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Repetitive nature undermines interesting narrative moments, September 24, 2020
Dragon Age: The Last Court is a tie-in for the Dragon Age series of role-playing games from Bioware, taking place in an obscure part of Thedas ("the Dragon Age setting") shortly before Inquisition, the third Dragon Age game. In this game you play as the ruler of Serault, a small backwater town in a fantasy-medieval-France-like country, and deal with an upcoming visit from the Divine (the fantasy-Catholic pope basically). It follows the StoryNexus format, which involves drawing cards from a deck and picking actions within those cards which have random outcomes based on stat checks.
Overall, the tone of the game is very different from the other Dragon Age games. Dragon Age: Origins was a heroic fantasy, DA2 was a character-driven drama, and Inquisition was largely about high politics and history. All of these games involve making moral choices, which of course become flashpoints for fandom discourse. The Last Court is not like this. The central thematic element seems to be that things are weird and dangerous in this corner of Thedas, with an emphasis on the "weird". There are magic cults, creepy deep woods, a mysterious forest spirit, and so on, plus more mundane struggles like labor disputes and the "Great Game" of espionage and social sabotage. Personally, I'm not really a fan of the writing style which this game shares with Fallen London (is it considered to be "weird fiction"?) and found myself just glancing over the writing. But a lot of people like the writing of Fallen London so whatever.
There is a *lot* of repetition in this game. The ultimate goal is to build up resources for the Divine's visit in order to give as gifts, and the optimal paths involve basically grinding certain cards in a cycle. Actually some level of grinding is inevitable, as there are only so many cards, and they will repeat a lot through draws. Combined with the 20-action limit and 20-minute recharge time (which is totally pointless in 2020 as the game is no longer even monetized), it often feels like this game has a higher grind-to-new-story ratio than the Dragon Age RPGs themselves.
There is narrative payoff though. The most interesting parts of the story are when more of the mysteries surrounding Serault are revealed. There are also some interesting character moments, but not much in the way of development even when one of the characters is taken as a companion or lover (yes, this is a Bioware game). (Spoiler - click to show)I took the Wayward Bard as a lover but I think there was only one change with his card, and little change in the text. The Horned Knight was my favorite character overall, while the Well-Read Pig Farmer was my favorite companion. Many of the mysteries do not have a final resolution, which perhaps leaves room for future Dragon Age games. However, much of the interesting parts of the narrative, the individual mysteries and such, seem to be front-loaded and can be done in a few days, leaving the last few days for total grinding. And the ending feast itself is one of the weaker parts of the game.