scale too present. You could make a game where you travel between a series of small, open maps that you can’t return to when you’re done, but congrats… you’ve just reinvented a linear game, you’re making Dishonored at that point, just contextualized as “these levels are far apart” and not “these levels are all in the same city.” In doing this, you lose the thing that makes open world games interesting.

So yeah, like I said, creating a journey is a Great Big Design Problem and I think the solution is somewhere along the lines of making the journey an emotional one — Cyberpunk and The Witcher 3 pull this off despite their level size for this exact reason. Geralt looking back at the camera at the end of Blood & Wine hits like a fuckin truck.

One day I’ll actually sit down and write the essay on open world games, because I am a player who loves checking off lists, so I actually love the genre despite its inability to create a sense of road tripping due to fundamental limits on level size, but what I find so interesting about Dragon Age 2 is that it’s a game about a progression through time, rather than space. This allows the developers to keep a relatively limited set of spaces but adjust them as the narrative progresses.

I remember hearing, years ago, that movie studios started showing the whole plot in the trailer because when they asked people in tests screenings ‘how does this make you feel” the answer was “like I want to know more” and instead of realizing the trailer was a success, that people now WANTED to go to the theatre, the dumb hollywood guys took it to mean that these people knew how to make trailers better than the trailer makers. Meanwhile, some of the most compelling movies in the industry right now are like, The Matrix or Nolan movies, where the audience asks “what’s going on” and the answer is still firmly “come to the theatre to find out.”

So what makes Dragon Age 2 good is getting the player caught up in wanting to know more.

I assume this economical choice to build the game in a single location like Kirkwall was a decision that came from the constraints of having to build the game in about a year, but it might not’ve been; conceptually, it’s still very sound and could have been used to great effect.

I say could have been because it absolutely fucking wasn’t.

The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory

So, in broad strokes, you gather your party and venture forth, by which I mean, you explore Kirkwall and the surrounding area. The story is broken up into roughly three major acts, the first being where you establish yourself as an adventurer and descend into mines or caves or something (what was the title of this essay again?) and you find red lyrium, which is like blue lyrium, but red.

What’s lyrium? Uh… it’s like… rocks that impact your ability to do magic, I guess? I would say “it doesn’t really matter,” but that’s not really true, because for Dragon Age, lyrium — particularly red lyrium, which, again, is like blue lyrium but with bad vibes — is just jammed into everything as some kind of Plot Motivator even though… it could just not exist at all. Like, I think the world would necessarily be more interesting without red lyrium as a concept.

It’s a story you’ve heard before, whether it’s in the 1942 adaptation of Jungle Book (starring Sabu as Mowgli and Mel Blanc as Kaa) where the guys all kill each other over treasure, or Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where the guys all kill each other over treasure, or the Destiny 2 dungeon that came out for Bungie’s 30th anniversary, where everybody kills each other over treasure. Except in this story, it’s a magic red lyrium idol that’s somehow making people evil?

It’s rather vaguely defined, but basically there’s normal magic rocks and then there’s evil magic rocks and you can tell which is which unless you’re colorblind. It’s an idea that kinda sucks and shouldn’t have been brought forward into Dragon Age Inquisition. To me, red lyrium is emblematic of typical magical stories — they’re thinking too much about How It Works and not enough about Why It’s Emotionally Impactful, like someone making an Alien movie about the gestation of the creature as opposed to an Alien movie about a bunch of terrified people having to grapple with the implications of an Alien being a thing.

Anyways, what you really need to know is that, much like the movie Poltergeist and its haunted house, Kirkwall is built somewhere with a lot of ghosts in, which obviously does not bode well for our heroes. So of course dealing with evil magic rocks is bad for you, and things go particularly wrong for Varric’s brother, but don’t worry, the cops have it under control.

Right, so, I should probably tell you this: while there are three basic eras the game takes place in, the central conflict is between people who do magic and people who try to make sure that magic is not used poorly (the cops). It’s a very reasonable situation, except that the game insists on the templars being bad because templars are historically, in real life, pretty damn bad. Plus, the templars are associated with the church, and we know that forces like the Spanish Inquisition were not always a force for good.

When you use magic, you open yourself up to demons, and lots of things can and DO go wrong every time this happens; we saw this repeatedly in Dragon Age Origins, and we continue to see it in Dragon Age 2.

