The effect that a small marketing tool had on my perception of Dragon Age -- originally published on Bitmob.
Given my love for the Baldur’s Gate series, I've been eagerly anticipating Dragon Age: Origins since its initial announcement. Unfortunately, the game’s marketing campaign has done nothing to heighten that anticipation.
I'd never have thought of combining Marilyn Manson with medieval fantasy. After watching numerous Dragon Age trailers, I still wouldn’t combine the two.
As the theme song states, “this is the new shit.” Really? The new shit? I thought that Dragon Age: Origins is supposed to be a return to BioWare’s roots, a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series. Wouldn’t that make the game the old shit?
I suppose EA isn’t really aiming its marketing campaign at me. As EA CEO John Riccitiello said in regard to Dragon Age: Origins, “It’s got a built-in audience given the strong reputation of BioWare.” I’m definitely a member of that built-in audience; there’s really no purpose in marketing the game toward individuals like me. However, is Marilyn Manson really the best choice for enticing a new audience?
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The marketing campaign's in fact so distasteful that I began to wonder about the game's quality. Then EA released Dragon Age Journeys, a free-to-play, party-based RPG.
Releasing a free game to promote a full-priced game is a familiar strategy for EA. To market The Sims 3, EA created a number of free applications, such as SimFriend and SimSocial, which whetted the appetites of series’ fans and drew in a new audience. The Sims 3 was, of course, an instant success, selling 1.4 million copies in its first week.
However, EA’s strategy concerning Dragon Age: Journeys is unprecedented given the Flash game’s craftsmanship. What could have easily been a rudimentary hack-n-slash adventure is surprisingly a fully developed and engaging role-playing experience.
The game’s plot is concerned with events preceding Dragon Age: Origins and is set in and around the underground Dwarven city of Orzammar. While the storyline and dialogue are not particularly memorable, Dragon Age: Journeys' gameplay shines.
When starting a new game, players can create their own character through an interface mirroring the Dragon Age: Origins Character Creator. Customization options include gender, race, class, and background, allowing for a male warrior dwarf noble, a female rogue city elf, a male mage human noble, or some other combination of 24 possibilities. Players can also select from a library of hairstyles and hair, skin, and armor colors.
Dragon Age: Journeys also offers full economic and character progression systems. Players can obtain loot from exploring the Deep Roads or vanquishing enemies. Weapons, armor, and items are even available from numerous merchants and smiths in town.
Like any role-playing game, players gain experience from completing quests and defeating enemies. Upon leveling up, the player can boost statistics and gain class talents. Each class has its own set of talent trees. The warrior can customize their abilities in two-handed, weapon and shield, dual weapon, and archery combat. The mage has an even greater number of categories.
Everything one would expect from a BioWare role-playing game is present in Dragon Age: Journeys, with the exception of combat. The combat relies on a turn-based mechanic that's more reminiscent of Final Fantasy installments on the SNES than anything by the physician-led Canadian developer.
Player characters and enemies take turns moving across the hexagonal combat grid and performing actions. Melee attacks require the character to be on a hexagon adjacent to the enemy, whereas ranged and magical attacks have farther distance constraints. Obstacles such as boulders and stalagmites may also be present along the combat grid, preventing ranged attacks from certain vantage points and forcing melee characters to utilize more turns to reach the enemy.
Players gain strategic advantages from intelligent positioning. Certain attacks can hit multiple opponents if they're clustered together, and backstabs dealing greater damage can be performed when behind enemies.
The Dragon Age: Journeys combat system presents a deeply strategic element that hasn't been seen in a BioWare title since Baldur’s Gate 2.
Even the normal difficulty level is well developed. Combat is simultaneously challenging and satisfying. It’s never so easy that it becomes monotonous, nor is it ever so difficult that it becomes frustrating.
As I progressed through Dragon Age: Journeys, I found myself comparing it to other RPGs in search of any flaws. I thought that the game might be too linear; you receive little opportunity to branch off of the main quest. I thought that the dialogue could use some depth; the character development just isn’t on par with other BioWare games.
Then I remembered that I was experiencing a free-to-play, browser-based game. Of course the game's linear -- it’s Flash-based. The fact that Dragon Age: Journeys drew comparisons to other RPGs is a testament to its superb quality.
In addition to the game’s remarkable production value, Dragon Age: Journeys is worth playing for another reason. Players can gain special items for Dragon Age: Origins by accomplishing achievements or completing surveys. In one survey, a series of questions made me realize that I'd be very willing to pay money for future installments of Dragon Age: Journeys. I can’t help but be slightly ashamed at this, considering the game's essentially a marketing tool for another game.
Regardless, Dragon Age: Journeys brings to mind everything I love about BioWare’s early work. Despite EA’s bombardment of misrepresentative teasers and trailers, this Flash game has reminded me why I initially couldn't wait to experience Dragon Age: Origins.