A history of Dragon Age, or how to remind people that you're cool, really

January 15, 2010

Dragon Age has been a fascinating game for me on a lot of levels.  There’s a gold mine of meta-game stuff to talk about here, enough so that I’ll probably save some of it for a later post to avoid the unseemly activity of me blabbing your ear off. Your health is always foremost in my thoughts, gentle reader.

To begin with, how the game came from being a dark horse to one of the hottest RPGs in 2009 is a great story in marketing (and the fact that it is a great game, but we all know being a great game is sometimes not enough). Though we started getting hints that this would be the next Baldur’s Gate around E3 2004, the game quickly fell back into the shadows and we went on with our lives, rocking out to other Bioware and Bioware spinoff titles like KOTOR2, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. By the time 2009 rolled around, Dragon Age had been all but forgotten, and most of us when we heard the word “Bioware” started salivating in Pavlovian proportions with sci-fi visions of Mass Effect 2 and The Old Republic dancing through our heads. Then out of freaking nowhere emerges the Dragon Age team, an artifact of a bygone era. They brush the dust off their collective shoulders, blink into the harsh, foreign sunlight, and cry out, “Hello world! We are almost ready to give you a new fantasy game, full of angry, angry characters! Are you ready to rawwwwwwwck?”

To naught but the sound of a dog barking in the distance. Oh, crap.

Enter the publisher, EA, wringing its hands and saying, “This ain’t good, yo. We gotta step this up.” And to EA’s credit, they come up with some pretty neat tactics to drum up interest. Suddenly we start hearing about an online, Flash-based prequel game and a downloadable character generator, both of which will unlock unique items in the full game when it is released. My curiosity about this (ahem) brand new RPG is piqued. And then, the coup-de-grace: players who buy new copies of Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 will get a unique item unlocked in both games. Sold.

The rest, as we know, is history. A history of awesome. The story told in the game is on par with Bioware’s best. The new engine is remarkable (with some uncanny valley creepiness, especially during Leliana’s song, but I digress). Combat on the PC is tactical and enjoyable throughout the whole game, which is much more than I can say for my typical RPG experience, but more on that in another post. If you’ve been waiting for a good RPG for a while and haven’t picked up Dragon Age do so. And get the PC version if you have the hardware for it. I’m sure glad I did, and I’m not sure I would have if EA hadn’t stepped up to the plate and figured out innovative ways to give the game the attention it deserved.

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2 Responses to “A history of Dragon Age, or how to remind people that you're cool, really”

  1. dbruneau Says:

    Did Dragon Age experience a lot of delays? I don’t remember hearing much about it between 2004 and late 2009.

    • jhouk Says:

      As near as I can determine, the Dragon Age team ceased to be between 2004 and 2009. Perhaps they found one of those Terminator time bubbles and jumped five years into the future, I don’t know. I would love to read a postmortem on Dragon Age in Gamasutra. Five plus years strikes me as a pretty long dev cycle, even for an RPG.


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