Every time someone does blood magic, things get fucky. Like, take your mom, for example. At one point in the story, a blood magician murders her and reassembles her corpse into a bride for his Frankenstein creation because of course he does. It’s the stupidest fucking thing you can imagine but hey, all the mages in the area do shit like this all the time. It’s like… the entire reason there are tensions between the mages and the templars.

The mages are like “let me do blood magic, the worst kind of magic, so I can do all sorts of murder” and the templars are like “maybe actually don’t?”

I’m reminded of Marvel movies, where some of the antagonists have great points until the plot is like “shit, wait, they actually make way more sense than the protagonist” and decide… the protagonist should just win, so they randomly decide the antagonist should do evil shit in the name of good shit (Karli, for instance, wants a world without borders and is trying to ensure that refugees get food and shelter, until she starts randomly murdering people for no goddamn reason). There’s this level of false equivalency that comes into play, a weird decision to just be like “uh… you know this good, vaguely left-leaning thing? yeah well they’d kill people, probably, so they’re irredeemable and must die, so the protectors of the status quo remain heroes.”

It’s a fundamentally very lib perspective.

In games, it’s even less mature than that; it’s this idea that moral choices should be difficult (which is stupid, think about how often the morally right thing — like not killing someone just because you’re mad at them — is the obvious choice, and the wrong thing is obviously the wrong choice!). We love facing difficult choices in games, but somewhere along the line, a bunch of writers just started going “everyone is exactly the same,” which means we’ve got a ton of stories where there is no one good guy, whether that’s Far Cry 4’s “which do you prefer, dictatorship, dictatorship that’s religious, or dictatorship that’s about making prisoners get into heroin production?” or, yes, Dragon Age 2’s “what if the guys who tried to prevent people with superpowers from killing the powerless were evil too?”

There are horrifying implications about magic in the Dragon Age world. You’re born with it, there are ways of basically hollowing out someone’s brain to make them unthreatening, if you use it you might get possessed by demons, and in Kirkwall, literally anyone who uses blood magic goes fucking insane with power and kills people.

It makes sense that a governing body would develop ways to prevent people with these powers from absolutely nuking the shit out of other people. Like, imagine yourself as a villager somewhere, and some guy walks into your village and starts casting lightning bolts. What are you gonna do? It makes sense that someone would develop the technology to make sure people who do this are kept in check.

Sure, you can say “oh, well, people are born the way they are in our world and it’s fucked up that there might be people who try to prevent them from being who they are” and I’d be inclined to agree; my own personal belief is that you should never criticize or judge someone based on things they are born with. I’m disabled, so I’d rather you didn’t hold it against me, right? It’s that kind of thing.

But Dragon Age is a hypothetical universe, it’s something that people made up. Therefore, we have to think of logical responses to the hypotheticals presented, and in the case of Kirkwall, Dragon Age presents us with a tragedy: unlike the real world, some people are just born in a way that gives them superpowers that will cause them to go insane and actually murder you. Someone’s got to nullify that threat to protect the powerless.

They just decided that the templars would be evil too, for some reason. Like, I get it; you’re pulling from the Catholic church so heavily, it makes sense that you’d want to critique that imperialist force. You’re drawing inspiration from the cops to create the templars, of course you’d want to criticize cops. I understand this, but it’s creating a scenario that doesn’t exist

But Dragon Age presents us with a No Way Out scenario — and I’ll really dive into it as I continue talking about the story — which is that there are some people who are born with the ability to kill you instantly just by thinking about it and they are driven to do so. And there is literally nothing that can be done about it other than them choosing not to do it, death, or lobotomy.

It’s like trusting a billionaire owner of a chemical plant not to fuck you over when he says he won’t. He absolutely will start dumping those toxic chemicals in his back yard the second he’s able to, and it will wash downstream and it will poison you.

So, because this hypothetical — that some people are just made to become evil and there’s really nothing you can do about it other than kill them — is so easy for any of us to go “yeah somebody oughtta make sure that the powerful do not harm the powerless” that Bioware just kind of clumsily goes “but but but the templars are bad too.”

And like, sure, if you’re writing about bureaucracy, churches, cops, whatever, you are absolutely going to write about evil people, but remember, all of this was created to explicitly stop people who are murder horny from being murder horny.

