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Skyfall | Dragon Age: Origins, "Hardening"

For Queen, country and one's self.


MOVIE REVIEW /// Skyfall

Movie summary: James Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. When MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. (IMDb)

Skyfall is a weird movie to talk about because it's really, really good, but that feels like there's all that needs to be said about its quality. But when I started thinking about what details to write about in this review, I struggled to pick out any truly stand-out moments or sequences. How's that for critique: the level of quality remains so consistent throughout that there are no real peaks or troughs, making a lot of what happens not that memorable.

That's not wanting to put down Sam Mendes' efforts as director, as he's made a really bloody good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish thanks to how well made it is. The acting is top-notch; the score (and Adele's title credit song) is great; the action is well-staged and choreographed; and the story is well-paced and easy to follow, with everything flowing very nicely from scene to scene and keeping me interested.

So, why not a higher score (if you value that kind of thing)? It's not a great James Bond movie. I would normally criticise anyone who 'reviewed' any kind of media based on their expectations rather than taking the subject on its own merits, but I think it's a little different when it comes to big franchises or long-running series, as there are certain things baked into the DNA of these things that made them last in the first place.

As a result, there are certain things you'd expect to find in a James Bond film that aren't here thanks to this continuing the trend of the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies and trying to make things a little more grounded and similar to reality. Skyfall isn't quite as mean-spirited as Quantum of Solace, but it's not quite as 'big' as Casino Royale either, falling neatly in-between the pair in tone.

That's all well and good for the most part, making for a highly-enjoyable espionage-action movie, but it does mean that the various pieces of Bond history included to pay tribute to the series - this was released for the 50th anniversary after all - do feel out of place, such as Bond's Aston Martin. For such a serious set of movies to prominently feature a car with an ejector seat and guns hidden behind the headlights can be a little odd.

That mishmash of tone is one thing, but there's also another element of Bond's history that features here and would probably generate a lot more comments if released today: the Bond girl, Severine, played here by Bérénice Marlohe. For Bond to bed a random beauty? Expected. When that beauty is a former child sex slave who almost certainly felt she couldn't say no to the much larger man when he walks in and surprises her in the shower? Maybe (meaning definitely) they should've gone with a different backstory for her character.

You know, maybe it's a good idea that they didn't include too much of Bond's history in Skyfall after all. The world has changed a lot since his first big-screen appearance and a lot of what might have been acceptable in the past wouldn't fly now. Instead, just enjoy what is - occasional tone issues and problematic relationship depictions aside - a really damn good movie.

Skyfall is a great espionage-action movie, although it's not really a great James Bond movie. As a 50th anniversary entry in the series, there are nods and winks (some larger than others) to the history of the character, but are either insignificant or come across as at odds with the rest of the movie. Still, it remains in the upper tier of the franchise regardless, thanks to it simply being a quality movie from start to finish.

[8/10 - Very Good]


GAME PLAY /// Dragon Age: Origins, "Hardening"

First off, get any dirty thoughts out of your mind with that title and the image if you had any, this is about how you can deeply change two of your party members' attitudes by 'hardening' them and making them a little less positive and good than they would otherwise be - namely Leliana and Alistair. Both of them definitely fall under the 'goody-two-shoes' heading otherwise, so changing both of them feels like it gives them more depth,

Alistair's is the simplest: his father was the king and his mother a commoner, who also had a daughter, Goldanna. Alistair gets Elissa to accompany him to Denerim to meet her, but she only resents Alistair thanks to their mother dying in giving birth to him and wants gold in compensation. He's shocked at just how self-centred she is and asks how people can be like that.

The best option here, if you want to see him really grow as a character, is to tell him that maybe he should be at least a little like that himself. Choose the right line and Alistair will be 'hardened', which can make for quite the drastic change to how he behaves later on in the game. It's a simple, short side quest to do and shows off how even simple conversations can influence events in Dragon Age: Origins.

Leliana's is a little more complicated, thanks to her own backstory, with another wrinkle in the form of the "Leliana's Song" DLC, which I played before starting the main game and would encourage others to do so too. It's fairly short and fun, and will set up the Orlesian as a character nicely for when you initially meet her in Lothering, while also introducing to Denerim.

If you talk to her about minstrels and spies, Leliana reveals that she used to be one of these before joining the Chantry and worked with another bard, Marjolaine. She was framed by the latter for a crime, although Leliana's explanation differs in-game to what we see in the DLC. In-game, she says Marjolaine let her be caught by other Orlesians and tortured as a traitor before escaping.

In the DLC, it takes place entirely in Ferelden and captured by the Fereldan Commander Raleigh, who is working with Marjolaine against Orlais. Now, you can say one version retcons the other, or you can treat it as I did: Leliana continues to lie to the Warden's face, even if in a relationship with them. Taking this approach works especially well if the Warden is a Noble like Elissa, as it can be seen as Leliana not wanting to be viewed as an enemy agent by someone who she was effectively an enemy of before being betrayed.

'Hardening' Leliana doesn't have quite the same effect as with Alistair, because she just isn't as important to the plot as he is, but it can have quite the effect on her sex life. That's not a joke either, as once you've 'hardened' Leliana, she can insist on joining you in a threesome - or even a foursome with Zevran! - with the pirate captain Isabela (who will return in Dragon Age 2 as a party member!), something she will not do otherwise.

Either way, encouraging these characters to change is a really nice way of having player-centred character change in party members that doesn't feel forced - in fact, I imagine most people will miss out on it entirely if they don't know about it going in! These changes are really well done and I wish more games did this kind of thing - people can change from little experiences just as much as big events after all.



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