Dragon Age 4 needs to embrace its dark origins | PCGamesN

Dragon Age 4 needs to embrace its dark origins

Dragon Age Origins Broodmother

There is a dwarf in one of the dungeons in Dragon Age: Origins who recites a disturbing poem as she sits hunched over, picking flesh from the floor. The sombre recital foreshadows a forthcoming fight with a hellish abomination known as the Broodmother. The Broodmother is more breast than beast - layers of sagging bosom roll over the top of one another like fleshy waves, a body made solely of red tentacles and pink blubber, the creature’s lips stretched back to reveal gingivitis gums.

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The Broodmother you encounter was once a human woman. She was Held captive by a subterranean threat called the Darkspawn, who force-feed their victims Darkspawn tissue by vomiting it directly into their mouth. This process is carried out on a number of women, mutating them and giving them a taste for the flesh of their new Darkspawn brethren. Once fully transformed, these cannibalistic creatures can give birth to 50 Darkspawn at a time, with the ones they do not consume at birth enlisted into the Darkspawn army once strong enough. It is no wonder the Broodmother needs so many nipples. 

Dragon Age: Origins is packed full of lore and detail like this: sickening, self-contained stories in a game where you are, ultimately, hunting a massive dragon known as the Archdemon, preparing to save the world in a climactic showdown. 

Longtime Dragon Age sidekick and morally-iffy mage, Morrigan.

One of the opening quests, The Arl of Redcliffe, tasks you with defending a cursed town from an undead army. You soon discover that Connor Guerrin, the pre-teen son of the Arl, has been possessed by a demon. There are multiple ways to deal with this problem: you can allow the child’s mother to sacrifice herself; you can enter The Fade, a dreamscape where demons reside, and confront the monster controlling him; or, you can euthanise the boy. 

For reasons that should be entirely apparent, most games shy away from portraying the death of children, much less make you their murderer. In Dragon Age: Origins, however, the unsettling decision is thematically warranted. Like some twisted fairytale, children are the perfect prey for the game’s interdimensional oddities: naive, weak, and willing to believe that a talking cat is just that - a cat. Dragon Age: Origins imagines demons as not only evil beings, but as parasitic entities that latch onto the most vulnerable. Its outlook is bleak. 

As with its desire demons that seduce their prey with promises of fame, power, and the pleasures of the flesh, Dragon Age: Origins constantly tempts you into giving in to your dark side. Hence there is another solution to The Arl of Redcliffe’s Connor problem: agree to a pact with Connor’s resident demon and it will grant you power. Let her keep control of the boy, let her lay dormant, and your character can win favour with your allies, or instantly learn blood magic with a simple dialogue option. 

Best RPG Dragon Age: Origins

The structure of the game makes these temptations stronger still. Your ultimate goal is to stop the Darkspawn advancing from the bowels of the earth, and to slay the Archdemon - this is more important than any sub story. You are tasked with building up your power by any means and to recruit the strongest warriors to your army. Perhaps that means helping a powerful pack of werewolves to murder a village of elvish warriors, just because you would rather have the werewolves’ claws, fangs, and regenerative healing properties help out in the final battle, rather than the arrows of some wood elves. 

With the next Dragon Age game recently confirmed to be in development, I would love to see the series return to the bleakness of the first game. Choice-heavy games are at their best when there is no simple answer to any solution, where you consider the big picture even as you help people with their personal problems. Sure, I’ll help you out, townsfolk, but what’s in it for me? What advantages will this give me in the final battle?

Dragon Age: Origins’ choices had more impact because of these considerations. It was a game that made you feel genuinely bad, and not just because you were roleplaying a character deemed morally corrupt. You feel bad because you made an awful decision, but you did it for good reasons. It is complex, messy, and dark. Wherever the next game takes us, I hope it embraces the series’ (literal) origins, takes all the components that made everything work so well, wraps them all in blubber, and pulls them into its gummy orifice with a slimy mess of tentacles. 

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Shriven avatarNihlusGreen avatarJTP1 avatarLolssi avatarJnx avatarbrianjohnson003 avatar+3
JTP1 Avatar
83
3 Months ago

I'm sure they will play it safe. Don't want to upset anyone.

3
Jnx Avatar
76
3 Months ago

The IP is all over the place, I don't think they have anything safe left. Better just bury and make a new one which doesn't have any burden to carry.

0
Shriven Avatar
3493
3 Months ago

The Werewolves vs Elves really stands out in DA:O too. As does The Mage Tower quests. Its just a fantastic game.

2
NihlusGreen Avatar
662
3 Months ago

If only Andrew Wilson was as passionate about this kind of story telling as loot boxes / games-as-a-service, then I'm sure the next DA could be something; lets hope for the best!

