Posted tagged ‘bioware’

The Failure of Destiny and Hopes for Anthem

May 19, 2018

I’ve been trying to finish Kingdoms of Amalur before posting again (great game but huge! You kind of reach a point where playing it feels like work) but as I browse Reddit and general gaming blogs (and their comments sections) some kind of post inspiration happened. Or at very least, I felt something akin to wanting to share opinions.

Now that my 3 hours a week of gaming time (and my high pressure customer service job) restricts me to single player games almost exclusively, I’ve become a pretty, um, dedicated Bioware fan. To where sometimes I feel I should rebrand the blog. Or rather, I probably would rebrand the blog if I logged into WP more than once every few months. Anticipating upcoming releases is new territory for me, but Bioware’s next title, Anthem is getting a lot of attention. I mean, beyond the fact that its getting pushed back so much that at this rate, the company is going to run out of money before release and we’ll never have good story games ever again. /dramatic

What I want to get to, though, is that I keep seeing the same statement from my fellow Mass Effect and Dragon Age fans: “I’m not excited about Anthem because I don’t like first person shooters nor multiplayer. That’s why I’ve never played Destiny.

This hits home because a few months (a year? dammit, where does the time go?) ago, I would have said the same thing. In fact, I did say almost that, just with my usual eternal optimist twist. I don’t like strangers in my games, first person isn’t my thing, you can’t fit a good story into a multiplayer shooter, blablabla.

Then I played Destiny 2.

And I liked how the game handles solo play vs co-op vs PvP. Well, I never tried the PvP element, but that’s what I liked. It was never forced on me and there was no sense of missing out by not PvPing. I didn’t even mind the first person playstyle. I would have had more fun in third (strangely enough, this was the first time I really enjoy playing melee in a game, and melee weapons give you a third person camera angle), but the weapons were so fun that playing in first was fine. (Besides, the demo video for Anthem makes it look like the game isn’t going to be in first anyway.)

Destiny, IMO, however, failed on two fronts:

1- The entire game feels like a fancy storefront for virtual colours. (To colour the gear of the first person character I rarely see.)

2- The writing is terribad. Like it reminds me of the low-budget 90s Saturday morning cartoons of my youth. Like it made Mass Effect Andromeda, in its sorely unfinished state, feel like a literary masterpiece. I mean, I’m not that picky about writing. I’ll critique complex writing (think original trilogy Mass Effect) and ignore “context writing” (think World of Warcraft or Skyrim). But with Destiny I could do neither. In fact, I didn’t level a third character because there’s no way I could sit through that garbage without wanting to scream at the game about how dumb it sounds. It wasn’t the story – I was fascinated by the story. It was literally the writing. I don’t know who was hired to do the dialogue and the lore, but it was such an obvious case of “I don’t give a shit, so here’s some cliche lines with a few insults to the player mixed in. Done. And if you want background info on anything, you can kiss my ass.”

This is an amazing opportunity for Anthem.

Destiny with good writing? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!

I know there’s a “that kind of gameplay doesn’t encourage storytelling” belief out there, but I assure you, I swear to you, Destiny could have included a rich, immersive, emotional experience. In fact, the setting actually encourages that. That’s why I was so angry about the writing. I wanted to role play my character, I craved good dialogue, I ached for deeper insight into the different aliens, I needed to build friendships and rivalries with the NPCs. The game could have offered all that but the writers said no. Or rather they said “forget everything you think you know” or some bullshit like that.

And let’s talk microtransactions.

Where (I felt) Destiny went wrong is that, if you make it through that awful storyline and are still playing, you can do a bunch of fetch quests and world events. These repetitive (but kinda relaxing, I have to admit) quests give you experience. After a certain amount of experience you get a lootbox which contains some dyes to colour your gear (which you rarely see anyway), maybe a new ship (which probably looks exactly like one of your other ships except this one might be faster, or have brighter colours or something) and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a ghost (which looks exactly like one of your other ghosts) that helps you find items on your fetch quests. Oh, and sometimes you’ll get a skin for a weapon you don’t own. All this junk takes up room in your inventory so you vendor/destroy it.

That’s it. That’s the game. An insufferable leveling process just to gain access to a giant, flashy advertisement that is somehow supposed to make you feel like buying more of those lootboxes.

The sad thing is that it probably works, since the devs seem to double down on pushing their game to be a storefront for useless items. WTF is wrong with people throwing money at this?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind microtransactions. Shit, League of Legends couldn’t take my money fast enough. But League of Legends had a good system. They didn’t charge me 100$ for the base game. Their lootboxes only gave me decent stuff. Decent stuff and only for champions that I owned. If I wanted something specific, I could outright buy it by paying a little more. And it didn’t really affect the gameplay, nor did the game revolve entirely around collecting for lootboxes.