This is the core conflict of the game.

It’s kind of annoying because we see it a lot in fiction; that show The Gifted is about a bunch of models with superpowers that include things like “literally being able to crush your brain with telekinesis” and presents the guys who are trying to protect people (as I recall, the entire reason they’re mad is because of a tragedy where people with superpowers did a whole lot of murderin’) as the bad guys. There’s this consistent throughline in fiction of people who have it all — looks, power, privilege — but somehow they’re made out to be the victims; it’s got this weird ring of privileged people trying to create a fantasy where they’re oppressed, kinda like when a multimillionaire tv preacher talks about how no one’s more oppressed than white Christians in America. There’s something fundamentally inauthentic about this.

In the real world, people with power live pretty well off, and people who don’t, well… they don’t. I’m disabled, so my life is really bad; I can’t even stand up long enough to work retail. What do you think is gonna happen to a literal model with telekinesis and mind reading powers?

Her life is more likely than not going to be pretty damn easy.

If someone is, say, bulletproof and they have no sense of morality, they’re probably going to

I mean, full disclosure, I like writing stories where superpowers are generally analogous to class — I think in a world where powers existed, quite a few people would immediately gravitate to the upper stratum of society. I can’t really see a world where Jeff Bezos would remain relevant if the guy next to him has X-ray vision, flight, and invulnerability, you know?

I think a lot of people with superpowers would resort to tribalism and stratification if they had the chance, and they would use that power — the inability of, say, the FBI to raid them — to do things to the rest of us that we can’t control, the way that billion-dollar internet companies bribe governments to make sure that regional internet isn’t created and it’s all privatized, so they can make 97% profit and still hit us with data caps and never keep up their end of their bargain to build fiber networks throughout America.

It requires goodness to be able to have power and use it right, but so often, these stories seem like a rich person sitting down going “look at all these people who want my money! the government, the poor. i work hard for this, like, i wake up at 5 am, i go to the gym, then my driver takes me to work in my luxury car, where i sit in my office all day, issuing weird edicts to my lazy programmers. who knows what they’re doing? probably some stupid bullshit. anyways i’m going to fly to antarctica for fun next week. i work really hard, you guys. and these fuckers want to take it from me. you know what? i’m gonna tell a story about that, a story about someone hot and talented and gifted with power from birth is hunted by people who are too stupid to respect and understand them. Honestly if you think about it, I, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, am just like Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Is there a metaphor in Dragon Age 2? Shortly after it came out, a friend at the time said that they believed the story was about LGBT issues. They talked about how the church and police were oppressing LGBT people, and as I was listening with slowly increasing horror, I finally stopped them and said “are you really sure a story about people with blood that makes them evil and a danger to society is a good blood metaphor?” Maybe it’s just me, but that seems uncomfortably close to a really, really disastrous AIDS metaphor; people with AIDS don’t go around intentionally murdering people. If Dragon Age 2 was a metaphor for LGBT issues, and blood magic is central to that, then maybe the whole part about the mages being compelled to become evil and murder the shit out of everyone… well, maybe that’s just a bit homophobic? Maybe??

It’s a lot homophobic, I think. So I conveyed this to my friend, and they were like “oh, shit, you’re right, that would be really bad.” Just… hey, generally, if you’re gonna tell a story about gay people, don’t make a story about a blood disease turning them evil? Ok? Please? That resurrects a lot of very shitty and inaccurate stereotypes around the AIDS panic, which was used as a tool to oppress a whole lot of gay folks.

So, either Bioware has made this really, really shitty metaphor, or that’s not what they were going for.

Like I said, I think it’s mostly just a kind of an attempt at giving players interesting choices (by making it so no one choice is the obvious optimal answer, to prevent players from optimizing the fun out of the game); they want you to feel like “oh, I don’t know who to trust, I don’t know what the right call is here,” because they want you to think about your decisions.

(which can be great! but sometimes you don’t have to think about a decision! you see a homeless person begging for money on the street and you give ’em cash if you can because who gives a shit if they’re lying about being homeless? i once got tricked by someone really shitty into giving them something precious to me in an attempt to help them, and it caused me a lot of pain, but honestly i’d rather be tricked again than deny someone who really needs the help my help)

The problem is that so often, and Dragon Age 2 is no exception, the end result is that you have nothing but bad decisions to make. Do you support the people who are compelled via the power of evil red rocks to become murderers (as I recall, outside of your party, every single person who does blood magic in Dragon Age 2 does something fundamentally irredeemable, like murder), or do you support the people who want to stop them (but also like… lobotomize them)? And, of course, Dragon Age 2 complicates this by making the people who want to protect people from the psycho murderers evil in their own way just to make things more complicated.

