Tag Archives: dragon age

An open letter to BioWare: Thank you

I broke my foot (lisfranc fracture) and arm (upper humerus, with displacement) playing short tennis on holiday in late August 2016.  I had surgery on both of them (plates and pins) and have been recovering since the start of September.  The first few weeks of that meant no use of my foot at all, so stuck in one room in the house peeing into a bottle and using a commode.  My arm was in a sling, and I was under strict orders not to bear any load on it.  For the past few weeks, I’ve had a heel-load bearing cast on my foot, which means I can hobble short distances, but I’m still pretty much limited to a single room because I need to keep the foot elevated as much as possible.

When my wife spoke to the occupational therapist (they did a home visit before the hospital would discharge me) they talked about exercises and what I could and couldn’t do, and my wife mentioned the consoles.  The OT was quite happy for me to use the Xbox One controller, because it would exercise my wrist and fingers without putting any load on my arm, and keep some activity in that part of my body.

Mass Effect 2 LogoI was in too much pain for the first few days at home to do anything though – which meant a lot of television.  Eventually I decided to stop the brain rot caused by that and whacked Mass Effect 1 into the Xbox One now that it’s playable under the backwards compatibility feature.  I completed a full play-through with all the DLC.  That led to Mass Effect 2 (360 only, not backwards compatible yet) and some fun and games getting the ME1 saves to import (saved on the Xbox One, but used on the 360).  Another full play-through with all DLC.  Inevitably, I finished ME3 (and all DLC)! after that as well.  It’s not the first time I’ve played them, although I’ve played ME2 most, I’ve completed ME1 and ME3 a couple of times at least.  I think that was around 120 hours of gaming.

I have Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakenings and Dragon Age II, but only on the 360 (and it was started to smell pretty hot on the days I played ME2 and ME3).  Also, although I absolutely love DA:O & DAOA they do feel a tiny bit tired now.  I’m not as enamoured with DA II overall, although the DLC improves it.  So, I put Dragon Age: Inquisition into the Xbox One and then played that (and all the DLC, which is new to me), and have just finished.  164 hours in total.

One hundred, and sixty four hours of game play.

daI’ve loved BioWare games for a long time, they’re a part of my gaming history on the PC and consoles.  Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights have special places in my gaming memory.  I loved the dialog, I loved the characters and the phrases.  Hell, myself, my wife and our gaming friends are still using quotes from the Baldur’s Gate series1 , when roleplaying, gaming and sometimes shopping.

Here’s a short list of why I love the games.

  1. Commitment to single player content.  Look I get it, I played Everquest for over 7 years – I was seriously into that MMO, so I know the joy of gaming online with actual real folk, having conversations with real human beings and sitting up until 4 o’clock in the morning with someone you’ve never met to help them win a piece of loot that’s just pixels backed by a database entry.  I understand multi-player fun.  But when I’m playing multi-player games, I want to collaborate.  I don’t play tabletop roleplaying games to fight against the players, and if I play online multi-player games I don’t want PvP to be the whole point, even if it’s team based.  More than that – sometimes I want a single player experience.  Sometimes I want to read a book on my own, not watch a movie with 300 other people, and gaming is no different.  I want to be the protagonist, to drive the story with a supporting cast, at my own pace, using my own imagination and in my own little world.  You guys deliver that, you guys get it, and you guys clearly love it.  Please, never lose that.
  2. Massive games.  Truly huge.  With structure.  Not huge in the Oblivion or Morrowind ‘er where do I go now’ way, but huge in scope and content, with a solid, structured layered story that helps you decide where to go and what to do when you get there.  It’s a truly fine balance and you guys usually tread it perfectly.
  3. Dialog.  You don’t always get it right, but when you do, it’s sublime.  It might be cheesy, it might be corny, it might be sentimental, but man we love it.  I love it.
  4. Complex morality decisions.  I cure the genophage every time, I have to, someone else might get it wrong.  But every time I’m forced to think about it, to think about the nuances and the impact.  I forgave the Wardens.  I unify the quarians and the geth, even though I know it’s futile, because fuck war.  Sometimes, I sit and stare at a single conversation option for 10 minutes, sometimes longer.  Do I save you and condemn the galaxy, or do I condemn you and save the castle.  Yes please.  More.
  5. Characters.  Your characters will stick with me for ever.  No less than some of the best books I’ve ever read.  Minsc, Wrex, Tali (yes, yes, I’m always a Talimancer), Oghren, these are characters I’ll never forget, and the interactions between them all are moments I’ll enjoy like the best form of entertainment in any genre.

