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Wow, have I really missed this the past two weeks running? Blah, so much for keeping on top of it!


Dragon Age: Origins

Game type: Western RPG

Time demand: Loooong overall, although you can save at almost any point (except battles, cutscenes, etc.) Still, you'll want to devote fair amounts of time at a stretch, just to keep the story/action flowing. This is a needy game!

Platform: X-Box 360 / PS3 / PC

Released: 11/03/09 US (like 3 days later for EU/AU)

What it is:

Alright, for those of you living under a rock for the past few weeks, this is the latest BioWare game, available on three different platforms (I'm playing the 360 version myself, which does matter at least in some ways.) As expected from a BioWare game, this means it's a Western-style RPG very heavy on moral choices, character interaction, dialogue, branching paths, etc etc.

Of course, if you just followed the trailers, what you'd be expecting is a total combat-heavy gorefest which... is and isn't accurate. Yes, there's a fair amount of fighting, but not really much more so than most RPGs probably, and it's also heavy on the non-fighting bits, too. And while the blood is definitely there, and... voluminous, you can at least turn off "persistent gore" in the options, which keeps it from hanging around in cutscenes and on your characters and so on. Which I did, not from prudishness, but because it makes it entirely impossible to take some of the cutscenes seriously when your characters are standing around talking about tragedy, the weather, romance, whatever... with blood practically dripping off both of their chins.

Anywho. The general skinny: this takes place in Ferelden, a country/continent in a new vaguely-D&D-esque-but-not-D&D-world fantasy realm that's Not European, Really, with humans, elves, dwarves, and a few other races. The big conflict is that something called The Blight has started, where evil creatures known as Darkspawn led by an Archdemon are coming out from the underground to attempt to destroy humanity(/elfanity/dwarfanity/Quanaranity, etc.)

I make this sound generic and blah, which I shouldn't. I mean, on the surface the overall conflict and setting IS pretty generic, but a) what's done with it matters, and b) although just at the very surface the fantasy setting is pretty generic, it's also built up very deeply underneath, which anyone who's even attempted to glance through the zillions of codex (in-game encyclopedia) entries can attest. It has various histories for the races and cultures, religion (and even competing religions), tensions between different factions and sub-factions (such as the Circle Mages, Templars, and the mages outside the Circle, which for some reason my mind is blanking on the term, other than "maleficars" which is slightly different). It has its own spins on some concepts, such as the Elves been seen as almost a slave race, having been used as slaves in the past and still having very tense relations with humans, and being more servants when in human civilization than anything else. Or the dwarves and their strict caste system.

Your main character is a player-created-and-totally-customized PC, who becomes a Gray Warden - one of a group of individuals tasked with defending society against Darkspawn and especially the Blights. Bad Things Happen, and you must go on a quest with your fellow NPCs (some of which you automatically start with, others that you can recruit along the way) to attempt to Save the World from the Blight. Again, generic on the surface, but for the game it works.

First, the flaws, since the game is definitely not flawless:

-The graphics are... not as good quality as I'd like, honestly. Especially on the 360 version. They're still good enough to immerse you (or at least me), and to enter Uncanny Valley on occasion. But they could stand to be better.

-The interface in some cases leaves something to be desired. On the 360 version at least, you have only 6 "quick slots" for skills, spells, items, and so on, out of way too many for that to be really extremely useful.

-Likewise, when you pick up a new codex entry or item from a quest or some such, it doesn't tell you *what it is*. Which drives me NUTS when I finish a cutscene and see "you gain a new item" and have to try to play a guessing game of what the hell I got. (You DO see what you get from containers and the like, at least.)

-Also in the same vein, equipment and inventory management is a bit... painful at times. Or menu navigation, trying to internalize which shoulder buttons switch between characters, which switch between sub-menus, which switch between other things... raar. Plus it would be nice to see what equipment a character could use by slot, maybe with easily seen subdivisions of what they can use now, what they can use if they get the right stats, and what they can never use (or just leave those out), rather than one huge list of armor, one huge list of weapons/shields, etc. (Plus further dividing up, say, gifts from vendor-trash would be nice, for example.)