2
Lolssi Avatar
395
3 Months ago

I always thought it was sad attempt on their part when they called it dark fantasy. And yet it felt mild after playing the Witcher.

Origins wasn't any darker than half the RPGs I've played. It just had more blood (it was nice).

1
brianjohnson003 Avatar
2
3 Months ago

Needs less console, less spiders and more PC.

1
ilavayoulolipop Avatar
1
3 Months ago

Yep, I can't get truly invested into a game's story without a healthy dose of child death and mutilating women. My favorite game mechanic is making the decision to torture and kill others myself!

1
skyrim655 Avatar
1
2 Months ago

that poem recited by that corrupted dwarf - i still remember - gave me chills at the time - game was well written and compelling. next 2 not so much

1
QDP2 Avatar
995
1 Month ago

I don't believe I know another franchise so diverse in its talents and flaws from title to title.

DA1 had good graphics (for its time), and a fun story. The gameplay itself wasn't revolutionary, but the story covered that flaw for me. Add in the different races that've made it one of very few RPGs I've completed multiple playthroughs on, I'd argue they couldn't have started off stronger to the franchise.

DA2 was hated by the community, but I like to look at the title through as blurred a set of nostalgic glasses as I can find. It had my favourite story arc of the entire series. The dark tones of this middle chapter were fun to explore, and developing Kirkwall as a city was a cool idea. Unfortunately they murdered replayability (locking you to the Hawk siblings) and replaced Origins highlight with executive decisions to cull work in favour of repeating maps, rather than making time zones feel unique (or offer more than 2 cave systems on loop).

DA:I made the gameplay as open as possible, and I would probably place it as the most entertaining gameplay (in terms of minute-to-minute, how fun my actions felt) of the series. Unfortunately with its new map it picked up Fallout-syndrome for me. Here's a key quest, Rifts will kill us all! Now go farm sheep. We've formed the inquisition to stop the chaos! Khajiit has wares if you have coin.

My main problem with DA:I wasn't the game itself, but the comparison hook I had placed on myself for playing Witcher 3 first. Witcher's lore team, gameplay design team, mapping team and story team were so closely interwebbed that you felt everything you did had meaning. It all related to the story (be it through hints towards Ciri, or deep moral life-lessons). Nothing felt like filler, and that meant I was never left pondering "shouldn't I be rushing off to do this?". DA:I always left me questioning whether I was having fun, or if I should be doing something else to better use my time.

It had its highlights, but questions kept arising around gameplay mechanics, rather than around story. "I could go on this interesting mission, but I don't want other side-quests to fail because I progressed to far. Guess I'll drog through these boring tasks first." Or even worse "there's 13 minutes till Leliana returns from her convoy, guess I'll watch some YouTube before travelling to that new region."

Being so full of chore-like content, the entertainment dreared to a halt and the story lost its hook to me. It didn't matter that the combat was more fun than the past titles when I didn't care for the worlds inhabitants, as they'd become scripts of code above people long ago.

The world of Dragon Age holds a lot of interesting themes. The death and destruction drew me into the story of Origins and riveted me down through the bumpy ride of DA2. I never completed Inquisition but after 50+ hours and a plot twist I decided there was nothing the title could do to return entertainment. Should DA4 point in the right direction I will return to complete Inquisition without question.

I'd hope they could expand more in the direction of Anthems world design, at least in its interviews appearance. This is from memory, but I recall they suggested a developing ecosystem varying based off players frequency/hunting pasterns. Applying this kind of living ecosystem to Dragon Age's world rather than the heavily scripted story scenarios everywhere could liven up the gameplay. Maintaining geographical triggers would be necessary for pacing and mapping of the world, but to make it such that story triggers can be reached through certain climactic situations, and other story triggers will cause dramatic climactic changes (e.g. Dragon awakening, Void opening, etc.). Balancing a dynamic and emergent world would be a revolutionary step and no small investment, but given an appropriate world and scenario it could emerge as defining a game as Skyrim was on release.

Breath of the Wild has proven how a dynamic and connected game can make for an enjoyable experience comparable if not greater than the AAA titles of today, overloaded with features and reduced interactivity. To take this approach, work through the dynamic world that the frostbite engine has been proven capable of creating time after time, then incorporate story variation to the worlds situation as well as the NPCs opinions and decisions. I'm willing to bet I'm dreaming far too big for DA4 since they probably want to wrap up the Inquisitor story in some way, wherever Cassandra's interview lead in DA:I. To revolutionise a series mid-point so heavily after only 1 title on the last iteration would be crazy. Whatever direction they head, this is where my hopes lie for the future. In the more reachable future, a strong plot with interesting companions will be enough to get me to pay for the title.

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