It’s a game within a game

 

There’s so much that annoys me about Dragon Age: Origins. The unconvincing character models. The ludicrous blood spatter. The soft-focus shagging. Alistair.

Then again, I have spent most of Christmas playing it. Girlfriend went on holiday on Boxing Day, you see. Lots of time to myself. And with a shelf packed full of ostensibly more palatable offerings – Brutal Legend (still unopened), Assassin’s Creed 2 (just a couple more trophies needed for platinum, but if you think I’m hunting down 100 frigging feathers, even with a map right next to me, you just don’t know me very well), the relentless grind of MW2 multiplayer – why did I go back to Bioware’s flawed, stilted RPG?

Well, it’s not just Shale, although I admit the grumpy golem is undoubtedly the highlight. Nor is it blind optimism in my quest to turn Oghren gay, although if I’d drunk the amount of booze I’ve poured down that ridiculous dwarf’s throat, I’d cheerfully have sex with a filing cabinet. It’s more a tonal thing. There’s something about DA that I find soothing. It just doesn’t make my pulse race, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It means I can switch it on at the end of the day, bumble around Denerim for a couple of hours, cast a few Walking Bombs and watch a few chaps explode in a fountain of blood, then turn it off again and not be suffering from some kind of cardiac arrhythmia. It’s… it’s like gaming comfort food.

Of course, Bioware being Bioware, they attract the seriously-minded RPG crowd, all ready to judge them based on one of the most fearsome back catalogues in the genre. And some of these people have been getting very angry indeed of late. Let me give you an example.

I’m sorry but this is a load of bull. You don’t put out a release date then have it pulled, then give another release date then have it pulled again. You people are suppose (sic) to be professionals, right? Professionals stick to a date once it is given. Don’t give a release date for something until it is actually ready for release. You people aren’t a bunch of noobs here. I wish you guys stop acting like it.”

Welcome to the Bioware forums, where new expansion Return to Ostagar was given a right old kicking after it was pulled from release at the last minute thanks to unexplained technical issues. Leaving aside the obvious – that we should probably admire a company willing to sacrifice a release milestone in order to preserve the quality of their output, not that that explains Leliana’s voice acting in the original game, mind – it only takes a quick trawl through the threads to find some terribly grumpy young men and women.

But it gets worse.

DA’s been in dev for 4 years, they tell us, and even with Mass Effect 2 about to hit the shelves that’s a very long and expensive development cycle. DLC is pretty much essential for this thing to make money. The instalment due out next – once Ostagar has had all its bugs fixed and its makeup done – is called Awakenings. And, we’re told, it’s going to cost… wait for it… $40. Forty. US. Dollars. Or about £25 to me and you. Assuming you’re English. Let’s call it a dozen groats and a shilling, then. Make sense? Whichever adding system you’re using, that’s an expensive add-on.

Bioware describes the expansion itself as “fairly massive”. I’ve seen a 15-hour figure bandied about, which is certainly more game than you’ll get out of MW2’s single-player campaign, not that you bought MW2 for the single-player. Fair play, that’s a pretty serious expansion. But perhaps I should wait for the inevitable “Game of the Year” edition and save myself the £25.

In our twisted little gaming world, there’s definitely something positive to be said for Bioware refusing to buckle to a release date and trying to safeguard the quality of their work. Any number of games would have benefited from a similar attitude. The reactions just go to show that, as Spidey’s Uncle Ben tells us, with great power comes great responsibility. If your fanbase is given a release date and you don’t hit it, their grumpiness is an exponential value of just how brilliant they think you are in the first place. It’s sort of a compliment. Sort of.

Rob Hobson

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