Dragon Age 2 Looks Good Too Much

April 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | 4 Comments
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I don’t think I have to explain to anyone that a Bioware game is going to be on rails. That you may end up going to some of the same places more than once, and that settings will be reused. Finally I probably don’t need to tell you that despite all this, the game is probably going to look good.

Dragon Age 2 certainly pushes this to the limit. I don’t think any Bioware game that has come before has reused art and locations to this extent. I found it really bordering on my tolerance and I don’t doubt many people felt it exceeded theirs.

Everything seemed to be recycled, but perhaps the problem was that you remain in the same city throughout the game. Divided up by day and night, and occasional trips to the Wounded Coast aside, if Dragon Age 2 has a major fault it is that there is a lack of diverse settings.

At least those settings look good. Say all the negative things you’d like to say, but don’t say they’re ugly, don’t say they’re not well done and don’t try to tell me you didn’t at times appreciate the art.

I wish I could say I’m the type of person who takes screen shots during my play time. I’m not. Thus a lot of interesting things I’d like to show in screenshots after the fact, are unavailable. I can’t go back and show off some of the most interesting things without a bit of work.

With that in mind if you’ve played Dragon Age 2 these screens are likely not for you, but for people who haven’t played it.

The symbol of Kirkwall is slowly changed to reflect your influence throughout the city

Murals depicting slaves are common in the poor areas of Kirkwall

I've always thought the elves being the most downtrodden people in Thedas was a nice touch. Here is one of their alienages.

Some of the individual buildings could definitely have been more distinctive, but this hanging statue fits the setting perfectly

Grand scale, but a shame we see so little of it really.

One of my favourite sights in the game. Should have been more of this.

Iconic imagery to be sure, but why is this the cloest I can get? Open worlds Bioware, come on, you know you want to.

Somehow these slaves just don't seem happy

A landscape ripe for exploration if it didn't have magical barriers preventing you from even stepping on the smallest rock or tree branch.

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Strategic Pause

April 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | 6 Comments
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I don’t know what most people say about the combat in Dragon Age 2. I try not to pay attention to it. I do know there is a wide variety of opinions and that they range from good to bad. For me, the combat in Dragon Age 2 is just an evolution of Bioware fights from games past, and in some ways I’m happy with that, and in some ways I’m not.

Spoilers towards the end.

I’ve always been a solid supporter of the ability to pause the combat, think through my options, micro-manage the fight, and insure total domination. A lot of people don’t like this, choosing to play through the fights with their companion AI set up specifically to their tastes. I border on control freak.

Overall I’d say the AI works fine on its own, but in intense fights is not up to par. That’s to be expected, an intense fight means a good challenge. Yet for those who want to let their companions fight for themselves, you’re out of luck.

Particularly if you’re up against one of the best parts of the game, the complex boss fights. For instance there is this really well designed boss in the deep roads, a rock wraith I think it was called. It had the ability to roll around and crush people, send out a cross shaped beam in 4 directions for an extended amount of time, suck people into a vortex towards it as it damaged you, and other abilities. Perhaps one of the most complex bosses I’ve ever fought in a Bioware game.

Or maybe I just don't remember any good bosses from other Bioware games

Yet controlling my companions was quite annoying. They wandered consistently into the cross shaped beam, whether told to hold and stay still or not. They didn’t run away from the vortex, they walked towards it. They consistently stood in the fire.

It was a fun battle once I got the hang of it, and a challenge I enjoyed. There were more bosses like this than I remember being in other Bioware games, they had interesting mechanics or required constant attention. An early boss had a devastating attack that ripped through my characters, until I discovered it was very easy to just dodge it by moving aside. It was a facepalm moment, since I’d lost the first encounter, but it was fun to discover his weakness and take him down.

Unfortunately there is still plenty of the Bioware idea of “just throw more enemies at them”. Every game they make has scenarios where the challenge isn’t about difficulty but about the number of enemies you face. Sure it can be hard to take on 30 criminals instead of 15, or 6 waves of bad guys instead of 5, but there is something too monotonous and too lazy about it. The complex bosses means they’re thinking about it, and improving, but they’re still a little far and few between.

