Why Shouldn’t All Dragon Age Romances Be Available to All PCs?

Let me outline the point made again and again in the Dragon Age portions of the BSN that has spawned this post. “The sexuality of an NPC should be set, not something the main character influences. Knowing I can romance the same person with both genders ruins my immersion!”

My response? Quit meta-gaming. If you can’t do that simply restrain yourself and don’t romance the same character with both genders. Unless the companion in question makes his or her sexual preferences explicit, your player character does not know what they are. If you think that person should be straight don’t initiate a homosexual relationship and vice versa.

Then there’s the sub-argument that BioWare’s games are too player-centric in general and the move to variable sexual preferences is a further step in the wrong direction. All I can say in response to that is to ask why you’ve chosen to play an RPG if you don’t want to influence the game universe. Is that not what they’re for? Go play Halo if you want an exciting game with a good story with characters you can’t change.

Where Do I Stand on the Mage/Templar Conflict?

As a little background, the BioWare Social Network contains about four million posts outlining one member or another’s feelings on the way that mages are treated in Dragon Age. They cover all sides, from whole-heartedly defending Templars and the Chantry to declaring that mages should rebel and take over as they are more suited to rule.

Personally, I’m invested in grey area when it comes to human freedom in Thedas. David Gaider recently posted about this very issue and made an apt analogy: “It’s more like a gun control issue—if there were people with guns that could go off and kill innocents by accident, and who couldn’t be disarmed without a lobotomy.”

That’s pretty much where I fall on the question of human rights when it comes to mages. I don’t ascribe nefarious motives or in-born weakness to them as a group. Each mage is a different individual, but one born armed and—without training—one who grows more dangerous over time.

Morrigan, Flemeth, and the Inquisition

We know, now, that Morrigan will play an important role in Dragon Age: Inquisition. From past experience, we can guess that Flemeth will also be involved somewhere. BioWare has set the two against one another, after all.

I’ve seen some vehement defenses of Morrigan, some folks who insist that she’s sacrificing her happiness for the greater good in fighting Flemeth (and having that pesky Old God Baby). Rather than derail a thread or three there I thought I’d post my thoughts here.

The first of them is, “Poppycock!” While some people see our acerbic hedge witch as altruistic and self-sacrificing I see her as cold-hearted and calculating. She has an agenda, all right, but you have to consider who she opposes as well as what she says.

Dragon Age: Inquisition News—Races, Horses, and More Time

It’s conspiracy theory time, boys and girls! I’ve come up with my own little pet theory regarding the fantastic news about Dragon Age: Inquisition that has now been released. We’re waiting an extra year but oh, the tradeoff!

We’re told that the extra year will be spent on such beautiful things as mounts, multiple player races, and wider exploration with partially interact-able environments. Should you not have heard this news, enjoy the squee of joy over letting your dwarf ride a pony for a moment.

Now that you’ve considered the excitement of playing elves (prettily redesigned once again) and weather affecting movement and combat, you might wonder at how BioWare convinced EA to grant them this extra year. This is where that conspiracy theory arises.


Dragon Age’s Red Lyrium, Part Two

I wrote recently about my theory surrounding the genesis of the red lyrium with which we become disturbingly familiar over the course of Dragon Age 2. Because I’m so long-winded, I decided to stop speculating about the past and start spinning tales around what we do know and where BioWare might take us, as they have confirmed that they will in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

All of that last red lyrium post brought us around full circle to that idol that the Tethras brothers and Hawke find on the altar in DA2. Even presuming it existed when the thaig was abandoned, we know it’s far from inert. What we don’t know is whether it was corrupted when it was made or if it was subsequently tainted.

I see no reason to assume that lyrium requires direct, physical contact to absorb something as ephemeral as spirits. Even if it did, we cannot know how long the Profane have been lying inactive. The demon we meet there says that they hunger but it must have been a very long time since the dwarves drove the Darkspawn that deep. What they crave could, after all, be the spirits of the dead.

