I finished a full run through Bioware’s Dragon Age. I’ve always liked Bioware’s approach to RPG design, and this is definitely their best to date. Not because of the setting, which is at times painfully generic or derivative. (The dwarven city is a direct visual quote of Ironforge, for example.) Not because of the storyline, though there are some very nice smaller stories and quests.
It’s the characterization that shines, which has always been the best part of Bioware’s games. The big step forward in Dragon Age is that they’ve finally gone beyond making the “dark path” through character development simply be a matter of being a selfish, snarky asshole. That was a particular problem with Mass Effect: Shepard could either be a basically noble, decent sort or he/she was a greedy jerk who made bitchy remarks to everybody.
In Dragon Age, the characterization choices you get resolve out much more satisfyingly. First, because the branch points in the narrative are often genuinely ambivalent or agonizing, with no simple “right” choice for someone who wants to play a good or noble hero. Second, because the range of charaterizations includes pragmatism, bitterness, alienation, unselfish dedication, desire, etcera. The reactions of the NPCs are also really excellently complex and the interactions between them are really satisfying. Morrigan in particular is a really impressive, intricate female character who continually surprised me.
It’s not a revolutionary game, but it does move a certain genre or mode of interactivity forward towards much more satisfying storytelling.