Imagine a story where you’ve got two characters. One of them is a famous comedian worth millions of dollars who, in recent years, has been making offensive and hurtful jokes — he punches down, and he hates criticism, acting as if saying “that was really shitty of you, dude” is the same as doing something shitty. Another is a person who says “that was really shitty of you,” but uh, well, they kick dogs. Who do you support? The racist homophobe? Or the guy who points that out (but kicks dogs so he’s bad too?). Game morality is fucking stupid.

In other words, it’s like this:

(and here’s a link so you can RT it if you’d like

Actually, drunk driving is just plain bad, advantages be damned. Oftentimes, moral choices are not difficult ones. Boot that guy who bought you a flight once and offered a few encouraging words once he starts committing rampant ableism and harms your coworkers. Kick that guy you shared a few beers with if you see him doing sexual harassment. That kind of thing. These are not actually hard choices to make aside from “but he hasn’t been a dick to me.”

An actually difficult story would be “how do you do your best to protect the powerless when people are becoming evil outside of their control?” but that’s… not the real world. Nobody becomes evil outside their control; it’s a series of decisions that they make themselves. So it’s not really analogous to anything within human nature, which means it has limited value; at that point, it’s pop art rather than high art — you’re caring about plot, not art’s purpose as a tool for helping humans deal with the world they live in.

Still, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying art has to be 100% realistic — metaphor exists, after all. It’s just that… well, consider the difference between an idol group and a real band.

The idol group is manufactured — an agency does a talent search and finds people who look and sound (or can be autotuned) to the part. It sculpts them — quite literally, plastic surgery is often involved — it abuses them, it forces them out of relationships so that horny sexless nerds can imagine themselves dating an attractive person, all because it is trying to make money. The music is entirely secondary to the process; you won’t actually find interviews with these musicians talking about the creation of music. Now go look at Lou Reed writing about Kanye West.

Lou Reed was a musician; he’s one of the all time greats. He made music about shit he cared about until he died. Sure, he made and sold music — I’m not saying artists are altruistic and only real artists release their work for free — but I’m telling you that his drive to make music was because he had things to express about lived, human experience, and that’s very different than someone who is given songs by their agency and made to perform them.

Sometimes the musician needs help from other people — Dre’s had Jay-Z write for him, for instance — so I’m not even saying it all has to come from you — but the idol-industrial complex has no interest in art, in helping people deal with things, in expressing reality. It’s all about just making intellectual and emotional doritos for you to snack on.

So in my case, the other day, I posted about a story I’d like to write about a person who is taking care of someone who is slowly losing themselves, transforming into an elder god. The actual source of inspiration there was the pain I went through when I discovered that someone I was living with was suffering from Alzheimer’s; the fear of talking her down while she waved a knife around is something that really, really fucked me up, and for me, dealing with that means expressing that in my art. That’s a bit different — that’s not someone born evil, that’s someone changing because of an illness, and dealing with the fear of being a 20 year old kid with no resources to help doing his absolute best. I might be writing about eldritch horror, but I’m communicating very real feelings about a very real experience.

Dragon Age 2 isn’t really saying anything about anything, it’s just a series of events that happen that it hopes will entertain you enough to get you to spend money. It’s not really about being a human being, and I think it proves this by violating the one core truth of human existence, which is that evil is a choice, by creating tragic people who can’t help but become evil.

Then it switches gears up in Act 2 and you have to deal with an invasion by a race of people who were just kind of large, dark-skinned dudes who worshipped a book called the Qun. Being real here, I always got the sense that, much in the same way there are a lot of parallels with the Palestine conflict and the Quarians in Mass Effect, there are elements of the Qun that seemed to come off like they were drawing inspiration from Islam, and not always in the best way.

Dragon Age 2 does, to its credit, try to improve on this and make it more than just “legally distinct from a real religion,” including completely redesigning the Qunari race to be huge people with horns, which look pretty cool, like so.