Questions: Alistair and the Warden on Her Leaving

If the Warden and Alistair were still involved at the end of Dragon Age: Origins he mentions her to Hawke in DA2, whether as a Grey Warden or as King of Ferelden. Yet four short years later Cassandra observes to Leliana that Hawke has gone missing, “just like the Warden.”

Whether it can be a coincidence or not (and, one assumes from the inclusion of the line that it is not), she and Alistair must have had quite the conversation about it before she left him. Because you have several ways to play DA:O even within the confines of an Alistair-Warden relationship, you could have anything from a wife leaving her capable husband to rule his country to a mistress bailing out on a miserable king who only rules with the support of his uncle and didn’t want the job in the first place.

We don’t know a thing about where the Warden went, as yet. For the moment, my head canon is that she didn’t tell Alistair, either. I sincerely doubt he could stand up to Leliana’s determined questioning, after all. Even a hardened king still wants to think the best of everyone and would never believe the devout little redhead that helped save Thedas wasn’t his trusted friend. But if the Warden can’t tell him where she’s going, what the heck would she have said?

Transmutation, Chapter 5

A Warden and a Worry

On an early-spring day of the sort that made Cullen wish the Circle tower had windows below the Harrowing chamber, a man arrived that threw the complacent residents into turmoil. The weathered little boat rowed across Lake Callenhad unannounced and a Grey Warden stepped onto the dock.

His dark beard jutted to a perfect point before him and his distinctive plate threw sparks of sunlight as he strode up to the doors with a dagger and sword gleaming prominently on his back, at least according to the men guarding the entry that day. Everyone in Thedas knew of the fabled order and their ages-old charge to protect their world from a threat unseen for four hundred years, no one at Kinloch Hold had ever seen a Warden nor expected to.

Even in the isolation of the Hold reports had come ever more frequently of skirmishes with Darkspawn, the tainted creatures that teemed in the Deep Roads the dwarves had tunneled beneath all the known world thousands of years before. The king himself, Cailan the Glorious, had called for a contingent of the Circle’s strongest mages to travel far south to Ostagar.

What Is Wrong with Dragon Age’s Red Lyrium?

As the beginning of a fascinating discussion about lyrium, both red and blue, on the BSN recently the idea was posited that the special stone is not, in fact, mere mineral but actually a living entity. The concept immediately captured my imagination and I’ve been pondering the implications since.

The short version runs thus: dwarves literally go back to the stone when they die. The bodies as well as the spirits of their dead are absorbed by the veins of lyrium that run through the entirety of Thedas (and, one presumes, the planet on which that continent is located but that’s a much different set of speculations). Lyrium sings, as is clearly demonstrated, and it does so with the voices of dwarven ancestors.

Now, I can’t say that I’m sold on the idea that lyrium eats the dead bodily. I’ve got this awful vision of dwarven tombs empty but for a tendril of ravenous, glowing blue stone waiting for its next helping. However, the concept of its both creating and reclaiming the spirits of the dwarves does make a certain amount of sense in the Dragon Age universe. But what about that dangerous red lyrium?

Romances, ME3, and Why I Still Want More Thane

It suddenly dawned on me why BioWare shoved the ME2 love interests out the air lock, as it were. They couldn’t explain, otherwise, why they waited 95% of the entire timeline to leap back into bed with the Commander. I haven’t played my lone Garrus-mancer yet and I never romanced Tali so I don’t know how they handle that but if Thane, Jacob, or Miranda were part of the crew why on earth would they be anywhere but sharing Shepard’s cabin? Damn, I’m going to have to do some research on this.

It’s only been six months since any of the second game’s love interests saw the last of the Commander. Why wouldn’t Tali or Garrus be right back into it, especially if they were on the mission that landed Shep in jail in the first place? All of the “three years apart, you worked for Cerberus and I’m a loyal Alliance soldier” trust angst that Kaidan and Ashley have for (completely believable) excuses fail in the face of anyone that accompanied Shepard on the ME2 journey.