-I'm very leery of the new download systems... Rather than just giving us the full game for one price, it's looking more like they're divvying up stuff intentionally in a way to milk the very most money out of each gamer. Which hey, profit is all well and good, and necessary for companies, but at least be somewhat polite about fucking us over, alright? Or not so blatant about it. Be kind enough to hand us some lube, at least! I mean, when you have separate for-cost downloads of fairly big game chunks (like one with an extra NPC, and one with a place where you can store party equipment and buy important crap), ON THE DAY OF GAME RELEASE, that's pretty blatant.

-The difficulty settings. Apparently easy is waaaay easy, but normal at times is "OMG, shoot me now." And it doesn't help that different difficulty settings for different platforms do different things (like on the 360, normal difficulty still doesn't have "friendly fire" for spells when your party members are in the area, while the PC version does?)

-A good AI/tactics system... except that they're way way too stingy with the number of tactics you can give. And to increase them (other than what little you get when leveling up), you need to use precious skill/customization points on more slots. All this is just... stupid, since it's completely useless improving your characters in many cases with new skills, spells, etc., when you then can't even have them *use* the skills or spells because of lack of tactics. What's the point of tweaking a character when they won't actually use those tweaks when it counts? Unless you want to take control of each character in battle in turn, which would be a) about impossible and b) extremely annoying. Likewise, have some option in between "have characters run screaming off into hordes of enemies away from your healer like total morons" and "have characters stand around picking their nose while other party members are being beat on."

-Other small bugs and such that haven't yet been patched for consoles as far as I can see, three weeks later. (Like apparently rogues don't factor in dexterity to piercing weapons like they're supposed to? Or if you have problems connecting, with some downloads you might not be able to play? Stuff like that.)

Sheesh, all that being said, it sounds like I hate the game, or that it's so flawed that any fun would be minor. But that's not the case! Because for me at least, the positives far far outweigh the negatives, and make them more of things that just drag slightly on an awesome game, rather than total game-breakers.

The strengths?

-The characters. They themselves seem well-realized, and interesting (even if not without their own quirks and character flaws.. which add to the realism of the characters). And in this case, "characters" includes a strong interaction level with various dialogue options, and an approval system (tied to gifts you give, dialogue choices you make when talking to them, and choices of actions when you're talking to other NPCs and partaking of quests). And romancing options for certain characters (including *gasp* bi-sexual characters/gay romance options). And characters in your party interacting amongst themselves at certain times as you wander around, which is always worth listening to, and often hilarious. Oh, and each character has a personalized subquest that you can unlock with a high enough approval, which adds even more to the game (and their characterization). Well, except for the dog. And one character which has more of a random encounter than an actual quest.

-The customization. Seriously, while there are only three main classes (warrior, rogue, and mage), there are a ton of ways you can go with each, including specializing in persuasion of the silver-tongued or big-muscled variety, specializing in different ways for combat, shapeshifting, stealing/device manipulation.... and so on and so on and... just much love. Seriously.

-Did I mention the romance? And the approval ratings?

-The fact that for a change it really feels like the choices you make - in dialogue, in course of action, whatever - has an impact on the world. In how party members will react to you, in how different quests go or turn out, in the allies you pick up for your overall war against the Blight, and in how the story shakes out at the end.

-Then there's the fact that this game seems less black-and-white, good-vs.-evil than most games of this nature. As I said in a previous post, it's not always so much about whether or not you're going to be an evil bastard, it's in which particular way you're going to be a bastard, and of what flavor. Or choices that are more a matter of what *you* see as good or evil, or practicality vs. idealism... basically, a ton of non-cookie-cutter-good/evil choices.

-Then there's the world itself. As I mentioned, on the surface it sounds generic, and even some of the deeper worldbuilding has definite flavors of familiarity (like Orlais which is Really-Not-France-Honest). There is a lot of back story here for, well, pretty much everything. Various factions, and sub-factions, such as the Tower Mages, how they interact with other factions, and the sub-factions within them such as the traditionalists, those who want a change, yadda. And even the more seeming-generic of the factions aren't, really - such as the Templars, who despite being heavily flavored in the way you'd expect from the name, aren't flat-out, across-the-board bad guys, but are more nuanced. And then there's the religious aspect...