Basically, they decide to take over Kirkwall, and since they don’t really respect your sovereignty, because they believe their religion is correct and you’re all heathens, they just… kinda fuckin do it. So you end up protecting Kirkwall from them; I don’t remember a lot about this arc other than I did a whole lot of kiting in that boss fight because of the stupid changes to the healing system (outside of a limited supply of health items, as I recall, you have to use Anders for healing and only Anders). It did not leave enough of an impression to stick with me after nearly four thousand days away from playing it, other than going “this is the best part of this game, I guess.” Also, at the time, I think the boss of the Qunari was absolutely stunning to look at in terms of a game asset, pretty much the opposite of the city elves, who, again, look like this.

Anyways, the third act basically gets back to the red lyrium thing. Basically, the magic rock has made the Sheriff Cop Lady of Kirkwall evil and transformed some templars into a monster. Her authoritarian tendencies (against, again, the psychotic murderers — and before you say “the game pays lip service to all the people who are oppressed by the templars,” just remember that what the game does is turn every blood mage user into a fuckin psychotic murderer. So the game makes it a fact that blood magic has bad results and a necessity that it must be stopped. There is no wiggle room for the templars to be incorrect about need . They just do atrocities on the side, for fun, I guess) go into overdrive, and then Anders, another blood mage user, decides to uh,


he decides to murder kids.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

One thing I appreciated about Dragon Age 2 is that its party members lived lives outside of yours. Mass Effect 2 was allegedly about building a team, but individual characters are siloed off; you rarely, if ever, encounter characters actually connecting with each other. It’s a team built around you, not each other (I think there’s exactly one scene in ME2 where a different party member is talking to Javik, the last survivor of his race, the mysterious Protheans), but I remember very clearly walking around in Dragon Age 2 and finding Merrill and Fenris chatting outside one of their homes. They’re both elves, so I thought this was a nice little touch; as I recall, the game did that a lot.

Another thing it did with agency that I appreciated, is that characters could exist outside of you; for instance, the only character I was remotely interested in ‘romancing,’ which, in hindsight, is a very creepy way of Bioware to refer to fuckin its characters, was Aveline, who happens to be the only character (that I recall) who isn’t player-sexual. Like, the options fucking suck (again, remember, this game was built in an incredibly short amount of time; we’re not here to insult the staff, we’re just here to discuss the outcome, and all blame should be firmly placed on the shoulders of whatever managers tried to rush the game out in just a year); nobody in that game is an appealing person. Aveline actually is — she’s strong, good-hearted, takes no shit; she’s like, easily the best party member in the entire game.

So of course I ended up with Merrill.

I think the idea of romance in Bioware games is deeply fucked up; you’re basically In Charge (because let’s be real, it wouldn’t make sense if you could dictate where your crew goes and not be in charge, so that’s going to make for a more pleasant game experience in any kind of non-linear game), and you can ply your subordinates with gifts until they put out. That’s… super fucked up, especially if you go back and look at the characters — like the way Liara’s opening conversation with you on the Normandy in Mass Effect is like “I’m a member of alien race that is always hot, likes fuckin, and doesn’t believe the father should pay for child support, wanna fuck?” — are written. It’s weird, the power dynamics are real fucky.

So I was kinda bummed that Aveline, who’s the closest thing to an equal Hawke has in the game, isn’t into him, but I did love being able to help set her up with the guy of her dreams. That was cute and made me feel like I was an actual friend, which I liked.

It’s just super narcissistic of games to basically “hey, everyone loves you, protagonist, everyone wants to fuck you,” because like… that’s… creepy? How much you wanna bet that a lot of online gamer entitlement is shaped by the way games treat them like they’re the most important person in the universe? Kinda like how people go to a store, hear “the customer is always right,” and they think this means they literally cannot be wrong and that anything goes to retail workers? I dunno, just a thought.

Now, Merrill, she’s a lot like the other girls.

Dragon Age 2, for all its apparent attempts at making decisions difficult, has a helpful, handy dialogue tree system that encourages you not to think at all about the consequences of your actions. Do you pick the “haha funny guy” emoji response, do you pick the “serious badass” response, or do you pick “heart of gold, which means naive because no one knows how to write someone with a heart of gold who is also extremely savvy” response.

