The Clone Wars
It is important for a games writer to take care when selecting a simile or metaphor as the basis of a concept or critique, because if this literary keystone is somehow structurally unsound then the whole article is bound to come tumbling down around their ears. I have yet to find a more glaring misuse of this writer's tool in gaming media than in many of the recent reviews of Dragon Age : Origins
decrying it as a "LOTR clone".
Good example of simile : Bioshock
is like an onion. Every time you think you've explored its depth, you find another layer of meaning underneath.
Good example of metaphor : E.T. the Game
absolutely stinks. It is a skunk shagging a pig in the middle of an overflowing litter box.
Calling Dragon Age : Origins
a LOTR clone is utterly incorrect. Using that metaphor is as lazy and unimaginiative as what these same reviewers are accusing the game of. Delicious irony. The majority of these reviewers don't even know what they mean when they reference Lord of the Rings
Do they mean that Dragon Age
is like the LOTR movies, or has a similar visual style? Do they mean it was like the books, finding a close parallel with the stories? Do they mean it was like the games? If so, which games? The hack and slash action games tied to the movies? The RTS Battle For Middle Earth
games? The Star Wars : Battlefront
cross-over, LOTR : Conquest
? Or perhaps the turn-based, JRPG styled The Third Age
There are plenty of defendable things to dislike about Dragon Age
, but the "OMGLOTRWTF" reviewers abandon legitimate critique in favor of making a vogue statement. The sad truth is, regardless of which of these meanings you infer, the comparison is wrong. If you're going to make a comparison to one of the most influential works of fantasy fiction in the history of ever, it would behoove you to, well . . . be familiar with it. Let me break it down for you like a drunken halfling on a table in a tavern in Bree.
Is that Tavern Rock??? Then turn it up! Tolkien is my jam!
Nah, I'll Just Watch The Cliff Notes
One of the first LOTR clone complaints I stumbled across made the claim that Dragon Age : Origins
"suffered" from a Hollywood-like treatment, due to wanting to emulate Peter Jackson's movies.
"If this all sounds remarkably like The Lord Of The Rings
, then you’d be right. It’s exactly like it. The game even goes as far as to thematically steal key scenes from Peter Jackson’s trilogy of blockbusters, albeit to admittedly spectacular dramatic effect."
How could I not have seen it before? LOTR was the first and only film experience in the annals of the silver screen ever to feature large-scale medieval warfare. The eternal clash between the forces of good and evil? Copyrighted by Peter Jackson. What a clone Dragon Age
The second comparison I saw made with the films critiqued the visual design of the darkspawn as being too close to the orcs from the Jackson movies. Evil has a long-standing tradition of being characterized visually as a grotesque of good. This is why the handicapped were reviled as in league with Lucifer in the dark and middle ages.
Both orcs and darkspawn are creatures who were formerly good who were warped and tainted, both internally and externally, by the darkness. It stands to reason they would have a similar design. This iconography and symbolism is present in even in the depictions of the Devil. So confirmed -- Dragon Age
is a Bible clone.
Who you calling a clone? Come say that to my face!
Dragons and Dwarves and Elves, OH MY!
Another huge misconception that drives me crazy in these reviews is the belief that the staple fantasy races such as dwarves, elves, and dragons somehow originated with J.R.R. Tolkien's work. As such, the incorrect assertion is made that any work utilizing these creatures is somehow plagarizing LOTR.
As important as Tolkien's work was in popularizing many of the fantasy tropes we've come to know, he cannot take credit for the invention of those races. Nearly all of the creatures found in the Middle Earth universe were borrowed, by his own admission, either whole or in part from the world's mythologies and folklores, mainly European. So, confirmed -- Dragon Age
is a clone of the collective unconscious.
"But walkyourpath, Dragon Age
Ents? Tolkien himself shrugs off credit for their invention. He mentions the eald enta geweorc
, or the "old work of giants" referred to in Beowulf as the idea which sparked their creation. By his own admission, they were written as a way to more literally capture the feeling of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill' prophecy referred to in Shakespeare's Macbeth
So, in order to prove that Dragon Age
's use of LOTR-like races is cloneish, we have to look at not what creatures are present, but rather how they are implemented in the world of the game.
