Review: Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 2

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 2Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 2 by Ben Gelinas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite my love for in-game lore and the lore of Dragon Age, this book falls into the “so okay it’s average” camp. That’s not for a lack of trying on the author; the production value on this book is tremendous. The art itself is gorgeous. I spent a long time looking at the two-page spread on the inside cover that has (as far as I can tell) every named NPC from all three games in a group portrait. The rest of the book is lovely as well, with different colors and styles to create the feel of a document that might actually exist within the game world.

The problems arise from the fact that this is an attempt at creating a comprehensive tome about a world that revolves around player choice, which creates vastly different world states. The level of effort that goes into writing around things like the gender and identities of the three protagonist characters (The Warden, Hawk, and the Inquisitor) go to almost comical lengths. “Details of Hawke’s identity, gender and abilities differ depending on who’s telling the story.”

Except that in the game, Hawke (the player character) defeats a powerful enemy in single combat and saves all the nobles of the city, which is what prompts them to name Hawke “the Champion of Kirkwall.” In-game, everyone is aware that Hawke is a man or a woman, a mage, a warrior, or a rogue, because the other versions of that character just don’t exist. It’s only in the effort to create a narrative that unifies all of these possible choices that makes this silly non-entity description of Hawke possible.

And that’s a huge problem when three of the most important characters in the world have this “non-entity” status. But even for defined characters like party members, the accounts have this curiously abrupt quality where the text just stops abruptly as soon as it gets to describing what might have happened to them in the game. Because, again, the world state can be different. Characters can live and die depending on your choices, which is what makes the Dragon Age games so much fun; your version of Thedas can be unique to you. But it makes a universal account impossible.

I still commend the author for spending a tremendous attention to detail. The bits that don’t deal with the characters and content of the games are excellent. Background stories from places we haven’t been or events that took place before the game . . . these are interesting. The creation of legends, too, is handled well. But so much of the book is focused on the events and characters of the games that it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend the book for these other interesting bits.

View all my reviews

It’s Easier To Stay Away

So, it’s been pretty quiet around here, yeah? My fault, of course; I’m the sole proprietor of this little corner of teh intarwebz. There are a lot of things I could blame for my recent lack of personal responsibility, a state that extends far beyond just not blogging for a while.

I could say that the double punch of rolling from another grueling NaNoWriMo right into “having an Xbox One” ended up being a lethal blow to my personal productivity. Why sit down and try to write something when there are so many games to play? Dragon Age: Inquisition alone took about a month to play, although that was because I took my time with it and sipped slowly, savoring each story progression quest like a fine wine. I still have Titanfall (shoot things as a giant robot!) and Destiny (shoot things with space magic!), not to mention that I finally tried MineCraft for the first time, even though this puts me a few years behind everyone else in the world.

If there’s a more deadly game to one’s productivity than MineCraft, I don’t know what it is. Last night, I intended to relax and play for half an hour before going to bed; and then suddenly, it’s 1:30 am and I’m halfway through the construction of an underwater glass tunnel. Why am I building an underwater glass tunnel? BECAUSE UNDERWATER GLASS TUNNEL.

I could say that all of those fun things are the reason why my blog went stagnant, I stopped updating my budget, and failed to really do anything outside of going to work. But that’s not the real reason. I could also say that, well, basically I’m a video game addict and so it’s my addiction’s fault, but I’m hesitant of using the word “addiction” so freely. There’s a much more appropriate word, in my opinion: escapism.

It’s easier to escape into a virtual world. It’s smooth and it’s easy and it’s fun. The problem is that you tell yourself you’re just going to take one quick dip into the abyss, just stick your toe in a little, but the abyss doesn’t want to let you go. Its pull is slow and steady and sure. And once you’re in up to your knee, suddenly the fact that you haven’t written anything, anything for four weeks feels like too much failure to overcome. What would I write about at this point? Sorry for not writing? I hate posts like that. A blog that fills up with “I promise to write more” is a blog that’s already on life support.

It’s easier just to stay in the abyss.

I write this because I’ve learned to come up from those depths. It was World of WarCraft during my undergrad years that taught me the importance of actually attending to my own life, although sadly it was a lesson that took much longer than a month over the holidays to learn. But I did learn it, even if sometimes it’s easy to slide back down.

It’s not a New Year’s resolution. I’m not resolving to write more often, exercise more, play fewer games, worker harder on my budget and paying down my student loan debt. This is just a moment in time; a realization that I am an escapist and like so many facets of one’s personality, there is a dark side as well as a light one. Realizing it is the only way I know how to keep it in check.

You Can Always Tell When Matt Starts Playing A New RPG

In this case, it’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was released in November and I know that, had I purchased it then, my NaNoWriMo effort would have been torpedoed and sunk faster than the Lusitania. Fortunately, I had the foresight to delay my purchase of the game until December.

In 2013, I was pretty down about the idea of the next generation of consoles on the horizon. Of course, it didn’t help that the details for the Xbox One sounded uniformly terrible, even to someone who not only has all of the Xboxes but even owns a goddamn Windows Phone. I’m not saying I’m a loyalist but I like my devices to play nicely together and since my Xbox 360 was my favorite device, all my other devices had to build off that. At the time, I wasn’t excited in the slightest about the idea of buying a new console.

But now that the One has had a year to mature, I’ve come around. More importantly, I was able to scoop up a box for a deep discount, which I think made all the difference. I’m past the point in my life where I can spend $500 plus tax on a toy. $300 is a much more manageable chunk of money to justify. It also helps that I have a wonderful girlfriend. I won’t list all the reasons why that it true; I merely want it mentioned here for the permanent record. It is known, as the Dothraki might say.

I’m happy with my shiny box and I’m happy with the new Dragon Age. Dragon Age, of course, is one of the few series for which I am absolutely a huge, unapologetic fanboy. When I met David Gaider, one of the lead writers on the series a few years ago, I pretty much gushed and kept telling him how amazing he is for about ten minutes until he started looking around for a security guard to drag me away (that last part might be exaggerated just a bit).

Inquisition is like a love letter to the fans of the series. It’s deep, complex, full of lore and layers and things to do. It’s also the reason my blog has gone sadly neglected for the past few weeks and why my flood of Goodreads updates has slowed to a trickle.

It’s difficult to know what to write about; I consider a person talking about their personal video game character only marginally more interesting than a person discussing their favorite brand of bagel. That’s not to say that I don’t love video game characters (and weirdly, WoW is the one game where this rule doesn’t hold true) but generally speaking, I don’t want to talk about my character or other people’s characters in any deep way because it spoils the illusion that the Inquisitor is mine. 

I don’t even really acknowledge all the different ways my own Inquisitor could be different based on my own choices. At this point, my Inquisitor is so fully realized in my own mind based on my actions that I simply can’t imagine that things could be any other way. It all just is. And it is because the game world shapes itself to my actions and allows me to maintain that illusion in a flawless manner.

It sounds like an insult to say that I don’t notice all the care and craft that the designers have woven into the game to create branching paths and different narrative experiences. In truth, it’s actually the highest compliment I can offer to a game of this sort.