I tried to generally pick the heart of gold option, but sometimes I picked the Buffyverse Smarmy Gen X Idea Of Humor option instead. Anways, Merrill fucking sucks, and not just because she shares a name with my local weatherman growing up. I actually maxed out her hate meter for me because she wanted to do the stupidest fucking thing ever.

Remember how I said the core conflict is the mage/templar conflict, with mages on the side of “I should be allowed to become a genocidal murderer, actually,” and templars on the side of “hmm, what about people without power? i’m going to do a little murder to make this choice optional, but like, ostensibly I’m here to protect people”? Well, Merrill is a mage, and she really wants to use blood magic.

So, having gone through things like “my mother was murdered to become frankenstein’s bride,” and like “randomly i will be attacked by blood magic users on the streets,” I was not about to help her do blood magic. She wanted to fix a mirror with a magic knife because, idk, it saves some elves or something? I don’t really remember, I just remember that knives can’t generally fix glass because that’s not what a knife is for. So I told her “fuck you, absolutely not, we are not doing blood magic,” and she went “but I wanna,” and I put it in my treasure chest back at home, and then a little while later, with her hate meter maxed, she goes “fuck you, I fixed the mirror without the knife, the thing that I told you was the only thing in the world that could fix it,” (I literally checked, it was still in my treasure chest) and I was like “how?” and she shrugged.

And somehow I accidentally selected the option I thought would maybe calm things down, but no, no, what it did was cause us to bang and her to move in with me and become my video game wife.

And that’s… a whole lot of Dragon Age 2. I suspect a part of this whole “fuck player choice” thing was down to the limited runtime (every choice you make and every consequence you add is literally an order of magnitude more complexity to include in your game), but at the same time, Mass Effect 2, I’m pretty sure, has a whole conversation where you say “I am not going to join the space nazis,” and then the space nazi says “yes you will,” and you go “alright fine” and it would’ve just been better not to plant the seed in your mind that you could actually refuse and take that from you.

Look, I’m a guy who actually loves the idea that player choice is not the be-all, end-all. I think it’s important to realize we live in a world where we are each just one person out of many, and that everyone around us can make their own choices. I love the idea that sometimes we can’t make choices. In my games, I’ve presented people with false choices, I’ve presented people with non-choices; I get this. I’ve had people mad at me that my game Adios has only one ending even though the game is about accepting that you can’t control others (the farmer’s arguably biggest sin is that he was trying to make his son strong so he wouldn’t end up like the farmer did, alone in Vietnam, doing the kind of killing that gets you a medal; it was an act of love born out of trauma that involved ignoring who his son was, and there is no fixing that). I firmly believe you shouldn’t respect player choices as much as players think because of marketing that acts as if “respecting player choice” is the most important thing in games.

But what Bioware does is go “yeah, I’m going to taunt you with choices that don’t matter,” and it’s not just in Dragon Age 2, so I don’t think it’s just a case of limited development time. If each one of these was the result of a cut and not merely disrespect for the audience, then when going to cut something, you should start at the root, rather than leave the choice in and then slam a buzzer and go NOPE, fuck YOU, player.

If you wrote all this dialogue about Merrill getting this magic mirror fixed and didn’t have time to implement equally large questlines about what happens when she either does or doesn’t, then don’t force the player into a scenario where it’s fixed no matter what. If you give me the option to take away the only object that can fix the mirror, then a shitty handwave of a character going “well, I fixed it somehow” just… makes the game worse. A better option would have been to just… never bring it up again. Like, if she goes “giving me the knife progresses this quest,” and it’s something as fucking stupid as let me do blood magic, the thing that always ends poorly, and it’s an obvious choice to say no, so you pick it, and it makes her hate you, then… just let the quest end there, if you can’t actually build out something where she reacts to you taking away the one thing that can fix the mirror. Actually coming up with a bullshit reason for her to go “ehnh, I figured it out” just makes it worse. Do less work if you’re on a time constraint, not more that makes it shitty.

But that’s Dragon Age 2 for you.

Which brings me to the whole, like, “your healer murders innocent people” thing.

