Archive for December, 2011

How I Got Trolled On Christmas

First off, let me start by wishing all of my readers a happy holiday and a wonderful new year! You guys are amazing, and I’ve adored getting to know all of you this year, and continuing to write for this blog (however intermittently that may be. Sigh.)

My Christmas was amazing! My father shocked the absolute hell out of me by getting me a Kindle Fire! It’s an absolutely gorgeous device, and I can’t wait to play around with it more, download more apps, and see what the little bugger is made of! I just have to get a nice, sturdy case for it…

Anyway, my brother Anthony, a.k.a. Opal Phoenix of The Opal Phoenix Nest, decided to troll me this season. Hard. In the most amazing. Way. Possible.

On Christmas Eve, I had picked up my present under the tree and found that it was extremely light. I had also noticed that my brother’s Christmas card to me had been missing from my stocking. I immediately turned to him and said ‘Did you put my card in a goddamn box to troll me?’ He answered by threatening my life if I didn’t put the box down, so I did. ‘No,’ I said to myself, ‘There’s no way he’d do that to me. He just forgot the card in his bedroom or something.’

So, fast forward to Christmas morning. I unwrap the present and it is a plain cardboard box. Inside the box is nothing but my Christmas card. As I look at my brother in mock rage, he begins to laugh.

I picked up the card and opened it, and this is what I found.

No…he didn’t

I immediately tackled him with hugs and kisses, squeeling like a little girl. My brother bought me Skyrim!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, I played it for the first time last night, and suffice to say, my entire life is over. It was nice knowing you all and stuff, but I have epic quests to embark on.

I love my brother.

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The ‘Dragon Age’ Franchise: An Editorial

WARNING: SPOILERS MAY ABOUND.

Let’s face it: Bioware makes great games (most of the time, at least). One of their biggest franchises is the Dragon Age franchise. The first game, Dragon Age: Origins, was a huge success, and is considered by many to be one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. It’s sequel, Dragon Age II, was…well…not so well-received, for several reasons.

So, what made DA:O so popular? What made DA2 not so popular? Does the second game deserve the bad rap it gets? Most importantly, what could possibly be in store for Dragon Age‘s future?

Dragon Age: Origins

On November 3rd, 2009, Bioware’s newest game, Dragon Age: Origins, hit shelves for the PC, XBox 360, and Playstation 3, with the Mac version hitting stores about a month later. It was an instant success, pulling the player into what Bioware described as a “dark heroic fantasy” set on the continent of Thedas in a country called Ferelden. It offered six origins to choose from: a human noble, a human or elven mage, a city elf, a woodland elf, a noble dwarf, and a commoner dwarf. Factoring in the additional choices of gender and character class, along with different weapon and ability specialties, the possibilities were so vast that it felt like you could literally do or be anything you wanted. There was, however, a specific goal.

Regardless of your origin, you wound up as the newest member of the Grey Wardens, a group of warriors dedicated to protecting the world from the evil demonic creatures known as ‘darkspawn’. When a supremely powerful darkspawn, known as the Archdemon, rises and begins to give direction to the darkspawn’s normally random actions, it signifies the beginning of a Blight, or an all-out war waged by the darkspawn against all living creatures. As luck would have it, a Blight is currently upon the land, and after the king of Ferelden is betrayed by one of his closest allies, it is up to you, the player, to unite Ferelden in the fight against the Blight.

The storyline progresses in a way that delivers a truly epic, sprawling adventure, where you learn about the history and people of Thedas, and then subsequently carve your own name into history. It’s a beautiful, incredibly well-done introduction into the story’s universe, focusing on two main aspects of the game: combat and social interaction.

The combat in DA:O had its flaws, but was a good system overall. It focuses mainly on tactics, and allows you to either micromanage each party member’s moves, or set up a system of tactical directions for them to follow automatically. Creating a strong, balanced party that can take advantage of other party members’ powers and the layout of the battlefield is the key to mastering the fighting system. Add into this the ability to enchant your weapons and armor with runes, as well as the ability to craft poisons, bombs, and other nifty little items to use in battle, and you have a well-rounded combat system that literally has something for everyone.

Not only does leveling your character affect you in battle, it changes the way you interact with the residents of Ferelden. With enough powers of persuasion or intimidation, you can weasel your way out of (and, in some cases, into) battles and other tricky situations. You’ll find yourself very surprised with how wide-spread the effects of your words and actions are. Bringing certain party members into certain situations can also change the outcome, and your party members even have personal quests and gifts that you can give them to help your rapport with them. Along with different conversation options, a solid system is built that tracks your relationships with your party members, which can range from being passionate lovers to mortal enemies. Cross your companions one too many times, and you may find yourself on the wrong side of their weapons.