So they get Jacob a new woman, which is okay because it always seemed like a fling rather than a romance to me. They give Miranda massive family issues (and then massive internal injuries) that keep her away from the Normandy. And Thane? Thane they kill,

Transmutation, Chapter 4

Routine Disruptions

There were accusations and even proven incidents of Templars stepping over the boundary between guarding and abusing. The Order was no different than any other group: bad apples found their way into it. What was deemed a healthy fear of mages had been ingrained in each of them and some chose to prove their dedication by dominating their charges instead of monitoring them.

The long quiet that Cullen found in the Ferelden Circle tower fostered a sense of protection rather than oppression. It led to boredom more than violence but that lack of excitement posed its own dangers. Whispers circulated and he heard stories of beatings or more-subtle punishments for infractions real, imagined, or even invented for entertainment.

Half of those whispers in Cullen’s first days at Kinloch Hold concerned a young man brought to the tower by force at the unusually advanced age of twelve. From the very beginning the boy had tried to escape the Circle’s confines. He had taken advantage of the beach excursions novice mages had once enjoyed to swim away one afternoon.

Pie in the Sky Dreams for SWTOR

As the title above suggests, what I’m painting here is a best-case scenario. This is where I would like to see the game heading, not what I think will happen. A girl can dream SWOTR dreams, can’t she?

With the release of the Makeb expansion for Star Wars: The Old Republic and the interview which seemingly spells out the abandonment of class-specific stories, my mind wandered to what I would like to see from future content. As I’ve got one character of each class (and a series of duplicates) I’m pretty familiar with the beginnings of all of the classes, though I haven’t yet finished but three stories. That’s due to hitting level cap, which the expansion fixed, so I’ll be spending a lot of quality time on Corellia in the near future.

My thought was this: wouldn’t it be lovely if Makeb were simply an interlude in class stories, a setting for the next stage of your PC’s involvement in galactic matters?

Transmutation, Chapter 3

Everyday Temptations

In the days that followed Cullen learned the routines of his new home.  He found his way around the unfamiliar halls and came to understand that mages did not cook with fireballs or play catch with bolts of lightning.  What he’d been taught to fear was more a myth than a reality.

He saw children as young as five or six who had been brought in from all over Ferelden, taken from their families or turned over to a Chantry somewhere.  Few of them displayed the power do to much more than hurt themselves or break the dishes.  Most simply settled into the dormitory with the other novices.  The apprentices that watched and guided the little ones had long experience dealing with homesickness and tiny rebellions, from their own adjustments to life in the tower as much as from having seen them with each new child.

The newest Templars were usually assigned to the most senior enchanters, those who had been with the Circle for decades and whose stability was most proven.  Cullen was the youngest of the Order at the Tower and the first new recruit to have come for several years.  As a result he did little more for his first few weeks than walk the upper corridors with an older man.

Questions: The Amell Warden and Jowan

I never liked Jowan in Dragon Age: Origins. From the very first run I looked on him with distrust. Everything he did proved me right. In part it was that greasy-looking hair; in part it was asking his supposed closest friend to help him do something dangerous and illegal then making her do all the work.

Factor into that his unwillingness to piss or get off the pot as far as the Harrowing was concerned, add that nasal, whining voice, and you get nails on a chalkboard. Jowan was precisely what the ritual of Tranquility was designed to control: a weak-willed mage who would turn to blood magic because he wasn’t talented enough to do anything useful. His only saving grace was that he turned out to know the ritual to get the Warden into the Fade to save little Connor from the demon that was raising the dead all around Redcliffe’s castle. I found him to be a weasel of the highest order.

