If you have ever played one of the other BioWare RPG games, like Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, or Mass Effect, Dragon Age will fit like a comfortable shoe. Though I for one love a comfortable shoe, it seems like some folks out there have managed to get themselves riled up over a somewhat misinformed list of clichés attributed to the RPGs coming from BioWare. What people do not seem to grasp are the ideas of 1) iteration and 2) tropes.
If you’ve been anywhere near the internet lately, you’ve likely seen the charts comparing the different BioWare RPGs. Well, so have the fine people who work at BioWare! In fact, Patrick Weekes, a writer at BioWare, even felt the need to respond on the official Mass Effect forums, stating, “Yeah, guys, every BioWare game has the same plot! See, things are kind of normal, and then things change and you have to go out and do stuff, and you go to crazy weird places! Aaaaaand so yeah, totally the same story.” Of course he’s probably not the most objective person to comment on the topic in question, but that does not mean he is entirely off base either.
Dragon Age is clearly ripping off Teen Wolf.
Because it seems like every games journalist (myself included) and his imaginary friend have written an editorial about iteration recently, I will refrain from repeating what others have been beating you over the head with over the past year. Essentially, it comes down to perfecting an art by continuing to produce similar kinds again and again. Picasso didn’t just happen to make great art; he made a bunch of crappy art in order to get there. It takes time — in the world of gaming, multiple times — to truly make what might be considered a ’near-perfect’ game. There’s a reason that Half-Life 2 is considered superior to Half-Life, even though it’s essentially the same game with some major and minor tweaks.
Literary tropes are, essentially, common patterns, themes, or motifs in literature. For the purposes of a game, this usually falls into game design and narrative more than any other aspect, though it can also be found in art style. So the fact that it seems common that BioWare RPGs include some sort of dream-like sequence, a certain number of major areas to begin quest lines, and other such design tropes isn’t too unheard of in these circles. In fact, it’s nothing bad at all. Just because they’re tropes doesn’t necessarily equate them with being bad, horrible, awful things that need to be removed. It all feeds back into iteration.
Whether or not Dragon Age is a ’reskinned’ version of Mass Effect or Jade Empire is a bit beside the point. Even if it were, the entire storyline has been changed, as have the combat mechanics combat and other particulars. Yes, there are skills. Yes, you can gather companions. Yes, there are about four main areas to explore. That does not make it a bad game or even a mediocre game. It’d be hard to argue that Dragon Age is breaking new ground for the genre, but it sure has perfected what the genre is all about.