Elves in LOTR?
Separate from humans in both language and geography, with established domains.
Elves in DA:O?
Integrated into human society in the cities, and splintered and nomadic outside of them.
Dwarves in LOTR?
Working to reclaim their lost glory and kingdom, with no unified leader.
Dwarves in DA:O?
An established culture in full bloom, with a recognized monarchy.
Hobbits in LOTR?
A diminutive pastoral race with a lust for living and great internal fortitude.
Hobbits in DA:O?
Not present, even though they are the central focus of the LOTR story.
. . . my goodness, this horse has died! Onward to beat a live one!
Look at the ears. Obviously Vulcan. Dragon Age is a Star Trek clone, confirmed.
Press Circle To Answer Gollum's Riddle
After all the superficial claims, we get down finally to the meat of the matter. Does DA:O rip off the essence of the LOTR story, and is that reflected in the gameplay? I have to say emphatically, NO. There is a parallel in terms of the over-arcing story of good vs. evil clashing and that is reflected in the gameplay, but the similarities end there.
A huge chunk of the LOTR text is devoted to lore, language, history, and song. Since Dragon Age
is such a clone, where's the Tom Bombadil singing and dancing mini-game? Leliana should be able to raise her cunning skill by perfectly recreating the elvish funeral dirge for Mithrandir, right?
Once the fellowship breaks up in LOTR, literally half the story is about Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom. The conflict in this gigantic percentage of the story is not portrayed via combat or war, but rather through Frodo's internal struggle to overcome the influence of the One Ring.
Now, I may have missed it since I'm not 100% finished with Dragon Age, but I have not yet encountered the gameplay mechanic that requires me to continually hit "X" to avoid giving up and falling victim to the power of the darkspawn blood inside me for half the game. This same gameplay mechanic was present in the microwave hallway scene of Metal Gear Solid 4
, which is also a LOTR clone.
Frodo? FRODO??!?! FRODOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
All the World's an Age, and all the men and women merely Dragons.
Finally, we'll take a quick moment to debunk the ridiculous assertion that the political intrigue elements of Dragon Age
are what make it a LOTR clone. If you have not yet played Dragon Age
, there are some minor early plot spoilers ahead. Also, why have you read this far?
The main story arc regarding political intrigue in DA:O involves the advisor of the king withdrawing his military support from a battle with the darkspawn. The king is slain in the ensuing massacre. The advisor usurps his throne, blames the Grey Wardens, and goes about consolidating his power base with the nobles. People loyal to the old king or distrustful of the new regent threaten to revolt, and so the plot is overshadowed by not only the threat of the darkspawn, but also civil war.
Even the executive producer of the game, Mark Darrah, referenced George R.R. Martin's work (most notably Game of Thrones
) as an influence in the creation of the story for Dragon Age
. Martin's fiction relies heavily on political intrigue to drive the action forward.
Traversing through all the story of LOTR, there isn't a single instance of this plot element to be found. You know where it can be found? Shakespeare's Hamlet
, where the king's brother kills him and takes over his throne.
In fact, Shakespearean themes pervade the entire story. You are often betrayed by individuals you selflessly help, mirroring the folly of good King Lear who "loved not too wisely, but too well". Not to mention the overuse of spattered blood in cutscenes after battles, which never seems to go away, and will eventually cause the player to plead like Lady Macbeth -- "Out, out, damned spot!"
Whether you stop with Martin or trace it all the way back to the original political dramatist from Stratford on Avon, DA:O's story has little to nothing to do with LOTR's.
You shall not pass. . . with that weak-ass argument!
There and Back Again
There really is the flimsiest of evidence to support the claim that Dragon Age
is a LOTR clone. Those making the claim have either never read the books, didn't understand the story in book or movie form, or just blindly borrowed another reviewer's failed metaphor because it sounded catchy. No matter how you slice it, it smacks of either ignorance or laziness. If you just have to mention Tolkien in a serious fashion, you better come correct.
The sad part is, there are a lot of valid things to critique about Dragon Age
. The dated quality of the graphics, the shortcomings of the console control scheme, or the variance in the difficulty curve would all have been valid points to spark meaningful dissent with. But for these reviewers, they simply couldn't see the forest for the ents.