You don’t make games.  You make interactive fiction of the highest order, and I salute you.

I have loved your games for a long time, and stuck in one room for weeks has allowed me to enjoy them all over again with an intensity usually disrupted by trivial things like sleep, eating and work.  In a world of expensive entertainment, your games offer some of the best return in pure gaming enjoyment, well before you factor in any of the ongoing conversations, memories and replays.

Long may it continue, long may you continue, and long may you focus on content rich, single player focussed interactive fiction which puts the player in charge of the outcomes.

In summary – thank you for the last 18 years of games, and thank you for keeping me occupied during my recuperation.

NB: This time, I actually didn’t mind the ME3 endings either, I tried all three, I’m sure the blue one is best overall.  No spoilers.

NB2: Now the 360 has cooled down, maybe I should give DA:O and DA:OA another shot.  Tired or not, I think it’s time a lowly dwarf from Orzammar saved the world, again.

  1. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, give him a sword and he can chow down on the marrow of evil! []

Computer games – do you always play the ‘same’ archetype?

Many types of computer game have you taking on the role of the main protagonist.  Sometimes you get almost no choice about the kind of person you’re playing and sometimes you get lots of choice.  However, even with games such as Modern Warfare you often get a choice of weapons that can dictate your play style.  At the other end of the spectrum are games like Skyrim where you have almost unlimited choice in how you play your character.

I find that no matter which game I’m playing, I tend to gravitate towards a small subset of archetypes for my initial play through.  I may replay the game later with a different class or approach, but usually I stick to my tried and trusted standards.

I can split the archetype choices down into two basic categories.  If the game is primarily fantasy based (Dragon Age, Skyrim, Dungeon Siege III for example) then I will most often play a warrior with sword and shield.  I tend to relegate stealth, ranged weapons and magic to the back burner in fantasy games.  Sure I’ll shoot an arrow if necessary, and I can sneak if the quest demands it, but I’d rather be standing tall in the middle of the battle, crushing the enemy with my shield and beheading them with my shiny sword.

If the game is modern, sci-fi (Borderlands, Mass Effect) or post-apocalyptic (Fallout, Fallout New Vegas) then it tends to include projectile weapons (i.e. guns).  In those games, I usually always play a soldier style role with medium range high accuracy weapons by preference (assault rifles and other rifles, machine guns at a push).  I love sniper rifles in those games, or anything which lets me shoot from very long distances.  Again, I tend to avoid specifically stealthy options, close combat weapons (shotgun, pistol), melee weapons, low accuracy rifles (sub-machine guns) and the like.  If the game has powers (like Mass Effect or Borderlands) I tend not to use those either unless they’re integral to the game.

On a second or third play through I might go for rogues/thieves or magic/powers based characters, and if the game supports lots of facets I’ll often pick up rogue-like skills as secondary support skills.

But generally, you’ll find me knee deep in dead goblins waving a sword and hiding behind my shield, or ducked behind cover 300 yards from the enemy looking down the scope of an assault rifle or sniper rifle waiting for the just, the, right, moment.

I find it amusing sometimes that in fantasy games I opt for the in-close with a melee weapon option and eschew bows and long range magic, and yet in modern and futuristic games I hate melee weapons with a passion.  I’ll use the chainsaw once, for fun, but I’ll always go back to my trusty assault rifle.

