I want Skyrim and Dragon Age 2 to have a baby. Skyage, maybe, because Dragon Rim just sounds dirty. I encourage this union for purely selfish reasons, that I might someday get to play a game that has Skyrim-quality environments and Dragon Age quality characters. Places I love to be and people I'm happy to see when I get there. Or that I want to bash in the face with the pommel of my sword, depending on how close they are to my property line.
When I saw this video highlighting footage from the three Elder Scrolls games I've played, I was moved the way some people are when looking through their family photo album. Admittedly, a soundtrack penned by the incredible Jeremy Soule sure doesn't hurt when it comes to stirring up emotions, but what really became clear was the immense affection I have for the locations in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. Balmora, Ald'ruhn, Cheydinhal, the Imperial City, the Mage's College - I know each alley, doorway, dark corner, vendor, bridge, rooftop, well, and gate as intimately as I know the house I grew up in. These are places that came to be ingrained in my mind not because I memorized them for questing purposes, but because I lived there. I wandered their streets, turning down roads simply to discover what was there. I can picture each in my mind, even now; the differences in the architecture, the surrounding countryside, the way each has a distinct and individual culture. (I never actually cared much for Bruma, which is why I'm so pleasantly surprised to be enjoying my time exploring Skyrim.) I have genuine affection for these places, and thinking of them invariably makes me smile.
I can tell you the fastest Silt Strider route to take from Khuul to Molag Mar. I can list the Daedric Lords and what they govern. I can tell you what size soul gem you'll need for a Flame Atronach. I can even tell you the days of the Tamriel week. What I can't do, however, is tell you the names of any people. Ok, I know Uriel Septim, but only because his face is on the coin that came in my Collector's Edition of Oblivion. The people that populate Skyrim are wooden quest dispensers that couldn't be more boring if they quoted actuary tables at me. I want to know more about the long-dead dwemer who created the centurion spheres guarding dwemer ruins than I do about the citizens walking past me in the streets of Riften. The lands of Skyrim are drenched in lore, but I'd rather read a bandit's journal than talk to the bandit himself.
I have the opposite experience with Dragon Age 2. Varric was a permanent member of my party not because he was always the best strategic choice, but because I was so damn fond of him. He was my brother in arms, my comrade, my friend. He always had my back, and I always had his, and ten years from now, that would still be true, because we shared a deep and lasting bond. And my brother Carver? Well, he's kind of a jerk and I swear sometimes he goes out of his way to get on my nerves, and he seriously needs to give it a rest about mom liking me best already, but he's family, dammit, and I love him.
It's not just those closest to me that I find interesting as I wander through Kirkwall, however. It's the refugees who find their way to the Elven Alienage, and the smugglers who ply their trade with curious dignity. It's Knight-Commander Meredith and her desire to protect certain citizens by slaughtering others. It's the Arishok and his quiet nobility. And it's Sandal, who I'm convinced is actually the cause of every dramatic event that's ever happened in Thedas. (I mean, he just happens to show up right before the final showdown, his dad nowhere to be found? And that bit with the ogre? Highly suspicious.)
What I don't really care about, though, is the setting. I liked Kirkwall and its environs well enough, but I never really cared about them. There wasn't a particular house or cave or mountain or river that ever caught my breath or made me wish I could linger there. The locations were backdrops for the interaction I was having with the people, nothing more. These people all had to work and live and sleep somewhere, after all. My attitude towards Kirkwall is amiable apathy. It's kind of like cilantro; I don't make a point of asking for it in my food, but I won't make a fuss about it if it's there.
Imagine, then, if characters with the vibrancy of those from Dragon Age 2 came to inhabit Skyrim. Talking to students at the Bard's College would be as captivating as discovering a new set of ruins. Chatting with the local blacksmith would be as intriguing as reading up on the history of Cyrodiil. Swapping stories at the local inn would be as engaging as hunting down necromancers. Characters worth talking to in locations that are memorable. The perfect stage for grand adventures involving steel, magic, dragons, and me.
Oh, but one thing both games got right? They let you have a dog. Dogs are good. Even Fable knows that much.