Saturday, February 9, 2013

Reexamining DA2: FedEx-ing Dead Bodies

Dragon Age 2 has an interesting way of dealing with FedEx quests, and that is not really a bad thing.  These quests, after all,  are the bane of a cRPGer's existence.  Random NPC says "go deliver this", PC delivers item, PC returns to random NPC, and random NPC pays PC money.  What Bioware basically did in Dragon Age 2, was shorten this process by cutting out the first half of the quest line (namely the initial receiving and departing bits).  Doing this eliminated a great deal of unnecessary player backtracking.  In lieu of receiving a "deliver this" conversation from a random NPC, the PC merely finds something during their normal activities, and then delivers that item to its NPC owner in exchange for money. 

This way of dealing with side quests has a lot going for it.  First of all, it allows the game to still include all of those mini transactions that gamers are used to having. You know, the ones that help the PC turn a small profit outside of the main quest and massive, multi-part side quests. Secondly, as I mentioned before, it eliminates a great deal of unnecessary backtracking. Traditionally, FedEx quests send you halfway across the game map twice - once to retrieve/deliver an item and then once to receive payment.  In Dragon Age 2, you only have to march across the map once to receive payment for the item since it is found during your regular travels.

DA2's system isn't perfect though. Initial quest giver are non-existent, so the game requires players to open their Journal if they want to know what it is they have collected and how it is tied to the world around it.  This means that any obvious connection between these quests is from the game itself is buried. With little incentive to read the entries for these deliveries, opening the Journal for a sentence of text was just an extra step that most players likely avoid.  In fact, in previous DA2 playthrough attempts, that was exactly what I did. To be fair, FedEx quests, no matter what game they are in, generally have a throwaway air about them anyways.  Here that "air" is multiplied though, thanks to quest marked NPCs.  It is extremely easy to see a marked item, pick it up, and then stumble through the game until you see the NPC it belongs to (also with a marker above their heads).  The transaction completed, money is exchanged, and the PC washes their hands of the entire quest.  In the end, their actions are completely divorced from any significance the side quest may have had to the item's recipient or even Kirkwall as a whole.

With my determination to give DA2 a fair look still going strong, I decided a while back that actually reading side quest journal entries was an integral part of the experience.  For the most part I've found that quest goals are about as generic as one would expect. Amongst all the family items and lost possessions though there have been  at least two instances so far where Cerian has needed to give someone bodily remains.  Once it was the bones of a Chantry missionary and the other time it was the corpse of a Dalish highwayman (pictured at top).  The concept of giving bodily remains to someone makes enough sense to me for it to fly.  The missionary's bone were venerable relics the Chantry desired, and the corpse was being returned to its people (supposedly for burial). While the nature of these quests was rather solemn though, Hawke's stock dialogue rendered their delivery unintentionally hilarious.  As with every other quest (like lost family items), Hawke hands the bodies to their recipients and says some variation of of the phrase "I believe you lost this somewhere?"  I, as the player, can't help but laugh and reply, "No ... no I really didn't."  The absurdity of this whole situation is simply fantastic. Think about it. Hawke has been traveling from here to kingdom come, engaging in street battles, and romantically flirting ... with a rotting corpse thrown over her shoulder or hanging out of her pack.  Then, after locating the people who will value the remains, Cerian feels the best way to broach the subject of the corpse in her possession is with a, "dude, I think you lost this."

I kind of love it.

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