CHENNAI: It’s a bit jarring when an entity that you use as a cartoon villain ends up playing the role of the lesser evil, but funnily enough, that is what happened right after Electronic Arts (EA) released their highly anticipated Dragon Age: Inquisition. But I get ahead of myself. Here is a backstory to this week’s ramble.
EA is a game publishing juggernaut, the second biggest on the planet after Activison. While they have undoubtedly shipped many classic games over the decades, of late there’s been a lot of belligerent big-company tactics from them. One of the big grouses that the gaming public had with them was their habit of buying out smaller companies with solid reputations — taking over beloved franchises and putting out substandard sequels to them (because the key people in the purchased studio left after the takeover), and then pulling the plug on the franchise after the predictably poor reviews and sales. Westwood and Command & Conquer are good examples of this. Then there’s the habit of taking other classic franchises like Syndicate (a tactical squad-based game) and reinventing it as a bland first-person shooter for the modern market. Let’s not forget about them putting requirements for players to be online to play recent games, and then not having a stable authentication system in place, so that paying customers weren’t able to access the games they had purchased. All these snafus were part of the reason why EA was voted worst company in America two years in a row, in 2013 and 2014.
Back around 2008 there was a stretch when EA seemed slightly embarrassed by the reputation they had developed for themselves, and put out a string of classy original IPs like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge. Hot on their heels was the release of Dragon Age: Origins, a new age CRPG with squad based action-pause combat and an epic story set in the fictional land of Ferelden. The Origins part was one of my high points, seeing how the background and first part of the game differed depending on the race and class of your character. They didn’t slouch on inclusivity either as they had male and female versions for all options.
Dragon Age 2 did a few things different from its predecessor. For one thing, they didn’t have any of the playable characters from the original game. Instead, players were put in the shoes of a warden named Hawke, and the story followed him and his family over the course of several years. While that enabled them to pull off some cool storytelling with long narrative arcs, most felt that the trade off wasn’t worth it, as they had to sacrifice all the storybuilding from the first game. Compounded with that was the rinse-repeat combat encounters that got tiresome well before the player stopped having to deal with them.
Hence, the added pressure on the next in line, Dragon Age: Inquisition, to deliver. DA2 faced some pretty stiff competition from dark fantasy RPG Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and quite a few felt that the Witcher had come out on top, if not commercially, at least in terms of kudos.
With The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt also on the horizon, Dragon Age will have to look over its shoulder once again, but this time, I’m going to face an uphill climb to find out whether the game delivers, on account of it not being available to buy in India due to the country’s obscenity laws.
EA is not being especially transparent on why the lockout is in place. Initially, it was assumed that it was because of the openly gay character Dorian, which wouldn’t be too far fetched, considering India’s stance on homosexuality. However, EA’s representative categorically states that the withdrawal is not due to any same-sex relationships, but due to the risk of violating local obscenity laws according to the Indian Penal Code. Thanks to the murky nature of India’s Information Technology Bill, it’s anyone’s guess when we find out the real reason for the censorship, but somehow I doubt any reason provided is going to be satisfactory at explaining this extreme measure. Maybe we should have an inquisition of our own!