Thus, I’ve written the sort of conversations my Amell Warden would have had with him, had she been able. This is, of course, tongue in cheek. First, a short conversation during the Templar confrontation at the beginning of the mage origin:

Dragon Age: Asunder, The Masked Empire, and DA3

Recently we’ve gotten news that Patrick Weekes, newly freed by BioWare from his fantastic work in the Mass Effect universe, not only had moved to work on Dragon Age: Inquisition but that he would be writing the next in the series of books based around the games. Speculation on the BioWare Social Network has, naturally run rampant.

As I’d not read any of the books after the horrid mess that was Mass Effect Deception, I thought I’d suck it up and read lead writer David Gaider’s Asunder so that I could form an opinion on whether the projected April, 2014 release date for Dragon Age: The Masked Empire indicated anything about the release date for the next game.

The argument runs thus: The Masked Empire’s plot covers the Orlesian civil war that was just beginning in earnest as Asunder came to an end. Thus it would set the stage for the events of the Inquisition and would be released before the game.

My response, having finished Asunder all of ten minutes ago, is, “Poppycock!” What follows contains some serious ending spoilers so if you don’t want to know, don’t click through. I won’t spill all the gory details though because you really should read the book, particularly if you want to see Wynne and Shale again. It’s exciting, filled with lore tidbits, and it’s from David Gaider so you know it’s well written.

Transmutation, Chapter 2

A Fitting Introduction

With gratitude toward his parents and his devotion to Andraste strengthening his dedication, Cullen had applied himself to his training and absorbed the lessons of his elders. Eight years of assignments in increasingly larger villages had brought him full circle back to the Chantry in Denerim where he was evaluated by the same people that had begun his training.

Along the way he had had occasion to help Templar Hunters find escaped mages. He had guarded children turned in by their families until representatives of the Circle could retrieve them. He’d seen fear paralyze the hunted and felt it pierce his own heart. But mostly he had waited.

He had stood in needless plate to stare across fields and contemplate dun-colored hills. He had guarded wooden chests in which naught but a few coins rattled, all the local farmers could spare to help those with even less. He had listened to the muddled, rambling stories of Templars who could barely raise their swords.

Dragon Age, a New Engine, and Skin Color

I’ve read from a few of the developers on BioWare’s boards that the Frostbite engine can produce realistic skin tones in the darker spectrum and that they intend to make use of that capability. First, let me say that I can’t wait. I like to make my PCs in a variety of colors but the old engine generally went from “glass of milk” to “badly jaundiced”.

[Sidebar: I adore that SWTOR lets me not only go from grey-white to ebony black but all the primary colors and combinations thereof. I have sky blue, deep green, blood red, and chalk white as well as my humans. It’s agonizing to pick for new characters, but an agony that I enjoy to the hilt.]

Dragon Age 2 did a little better but anything darker than a light tan tended to look odd. However, there’s been a lengthy and intermittently interesting debate about the inclusion of cultural elements from outside medieval Europe which has somehow devolved into a discussion of Africa, genetic phenotypes, and how Isabela can be black.

Transmutation, Chapter 1

First-Day Jitters

Cullen’s first day at the Ferelden Circle of Magi in Kinloch Hold was nothing like what his Templar training had led him to expect. Instead of slavering fiends waiting for a moment’s inattention to burst into full demonic flower he found children carrying books, elderly women who looked more like his grandmother than dangerous maniacs, and young people studying and engaging in lively debates.

He had first joined the Order as a recruit at the age of fourteen, fresh from the farm, filled with self-assurance and love for Andraste. The good Sisters had cropped his red-gold curls short, fit him for long skirts and his first shiny breastplate, and given him a sword. He and a dozen others had sworn to loyalty and devotion to the Maker and his bride. It was, in short, as thrilling as he’d expected…for about a week.

Then he discovered that most of his time would be spent studying and learning Chantry history and scripture. Lessons began with reading. None but the wealthiest young people recently accepted could make out so much as their own names much less the ornate and dusty tomes containing the Chant of Light. Rote memorization and long lectures filled the hours between chores and meals.