There are also a plethora of side-quests that earn you lots of items and gold, as well as access to other quests or recruitable characters. The map system does a fairly decent job of tracking where you need to go, using arrows to show you where quest goals and quest-giving NPCs are located. You can hold down the ‘Tab’ button to highlight any clickable items or objects to help you if you’re stuck as well. Several towns also have a Chanter’s Board, which holds several side-quests that can earn you gold, among other things. The map also houses your campsite, where you can go to heal your injuries, buy or sell items, and interact with your party members.

So, as you can tell, Dragon Age: Origins is an amazing game, and it’s easy to see why it was so well-received. There were flaws, but no game is without a flaw or two, right? You can’t possibly get mad at a game for being imperfect, right?

You can, however, get mad at a game for messing with your favorite parts of the already established storyverse.

Dragon Age II

The second game in this series, Dragon Age II came out in early March of 2011 for the PS3, 360, PC, and Mac. Many fans were beyond excited for the second entry into the Dragon Age series. The screenshots looked gorgeous, we were getting ready to be itroduced into a whole new area of Thedas, the Free Marches, and there was a laundry list of characters from the first game who would be making appearances both big and small.

Unfortunately, the game fell flat of expectations in the eyes of many of the fans. There are many things that Bioware got both right and wrong by their approach in DA2. So, because I absolutely adore this series, let’s start with what they, in my opinion, got right.

The battle system is much improved in the second game, in my opinion. It’s much more face-paced and exciting, and adding character-specific ability trees truly makes each character unique, which was a departure from the original game where it was possible to teach every character several specialties. They also streamlined the item system, giving you ‘junk’ items that were purely for selling, and offering armor upgrades for your companions rather than having to purchase multiple pieces of armor for each of them. Your character still requires several pieces of armor to protect themselves, however.

It also shook things up in regards to said companions. The main character, Hawke, has two siblings, and their fates differ depending on your starting class and choices you make at a specific point in the game (I won’t elaborate to avoid spoiling). It also offered the ability for a male and female main character to romance any of the four romantic interests (save for Sebastian, who can only be romanced by a female Hawke and is only available via DLC). This was a good thing for many of those who downloaded mods to allow some same-sex lovin’ in the first game, but it was overshadowed by several flaws (which I will delve into a bit later).

As for the companions themselves, I have to say that I love and enjoy them just as much, maybe even more so, than the original game’s companions. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the way their relationships are presented, but I feel as if the companions in DA2 were portrayed as much more bonded with each other than the original game’s bunch. The issues that do pop up between the characters seem to be a bit deeper and more complex to me than the ones in the first game, save perhaps for Alistair and Morrigan’s dislike of each other due to their obviously differing issues of apostate mages.

I didn’t experience all of the romances in DA2; in fact, I’ve only romanced Fenris so far, and I found his romance with Hawke to be deeper and more developed than that of the Warden and Alistair, or the Warden and Zevran. I enjoyed all three romances, but the one with Fenris was by far my favorite. I don’t want to spoil any of the romances for you, but the Fenris romance in particular is far from the fairytale one, yet it feels more fulfilling and genuine than any other playable romance in either game, save for perhaps Alistair’s.

I feel the second game also improved upon some other smaller gameplay aspects. One of my favorite additions to the game is the ability to not have every interactable item glowing. If you’re the kind of person that likes to discover every little secret for yourself, this is perfect for you, although I will admit that I wound up turning on the ability to have everything highlighted after a while. You can still hold down ‘tab’ to show interactable objects like in the first game, but I found it to be just too tiring on my fingers.

As for the story, although it also had some large issues, it hit on a lot of interesting points that were only lightly touched upon in Origins, the biggest one being the portrayal of mages in society. You got to travel to the Circle of Magi in the first game and see a bit of how they were treated by the soldiers employed to watch over them known as the Templars, but this is a large focus of DA2‘s story. While you did get treated a bit differently if you were a mage in the first game, choosing this class has a much larger impact the second time around. Not to fear, though; the creators did a great job of not letting your choice in class prevent you from participating in any of the larger points of the game.

Another big thing that the second game hit on was the Qunari, a race of large, intelligent, yet almost bestial creatures that come from afar. A Qunari named Sten was an optional party member in the first game, but we get to see much more of the Qunari and the way their society works in the second game. In fact, they themselves also play a rather large part in the overall plot. Add this to the return of many beloved characters, and you’ve got an experience that will delight many fans of the first game.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. With that, let’s look at what Dragon Age II got wrong.

