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So long, and thanks for all the fish!
There is an intrinsic difficulty in reviewing a web series. I like the base my opinions on a reasonable set of expectations. With a smaller budget and narrower focus, online media demands a set of critical training wheels. You have to ask yourself, what this trying to accomplish? How difficult is it to get there with limited resources? Does niche appeal outweigh catering to a broader audience? As web production enters a new generation, an influx of new technology, talent, and lucrative distribution options are forcing me to stop coddling people, no matter how much I admire their spirit.
Dragon Age: Redemption is a six episode web series that provides backstory to the Mark of the Assassin DLC. In doing so, it walks a fine line between an extended promotion and legitimate, stand alone entertainment. Much to my relief, it teeters toward the latter.
The sincerity of the series should be attributed to Felicia Day, who clearly invests herself. Her work on the script and performance as Tallis drags the production out of the advertorial zone. In conjunction with Bioware and Machinima, her Knights of Good Productions assembled a crew that gives the series added legitimacy with quality set design, impressive makeup and costumes, and serviceable special effects. ”They are going to take this a step above what we have seen on the Web before,” she said before the series premiered.
She was right. The end result’s production value somewhere between an original Syfy movie and an episode of Stargate: Atlantis, an impressive feat given the scale of the project. It’s a web exclusive that audiences would easily accept on TV.
The story is simple enough, a rogue Qunari mage (or Saarebas) escapes from Chantry captivity and seeks out a powerful artifact to exact revenge on a pervasive world. Our protagonist, a former slave elf who found a home with the Qunari, is tasked with hunting him down. Her reward is the reinstatement of her name, Tallis, which was stricken from her when she disobeyed orders on a previous mission. Along the way she’s joined by a wayward Templar named Cairn, a naive Elvish Keeper called Josmael, and a humorously blunt mercenary Reaver named Nyree. Each member of the foursome has their own reasons for hunting down their shared target.
The characters have a decent rapport, but the speed of the series hampers their ability to express themselves with proper context. We jump from scene to scene with such brevity that development feels forced. Conflicts of interest don’t have time to properly gestate, and we’re expected to take an awful lot for granted. The characters go from seeking a goal to meeting that goal with a simple jump cut. One moment we’re looking for the Saarebas, then BAM, found him in a cave. I suppose that’s part of the trouble with 9 minute installments. Things finally slow down in the fourth episode when the characters get some time to express themselves while trapped in a cave and resting at an Inn.
There are other issues with immersion. Each installment begins with a series of text slides providing us with insight into the setting. These are frequently prefaced with unnecessary, expository statements like “In the world of Dragon Age…” This may been like small potatoes, but it’s a symptoms of a larger issue. This is escapism. I don’t want you to tell me about the world of Dragon Age, I want you to TAKE me to the world of Dragon Age. Just dive in there.
Imagine if the famous opening text from Star Wars began with “In the world of Star Wars…” Wouldn’t carry the same weight, right?
The combat in the series is a mixed bag. There’s some friction in balancing legitimate fight choreography with a desire to represent the game accurately. The fighting is most successful when it feels organic. There’s a moment in episode six where Josmael freezes an enemy with a spell, then Nyree smashes the iced-over foe with her sword. This displays the combination techniques players are fond of employing in the game in a pragmatic, unforced circumstance. It would work in a vacuum, and seem cool to a viewer with no knowledge of the game. In episode three, however, Josmael employs a spell that temporarily incapacitates two rogues. They proceed to show their incapacitation by awkwardly swaying, mimicking a similar effect from the game that doesn’t look quite right in the new medium. More generic enemies also feel a bit too much like fodder, employing impractical weapons or falling over just a little too easily.
There are also a few things that don’t gel with me as a fan of the Dragon Age games. Namely, Cairn is a Templar. He comes from an order dedicated to controlling dangerous Mages capable of untold destruction. So why is it that every time he tries to fight the Saarebus he does so in the most inept, straightforward manner possible? He spends a lot of time doing silly things like breaking phylacteries, getting knocked down, and finding himself imprisoned in ambiguous glowing fields.
Seriously dude, charging him didn’t work the first time. Get creative.
There’s also an exceptionally silly moment involving Josmael and his lost betrothed in the final episode. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say it comes a little too far out of left field.
For all of these complaints, there is equal or greater positivity to balance things out. The cast takes its work seriously enough that any camp feels intentional. There’s a good mix of action, comedy, and drama. Most importantly, Redemption is entertaining. Day’s particular brand of charm is more than watchable. I recommend checking out Dragon Age: Redemption if you’re a fan of the games, or if you’ve found yourself enjoying made for TV fantasy series in the past.
It won’t blow your mind, but it’ll make you smile.