Tidbit Tuesday: Tactical Retreat, Part Three

With renewed energy Anderson and I fought our way to the pick-up point. Earth may have been under attack and the war with the Reapers just beginning but this was one tiny battle we would win.

In the distance I spied the long lines of the ship I loved, the replacement for the one the Collectors had taken from me. I wondered briefly if my armor still lay tucked away in my old quarters then I turned my attention back to the sons of bitches who were keeping me from finding out.

I cursed my frustration at them, my anger at what the Reapers had done to my life, my fury at their appearing just when the Alliance had finally started to take the threat seriously. The almost-Turian creatures kept coming, snarling and shooting, and they kept falling before us. Their recognizable weapons proved that they’d once been a more-familiar species but at least they kept us in ammo as we advanced.

Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 12

Kaidan’s hackles rose a bit. He’d heard rumors of an organization within the military, an analog of the distasteful Humans First political movement that held the occasional rally on the Citadel and, in his opinion, set back the cause of human integration into galactic society every time they opened their mouths.

Such a speciesist group within the Alliance would have access to technology and funding about which the rabble busily spouting human superiority in the Zakera Ward wouldn’t even know. It would explain the band’s presence at the cross-species receptions as the only people in the room not subjected to careful scans.

“Is that what this is about?” Kaidan unconsciously kept his voice low, the wheels turning in his head. A scandal confirming the existence of Cerberus, it there was such a thing, within the military could destroy the tenuous alliance that held the two species together on the SR-1 project.

Mass Effect Aftermath: Speculation for All!

I’ve been trying for months to wrap my head around the implications of the ending of the Mass Effect franchise. The universe in the games has a few rules that imply some fairly unsavory problems for the species trapped in the Sol system if Shepard chooses red on the Citadel and the mass relays are destroyed. To that end I’ve put together some thoughts about what it would mean for those left in our immediate, stellar vicinity.

There aren’t going to be any female Krogan on Earth so Humans will only have the ones still alive after ME3 to venerate—until they die. That would be hundreds of years, of course. The surviving Asari will live as long or longer. Generations of Humans will grow up around the very people who fought what will become a storied war. That can keep it from fading to a myth on Earth, if not anywhere else in the galaxy.

Asari can interbreed with anyone, which means that will eventually start outnumbering the other species, except Humans, and us only because we have a head start with the billions of people who don’t live in the large cities targeted by Reapers. I suspect the Asari would try to take charge of Earth in the future, which would make for an interesting story.


Tidbit Tuesday: Tactical Retreat, Part 2

“Kaidan.”

I hoped I didn’t sound as breathless as I felt. I hadn’t had too many opportunities to practice my cool composure over the last several months. What else could I say to the man I loved, the man who’d already dismissed me once, who’d never even sent me a message after I’d survived my suicide mission and returned triumphant, much less while I’d been imprisoned in his home town?

He couldn’t have contacted me directly but surely he could have gotten a message through Anderson. He hadn’t. I still missed him so badly it hurt.

He looked down at me, his face coldly neutral. “Shepard.” Where was he hiding those eyes, the ones that had softened when he’d looked at me, the source of those looks that I dreamt of at night? He’d had them on Horizon. They’d flashed at me for a few long moments before he’d stuffed his feelings behind his good-soldier fa├žade. No hint of them showed now.

BioWare Development Teams and Forum Interaction: A Model of Inconsistency

When I first came to BioWare, it was via Dragon Age: Origins. Thus it was through those boards that I began seeing how BioWare interacts with its customers. It turns out, though, that the Dragon Age team has a unique relationship with fans of the game, even among the company’s own employees.

If you spend time on the DA boards, whether DA:O, DA2, or the brand-new Dragon Age: Inquisition subforum, you’ll see writers, QA guys, and various other devs wander in—sometimes to stay a while—and discuss the game and its lore with people. They respond to threads, they talk about other games and their preferences, they drop teasers and generally are well-liked members of the community.

