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

Developer Appreciation Week

March 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Posted in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, mmorpg, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic | 5 Comments
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I’ve read blogs about MMOs for years now, lurked, left comments under various aliases, all while mostly playing MMOs that nobody ever blogged about. Guild Wars or a plethora of free to play or supposedly free to play games.

One thing you’ll notice right away is that there is pretty much a constant stream of negativity. It’s easier to write about what bothers you than what pleasures you I suppose.

Last year, ScaryBooster took action against such negativity by instituting something he calls Developer Appreciation Week. It was his opinion that developers tend to take a lot of abuse from bloggers, and perhaps some counter weight could be added to the mix.

In honor of DAW I thought I’d add some praise.

Who'd of thunk it?

First of all I’d like to thank and give kudos to the Guild Wars Live Team. John Stumme and the unsung other developers currently working on the game have lately breathed quite a bit of life into the game. After the Eye Of The North expansion was released, it felt like there was little to look forward to.

That changed with Linsey Murdock pushing forward with things like War in Kryta. Without such new content, there would have been little reason for me to get back into Guild Wars, and connect or reconnect with a lot of Guild Wars friends.

I’ll also give a brief shout out to the team that put together the War In Kryta viral campaign to promote it. It drew me in and I was quite impressed. I’m not sure who at Arenanet can be particularly credited with designing it, my impression was the community team (and if I recall correctly from Regina Buenaobra’s blog, she had a particular fascination with ARG’s) but in any case it was a good job.

Of course, how could I even attempt to appreciate developers on my primarily Guild Wars 2 blog, without addressing Guild Wars 2 developers.

I’m glad Arenanet is trying to be different. Trying new things. Innovating. A lot of the MMO blogosphere (ugh shoot me for using that word) sees something different and just craps all over it. Screw those guys.

I like everything that you’re doing. I like the story, lore, skills, events, weapon systems, traits, activities, skill effects, underwater, dungeons, jumping, armour, crafting, and transmutation stones. I like the emphasis on everything from the art down to needing a mathematical equation to figure out how many different colours I can dye something. I like that they had the balls to say their own game (Guild Wars which has sold something like nearly 7 million copies) just wasn’t good enough.

I like all that stuff and the game isn’t even out yet. So to Mike O’Brien and everyone underneath him, thanks. I appreciate it.

I should probably move on to non-Arenanet developers.

A very unpredictable addition I'm sure

Thank you Bioware for making the best game I played in 2010, Mass Effect 2. I can not believe how much I love and appreciate that game. I literally know next to nothing about Bioware developers by name, but I know one thing. They know how implement, visualize, and write a story. Part of what makes me anticipate Star Wars: The Old Republic so much is Bioware’s other work.

I can leave any misgivings, any hesitation, any thoughts of dread that perhaps SWTOR might not be any good, at the door because Bioware is so reliable. Even if I only end up enjoying the story for a few months, it will be well worth the time and money.

Perhaps this one is slightly surprising

I’d also like to acknowledge Trion. There is plenty to like about Rift and I give full credit to the studio for attempting, and succeeding, at new things. Rifts are a well thought out and completely realized concept. The game as a whole is very well polished, I haven’t encountered a bug of any kind. Indeed, much of the game is beautiful and a pleasure to play. I must say Scott Hartsman’s reputation rose considerably with me.

You know, it is actually quite hard to praise game developers without delivering a few backhanded compliments. I was quite tempted to add an addendum here or there containing phrases like “this is great, except for this!”

Back to crapping on the games I play in the next post.

Road to 2011

March 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Posted in Guild Wars 2, mmorpg, Star Wars: The Old Republic | 5 Comments
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clone warsBioware’s website for Star Wars: The Old Republic is pretty extensive. There’s developer blogs, trailers, concept art, each planet is detailed with screenshots, concept art, and a little video, and each class is detailed with screenshots, concept art, and 3 mini videos. There’s information on lore, setting, factions. There’s a tie-in novel in the works. They’ve even got a comic book. They’ve been updating the site regularly for something like 6 months now. The game doesn’t even come out until next year.

They must be spending a crap ton of money on the website alone. I guess that’s reasonable considering who’s backing the game.

Arenanet’s website for Guild Wars 2 is much more humble. There’s the news area with links to interviews about GW2. There’s the 2 trailers, information on the tie-in novel, the art book, a FAQ, and a run-down of the 5 races. There’s quite a bit of amazing concept art. I just noticed there’s no Voices of Tyria video, why wouldn’t that be available straight from the site? Anyway that’s about it, the site rarely gets updated. The game releases vaguely around the same time as SW:TOR.

I’m not criticizing Anet, I’m just pointing out the different approaches. Bioware is just plain throwing money at the marketing problem. I can’t deny what they’ve done is more impressive than Anet. However, what exactly is Bioware going to have to show for itself closer to it’s release? That said, how come Arenanet hasn’t released half as much information as Bioware?

Well, I’ve got a year to see what happens. I imagine Anet will throw most of it’s marketing up much closer to release in a short burst of info. Bioware I can only imagine petering out at closer to launch, what are they going to have left to show us?

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