Portrait Of My Dead Brother

So, Anders, fun, jovial Anders, Dragon Age 2’s version of the Bioware Stephen Merchant-esque smarmy British guy archetype, is also possessed by a spirit called Justice (which apparently becomes “warped into a spirit of Vengeance” by Anders’ repressed anger), and he really doesn’t like how the templars are trying to do triage to stop the whole murder thing. Anders is, after all, a mage himself, living in a city where mages like him routinely are arrested and sometimes killed to prevent them from going insane and murdering everyone around them, which, again, is like, a cold, hard fact of the game. I don’t think there’s a single NPC blood mage in the entire game who doesn’t. I keep banging this drum because I have to.

As things get worse because the red lyrium idol that the cops confiscated turns the cops, especially the boss of the cops, even more evil, like, they’re just acting outside their mandate at this point, being jerks when they were previously just desperately trying to stop an infection they didn’t understand (related to the red lyrium — I don’t recall, four thousand days after playing it, that the game ever really getting into who made the idol, what it was, what red lyrium did, how that was connected to the fade, but I feel that should’ve been the actual focus of the plot; instead it just kinda works as a maguffin?)

There’s this one kinda nice mage dude — again it’s been almost 4,000 days, sorry if I don’t remember his name, but I do remember him being nice — who’s like the only mage who hasn’t just gone completely insane, and he gets arrested, because of course he does.

Anders, being possessed by a spirit that acts unjustly (because it’s vengeance now, not justice), murders the shit out of a church full of people. Not soldiers, but like, nuns and kids. I can’t remember if he does this before or after the guy gets arrested, but if he does it before, then it makes sense that the templars, even insane ones, would want to lock up anyone else who has, y’know, the ability to murder people with their minds, due to the average person being unable to do anything about it. And, again, one of them just demonstrated how fucking evil blood mages are by killing kids, which is literally the most unforgivable action anyone can take, ever. Even Jesus Christ, widely recognized as one of the most moral people who ever lived by people who don’t believe he was the literal manifestation of God, said people who hurt kids should be executed in horrible ways (death by drowning). Anders’ actions are fundamentally inexcusable — he doesn’t get vengeance, he just resorts to terrorism.

This is not like the real world where discriminating against a people based on their bodies would be wrong, because Dragon Age 2 repeatedly hammers home the point that all the mages go fucking insane because Kirkwall is cursed. It creates a rule of its reality that deviates from our own: there is one demographic that poses a threat to others by its mere existence, and it underscores this when a mage does blood magic while possessed by the spirit of the fade to kill kids.

So there you are, going “Anders, what the fuck, bro. What the actual fuck.”

And he’s like “you have to take a side!”

And like, at that point, you can either pick the side of the people who are all turning into psychotic murderers, joining the cause of people who are just fuckin around murdering people all the time, just straight up signing-up for ISIS if all the combatants have magical powers, or you can sign up to join all the people who are being turned into monsters by a magic statue carved out of cursed rock.

So me?

I was fuckin done, and I clicked the option that the fine folks at Bioware had put into the game, which said “fuck you all, I’m out.”

And they’re like “no, you’re The Champion of Kirkwall cause you’ve Had Some Adventures, you have to Pick A Side,” which gets back to this idea of simplistic video game morality forcing you to pick between two fucking stupid options instead of the obvious one.

This really pissed me off. Don’t include the line to say “yeah I’m fucking off” and write and record lines to say “no you have to stay!” that’s just fucking insulting. It would have taken you less effort to be less insulting and

But, look, for me, this is personal; I grew up in a religious community where “you’re either with us or against us” was the common binary. Like, you think maybe abortion should be legal? Cool, that makes you a baby murderer now. Maybe you’re too sick to go to church? That means you hate God. The entire thing was about drumming up hyperbole to allow people who think they’re superior to you to police you by manipulating you into siding with them. It’s one of the most toxic environments I’ve ever lived in, and I fucking hated it. It damaged me, growing up, and I’m still working to undo that damage.

So a game that has no real fucking point to anything because if it is, then it’s presenting a conflict that, when compared to real life, only ends up working in offensive ways (do you side with a terrorist child-murderer? are the qunari a weird take on islam? is blood magic similar to AIDS?) tries to fucking bully you into this stupid idea of “you have to pick a side” that’s reminiscent of the kind of Blue MAGA types being all “you HAVE to join Biden against Trump, he’s so much better,” and like, here we have Biden keeping children in cages, just like Trump, breaking every campaign promise, just like Trump, and ordering his CDC to prioritize profits over science, just like Trump,” while his fanbase spouts its own discriminatory bullshit about anyone perceived as the enemy, including the people actually trying to make life better for everybody (by pushing for things like vaccine and mask mandates or trying to free the kids from cages); why would I be pro-Biden when Biden is pro-kids-in-cages? Why would I join the side that says “hahaha i love it that people in Kentucky are dying from a tornado! we should deny them aid! my party intentionally sabotaged the leftist candidate so a pro-Trump lib with no chances of beating Mitch instead could try to campaign against him.”