I had no problems buying cute pets or cool mounts in WoW. Especially since they made great gifts. And while Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t have any microtransaction, I would have gladly handed over 10-15$ for some extra gear skins. There is a risk here, if the base game’s cosmetics are so bad that you need to buy new ones to enjoy the game, you’ll get angry fans (and let’s face it – for a game that was all about beautiful scenery, the playable characters and gear skins were pretty sad), but if the base game is good enough and the purchasable looks are for diehard players looking for some refreshment, I think it can go over quite well. I know that by my third playthrough, I would have paid good money to have my characters wear something other than the Skin That Stalks. And in Mass Effect 3, I would have happily paid for nicer casual wear.

So microtransactions, and even random lootboxes, can be implemented in ways that enhance the game instead of taking away from it.

The Bets Are On

Being a Bioware fan that gave Destiny as try, I totally believe that Anthem can deliver where Destiny failed. The gameplay and setting are fun and workable, believe me! Bioware aims to create story-first games while Bungie makes it clear that story is just a chore for them. It’s always possible that Bioware falters – Mass Effect 3 was a series of good ideas that weren’t well connected to each other (and really crashed and burned at the end), DAI had great moments separated by extensive flower picking, MEA was…not finished – but no matter how badly they trip up, the writing will still be more engaging and satisfying than Destiny, in a way that “a little bit” is more than “nothing”.

As for lootboxes and other “the 100$ you paid for this game isn’t enough” items, it could go either way. EA, with their ever increasing spite toward their customers, could think up ways to make microtransactions even more detestable. Anyone hear more about those live services? What does that even mean? Are they going to force us all to get monthly subs a few months after the game comes out if we want to keep playing it?

On the other hand, the goal of Anthem is longevity (aiming for 10 years of TLC as per interviews with the dev leads). To achieve that, they need a business model that is sustainable (ie doesn’t piss off players). So while microtransaction are unavoidable, there’s hope yet that the development team uses their immense talent and creativity to sell products that are pleasant bonuses to, rather than center points of, the game.

Will You Pre-Order?

I’ve been swinging back and forth on this for the past year. I know that love it or hate it, I’ll buy the game and play it thoroughly so it only makes sense to pre-order, pre-download and enjoy whatever pre-order bonus I get. On the other hand, I feel like buying games before honest(ish) reviews are released just contributes to the current trend of half-assed triple A games. So it boils down to my greed and impatience vs my idealism for the video game industry.

In the end, the scale will tip one way depending how good the pre-order bonuses are and how slimy “live services” are expected to be.

Oh hey, it’s N7 day!

November 7, 2017

Some part of my subconscious remembered, because I put on my N7 hoodie after not wearing it for a few days.

Me with my Mass Effect merch! Censored my face because I couldn’t be arsed to make myself presentable today. In the end, it took longer to achieve satisfactory censorship than it would have to brush my hair and slap on some powder. Selfie generation, I am not.

Both items from the official Bioware store. Official artworks (they call them lithographs which I guess describes how they are printed? My lack of art knowledge is embarrassing.) are limited editions as far as I can tell. This one was a gift Ed gave me years back. The most similar one currently available is the Mass Effect Saga Lithograph (which looks pretty cool, I must say – I’d buy it for our gaming room Ed if shipping to Canada wasn’t so outrageous). And the hoodie in the store today that is closest to mine is this one.

I see a lot of questions about merchandise quality and I have to say, my hoodie held up beautifully over the years. Yeah, the paint has thinned a little and I’d probably buy a new one if convention attendance was in the cards, but I wear it almost daily at home and I’ve washed it quite often (can’t have me perpetuateing stereotypes about unhygienic gamers). It’s still ridiculously comfortable, the inside is still surprisingly soft and it still looks good enough to please me when I see myself in the mirror. Only problem I have with the official store is that there’s no Canadian site, which means prices are doubled due to shipping and duty fees. If I were to ask anything of Bioware, it wouldn’t be a perfect Mass Effect game (although I admit that would be a close second) or more role-playable Dragon Age protagonists (third), it would be a more cost effective way for us Canadians to buy their merch. They could even just make a little front in the reception area of their headquarters. I GO TO EDMONTON ALL THE TIME! I WOULD SHOP THERE!

N7 Day

This year I predicted they’d make a video recycling interviews with people involved in making the game talking about how much they loved it. (I should really start keeping written proof of my predictions…)

There was a video, it showed people involved in making the game (as well as a few fans – which I loved, I’m especially happy they showed a clip of Biofan because I’m kind of obsessed with his videos these days) and they were all sharing their wonderful experiences. The interviews look new though. Or at least, I hadn’t seen them before. Despite being exactly what you’d expect, I still enjoyed watching it and savouring the warm fuzzies.

There’s some featured artwork, in high res even(!) so you can take them to Walmart for printing without having to spend an arm and a leg on shipping. I’m hungry for moar and moar artwork – it’s funny I never cared much for paraphernalia in the past yet lately I can’t get enough of Mass Effect related art – but I am very impressed at how excellent yet radically different their selection was. The one by Unoobang is my new desktop background. It totally captures the atmosphere of my Normandy. And that Space Hamster!