I thought one thing they tried out for Dragon Age 2 was amazing. In origins they tried to make small moments more iconic. When you kill an ogre, you jump on its face and stab his head, when you kill the Archdemon you get yourself a nice little end animation. In Dragon Age 2 it seems to be more about iconic fights as a whole. Whether you’re dueling the Arishok or taking on Orsino, or the dragon in the bone pits. They all seem like they’re designed to be different, and bigger than life. Real old school epic battles.

In particular I can’t compliment the final battle enough. Truly surprising elements, some iconic imagery, a great villain. I couldn’t ask for more. The combat in Dragon Age 2 is an improvement on Dragon Age: Origins, that I can say with confidence. It is fun, where Origins could often be too structured or too stiff.

I think I’ll go over the story a bit in my next post.

My Bioware Dating Sim

April 9, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | 14 Comments
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Concept art of Sundermount

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing through Dragon Age 2. I’m a bit of a completionist so I tend to play through every single quest, no matter how ridiculously small. This means I’ve been neglecting every other game I’m remotely interested in.

Anyway I thought I’d take the time out to focus on some of the companions. There may be spoilers ahead.

Merrill

I love, love, love Merrill. She’s the cutest, most adorable companion in the game. She’s played by Eve Myles, who also plays Gwen Cooper in Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off. I could probably rant a little about Torchwood, suffice it to say I like it but it’s no DW. In any case she makes a wonderful Merrill.

She’s constantly making quirky remarks, asking naive questions, making cutesy jokes and giving off a slightly sad vibe. She’s lonely among the elves of the alienage and doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere.

After I’ve bedded her, there is a looming sense of unhappiness. I think the endgame with her is a bit telegraphed, but it is one of the best storylines in the game. It’s all too predictable (and I haven’t finished it so maybe it isn’t) but all the best tragedies are. I suppose that is inevitable, Dragon Age 2 is not turning out to be Happy Fun Magic Time.

Aveline

I’m not a big fan of Aveline. You can’t romance her at all, which is fine, but her storyline is pretty uninteresting. You help her become guard captain, and then she becomes the comic relief. She doesn’t know how to romance Donnic, and when you try to flirt with her, it goes right over her head. While that is pretty funny, it isn’t exactly engrossing.

Fenris

Fenris is a jerk. How dare you talk that way to my Merill! I would say, if these people were real, and Merrill was my betty. Good voice acting, but a substandard storyline and he is a constant negative nancy. I’ve always held sympathy for mages in Dragon Age and Fenris isn’t having any of it.

I’m not really impressed with the fugitive slave vs slave master storyline here. It just feels done to death and not very compelling. There is no moral ambiguity here either. Should I side with the evil slave owner or the righteous slave fugitive? Hmmm difficult question.

Bethany

Bethany. I’m kind of pissed about the Bethany storyline. I realize that many people get Carver, I’m not sure if that is a sex choice, or determined by something else, but I got Bethany and invested a whole lot in her. I brought her everywhere with me, she was the best sister I ever had. Then she dies before Act 2. It’s like a big void in the character selection screen for the rest of the game. Cleverly done by Bioware. Making you remember you lost your own sister for the rest of the game. Bethany was my best damage dealer, then she was gone.

A bit spoiled by Leandra making a big deal out of not taking Bethany with you as well.

Anders

I don’t think I could be more bored with either Anders or Sebastian. There is something so damn gentle about Anders you have to wonder how he can go out and kill stuff. I guess that could be one way to pull in the ladies, but for me it makes his character less bad ass darkspawn killer, more gooey pile of angst.

I didn’t play Awakening, but was expecting to miss out on all kinds of references from his presence there. I haven’t really noticed much, but I assume his kitten fascination isn’t new.

I suppose he isn’t so bad when he’s not obsessively whining about the plight of mages.

That mood swing towards the end of Act 3 is pretty crazy. Again I haven’t finished his storyline but either he’s deceitfully tricking me, or he went from one end of the spectrum with Justice/Vengeance to the absolute other.