-I mentioned the characters, and the character interplay. And the romances. Right?

-The combat... I'm iffy on. It suffers a lot from the previous mentioned flaws, such as lack of tactics space, and odd difficulty jumps, and lack of hotkey options, but aside from that it has the grains of a fun system, requiring some actual thought in various cases. So... that's more neutral I guess, overall?

-Large numbers of subquests along with major quests, and a generally non-linear way of doing things. You can choose what order to do a lot of the major quests in, and intersperse them with side quests however you please, more or less. (Main exceptions being a few of the main quests where, once you start them, you can't leave again until finishing, or getting to a certain point at least.)

Those are the big ones, and I'll just leave off there for now, since this is already long enough.

The long story short (too late) is that this is a huge, immersive world and story, with some notable flaws, but enough going for it that in the end, those don't matter much.


Recommendation: If you like RPGs at all, give this a try. Seriously.

Comments

( 19 Notes — Write a Footnote )
khaman
Nov. 24th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
I've been having trouble getting into the game as I can't abide the combat system and the inventory is just... ugh. I LOVE the plot and the characters are wonderfully vibrant and interesting, but anything other than dialogue trees...

I wish they'd emulated Planescape: Torment a bit and made combat almost purely optional. I know it wouldn't quite work for what they have, but the gameplay is fumblish. Do love that plot.
stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
I guess whether the flaws outweigh the positives is a personal thing... I know prince_corwin also thought the game a lot less awesome because of being dragged down by the flaws. But at any rate, I'd still say that people should try it, even if it's a rental, and see for themselves. ;)

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stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:15 am (UTC)
It's a pain, because in each (overly broad in some cases) category, everything's one big list rather than broken up by usefulness to the character, there are extra annoying button presses to compare secondary weapons/rings, or equip them, and the sub-menus/characters setups are nonintuitive. To me anyhow.

They're just annoying! Not to mention that I'd rather be able to automatically see how it would affect my character (or better yet, all characters at once) when I highlight an item, rather than to have to press buttons to do so.
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stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
Not many WRPGs, probably. But I even liked the Baldur's Gate system, from what I remember, better, where you could basically mouse over the stuff you had equipped, then mouse over the stuff in your inventory to see what was what, then slot things where they belonged.

I dunno, the huge List O' Doom just feels clunky as hell to me. Not to mention I like having a visual cue for what the item is, as well.
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stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
In fact, I should be playing it right now!

You should be, if you're not yet!:p
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stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
Re gaining items/codex entries: You know you can hit the Select/Back button when it goes to a line in the lower left, and it'll automatically take you to that item, right? The only time this fails is when you get a new codex and a new quest at once (because it'll take you to the quest, and then you have to find the codex on its own). As long as you read your codex entries immediately on getting them, it works well.

I knew this, but a) It doesn't matter as much for codex entries since I don't exactly want to stop every 2 seconds when I get a new codex entry in the middle of exploration/talking/whatever and read ten pages of backstory, b) as you said, if you get more than one thing at once, it picks and chooses, and c) I don't think I ever had it take me to the actual *item* I just got, if I got a physical item rather than an updated quest/codex entry.

Did you ever play Torment? I feel like you may have missed it, and it's a shame that anyone missed it, because it is the only game I've played that was better than this in terms of party interaction, real meaningful choices, and an involved multi-path intricate story that you could actually affect in significant ways.

Oh, I played Torment, and loved it, although it's been ages since I've played. And I have to wonder if maybe part of the reason that it didn't do as well is because they decided to scrap Planescape as a system *right* after it came out, which never made much sense to me.
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stormfeather
Nov. 24th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Hey now! No bringing about the end of the world as we know it in my journal, damnit!
( 19 Notes — Write a Footnote )