David Gaider pops in to dismiss nasty rumors or start them. He’s sardonically funny and very opinionated, but he’s clear on his vision and sternly corrects people providing disinformation or making wild assumptions. He’ll stay and argue his point, as well.

A spin through the Mass Effect boards used to be similar, with devs and writers answering questions and giving insight to their fans. That changed a great deal with the frankly abusive behavior of some folks on the BioWare Social Network surrounding Mass Effect 3 and, to be honest, I haven’t spent much time there since. The atmosphere became poisoned and too much of the fun went out of the conversations.

And then we come to SWTOR. The Star Wars: The Old Republic forum is kept completely separate from the BSN, which I suppose I understand to a point, but to me it really hurts the former. The people who have fun at the BSN don’t frequent the SWTOR boards and Star Wars fans don’t see what kind of community BioWare fosters around their other games.

The folks on the SWTOR team, however, work for BioWare and must know folks on the other teams. Were they willing to put in a little time dropping teasers and discussing what’s already been released the complainers who point out—quite truthfully—that no one from the company posts would be silenced. I don’t think one post a week saying, essentially, “You’ll love it, just wait, but we’re not going to tell you anything,” counts.

Thus my suggestion to whoever leads BioWare now: get some of the SWTOR team into the game’s site to talk about the game as it exists. Let them answer questions about class stories and companions. Have someone finally explain why we have clickable escape pods that don’t do anything. Give them a little room to show their passion.

As an example, I just finished Chapter 1 of the Jedi Knight story. I found the final three missions exciting (and that burning planet was gorgeous!) but I never thought of going to the boards to thank the writers or the art team. Had it been DA or even ME I would have found a thread doing so already and added my kudos, fairly sure that it would be seen by at least one person who could feel the love and may have already posted there thanking people.

Then once staff has had a chance to play a little, link the two sites. Nowhere on the BSN could I find anything about SWTOR nor vice versa. Had I not been introduced to the game via the original BioWare site I wouldn’t have known it existed. People bashing BioWare in general, rather than just the SWTOR team, for never communicating with their customers might get a real eye opener if they clicked over to the BSN and saw how staff on the DA team operates.

My hope is that a thriving group like Dragon Age’s fans can show the SWTOR folks that’s there’s more than enough room for fun and civil debate even in the face of no real information from devs. Sure, there’s criticism and (to me) ridiculous amounts of hyperbole in describing the failings of older games. Trolls troll, haters hate, the world is round, a community works a lot better when the devs are willing to show their digital faces and act like they give a hang.

That’s what missing from the SWTOR community: proof that the people making the game care about it. The vitriol and the absence of an “official word” on pretty much anything drives away anyone looking for a fun place to discuss the game outside of general chat.

Paid PR people, enthusiastic though they might come across, don’t count, in this endeavor. All of the negativity and hysterical posts, with that little BioWare tag showing up almost nowhere but the sticky posts, gives a strong message that staff don’t care. Whether that’s accurate or not I have no way of knowing because they don’t tell me any different.

Get them posting, BioWare. Have SWTOR writers or designers post at least in the Story and Lore or Classes subfora. Let them talk about their favorite story moment or explain how the team decided that a smuggler would be willing to work exclusively for the Republic for a good long while. (Note: “Han Solo did” is not a useful response.)

If the Star Wars: The Old Republic writers and other devs have any passion for the game, the community has not been allowed to see it. There will always be whining, complaining, the not-infrequent rage-quit, and even some constructive criticism. As it stands the most-passionate community members, the ones who are willing to wade through the cesspool of fury that is the SWTOR boards, would benefit from seeing that some of BioWare’s employees care at least as much about the game as they do.

In a perfect world, the devs would change from faceless pencil pushers working as EA’s lackeys to talented, invested people that the community welcomes with open arms. In this one, well, that will still happen to an extent. The transition may be ugly but, with a lot of moderation on the boards and a committed effort to engage their fans, the forums on SWTOR’s site can turn into a place for players to turn rather than one they avoid like the rakghoul plague.