Sebastian

Sebastian has a pretty rote storyline. Outcast son wants to take back his kingdom. The only difference here being that he can’t quite make up his mind. For some reason I’m being asked to push this guy in one direction or another, but I definitely do not feel qualified or interested.

Isabella

Which brings me to my two favourite buddies. As with Merrill, I did not remember Isabella from Dragon Age: Origins until I was reminded. In particular I find Merrill hard to recall, a buxom pirate chick that wants to duel you in a bar is much easier to remember.

I suppose I shouldn’t even get started on the buxom problem. What exactly do Bethany and Isabella have strapped to their chests, life preservers?

Isabella is a treat though. In all her interactions with the other companions, her conversations with the player character, whatever is going on, she is entertaining. I thought it was a great touch that whenever I attempted to go to see the Qunari, she immediately left the party. A great clue to later story elements.

In fact I think one of the best points in the game is when she abandons you. I actually got momentarily angry. There was a feeling of loss, or at least as close you can get to it while playing a video game. I know when I audibly exclaim “What the F” I’m either really enjoying a game or really frustrated by it.

Varric

Probably the best voice work in the game comes from Brian Bloom. I’d say that just about the entire game has some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard, but Varric comes alive with Bloom.

There are a lot of stories in Dragon Age involving family and losing those family members. Hawke may have it the worst certainly, but Varric, Fenris, Sebastian, Aveline, and even Merrill in a way, all suffer from it. For me Varrics loss resonates the most. He lost his brother twice, when he was betrayed by him, and later when his mind was ruined by the artefact. Something Hawke can easily identify with.

He’s a smooth talker too. Which he had to be for the overall story arch. The game is a story Varric is telling the Seeker. If you’re going to hang your hat on that you need a quality actor and a great character.

I suppose what really makes me like Varric though is that he is clever, imaginative, funny, talented and has a soft spot for inanimate objects like Bianca.

Altogether

On the whole I think some of the friendship options could have been more clear. At times it was like playing roulette. I never knew which choice would disappoint which character. Sure Fenris and Anders are easy enough to read, but Varric, Isabella and even Aveline were never a sure thing. Things I chose to please Merrill turned out to have no effect, and things I thought had nothing to do with Isabella had everything to do with her.

Once again though, a Bioware game drew me in. I’m fully enraptured by their Japanese dating sim. I have a few thoughts on combat, not to mention itemization, art, settings, and quests, but for now I’m content to have just gushed about Merrill, Varric and Isabella. Pirate chicks for the win, am I right?

Surprisingly you don't get to see much at all of Thedas in Dragon Age 2

End of Age

February 18, 2010 at 12:38 am | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | Comments Off on End of Age

dragon ageDragon Age: Origins came to an end all to quickly. I kept traveling back and forth stocking up on elfroot or lyrium dust from various merchants, and while I was in the area I kept finishing up loose ends. Soon enough I was out of loose ends and had no choice but to go to the landsmeet.

I had already completed most of the work to convince the Lords of Ferelden, so it was just a matter of convincing Alistair to want to be king. Wasn’t going to happen. Mother fucker hates my guts, I had an approval rating of +7. He was very unforgiving. So what if I killed a few people. Touchy.

After many attempts to convince him to try to become king, or instead marry Anora, it was seriously not working out. I went back and tried every possible dialogue option, but without favor I couldn’t manage it. Fine, screw Alistair, I went ahead without his blessing anyway. That didn’t work out either because I had left Anora saying I wouldn’t support her, and even though I had the majority of Arls in my pocket, apparently a simple majority didn’t work. Which left me with a big fight on my hands.

I don’t really appreciate Bioware’s usual “throw melee fighters at him!” approach, so I went back again, told Anora I’d support her, then double crossed the wench and Alistair was king. The whole ordeal is the most convoluted dialogue maze in the game, I kept thinking I was going to forget something or I was missing something.

