you’re really sweet when you’re on mute

I am warming to the multiplayer in DA:I.

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The first time I tried it, I wasn’t yet finished on my first playthrough of the story and while of course there were no spoilers–the quests are too vaguely generic for that, and I was far enough where none of the zones were visual “spoilers” either–it was so jarring to go from the immersive world of the story to the comparatively context-less replayability of a bunch of battle maps that I fled, for months.

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But I’ve now reached a point I’m very familiar with in Dragon Age games: where I still want exposure to the world, but where the story–in this case heavily augmented by the books (all but The Masked Empire–dammit, library, purchase it already!) and the afterglow of my fic effort, all of which I plunged through in the past few months–is still too raw and recent in memory for replaying it to feel…like it should. I made it halfway through a second playthrough and then had to stop; once I’d amended the major choices I’d made it became just playing through to see places I hadn’t been and interactions I hadn’t had. Which is a completely worthy reason to play, mind you! It just…wasn’t distant enough yet to be handled. The same thing happened when I tried to replay DA:O too quickly, and DA2 after it: you need some distance, some restraint. And restraint is not one of my strong points.

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Enter Multiplayer, then. Here I still get to pad through scintillatingly gorgeous Orlesian chateaus–where I still get to hear the Wicked Eyes Wicked Hearts theme I so dearly, dearly love–and Tevinter ruins and all manner of familiar environments. I still get to hear, with a little thrill, the voices I’ve come to know so well, sometimes lending themselves to NPC characters to the point where you yell “That dwarf! That’s Varric, dammit, just speaking a little lower! Listen!” Which NPCs bring us to the main selling point of DA:I Multiplayer–

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–You don’t have to hear other people. Sure, the occasional jerk will turn their mic on–worse, some of them will turn it on and not use push-to-talk, resulting in a horrible echo loop that everyone quickly bails on at the end of the round–and you will have to be reminded that behind these swashbuckling people you’re battling with lie people you don’t ever want to meet. Ever. But then, provided you take the time to look before you start a match, you can see who has their mic on…and you can click the blessed mute button.

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Which means that you can use the game’s detailed VA to overlay the people you probably don’t want to know. You can listen, for example, to the archer express unease at the amount of people that now surround them, and the elf agree with the sentiment. You can listen to the the alchemist make some cheerful one-off about potatoes and hear the necromancer, buzzkill extraordinaire, snap at her to shut up and carry on. You can listen to different characters respond completely differently to the same conversation starters, based on who is in the party–and thus, you can edit out the personas of the actual people out there, and replace them with the manufactured NPC personas of the game, which are far more palatable.

I’m sure this is the sort of thing that people who rail against games would use as a textbook case of why games are destroying humanity, building barriers between us, yadda yadda. But 1.) I should think by now I’ve successfully weeded such folk off my blog, if they were ever here, and 2.) that’s a terribly shallow view of what’s going on here. We’ve been given an incredibly detailed story in a way that allows us to approach it again and again. But because of its immense detail the experience gets so deeply seeded into our memories that replaying again too soon can tarnish the feel of the thing. So what to do when you still want to be exposed to that world but not diminish the experiences you’ve had thus far by going through them again? Multiplayer! Skim the top of the world, hear the same words used in the same way, but without the emotional impact. Bide your time ’till DLC–and we now know there is story-based DLC coming, huzzah! Also, blow some things up. Because really, how satisfying is it to see a contingent of red lyrium templars come charging into the arc of mines you laid out in wait for them?

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