Mass Effect Archive

Buried in the middle of the N7 day page is the Mass Effect Archives. I almost missed it, thinking I’d talk a bit about the video and the art, then the streamers even though I don’t watch streamers, then hit the publish button.

In the nick of time, I noticed the link. I clicked it and OMG! WHY HAVEN’T THEY MADE A BIGGER FUSS ABOUT THIS? There’s nothing on the Bioware blog and even the Mass Effect subreddit was wondering if this was a new thing or an existing feature we’d all missed.

I’m a pretty big fan of the Dragon Age Keep. Sure, there are a few bugs and it can’t keep track of everything a save file can, but overall, it’s a great way to overcome game engine and console generation barriers. Plus the art is lovely and I had a lot of fun filling it out the first time. Actually, I still have fun messing with World States, and while I haven’t done so yet, I like how if you want to explore a specific world state in Inquisition, you don’t have to put in 100+ extra hours into the earlier games.

So I’m really excited about a Mass Effect version (I’m positive that at some point, I have wondered out loud why there was no Mass Effect Keep in production, but as usual, no written record).

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out how to upload my character. Maybe I shouldn’t have clicked through the tutorial…

It’s not as straightforward as the Keep (or maybe I’m just so used to it that I don’t notice the gaps in userfriendliness anymore) but perhaps I would have had an easier time had I used the tutorial. The Keep also doesn’t have an “upload appearance” feature, which is what I had the hardest time figuring out.

I hope this means we’ll be getting new Mass Effects in the future, and Mass Effects that care about our old Mass Effects (although the FAQ does specify that the Archives won’t affect future games) – unlike most vocal fans, I don’t think Andromeda was a death sentence and I do think we’ll revisit the universe, its world is so juicy and there’s an abundance of stories sitting there, waiting to be told. It would be way less time and money to return to Mass Effect than to create a brand new world.

I’m patient and I’ll be here, playing with my Tapestry while I wait.

Happy N7 day!

Finally, Project “Dylan” is a Little Bit Revealed

June 13, 2017

I think I read somewhere that Bioware’s new game was originally codenamed Dylan because it aims to be the Bob Dylan of video games. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but no matter how you look at it, it’s quite ambitious.

Bioware is more of a trend follower (or adapter?) than a trendsetter these past years. I suppose that’s the downside of getting big: you can only react to current popularity, pro-activity is too risky. But maybe Bob Dylan wasn’t a trendsetter either. I don’t know, his peak was before my time. Maybe it just means the game will be poetic, have cryptic lines and produce a lot of content. Or more likely they hope it’ll still be making waves 50 years from now.

Anyway, Dylan was revealed to be called Anthem and somewhat confirmed speculations that the game would be similar to Destiny.

I’ve never really watched a video game trailer ever (except for ones at gaming conventions where I’m confused, have no idea what I’m looking at and totally embarrass myself if eager devs ask what I think), but I watched both of Anthem’s trailers. Then I watched about 2 hours of trailers for other games. Then I watched Destiny trailers a few times to see what all the comparisons are about.


I was expecting this. After all, post-apocalyptic is what all the cool kids are doing these days. That or zombies. But I feel like zombies are going out of style. (Much to my happiness. I hate zombies.)

The trailer doesn’t actually say the story takes place after a massive destruction, but you have a walled middle eastern/south asian-style medieval city with random sci-fi elements and overgrown ruins outside so post-apocalypse would be a pretty safe assumption.

I haven’t played Destiny so it’s hard for me to compare, but I understand that the main premise is about the same: a walled surviving city surrounded by a savage outside world. Destiny looks more space sci-fi, though, with aliens and travel to other planets, while Anthem promises lots about robot suits.

Robot Suits

Never been a fan of robot suits. But I was never a fan of saving the galaxy from ancient alien robots as a military character in a shooter game either. Then I met Mass Effect and fell in love. I think I enjoy a good narrative enough that with the right story, told the right way, I could fall head over heels for just about anything. (Except maybe zombies. Need to be convinced on that one. No, wait! Don’t.)

Am impressed about the flying and swimming. Especially the flying. Love flying.

Co-op and solo play

According to the trailers and interviews/tweets from devs, the game will be playable solo and as co-op with friends. Unclear whether there is the option to make new friends either through the hubs or via matchmaking, though I would expect there to be. I’m an associal asshole who complains whenever there are strangers in my game, but generally people stick around in a game more when they can make friends. Even I, in all my reluctance, got hooked to WoW for a decade that way.

PvP is not confirmed yet. Jonathan Warner (game director) made that very clear in his interview. I would be very surprised if there isn’t PvP, the PvP market is too big to ignore, but I do think they’ll take into consideration that their fanbase tends to be more solo and co-op oriented. I can see fun side-PvP like battlegrounds or arena multiplayer.