Where that was near impossible to achieve the result I wanted, what came next was pretty boring actually. We head off to Redcliffe where we assume the horde to be headed, arrive in town and the village is under attack. Instead of heading for the castle I head for the village, and encounter new monsters. Hurlock Grunts and Genlock Grunts. At first I thought, “cool, slightly harder enemies, that makes sense, end of game and all”.

Not so. Run up to first mob, one skill, dead. Second mob, one skill, dead. What’s going on here? I cleared out the village with relative ease, only to find that the real offensive is in Denerim. I came to Redcliffe for a pointless battle, only to turn around for Denerim, where I just came from? Anybody but me have a problem with this?

Whatever, I’ve just wasted a giant amount of time in a pointless battle, and was completely oblivious to a massive army marching on the place I just came from, but ok, such is life.

I return to Denerim and charge in, all my companions at my side, not under my control but kicking ass. I can only imagine how cool it would be to be able to control all of them at once. Unstoppable. Restricting party size to 4 certainly makes the game challenging but an amazing bonus would be to at some point play all the henchmen at once. It would have been amazing as it was, if I hadn’t been up against genlock grunts, and hurlock grunts. They went down like cheerleaders on prom night.

I kept hoping it would get harder. I was on normal difficulty sure, but I don’t understand why I was having less difficulty with the grunts than regular darkspawn. I made my way through the streets, taking out the generals with ease, relying on line of site to lure in Ogres or other mobs one at a time, but even then I doubt I would have had much trouble. Eventually I got to the Fort for the final battle.

I walk out on the roof and I still have all of my armies ready to call in. I’m stacked with potions, 2 cones of cold, Alistair, and me, a rogue. I start wailing on the archdemon. He’s hitting pretty hard, but Alistair’s got the Juggernaut armour, Wynn and Morrigan are trading off CoC, and well, I’m getting clobbered. His health is going down very slowly, and at first I’m pretty worried about having to do this multiple times to get it right.

I’m not hitting it very hard, but slowly his health is going down, and Arl Eamon shows up. I don’t even know where he came from, and didn’t notice him at first. Not until I see my group of four on their feet and someone is getting chewed apart in the archdemon’s mouth. His arrival reminds me that I’ve got armies to throw at this thing though, so I call up one and pretty quickly the dragon is flying off to the area you can’t get to. Which leaves me in a quandry, I have no idea what to do. After wandering around and fighting the rapidly multiplying darkspawn I finally notice the ballista. Oh. You think maybe I can use the big glowing contraption?

After his health lowers enough to get him to move back, I start to run back to the NPC army which is just standing around. Turns out the Archedemon is kind of smart. He lands in the way and immediately starts wailing on Alistair, while darkspawn from the spawn point start shooting at us. Great.

Cut off from the NPC army, and unable to call another one unless they’re all dead, I decide to concentrate on fighting, as running away at this point might get one of my group killed.

He’s still hitting really hard, but his health is slowly going down. It might go faster if the NPC’s would stop scratching their asses and get the hell over here but I guess that’s asking for miracles.

Long story short, I’m still concentrating on hitting skills when I realize he’s dead and something else is going on, I paused but Alistair was already half way through the killing blow animation.

Seriously, Alistair hates me.

Overall I was pretty surprised at how easy it was. Dead Archdemon on first try? Incredible push over grunts?

At least they didn’t just shove a ton of melee at me.

Companionship

February 14, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | 2 Comments

companionThe companions in Dragon Age are pretty good. They all have lengthy back-stories, some more interesting than others, but at least deeper than your average game. You can actually feel like you get to know your backup in a Bioware game, where in other games they are merely tools or plot devices. Possible spoilers ahead.

Bioware even uses their henchmen to flesh out the world. Virtually the only place you learn anything about the Qunari, is through Sten. There’s a few books here and there about their invasion, and the war, but Sten is your main source for everything Qun related. He’s not a plot device, he’s a character with a history and a people.

A lot has been said about the change in Bioware’s favor system. Instead of solely being based on morality choices, it has zeroed in on being more about individuals. You can easily build up favor with just about every companion you have.

