Things We Love: Dragon Age II

Storytelling has become a critical part of modern video games. RPGs (roleplaying games) tend to be the most story-driven titles out there, which appeal to me (Erin) as a writer.

I’ve played games that have left me in tears. Games with characters that I still think about years later. A few games I’ve played over and over again, because I can’t get enough of the world and people who populate that game disc.

Sounds a lot like books we love, doesn’t it?

Bioware is known for making games with great story and interesting characters. Both their Dragon Age and Mass Effect series (along with previous titles) allow the player to make their own character, who they control throughout the journey. The player is then joined by secondary characters who serve as the player’s companions for the game’s duration.

These secondary characters are their own people, with varying opinions that shape up as an “approval system” in the game mechanics. You make choices as the player – good, evil, merciful, badass, rude, kind – and the characters react. They have their own opinions and you can’t please everyone, just like real life. This is also much like in a novel, where the protagonist’s choices have consequences.

(Spoilers Ahead for Dragon Age II, be warned!)

Supporting Cast of Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II’s relationship scale was based on Friendship or Rivalry. The main conflict of the story focused around the tensions between mages (wizards) and Templars (religious knights) who serve the Chantry (religious order). Mages can do great good, but are also tempted by demons – and when the demons win, people die. The Chantry controls the mages, and when a mage is suspected of consorting with a demon, they are killed – but extremists in the order see evil everywhere, and innocent mages suffer as a result.

The supporting cast have very strong opinions on the matter. The free mage Anders, who is actively fighting against mage oppression, will be angry if you do anything against mages – even if the mages are in the wrong. In contrast, the former slave Fenris, who was abused by a mage, will be in conflict with anything you do to help mages regardless of their innocence or crimes.

So what do you do? You can’t please them both, and at points in the story your relationships with these two reach critical crossroads.

In the end of the game, you must choose between supporting the mages or the Chantry in an epic battle. Depending on which side you take support, you may be forced to kill certain companion characters if your views don’t align with theirs.

There’s a wider cast of characters as well, most of whom are less black and white than Fenris and Anders. Entire Wikipedia pages have been dedicated to how to manage these relationships when you play the game: Who do you bring on what quest if he want to be friends with one person, but a rival to another? Can you be friends with everyone despite their differing views? If you enter a romance with a character, is there a choice that will damage the relationship beyond repair, or can it be salvaged if you’ve made your case well enough along the way?

It really is a great study for character motivation. When you make a secondary character (or even your protagonist), think about what stances they take in the larger fight. What view will they never compromise, even if faced with an opposite truth?  Is there a special person who can show them a side they never considered? What smaller nuances about the character are reflected in the conflict at large, even if that particular character doesn’t have a direct stake in the bigger plot issues?

Dragon Age II asked these questions, and really got me thinking about how I can make the characters I create in my manuscripts just as compelling. 

-- Erin