I’ve said for years (though not on this blog so if I’ve never ranted to you IRL about this, you’ll just have to take my word for it) that what SWTOR should have been is a primarily solo game where you could invite your friends into your game (I called it Diablo 3 style because Diablo 3 was the only game I knew of at the time that worked that way), and interactions with strangers take place in hub cities, not in the wild where they break your immersion, gank you, taunt you and/or steal your quest objectives. So if this is the direction Anthem ends up taking, I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Since Andromeda was relatively weak story wise, I am craving a game that can recreate the emotional experience I got with the original Mass Effect trilogy. I don’t think Anthem, as co-op and exploration heavy game will be able to do that (the co-op aspect alone would kill it for me, I need privacy to feel), but it’s ok. I’m sure Dragon Age 4 will (one day in the distant, distant future) deliver, and in the meanwhile, Anthem will be something fun Ed and I (along with maybe old gaming friends we’ve lost touch with?) can do together.

Still A Long Wait

It’s actually fun to be anticipating a game. I know it sounds weird, but it hasn’t happened to me very often. In past years, as a WoW blogger, I rarely ventured outside the realm of “things I did with my guild” and “this is how I did this thing with my guild”. I didn’t pay attention to other games unless someone put them in my face. Then I was living out of backpack for two years and technology was reserved for researching guesthouses and bus schedules.

I feel like I’m expanding my horizons, even if my horizons are, for the time being, just reinforcing how much of a Bioware fangirl I am.

But anyway, what’s the estimated wait time? Fall 2018 or something?

*sigh* That’s forever.

Finally sealed up that Dragon Age: Inquisition Solomancer run and can now move onto other things

May 3, 2017

After months of searching, I found my screenshot folder!

I started my second playthrough of Inquisition while waiting for Andromeda to come out. I think. I may have started it before I knew it was going to come out. If I was bad at following news before I went overseas, I’ve only become worse. Ed marks release dates on my calendar and says “buy this on this day” and I say ok. But anyway, I started the playthrough because I wanted to see why there was so much fuss about playing an elf and romancing Solas. Then Andromeda came out the day after I rushed to finish the base game and I didn’t get to Trespasser until Sunday.

I spend a lot of time reading the Dragon Age subreddit and one thing that comes up pretty frequently is that the game is meant to be played as Miss Lavellan who romances Solas.

My initial playthrough was mage Trevelyan – for no other than reason that I always play human mages first. My Warden was a human mage, I loved her, so Hawke and Evelyn inherited her legacy. I play my mages as friendly and very curious people, partly because that’s my personality and greatly because that’s how you get the most of out Dragon Age. So I actually thought Solas would be a good match for her, they got along well and she didn’t pick up on his snobbishness since she wasn’t elven. You don’t even get the flirt option as a human, though, so I went straight to Cullen. Good choice too. Unbearably sweet at times, but it’s nice to see the poor guy get a break for once.

As far as a second playthrough goes, I have to admit that I liked it better than my first. There wasn’t the anxiety of “if I say x, will it ruin everything?” or “will my game outcome suck if I don’t pick this flower?” Plus a second playthrough allows you to appreciate the hints and foreshadowing hidden throughout Orlais and Ferelden. There’s a lot of criticism of Inquisition, but when it comes to layers upon layers within a story, the game is a masterpiece.

Is the elf player treated as “the default”?

I didn’t feel that. Human noble Trevelyan, even as the sheltered circle mage that she is, understood and played politics with the ease of someone who was born and bred for it. And there are a lot of oppertunities for politically inclined human to shine. Lavellan, on the other hand, was confused by the large scale games, but had personal interest in the copious amounts of elven lore that are handed to you on a silver platter throughout the game. So I didn’t feel like the game favored one over the other. Perhaps the dwarf or qunari inquisitors are given the shorter end of the stick since there is a lot less lore concerning their cultures, but I think there is beauty in that too: an inquisitor coming out of nowhere with way less fucks to give about (or a totally different perspective on) human political games and elven history.

As an added note, I found that Lavellan seemed actually somewhat underutilized in the very elf-heavy quests. She doesn’t have much to say about the Temples of Mythal or Dirthamen and doesn’t react much to Morrigan schooling her about things she should know. Had she been given more opportunity to express herself, then yes, I would have said the game was skewed toward her, but her thoughts and reactions are left to the player’s imagination enough that it doesn’t feel like she is the favorite Inquisitor.

As for romancing Solas

The romance with Solas, I have to admit, is very well written, acted and animated. In how it grips you in and makes you desperately need want more, I think it’s the most intense romance I’ve played so far in any game. There is, however, very little content. Save a few kissing scenes and some “my heart”s in elven, you don’t get much that you wouldn’t get with a Solas friendship. Still, it’s the only time I’ve pulled up youtube videos of all the conversations options, read all the analysis of “see his face here? he must thinking this.” and maybe even gave into the urge to read a couple of fanfics.