Now I must be terrible at this part of Bioware games, I rarely get all the companion quests. So far in Dragon Age I’ve done 4. Morrigan, Ohgren, Zevran, and Wynn. I missed out on getting Leilana’s quest because I forgot to talk to her before her favor was above 25, therefore eliminating any chance of getting it. I never did quite figure out what Sten’s favourite gifts were, until it was too late. I finally got Shale’s favor up, but it was at the end of the game, and couldn’t follow through. I think Alistair hates me. That’s ok though, what a fucking whiner. For some reason the dog, who I named Grimlock (after my desktop), was at 100 favor the entire game. Not sure how I managed that, if it was a glitch, programmed that way, or an option through dialogue.

Of the 4 quests I did, they were all…. extremely shitty. One of the few times I’ve been let down by Bioware writing. I guess they just didn’t have the manpower for anything other than simple dialogue. With Ohgren you visit a potential love interest. Emphasis on visit. They insult each other, it’s mildly amusing I guess. Wynn visits with a long lost student. Not in any way entertaining. Morrigan’s is probably the most interesting, with the right dialogue options you get a sweet dragon boss fight. That’s it though, show up, talk, dragon boss fight. Zevran’s is straight forward. It ends up being a Random Encounter in Denerim, the Antivan Crows ambush you, and Zevran shows up whether he’s in party or not. That fight is yet another “let’s pile on as many melee fighters as possible!” fight.

Those criticisms aside, the back stories of these characters are quite good. Leilana’s faith is interesting. Zevran’s ‘trapped as an assassin yearning for freedom’ is (surprise) slightly cliche but at least cool. Morrigan’s is unique and interesting, even if the quest itself from her is one note. Ohgren’s is boring lets face it. A drunken dwarf? Who’d have figured. Wynn’s backstory is boring. It’s like talking to someone elses grandmother.

Overall they did a really good job. No other game fleshes out real character history like a Bioware game. Even the best games I can think of don’t go to this extreme to present a full picture of a character. They may rely on cliche to get through some of the extensive histories they have to present, but at least there’s something where other game studios would have absolutely nothing.

Dalish Origin

February 6, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | Comments Off on Dalish Origin
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elfAlthough the lore behind Dragon Age is pretty extensive and deep, I’ve mentioned before just how cliche it can be in some situations. The first origin story I tried out is a great example of this.

I picked the Dalish Elf origin story. To begin with, centuries ago the Elves in Dragon Age were enslaved. An interesting twist on elves as they are usually civilized and advanced. They rose up freeing themselves, but eventually became an outcast class. The Dalish Elves roam the forests staying away from humans, adhering to their ancient forest like ways, which is where we get cliche. They’re in tune with the earth and all that crap. Fantastic.

You start out in the forest, where you run across some “Shemlens” a slang term for humans. They’ve stumbled across an ancient ruin, that for some reason is right on top of your campsite but you’ve never come across it before. Sigh. So you go inside with your buddy and fight your typical ancient ruin monsters, skeletons, giant spiders, and discover a mysterious magic artifact. Personally I was shocked there was something inside. Yada yada yada your friend dies, you’re forced to join the Grey Wardens, you leave your clan behind forever.

You’d think there would be more originality to this than that. I can honestly say I’ve played 3 bioware games that start the exact same way. I like the Dalish Elves, I do. They travel in these caravan wagons and seem to set up RV style at campsites. They’ve got these pack animals, Halla, that are like deer. The slavery background and the way they’re discriminated against is interesting. Their lack of knowledge of their own history due to that enslavement is interesting. Unfortunately everything else is played out garbage.

That’s only one of the origins though. We’ll see about the rest.

Mo Melee, Mo Problems

February 4, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | Comments Off on Mo Melee, Mo Problems
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dragon ageOne of the key things bothering me about Dragon Age, the only thing really, are the fights. Typically it will go something like this. I’m wandering around an ancient ruin, 8 giant spiders, or 8 skeletons spawn from nowhere. I don’t have enough healing or crowd control, so I die. I then have to restart, retreat back to some point where I can change my party around or buy/make pots and hope that it doesn’t go wrong again.

