Dragon Age is a series I didn’t get into until very recently, for several reasons. One of the reasons was a simple lack of time to play every video game I want to play. Another reason was “I dunno, I’m not really a Bioware person.” And, finally, there was the “I know I’m going to get obsessed with it if I play it, so I’m not going to play it” reason. Hey, at least I can say I know myself well, right?
So a few months back I gave in, due largely to Mister Adequate’s insistence as he’d recently played through the games and recommended them. So I bought them, rubbed my hands together, and went on a marathon. I played all three – Origins, 2, and Inquisition, as well as nearly all of the DLC – in order. And I came out of the experience a broken creature, sniffling and teary-eyed because this stupid game series had put me through the wringer more than anything in recent memory. (Except maybe Undertale, which had me sobbing because a couple of pixels told me I was their friend, but that’s a story for a different blog post.)
Anyways. The tale of how Dragon Age ruined my life.
I figure most of you reading this have probably heard of this series, if not played it. So I won’t go into huge detail about what it is. A quick overview, though, just in case: it’s a party-based CRPG – a spiritual successor to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – but modernized for a new generation. It’s made by Bioware, which means it’s full of choices and romance and a pretty thick story. The lore is excellent and done in a way that it falls smack in the middle of Saturday Morning 80s Cartoon (Warcraft) and Complicated Ethereal Tangle Where Everything and Nothing is Canon (The Elder Scrolls). But while all of these things were well done, where this series truly shines is the characters.
They’re my best friends in the world and I love them dearly.
The Dragon Age Setting aka Thedas (yes Bioware we all see what you did there) is a dark fantasy world inspired by, among other things, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. But whereas I eventually quit watching Game of Thrones because it was just so dark and dreary all the time– oh look, another one of your favorite characters bit the dust in a horrible fashion, hooray!– Dragon Age actually manages to shine a beam of hope through its dark world. And that hope is largely generated by the companions you meet, who offer moments both humorous and tender. So while death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints (and it takes and it takes and it takes)… well, we keep living anyway, and you’re not alone. And let me tell you what, in today’s world, that’s an incredibly comforting reminder.
So moving on. If you laugh in the face of the idea of falling in love with a bunch of polygons on your monitor, I’ve got news for you buddy: Alistair is adorkable, Zevran needs your help remembering his worth, Leliana wants to talk to you about shoes and Shale is a giant robot made of rocks. Also you get a dog.
Ohhh and we’re not done yet. Hold on to your hats because it’s time for Dragon Age 2 which is all about friendship with a bunch of losers who only ever exist to make your life a living hell, and yet you love them anyway because… why?
You’ve got Varric, the Ultimate Bro (using bro in a good way here – he’s your buddy, your wingman), Aveline, the Mom Friend, Merrill, who is as clueless as she is adorable, Isabela the sweet-talkin’ pirate, Fenris the broody (“I’m not brooding!”) anime elf featuring Gideon Emery’s smooth movie trailer voice, and Anders, the healer who likes cats and FREEDOM and more cats.
…granted, that doesn’t mention the parts where Merrill is really into blood magic and trying to fix a Very Evil Broken Mirror, Isabela conveniently being the reason why a bunch of Baddies won’t leave the city, Fenris’ penchant for drinking and ripping peoples’ hearts from their chests, and Anders sharing his mind with a demon and blowing things up.
But, I mean, they’re family, right? And families are weird and dysfunctional. And that’s not even getting started on your actual in-game family.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the newest and fanciest one, and features many new and wonderful friends such as a Spirit of Compassion who doesn’t want to hurt anyone but is mysteriously very good at stabbing people, and an unwashed apostate hobo elf whose head looks like an egg and who speaks in iambic pentameter half the time. He also [redacted] and [DATA EXPUNGED] and romance him at your own peril because YOU WILL REGRET IT and end up buying plushies of him that you then sob over.
…not that I did that or anything.
And I most definitely did not dedicate a Spotify playlist to him. Nnnnope. Not me.
The point is that Dragon Age does for characters what The Elder Scrolls did for a world. Morrowind throws you into a strange and alien land and over the course of the game you come to care about it, and that’s your motivation for beating the Big Bad. With Dragon Age, you’re thrown into strange circumstances with a bunch of strange companions, and you care for them so much that they’re your motivation for beating the Big Bads.
Ultimately, this series is comfort food of the best kind: the kind we need right now. 2016 has not been particularly kind to us. A lot of scary and tumultuous things are happening in the world right now. It’s rough when every day you dread checking the latest news headlines or reading the trending topics on Twitter or Facebook. It makes you wonder where the bright spots are. What, in this strange, chaotic world, is worth it?
The world of Dragon Age is not kind to its inhabitants and yet its inhabitants are still plucky and still your friends. They need you, and you need them. And they’re not perfect, but they make you smile. Or cry. Or laugh. Or all three. And maybe, just maybe, it’s nice to have the reminder that there are people who are worth fighting for. Both in a video game and in real life.
And frankly if there are video games that can remind you of that, then those are video games worth playing.