So I totally get where Solasmancers are coming from, I was hooked pretty bad. But the lack of content and the (SPOILER – LOOK AWAY) total absence of any reference to the romance in the last scene of the base game (I know Solas is gone, but he could have left a letter, did some weird dream thing, or the Inquisitor could have reminisced, but no, nothing. Yes, he speaks through Cole, but that’s well after the game ends and you have to seek him out at the tavern. And I think he does it whether you romanced him or not.)(OK SPOILER OVER) really doesn’t give me the feeling that the romance was meant to be default.

Perhaps it feels that way if you romance him on your first playthrough. Personally, if I had romanced him first, I would have been inconsolable. I like my happy endings and felt like I dodged a bullet with Cullen. Yet, since all the romance scenes except for one are small extensions of the friendship ones, romancing Solas did not feel particularly special or exclusive. Only…really, really…addictive. For the first time, I’m not sure if I want to bring my original (human mage) game state into DA4 (if DA4 ever happens) or my Solasmancer Inquisitor.

Despite not thinking that “female elf romancing Solas” was meant to be cannon in the game, if something awful happens and DA4 can’t be release as a game and the story is wrapped up as a novel instead, implying that Solas has feelings for the Inquisitor would make for a more interesting tale.

And now what?

Now that I don’t have WoW as baseline in my life, whenever I finish a game, I get this big empty feeling. What should I throw myself at next?

Ed’s been wanting to do something multiplayer for months. I suppose that’s the problem you face when one of you works an officy job and the other works a fast-paced people job. At the end of the day, one of you wants to do cooperative stuff and the other just wants to embark on a personal journey through their imagination.

I’ve been curious about ME:A’s multiplayer. I really enjoyed ME3s, although it was pretty repetitive and I didn’t play it longer than I had to. Been considering giving WoW a shot too, but I’m a little intimidated by it. I’ve been gone so long, would I be able to rekindle the magic? Or worse, am I going to get so immersed that I have plan my life around my gaming schedule again? That, I don’t miss.

Then there’s a few games sitting in my library. I’ve been wanting to give the Witcher 2 and 3 a try. After being spoiled with DA and ME, I don’t like being forced to play a specific character (especially one who seems like a dirty, creepy ass dude) but people who have similar taste to me seem to like the games. I have the 2013 Tomb Raider game which I’ve been hearing good things about. Then a couple of “on the house” games from Origins (Nox and Siberia II). Plus, like everyone, my Steam library is full of surprises from sales day impulsive purchases.

Oh what to do!

I’m not ashamed – I liked Dragon Age 2 (plenty of spoilers)

May 22, 2013

The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I hung out at the Calgary Expo for one non-stop, action packed weekend (and got to meetup with the Calgary WoW crew – Vidyala, Voss, ChawaJen, Darthregis and Kelesti – some of which don’t play WoW anymore but whom I still look forward all year to seeing. Wish I didn’t live so far away.) Then I came home, worked a couple of 12 hour shifts then drove the 3 hours to the airport to catch a plane to visit my parents on the East Coast for a week.

Then when I came back, there was chaos. I swear I cannot come back from vacation in peace. Last time I was away, my then-coworker (and then-manager) spent two weeks trashing the store. I went straight to work from the airport to start cleaning up and making apology phone calls to customers.

This time. Well. The store was impeccable, but I landed into what felt like a CSI episode. (Actually, an almost identical case was apparently featured on CSI not long ago, but I don’t watch the show.) I only needed to make a statement to the police (I don’t know much about crime investigations, but from what I gather, I was some sort of witness.) but it was still shocking. In my line of work, you expect to see criminals. Mostly drug dealers. On a bad, bad day, you might face an armed robber. But a murder suspect? That threw me through the loop. My head spun for a few days. I live in a little happy bubble where murders happen only to people living risky lives in the drug or sex trade. Or on TV. (I was going to add “or to Americans” but according to rumours, the suspects and the victim are American. So maybe this stuff does just happen to our Southern neighbours.) Not among mainstream, non-drug, non-sex trading people.

Anyway, I turned to my favourite coping mechanism: escapism. The world in question: Thedas.

I started Dragon Age 2 months ago, but had only made it to Kirkwall before having to concentrate what little free time I have to WoW. But because we got somewhat of a break from the VP grind during 5.2 (and I refuse to do dailies because the horde on this server insist that I dedicate 90% of my dailies time to corpse runs), I figured that I might as well see for myself what all the hate is about.

And know what? I don’t hate DA2 at all. In fact, I really enjoyed it. I can see how some people find it to be a let down after DA:O (though putting it in the same class as the ME3 ending is totally exaggerating… And now I’ll get people saying that putting ME3’s ending in the same class as DA2 is also exaggerating, ha!) but I confess (that’s right, it’s confession day in this corner of the internet), I wasn’t a huge huge fan of DA:O.