Not really fun.

Not that I think games should be easy, no. But I do think the challenge they represent should be more than “instead of 5 skeletons, lets make it 8 this time so it’s harder!” That’s really boring. Unimaginative.

There are very few non-melee enemies in Dragon Age. How hard would it be to throw some Mages in to make it hard? Everything in the game ends up being a big cluster fuck pile on. To make matters worse I’ve only got 2 casters to choose from, and one ranger among my henchmen. Everything else is warriors, rogues, etc.

Come to think of it, Runes of Magic had this exact problem. The vast majority of mobs were Knights. From mushrooms in the newbie area to Deadwood Hunters in the high levels. They don’t even have warriors or rogues as mobs. Funnily enough Knights are the worst dps class in Runes of Magic, which makes the majority of leveling in RoM pretty damn easy.

At least DA throws in some archers. Also there’s plenty to do if you’re bored of fighting, and I suppose the option to return later, when you’ve out leveled the problem.

Better With Age

February 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | Comments Off on Better With Age
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Dragon AgeOne thing that is unsurpassed by other games in comparison to Dragon Age: Origins, is the writing. The characters have depth and backgrounds the likes of which I have never seen in other games. Sure the overall story arch is a little too generic fantasy setting, but the characters are deeper than the flaws in Runes of Magic. Or in fact, more successfully written than my jokes.

The voice acting is pretty incredible too. There’s only a few recognizable names, followed by a few people you might recognize if you check their IMDB page, but in general I don’t think I’ve come across a better voiced game ever.

One of the few flaws I’m running into, are the loading screens. It’s getting kind of ridiculous. If I start searching for my television remote in order to relieve boredom while I’m loading the next area, something is wrong.

The battles are repetitive, but there are efforts to throw some variety in there occasionally. An ogre I had trouble defeating early in the game gets thrown in with an entourage for an interesting battle or traps are set up in a battle area, or I’m thrown into a tournament of some kind. At least there is effort to diversify.

Bioware’s only continuing fault that I’ve seen in most of their games is the lack of diverse enemies. They’re not the only ones with this problem though, Bethesda produced 2 incredible games both flawed by the fact you only really ever fight 5 different things.

They get better with each game. That’s hard to do consistently. You might think after Electronic Arts bought them something would be lost in translation, but at this point I will be playing Mass Effect 2 as soon as I finish Dragon Age.

Dragon Age

January 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Dragon Age, rpg | Comments Off on Dragon Age
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dragon ageI’ve been playing it. Which sort of hurts the whole MMO blog thing, but I guess I’ll post here about it.

Essentially after playing MMO’s for so long, it’s really noticeable when you switch over to an on-rails experience. I can’t explore or go goof off to do anything, Every experience is one I’m designed to have. Which is okay I guess, it’ll never hold my interest long term but it’s fun for now.

One thing I noticed is just how similar Dragon Age is to Bioware’s other RPG’s. I guess I thought with a brand spanking new and original Intellectual Property it would be different from Neverwinter Nights 2 to a great degree. It isn’t. Much of the mechanics are very similar. I may as well be playing Neverwinter Nights 3. Even the items and rate they drop are pretty similar.

Another thing is the generic setting. I don’t think it could get more generic aside from the Grey Wardens. The story is good but I find myself sighing at just how bland everything can get. The one slightly interesting twist, elves being the down trodden lower class former slaves instead of haughty pompous highly civilized immortals, is drowned out by other cliches.

I’m not that far in yet, I like some of the Henchmen, although again they are a bit cliched at times. Some of their conversations are great, and there is a real sense of personality from some.

The fights can get repetitive, which drives me nuts. The story is great but it’s punctuated by just plain repetitive fights. If I’m going to be fighting the same things over and over I just wish I didn’t have to fight so many of them.

For a game that’s supposed to be one of the best of the year I’m surprised at just how unimpressed over all I am. It’s got a lot of good points but in general it’s kind of bland.

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