Any examination of Dragon Age: Redemption has to take into consideration what it is, what it was developed for, where it was presented and who its target audience is. Anyone looking for a broad and general entertainment fantasy experience is more likely to come away from the project a little underwhelmed and a lot confused.
But fans of series writer and star Felicia Day and enthusiasts of the video game franchise from which it spawned will find plenty to be impressed by, as this is a project tailor-made for them. New Video Group, which released this on DVD, seemed to know exactly what they had on their hands. As such, there are no frills in the packaging at all — they didn’t even bother with an insert. They’re marketing toward a ready-made audience that doesn’t need to be enticed by pretty packaging.
Instead, they focused all their energy on the disc itself. [amazon_link id=”B005TZFZ6U” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dragon Age: Redemption[/amazon_link] was born out of Felicia Day’s love for the Dragon Age video game. Day first came to the notice of genre fans for her recurring role on [amazon_link id=”B0046XG48O” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Buffy the Vampire Slayer[/amazon_link], but it was with the creation of her own web series The Guild that she cemented her status as a geek goddess.
Since then, she’s appeared on other genre favorites like Dollhouse, Eureka and [amazon_link id=”B001M5UDGS” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog[/amazon_link]. All the while, The Guild has continued producing new episodes for the web. And it was her know-how in creating a high quality series for the web that helped convince BioWare to develop the first live-action adaptation of their hugely successful Dragon Age games.
In the six-part web series, Day plays a rogue elf on a mission to recapture a blue, demonic-looking Qunari mage (Doug Jones). She is joined by a templar named Cairn (Adam Rayner), an elf mage named Josmael (Masam Holden) and a mercenary named Nyree (Marcia Battise). Much of the series has them tracking the missing mage while bickering amongst themselves.
There is a minimal use of special effects, and the make-up perhaps doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but on a web series budget, it’s impressive that Day almost pulls off making this world feel as if it really exists. The main thing seeing how she’s fleshed out the realm is imagining what she could do with a television or motion picture budget. She clearly knows how to stretch a dollar and develop intriguing characters.
That said, when the six pieces are put together and packaged on DVD like this, it’s inevitable to compare the final product to other similar movies or television series. In that regard, it simply doesn’t hold up very well as a compelling and fleshed out narrative. Everything seems a bit thin. The characters are mostly light and forgettable, and their motivations are scarcely explored. The adventure itself never really seemed to ratchet up the tension or create any real sense of danger for any of the cast.
A lot of that can be laid at the feet of the format. In the short segments released on the web, it’s impossible to have any real character development or substantial enough backstory to feel really invested in the story. And the culmination of the quest seemed to end rather conveniently, and with a bit of silliness from the “big bad” who was being evil simply because, and admitted to it. Once again, there was no time for any real motivation for this character as well, so it was skipped altogether.
In the end, while there’s an overwhelming sense of “who cares?” about everything that just went down, it still holds up as a solid representation of the potential in a low-budget web series. For one thing, the cast itself was far stronger than the material and environment they were working in. Usually, in a relatively low budget project like this there are incredibly stilted and awkward line deliveries, but Day does a good job of finding lesser known actors who are actually good at their craft.
Doug Jones is a bit of a legend in sci-fi circles for playing crazy characters buried under tons of prosthetics and makeups, so he was a great fit for the escaped and demonic looking mage. Battise and Rayner have modest backgrounds on British screens, while Holden has had small roles in film and television since he was a child. Their professional backgrounds help make them more believable in these somewhat slight roles, far more than an amateur cast would have managed.
The world of Dragon Age is so dense and complex, Day had to settle on a pretty heavy usage of text intros to the six episodes to explain the dynamics of this world, like the tensions that exist between certain races and why. It’s yet another way to skip out on weaving any of that into the narrative simply because of a lack of time.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Dragon Age: Redemption as a stand-alone piece of entertainment is that it is just brimming with potential. The characters are almost fleshed out, their quest almost feels worthy and dangerous, and the culmination was almost satisfying. But really, the whole project was a vanity project for Day and BioWare, a promotional tool for the video game franchise and an introduction for Day’s character Tallis, who quickly found her way into the video games as a playable character. And it feels a lot like that.
That this is targeted toward that video game audience is evidenced in the extras. The majority of time is spent talking about the video games across seven of the twelve extra features. There are three episodes of BioWare’s web series spotlighting the Mark of the Assassin DLC (Downloadable Content) expansion for the game that features Tallis as a playable character. There are four separate trailers for various games and DLCs in the Dragon Age franchise. And all of this material tends to run longer than the short featurettes reserved for the web series itself.
The break down of those features is pretty straightforward. “Bringing the Game to Life” talks about the development of the project. “Characters” talks about deciding who to populate the story with, and what they should look like, while “Costumes” dressed them and “Stunts” showed us how they learned to fight like that.
It’s interesting how much time and effort went into the fight scenes. One thing that does become evident during these features, though, is that there really is no reason for them to be longer than the few minutes each they are. They pretty much covered everything that went into the production of the series. There are five main characters who wear the same thing throughout the series and have a few key fight scenes.
So it’s all there, along with the requisite “Gag Reel” that says this was a real film set, no matter where the final product might have wound up. While Day would have been great on the audio commentary, fans have to settle for the director and producer. While it’s informative and interesting, Day would have probably made it more entertaining, as well.
For the audience they’re aiming for, Dragon Age: Redemption is a triumphant accomplishment. They proved that a world like theirs can be brought to life on a budget, and that short stories of little consequence can nonetheless be a lot of fun to follow along. Day proved that she’s an adorable elf, and that she can act tough, vulnerable, playful and sensual, as her large fanbase already knew.
It’s probably not something that would be watched over and over again, but Dragon Age: Redemption is certainly a worthy addition for the shelf of any self-respecting geeks and video game aficionados.