We’ll start with the point I just touched on above. While it was exciting to see many of the beloved characters from the first game return, not every cameo was a satisfying one. Everyone’s favorite rogue elf, Zevran, makes a brief appearance, but with the almost alien-like redesign of the elves in the second game, many of those who romanced him in the first game were unhappy with his new look. There were also a few other favorite characters, such as Bann Teagan and Nathaniel Howe, who were downplayed much more than the fans would have liked. These two in particular were also big favorites of the ladies, and they were remorse (myself included) to find that they were unromancable yet again in this game.

This all paled in comparision, however, to the gigantic blunder that was the return of Anders.

Anders is a runaway mage that you meet and can conscript into the Grey Wardens in the Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening DLC. Many were delighted to find that he would not only be returning, but would be a main companion character, and romancable to boot. The time in between the first and second game didn’t treat Anders kindly, however, as he made a huge mistake that resulted in a horrific outcome for the poor guy. What really got everyone angry about this was his change in personality.

It’s understandable that Anders’ normally flirtacious, quirky, and bubbly personality would be toned down by what he experienced in between the two games, but they took his character into a direction that nobody saw coming. He became a loose cannon, obsessed with making templars pay for their unethical treatment of mages, resulting in huge destruction and several innocent deaths. Not only that, but many people felt as if his romanced was rather rushed, as he becomes just as obsessed about the player character as he is about freeing mages, and in a rather short amount of time. I personally enjoy what they did to his character, and I think that the anger of the fans is more due to the initial shock of the direction they took his character in than anything else.

The interaction with characters in general got revamped in the second game as well. DA2 adapted the conversational ‘wheel’ mechanic straight out of another popular Bioware game series, Mass Effect (which, ironically, has been coined by many as ‘Dragon Age in space’!). I do enjoy the conversation wheel, however, what actually comes out of Hawke’s mouth isn’t exactly what’s written in the wheel (which is intentional, as the system alters what you say depending on how many good, sarcastic, or evil conversation choices you make, but I found it slightly jarring at times nonetheless), and I felt like it was a rather odd choice that they made this game adapt Mass Effect‘s system rather than keep its own unique one.

Another thing about DA2 that irks me is the copious reuse of the same maps over and over again. Whether this was due to time constraints, budget constraints, or just plain laziness on the part of the level designers, I find that it breaks the feeling of immersion in the game a bit. Given, I am fairly sure that there are a lot more side quests in the second game than in the first, and it would take a lot more time to create individual maps for all of them, but I do feel more effort could have been put into this. I’ll just have to comfort myself with the idea that it’s all actually Varric’s fault.

There are a few notable flaws in both games that are worth looking at as well. One of the biggest ones is the plethora of glitches, missing sound files, graphical glitches, and other little errors. These games run on a sort of ‘flag’ system, like many games do, where certain conversation options or other events are triggered by a ‘flag’ that lets the game know that a certain criteria has been met. Many flags fail to initiate in both games, resulting in missing conversations and other issues. One of the most well-known of these concerns Zevran’s romance in Origins, which is riddled with these glitches, and even robs the player of a romance-based last conversation with him before the final battle. Luckily, the fans of this series are incredibly talented and dedicated, and many patches exist to fix these errors and restore lost content.

I myself encountered many glitches in both games, but I find that the glitches in DA2 are more noticable to me. There are several item-based side quests in the second game, where you find an item and simply have to return it to its original owner for a reward. I found that about a quarter of these that I turned in were glitched, having my Hawke say one thing, but having the words she was speaking on the screen say another. I also have found a hefty handful of instances where, right after a scene plays, a companion will say something, but the sound won’t trigger. I have to wheel around and read the words above their head quickly before they disappear and I miss it! I’ve also found a lot of the conversation animations to be a bit choppy when one line finishes and another begins. I could probably find mods created by the fans to fix all of these, but it has yet to bug me to the point that I feel the need to seek such a thing out.

So, as you can hopefully see by what I’ve already discussed, Dragon Age is a beautiful, yet flawed, game series. Do I dislike Dragon Age II for it’s drastic changes? Not at all, actually. I am thoroughly enjoying the game, to be honest, and my brother loved it, too. There are a lot of other people who enjoyed it as well, despite the legions of fans that will try to convince you to avoid it all costs.

As for the future of the franchise, it looks very bright and promising. Bioware clearly has the ability to branch out with the franchise, creating a much beloved mini web series, as well as a Facebook game. Bioware has also made it a point to listen to the fans, and has publicly acknowledged the fan’s displeasure with the second game, and has assured us that they are taking all of that feedback into account to be sure that the players get what they want out of Dragon Age III.

Personally, I just want Bann Teagan and Nathaniel Howe romancable. Please, Bioware? I swear, I’ll be your best friend forever!

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