Friday, 12 September 2014

Bioware Tide me Over

It's no secret that some of the games I loved the most are made by Bioware. This is not a forced affair, this is simply how things are. I fell for Knights of the Old Republic after renting it one Christmas and then I saw Mass Effect and Dragon Age advertised and only then after playing ME 1 realised that so far Bioware were giving me some truly engrossing, amazing gaming experiences and memories. I think an element that really showcases this affection and anticipation for the next game in a franchise of the above, is that I actively seek out and look forward to the novels and comic books that are released between sequels. They tide me over, I'm genuinely interested in all the lore that accompanies any of the worlds, be it the Shepardverse, the Dragonverse or the Knightsverse (non of these are official labels I'm just going with them).

Sadly there have not been many novels that really relate to the KOTOR video game series, though we have had an excellent comic book prequel tie in provided by Dark Horse Comics.

For those that were hungry for some sort of closure regarding the story of Revan and also The Exile from KOTOR II, we got it in a way from a novel and the MMO that was released. But needless to say, neither were satisfactory to me (not just because Revan always felt canonically female to me and her and Bastila would live their years having lots of lovely hot Jedi Jiggly times). 

But it seems that right now that's all we will get in terms of closing the KOTOR lore, unless Bioware stops pulling a Gaben and gives us the 3rd installing that so many fans, not just the obsessive ones like myself, desperately crave.

In terms of Mass Effect and Dragon Age the latter is certainly the better in terms of the novels released that expand on the universes and characters. Both have a common trend whereby they focus on characters that were not the primary protagonist and offer insight to before and after the events of games in both series. We are also introduced to characters that we've not met but will appear in either a main role or a secondary/cameo spot.

But for some reason the interest levels vary quite significantly. This could be down to the characters that are focused or the way the stories are written. Maybe it also comes down to the fact that one genre time influence is easier to write for than another, but truth be told, to me both sci-fi and that medieval dragon lore are both excellently used and told in the games.

Focusing on the books alone and not the comics so far we've had:

Mass Effect
Mass Effect: Revelation is a prequel to Mass Effect, set in the year 2165. Its plot involves David Anderson and Saren Arterius investigating an attack on a human research station.

Mass Effect: Ascension is set a few months after the events of Mass Effect, and concerns a young biotic prodigy, Gillian Grayson, pursued by Cerberus. Grayson is aided by Kahlee Sanders, who also had a significant role in the previous novel

Mass Effect: Retribution is set one year after the events of Mass Effect 2, and concerns Cerberus, and their investigation of Reaper technology by using it on Paul Grayson.

Mass Effect: Deception is set not long after the events of Mass Effect: Retribution, and follows Gillian Grayson's search for her father's murderer, the Illusive Man.

Drew Karpyshyn is behind most of the ME books and without being too mean, his Dragon Age counterpart David Gaider tells much more enjoyable stories. Then again Gaider is integral to the game scripts as well, which may mean he has a better connection and means of weaving the characters, not to decrease the value of Drew's involvement. (It's hard to critique without being a meanie).

The main theme for 3/4 of the books is the Grayson family, who are not interesting or vital enough to warrant such heavy focus. Paul Grayson, who is a Red Sand addict, low life goon for hire, is never likeable as a character, even when putting his child's best interests ahead of his own. He's cocky, loathing and plays no real significance to the ME world.

Kahlee Sanders appears in ME3, when you go to the Academy to save the students and meet Jack and is certainly one of the more likeable, related characters. There's not much else to say, as these books never overpopulate their pages with plot twists that wow or treacle in to the main game stories and certainly not in an exciting way.

But Dragon Age is a different story (pardon the pun). First I'll list the books we have so far:
Dragon Age
Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne is set before the events of Origins and introduces us to soon to be King Maric (father of Cailan), Rowan the warrior maiden and a very different Loghain Mac Tir.

Dragon Age: The Calling is set after Stolen Throne. King Maric Theirin and his companions ventured into the Deep Roads. The novel focuses on Maric, a young Duncan and the Grey Wardens and gives insight to the nature of Darkspawns and features The Architect(who appears in DLC Awakening).

Dragon Age: Asunder is set after Dragon Age II and centres around how the Templar Order and the Circle of Magi broke off from Chantry control and engaged in a full scale Mage-Templar War. It is lead by Wynee, Shale and introduces us to Cole (who will be a companion in Inquisition).

Dragon Age: The Masked Empire describes how the Orlesian Civil War begun and gives us a lot of back story to Empress Celene, the bonds and hatreds that would arise between the classes, the Chevalier code and what lies ahead in Inquisition.

(To be release): Dragon Age: The Last Flight

I personally enjoyed each one of these books and found the characters interesting and the back stories to those we've met already to be very intriguing and really expansive.
Every novel ties in in a way and shows a side of characters that never really came through or maybe needed extrapolation within the gaming series. 

One example is the character of Loghain Mac Tir, in Stolen Throne and the Calling. In Origins, he's a traitorous bastard, who's daughter you end up siding with and despite his treacherous actions can have as a party member in the last act. But in the novels we get a really in depth understanding of the man and see what he use to be and realise that it must of genuinely pained him when he committed the acts he did in Origins (not that I'm excusing him being behind the death of his best friends son). 

For those that found Wynne and Shale to be underused despite being interesting characters in their own right, especially Shale, Asunder (though I don't get the book's cover) has them lead the story and also highlights the ripple effect of the Mage/Templar War that has just erupted after the events of Dragon Age II.

The Masked Empire brings us to Orlais which has been relatively secondary when compared tot he tales and roaming we've done in book and game form, of Ferelden. We see that cunning, belief and political tactics all play a pivotal role in the life of Empress Celene and it builds us our adventures in Inquisition, as well as keeping tabs on Leilana and re-familiarising with the map and customs for those that played the DAII DLC Mark of the Assassin.

All in all I highly recommend Dragon Age fans try out the novels (possibly moreso than the comics) if they want to immerse themselves in the lore of the series and find a cool, interesting way of tiding over the time until the next game is released. Which admittedly at the time of writing this, isn't too far off, but still it's definitely worth it especially if you are stuck for a great selection of gaming tie-in reading fodder.

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