Oh don’t get me wrong! I loved the Origins story, I loved my companions (though they often left me on my hunger, I wanted more, more companion goodness!), I loved Ferelden. In time, I even came to love my Warden. But the gameplay, for an obsessive completionist like me, was tedious and exhausting. I beat the game after 100+ of gameplay and I’m still plagued by flashbacks of how much I skipped.

You have to understand, then, that DA2, in its strengths and, even, in its weaknesses, was so liberating for me.


I had an unusual problem with Hawke. It’s a personal thing, a mere coincidence, not a fault of the game, but amusing enough to share.

See, I made my Hawke a long time ago. I just picked the default Lady Hawke because she looked better than anything I could design myself.

Default Lady Hawke

Default Lady Hawke

Then I didn’t play for months.

In the meanwhile, I got a new coworker in real life.

When I went to play again, the horror dawned me…

My new coworker looks almost identical to Default Lady Hawke.

While I certainly like my coworker, it’s extremely awkward to be reminded of her every time I look at my video game character. Plus, any of the adoration I usually shower my video game characters with would be uber creepy.

I was far enough along in the game to not want to start over so I bought the Black Emporium for the mirror of transformation. But giving Hawke a makeover was kind of annoying (for some reason, you can’t modify specific traits on default Hawke, you have to pick another preset and work with that) so I gave up. My coworker went for a new hair cut and colour instead.

But otherwise, I was totally ok with Hawke. I played the Amell mage in Origins, so I was excited Hawke was her cousin (or second cousin or whatever, I’m not good with family titles). I liked how the game followed her life for 7 years (and I’m torn on how she doesn’t age or put on 10 pounds or anything. /third-of-life crisis) and how she slowly becomes a local hero without following the tradition recipe of “THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO END AND ONLY I CAN SAVE IT!”

Her personality was interesting too, though I wonder if anyone ever plays their first Hawke as anything but sarcastic. I mean, you choices are: goody-goody (diplomatic), assface (aggressive) and entertaining. I think there were maybe a dozen times I picked something other than a joke? The best, though, is that the game kind of remembers your choices. While the mechanics setting Hawke’s tone aren’t secret, I sort of wonder if it’s more complex then that. In situations where I couldn’t bring myself to joke (usually around Hawke’s mother) and picked goody-goody choices, the game seemed to understand and Hawke started acting goody-goody in those circumstances without input from me. Maybe it was just an illusion, but whatever, I liked it. It made me very happy that the game “got” my Hawke. It’s always satisfying when you feel the game understands your characters.

The Combat

I’ll have squishy tomatoes thrown at me for this, but in Origins, I really, really disliked the combat. You have no idea. I enjoy strategy as much as the next person, but every time I opened that tactics window, all I could think of is “I WANT STORY NOW DAMMIT!!!”. In a short game, I’ll break my head over strategy (I did play The Golems of Amgarrak on the hardest level – except for the last boss who forced me to give up after like 6 hours of wiping – and loved it), but in a game that takes me over 100 hours to beat? Please! Give me some challenge to pace the story, but don’t have the normal mode make me cry.

Origin really only had like 10 spells too. They just each had 20 different names. Toward the end, I was getting very tired of sifting through my crowded spell bar, jammed packed with dozens of spells that all do the same thing.

So DA2’s “dumbed down” combat was sweet, sweet relief.



I didn’t open the tactics window at all!

I lied - I opened it once to take this screenshot.

I lied – I opened it once to take this screenshot.

My companions were a little stupid about standing in crap (seriously companion! I just moved you OUT of the purple, why are you running back into it?) but otherwise they took care of themselves pretty good. During fights, I’d often directly control Anders (I had him specced similarly to Hawke), I’d nudge Merrill and the rogues if I wanted them to do something specific and I ignored the warriors. I don’t even understand the warriors. Even so, very few fights gave me any challenge on normal mode. AND I LIKED IT.

Maybe next time I’ll scale up the difficulty for a more strategic game (and maybe learn how those confusing warriors work), but for a first time around, I was quite happy to not waste my time with pointlessly complicated combat.

And I was very happy with the spell/ability trees. Less toolbar invading, more passive abilities and upgrades. As it should be.

The Story

I’ll be fair. The story didn’t have the grandiose feel of Origins or Mass Effect. I admit that. But, surprisingly maybe, I liked it that way. After how tired I was after Origins, and how emotionally drained I was after Mass Effect, I’m okay with a game that lets me rest a little while giving me a story that I still care about.

It did seem to me that the writing wasn’t where it could be. There were lots of occasions where I wished I could go deeper into a character’s backstory, or a quest’s circumstances, or even Kirkwall’s existence. DA2’s setting and structure would have been perfect for such indulgences. There were a few times too where I winced, feeling that the dialogue didn’t quite fit. But “not where it could be” isn’t bad. The dialogue, the characters, the story, the lore, Kirkwall, were still interesting and engaging (to me, at least). It hit the target, just not, you know, the bullseye.

