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

Bioware Beware

March 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Posted in rpg | 10 Comments
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Cool Wallpaper

I like Dragon Age 2, I really do. The story is getting good. The more companions you pull in, the more the game feels alive. And for what it’s worth, I don’t mind not being able to jump. I don’t mind that the explorable areas are so closed off, existing only for the scene that you as the player are meant to witness.

On the other hand, I think I would be a bad blogger if I didn’t at least question these choices. How much better would a Bioware game be if they had the open environments of Oblivion. How much better would it be if we could jump or explore or find tiny additions to the game that not everyone is meant to find?

In Dragon Age 2 you trip over every single little detail. It’s placed in your path so that you can’t avoid it. This isn’t a criticism as much as an observation, but Bioware treats its players more like viewers at times, than interactive subjects.

Don’t get me wrong, this leads to some pretty amazing stories. The characters are detailed, the dialogue so exquisitely written, the voice work superb, every shot of you talking with characters is designed and orchestrated. The cinematic experience of a Bioware game is rarely topped by other studios.

Yet I can’t decide if they’re moving in the right or wrong direction.

Part of me thinks, that although I enjoy their games immensely, they should be moving towards more open worlds, not away from them. They should be including more and more intricate quests, instead of these ridiculously straight-forward “find random object, return to owner” quests I’m encountering in DA2.

Instead with the sales of Mass Effect 2, which simplified and streamlined RPGs to great (it really was a terrific game and my favourite of 2010) success, I see them moving away from RPGs into something else. I get the impression that what they really want is to be in movies. Take this direction much further and we’ll be watching games, not playing them.

I guess what I’m getting at is that Bioware seem intent on limiting themselves, while most people who play games are intent on freeing themselves from their limitations.

Also that Bioware risks painting themselves into a corner by making all their games so similar.

Not to mention that, although it’s probably easier to tell a story around a defined character like Shepard or Hawke, along with it being easier to market Shepard or Hawke than the specific character you created, I’m not sure they’re improving the game itself by making the change to Dragon Age.

If Bioware continues to entertain me, I’ll be happy. That’s the most important thing. Certainly Star Wars: The Old Republic has the potential to fly in the face of everything I’ve just said.

I have to wonder of course. Would Dragon Age 2 be better with a more interesting item system? Would more interesting quests take this game to the next level? What would a Bioware game be like if I could jump, swim, and scale mountains? Maybe it wouldn’t be a Bioware game any more.

Dragon Age 2: Electric Boogaloo

March 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Posted in rpg | 6 Comments
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I never start out liking Bioware games. I think they’re more complicated than that. In the beginning they feel like I’m adventuring with a bunch of strangers, or worse. Within the first few hours of playing any of their games I don’t feel compelled to come back if I log out.

I think the first Bioware game I played was Knights Of The Old Republic. What compelled me to come back then was the fact that there were OMGZ JEDI, and I wanted to be one. Am I a jedi? No, but I want to be one.

It wasn’t long after the initial play periods of KOTOR (and if you haven’t played KOTOR you are a loser who should go play KOTOR and kick in the face of anyone who tries to tell you about the story) that I noticed I was feeling compelled to go back to the game. Not because of Jedi, but because the story was great, and most of all I think, I had gotten to know my companions.

Mission, Carth, Bastila, Canderous, HK-47. They all had interesting personalities, stories, and were extremely well voice acted. My god Mission was cute.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say about Dragon Age 2.

It departs heavily from Dragon Age: Origins which I liked a lot. Bioware must be thinking that making Dragon Age into a more Mass Effect style game is their cash money ticket, so they’ve focused on one specific character, Hawke. Whether or not that is the right move is a whole other post. In any case this is starting things out on a really bad footing for me. I would have preferred to start off with my character from Origins.

I didn’t particularly like the opening either. Just dumped in a fight with darkspawn with little to no explanation. The cutscenes aren’t even of you, just two other people talking about you. I think it distanced me from my own character.

Reliably though, I began to enjoy the company of my group. I like Merrill, because she is absolutely hilarious. No matter who she is interacting with, she is entertaining. Whether it be naive questions or even boldly poking fun at someone else.

Varric is fun to talk to, Isabella is super hot. I haven’t gotten to know the other companions all that well yet. I feel like I know who they are but they don’t entertain me yet.

They don’t entertain me, but the other 3 do, and so I am beginning to enjoy Dragon Age 2. There are a few things I don’t like, a couple of quibbles here and there. I can’t say everything is perfect, but hey, I’m just going to enjoy the ride. Take in the story. That is what Bioware games are about.

Dragon Age: Rise To Power

October 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Posted in rpg | 2 Comments
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I like me some Dragon Age and I like me some Trailers and I like me some Dragon Age Trailers.

Dragon Age 2 Trailer

August 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Posted in rpg, video | 6 Comments
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I like a good CGI trailer as much as the next guy, this one is well done but kind of boring for the most part though. No story, just a fight and a few cryptic images.

Dragon Age 2

July 9, 2010 at 10:27 am | Posted in rpg | 11 Comments
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Why don't game companies make blog sized images available?

Lost in the shuffle of all this controversy over World of Warcraft not understanding why privacy is popular on the internet, and Guild Wars 2 announcing healing is for suckers, was a little announcement about Dragon Age 2 being (uh) announced. Pow, right in the kisser.

New trailer at Gamescon. Woot. That’s around mid august for all you non super nerds.

What do we have to look forward to? From the page itself.

* Embark upon an all-new adventure that takes place across an entire decade and shapes itself around every decision you make.
* Determine your rise to power from a destitute refugee to the revered champion of the land.
* Think like a general and fight like a Spartan with dynamic new combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior.
* Go deeper into the world of Dragon Age with an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go.
* Discover a whole realm rendered in stunning detail with updated graphics and a new visual style.

A lot of hype there obviously. “Go deeper into the world of Dragon Age with an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go.” Oh you mean we get to see more places in the sequel? I did not see that coming. Nor did I figure there would be a story told in this electronically gamed video. What am I? A frickin rube? It never lets go? Never? Really?

It does sound like they’ve got new things going on. I doubt the “new visual style” amounts to much, but a story that takes place over 10 years? New combat mechanics? Refugee to King? Dare I say Emperor? I’d prefer emperor.

Not to Bioware. Although you’ve already got me on board thanks to Dragon Age being one of the best games of last year, I could use more solid details in your pitch.

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.

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