Like, my political position is one that’s about compassion; I resent, because of my childhood and our current political climate, people who say “it’s okay for me to do evil against the people I don’t like,” when my position is “you should never do evil at all.”

I find Dragon Age 2 spineless and distasteful on a moral level, because it’s so fucking fixated on making difficult choices that it rejects the notion you can make good ones.

In other words,

So, Dragon Age 2 says you have to stay, and no matter what you pick (this one I think was definitely a time constraint thing, which doesn’t make the result less stupid, even if it is excusable), the game says “you have to pick a side. Do you pick ISIS or do you pick the Spanish Inquisition?” and like, fuck you, fuck that for making me pick a false choice, but no matter what happens, you get arrested by the crazy cop lady, thrown into jail with the one voice of reason guy, who, because the game needs a miniboss and presumably ran out of time, decides that blood magic is the solution to all their problems, because, like i fucking said, time and time again, it’s a hard and fast rule of Dragon Age 2 that all the goddamn fucking mages just transform into murderers, which proves the Templars (non-crazy edition) position that “we have to stop this” to be fundamentally goddamn correct.

This has no basis in reality, no real world analogue; there is nothing to glean from this; the game is basically giving the best possible reason in the world to oppress people, which is a horrifying idea, but because it won’t interrogate itself on whether that was actually the right move (it’s fucking not), but it has a sense that maybe oppression is bad (ya fuckin THINK?), it makes the oppressors bad too, even though in the actual context of the story the oppression is a literal necessity to prevent people with superpowers from slaughtering people without while simultaneously presenting what’s essentially an alien invasion (by demons).

It constructs a horrifying hypothetical scenario and then is like “now pick between one of two very evil groups” and there’s just no goddamn point. It’s fucking reprehensible. The templar/mage conflict is interesting but if you hold it up to our reality in any way, shape, or form, it becomes immediately fucking horrifying.

So yeah, you, alongside the child murderer, put down the guy who was like “no, no, we mages won’t all turn into monsters” after he turned into a monster because he got put in jail after a terrorist bombing a friend of his committed. He just fuckin decided to. Maybe it was because of time constraints, maybe they were always planning this way; all I can do is judge the end result. Then you go fight the lady who’s been warped by the evil statue into being an even more evil cop with powers of her own, and you kill her, and then you get to fuck off, like you always wanted.

The Democratic Party, as a business, perpetuates itself on one idea and one idea only, which is “we have to beat the Republicans.” They will never give you universal healthcare, they will never defund the police, they will never remove the children from cages. I fucking hate the Republicans, but god, I hate the Democrats who say “you have to side with us because we’ll keep things just as they are, which means that if Republicans did evil, we’ll keep that in place, all we want is to enrich ourselves on your genuine outrage.” And fuck that. Fuck a game that thinks a simplistic moral greyness is mature or good game writing.

The actual reality of human existence is this: there is good and there is evil, and sure, nobody’s perfect, but god dammit, enough with the kids in cages, enough with being hoodwinked into thinking you have to support someone shitty just so someone even shittier doesn’t win. Not all options are bad, and it’s such a fucking vile and immature way of looking at the world that it is my believe Dragon Age 2 is one of the most morally vapid games of all time, just because it was trying to be edgy.

It’s fucking garbage, and while I’m sorry that a lot of very talented people had to put up with a bullshit schedule, how many other games have done this reprehensible moral bullshit? Maybe games just fucking suck at morality and gamifying the act of doing the right thing while also trying to give the ‘bad path’ and the ‘good path’ the same amount of content as opposed to really exploring the ramifications of our own actions is a horrible way to design video games.

But hey, that’s about 12,000 words to say “maybe I should replay the game and see if I remembered it correctly in the year 2022. And maybe I should stream it.” No promises, but uh, we’ll see.



Doc Burford

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.