Act III was a little weird. I know I lose some of the story when I play games or read books, but I had been following everything very well up until then. Then in Act III, I kept wondering “why are we fighting these guys again?”, “why are these guys fighting each other?”, “wait, did these guys just change their mind?”. It does all make sense in the final battle (or almost), but still, “we’re all fucked because our already over-ambitious leader has an ancient trinket that makes her make us hate everyone” seems like a cheap excuse for some of the things that happen.

Now don’t get me wrong. I had a good laugh when I saw said trinket at the end. Someone who is really into figuring out plots would see it coming, but I was just going with the flow of the game and not overthinking (that’s the key to enjoying DA2, I think, not overthinking), so I totally had an “ah ha” moment before the final battle. It tied Act I and III together in a believable way (after ME3’s ending, “believable way” is something I’ve come to appreciate in stories), and let Act II serve as a distraction from what’s really happening to Meredith.

It works for me.

As a side note though, I must say that the very end of Act II was a little…um… Isabela came back with the relic and one of my options was to let the Arishok take her and his book and just leave. Just leave. After massacring half the city and committing regicide (killing the city viscount counts as regicide, right?), I could just let him go? What? As forgiving as I may be sometimes in games, this seemed a little over the top.

Also, unresolved mystery – the multiplying mages. The game is pretty clear about magic being genetic, and most likely recessive (given their genetics work kind of like ours). And while I’m sure Circles have soap-opera-like atmospheres, I doubt reproduction is something most mages are keen on. Not to mention how many mages get killed by demons, templars and playable characters before having a chance to perpetuate their bloodline. So how the heck are there so many mages? Where do they all come from?

The Companions

My favorite introduction to a character ever, in any story I’ve escaped into, was Anders in Awakenings. I decided at that moment he was going to be Hawke’s boyfriend when I got around to DA2.

He was a little hard to recognize (despite looking almost the same) in his second game, though. Such a shame. I do like my tormented guys in video games. (As a real life rescueholic, I’ve learned the hard way to stay away from lost little boys and save my attention for well-adjusted, terribly boring men, but, you know, all the more reason to indulge in messed up cute guys from make-belief worlds.) I like my tormented guys, but I hate losing my favorite characters. There were some hints of the old Anders (particularly when around Varric – those two play well off each other) but I would have preferred those hints to be more like… suggestions. Nothing too out line – I get it, he’s got a Mr NoFun stuck inside him – but (note that it’s been a long time since I’ve played Awakenings) it seemed to me that his original joking nature was a coping mechanism both to distract him from his loneliness and self loathing and to help him initiate quick, superficial but pleasant interactions with others. At the beginning of DA2, he’s still lonely and self loathing, and seems like he would appreciate a quick, superficial but pleasant interaction, so his old coping mechanisms could have still been used. His down-spiral into panic and obsession would have probably been more obvious too, had his personality really changed throughout of the game, instead of just going from paranoid to more paranoid.

I enjoyed the romance (and could write many fanfictions about the crate scene, with Hawke standing behind him, her hand wrapped firmly around the hilt of her dagger), but the transition from “I can’t do this” to “I’ve been waking up at night aching for you for three years” went waaay too fast for me. Was a tad creepy too. Is it just me? I mean, it’s great he has the hots for Hawke, but does he have to be so…forthcoming? Going a liiiiitle bit slower and perhaps emphasizing more on those deliciously dramatic conflicting feelings he has around Hawke (and sounding less like a pervert) would have been more satisfying. I do hear Fenris puts up more of a chase. Hmm. That playthough will be a goody.

As a side note, before I played DA2 (or Origins, for that matter), I kept hearing how offended people (and by people, we probably mean “straight guys with ego problems”) were by Anders’ gay advances. I kind of scratch my head. Getting hit on by guys you aren’t attracted to is something that happens, like, daily, in the real world when you’re a girl. Are guy gamers really unable to put up with a fictional version of that happening to them? (I’m not a hardcore feminist by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I wonder how many guys would be able to survive an hour of a woman’s life.) If the flirting itself is similar to the flirting (if you can call it that) in the actual romance, it’s not the suavest move ever made by a character, but it’s not the end of the world. (Also, while I was really amused by this comic, the complaints about getting Rivalty points if you reject Anders are silly. I pissed Merrill and Aveline off constantly and still reached 100% friendship with them long before the end of the game.)

Wait! I have other companions, right?

I really liked how connected to the story and to the world most of them (and by most of them, I mean Aveline, Isabela and Varric) were. While on a personal level, I didn’t feel any connection to Aveline, I felt that having a companion in the city guard (who doesn’t give up her job to follow Hawke the way companions do in other games I’ve played) did add a lot to Hawke’s experience as a meddling resident of Kirkwall.