Dragon Age: Round 2

When I wrote the title of this post, I went to search the blog to find the first one I wrote on Dragon Age: Origins only to find I didn’t write one (and to be reminded of how annoying the search feature in WordPress is).

So, I guess this is Dragon Age: Origins, Rounds 1 and 2.

As usual, it’s a not-review well after the game has been released, played to death by millions, had a bunch of DLC released and is being replaced with a sequel, but hey ho, what can you do.

I’ve played a few games on the PS3 now, and it’s easily earned back the cost in terms of entertainment per pound compared to say the cinema or reading, but two games really stick in my mind in terms of amount of game-play and replayability.  They are Dragon Age: Origins and Fallout 3.  My first play through DA: Origins probably took around 60 hours.  Grete played it a little bit, so probably 70 hours between us.  However, we’ve both played it through fully again now, so another 60 hours each, that’s 190 hours of play out of a single game.  And as I sit here writing this, Grete is starting a new character and playing it again.

That replayability is testimony to BioWare’s excellent writing and world building.  The game interface is sometimes annoying, the combat is sometimes a little frustrating, but those issues melt away once you get involved in the story.  Reading the codex entries, listening to the dialog, talking to your companions, actually recruiting the companions and earning the right to do their quests, and learning about the world immerse you in the story so engagingly that you want to see it again and again through a fresh pair of eyes.

I love the subtle touches with the different starting stories, and how they all weave together into the main plot.  As a dwarf, returning to Orzammar to quest there gives you a different perspective than heading there as a human or an Elf, while playing a city Elf makes the quests in the Elven alienage that more poignant.  Seeing how your actions as a starting Mage snowball into serious consequences later on is just excellent.  BioWare really do know how to write engaging and totally absorbing computer RPG’s.

The way in which your conversational choices lead to different outcomes is excellent, although you can’t help but feel the authors were limited by the complexity of offering too much choice, and like all delicious things it leaves you wanting even more.

Maybe in a few years when storage is even cheaper, processing power even greater and collective software development even better we’ll get computer based RPG’s with almost as many choices as you can imagine, but until then, BioWare offer the next best thing with Dragon Age: Origins.

Orange is a state of mind

Finally settled on a new theme (the excellent Suffusion) which comes with a bunch of colour schemes, and I’ve picked Orange on Black (for now).  I know it makes little difference since the 6 people who actually read the blog do so via RSS so never see the colours anyway, and the other hits are all chinese ‘bots trawling data to try and gimp Google out of some cash.  Some folk are tired of dark themes, but I still like them.

The Orange on White version is pretty good as well and if I get bored with dark I might go for that.

I’ve had to work on some new headers, since the old ones were too tall and too narrow.  Managed to salvage the Matrix and floaty text ones, and added a couple of others.  Was very excited to find an Atari Space Invaders icon font!

Haven’t been doing much stuff out of work other than playing Dragon Age: Origins for the second time.  Tried playing it through a second time after originally completing it but it was too soon.  A lengthy break has done the trick and it’s almost as engaging the second time around.  Grete’s also playing it, so we’re taking turns like well behaved kids.  First time through I played as a warrior and was hugely frustrated by all the chests you can’t open until you find your first rogue companion.  So this time, started as a rogue!  Very different feel to the game, can’t go rushing into fights, need to somehow get the others engaged first, and if the warriors die, I’m not likely to survive (where-as when you’re the warrior you can hold on for quite a while with just Wynne).

Playing through again reminds me how good BioWare are at dialog and storyline.

Grete’s doing well at pretending I’m not annoying, when she plays and I shout ‘no, no, do Sten’s quest first’, or whatever.  So I thank her for that.

We bought a couple of the little add-ons, well bought one, got one free.  I’ve also bought Dragon Age: Awakening which was good but no where near worth the price.

I’ve also signed up to the PlayStation Plus service thing.  Got a few free games so far (Zen Pinball being the best).  Hopefully there’ll be enough free content in the next 10 months to justify the cost.