The ME2-style loyalty quests were excellent. I can see that formula getting really old really fast, but for two games, it’s perfect. Fenris’ and Merrill’s in particular left me thinking “holy crap, that was awesome”. The only complaint I can have about companion presence is that I want more. More. MORE MORE MORE MORE. I’m sure it’s possible to have too many character-based cutscenes, but it would take a lot of cutscenes for that to happen. Especially if those cutscenes were relevant to plot. (Or better yet, there should be a DLC, kind of like Citadel but that doesn’t unlock everything at once, that adds optional companion indulgence. I understand that not everyone is really into characters, but me, I would pay extra to have more juicy content.)

I also liked how the companions interacted with each other and would have enjoyed seeing more of that. I was very happy for Fenris and Isabela finding comfort in each other (though they deny anything deep). If not for Varric’s ability to bring out the best in Anders during long walks, I probably would have ended up with an extra dead mage (I don’t care that my Hawke loves him and that he’s my best dps AND healer, I can only put up with so much complaining!).

There’s something charming about watching how these characters you come to feel strongly (good or bad) about react to, or behave with other characters you feel strongly about. It’s a side of the story that gets touched in Bioware games (my favorite memory of SW:TOR is fueling the fire as all my companions bitched about each other! And Mass Effect fans speak with delight on how they walked in on Tali and Garrus. Not that I would approve if that happened to me. Sexy Garrus belongs to MY SHEPARD.) but that could be used so much more. The concept of party banter is excellent, but in Dragon Age 2, it eventually broke down to various ways Anders rambles about mages and Fenris tells him to eff off. Or maybe that’s just the game telling me I should stop using Anders and Fenris in my party for every quest.

As for not being able to customize your companions’ gear, well, I was sad at first too. I’m obsessive when it comes to gearing my characters. I probably put more effort into that than into any other aspect of the game. In the end, though, it was a blessing. Even with just 5-6 customizable slots, I spent hours sorting out gear. Hours. I didn’t even reach the required 50 gold by the end of Act I because I kept upgrading my characters’ gear in shops. I think I had like 6 gold left or something. Adding shirts, hats, boots and gloves would have killed me!

So, I, for one, am totally ok with non-customizable gear for companions. It might be nice to change their appearance a little bit, but I’d rather that be done through cosmetic-only means because I don’t think my sanity could handle more gear slots.

The World

So much hate on the small, recycled dungeons!

I can definitely empathize with that and recognize how it takes away from game epicness.

But, me, I’m not a fan of dungeons. So small dungeons were a plus, and I didn’t mind the recycling. Recycling even made it faster for me to get through and out of dungeons, so it may have even been a good thing.

I was fine with the small world as well. I thought that having a story about a city and some of its residents was a refreshing change from the stale “hero has newbie zone, then journeys as far away as possible in search of a distant uber baddy“. So I enjoyed going to these familiar places and have different things happen there. It’s not for everyone, but it worked for me.

It's small world after all. (Yes, I know this screenshot is exaggerating.)

It’s small world after all. (Yes, I know this screenshot is exaggerating.)

And onto Dragon Age 3: Inquisition

I think this may be the first time I’m genuinely excited about an unreleased game.

The bits of news sound really good so far. And it seems that not many Dragon Age fans agree with me, but I felt DA2 (and its ending) really set the stage for a fantastic tale in Inquisition. We have a flurry of dear former companions to weave the games together, we have a deep rooted, complex social issue that just exploded, there’s hints of an exciting mysterious power behind our two favorite heroes disappearing and there has been a lot of observing of fan reactions on Bioware’s part. How can this not be amazing?

If I compare Mass Effect to Dragon Age on a personal level, Mass Effect is much closer to my heart than Dragon Age. But what made the trilogy so wonderful to me is also what will probably ruin every future game set in that universe. The heart and soul of Mass Effect was Shepard and her relationship with her crew. The world without Shepard is pretty boring. The world before Shepard was kind of boring (humans had only recently taken a spot in the galaxy) and the world after Shepard is broken, not matter what you choose. It would take a miracle to pull off another earthshattering (to me) game in the Mass Effect universe.

But Dragon Age! Using a different main character for each story, exploring corners of the gigantic Thedas at a time, leaving threads hanging and stones unturned at the end of each game and having characters interesting and diverse enough to ensure cameos to make the world feel homey when starting a new chapter… The recipe gets you attached to the world rather than to just one character, a big, big world that could take 6, 8, 10 games before getting stale. I fully expect the game creators to give up before the possibilities run dry.

Hopefully, too, there was a purpose to ME3’s ending breaking my heart and to the odd hate DA2 received: to make it clear that us story game fans like our stories. And our details. And our ethical dilemmas. And our characters. And our characters’ companions. A lot.

I so can’t wait for Dragon Age 3!