Monday, May 10, 2010

Dragon Age: The Final Assessment.

So, I finished the campaign last night and uh, it was nice. Very satisfying ending. Overall, I like the game a lot. That should be obvious, I've posted quite a bit in this thread. That's cause it's very good. Not a perfect game though. Not a game I can consider as a candidate for GOTY 2009, let's just say. The BioWare signature is definitely all over it, you can feel that same sort of relationship with characters that you got in KOTOR and ME and all that. It's just a very cozy and enjoyable experience, I'd say.

But ya know, there's a few wrong turns as well and I figured I'd just write up my thoughts on that. Quick summary here and uh, maybe there'll be improvements for Dragon Age 2, which I eagerly look forward to.

The graphics in DA aren't so hot. I can't believe I'm living in a world where people are posting that they can't believe they live in a world where the graphics in Dragon Age are considered bad. Like, really? Honestly, this is the year 2009. Dragon Age's graphics are considered bad, because they are bad. You look at video games, and it's clear we've come pretty far. Uncharted 2, Batman Arkham Asylum, Crysis, Gears of War 2, Dead Space, Infamous, Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2, lots of games with great graphics. But ohohoho, you raise your hand and object... those are all action games, not RPGs! Well, alright... that's true. Let's look at RPGs... we've got games like Oblivion, Fallout 3, Mass Effect, all which look much better then Dragon Age. And some of em came out over two years ago. And I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure Final Fantasy 13 is going to look much better then DA when it comes out sometime next year. I've never played an FF game in my life, and don't intend to pick up FF13, but it's clear to even a dude like me that it looks so much better then what BioWare delivered to us here. So no, it's not crazy to say that DA has some pretty bad visuals.

It's all fine and dandy if you say you're a hardcore RPG player and story-telling and dialogue come first and you don't care about graphics. That's fine, those are your own preferences. But to simply ignore that they are not that great is deluding yourself. It's like buying a used car with some scratches on the paint. You might value great gas mileage and the roomy interior and so the scratches on the paint don't really bother you at all. That's not why you bought the car, it doesn't affect your enjoyment of it. But don't act as if the paintjob is beautiful and flawless while conversing with your next door neighbor. Don't tell him the paint is great. That's escaping into some sort of bizarro world.

The world is changing, I feel. We no longer have to put up with FPSs with nonexistent stories, or RPGs with horrible visuals. What's Fallout 3? It's a first person shooter, but also an RPG. What's Mass Effect? It's a third person shooter, but also an RPG. It's not an either or proposition. Oblivion was an RPG that actually had decent combat for a change. This is a good thing, new games are taking the best elements of each genre and coming up with a really nice hybrid design. So don't give me the old chestnut that because it's an RPG, you shouldn't expect anything in terms of graphics. That doesn't fly anymore. Well, unless it's an indie game, which I don't think DA is. It's a BioWare game, so you're damn right my expectations are gonna be high. They've set a high standard for consistently great RPGs. KOTOR looked great when it came out in 2003. Mass Effect looked great when it came out in 2007. So to me, expecting BioWare stuff to look good isn't exactly going off and battling windmills.

As far as Morrigan goes... I'm kinda amused by all the discussion about her. It's really interesting how some people hate her a lot. I dunno, she was fine for my tastes. It's uh, it's okay if BioWare didn't just give us a retread of Bastila Shan or Liara. I might actually have found that really boring and lame. Morrigan's just different but still kinda alluring and provides a little discord in the party dynamic. Kinda reminds me of Joanna from the BattleTech novels. Ya know, mostly from Robert Thurston's body of work. Some people don't like Joanna cause she's basically a bitch, but a lot of people, including me, really really like her. Not like as in, I'd really like to be her BFF in real life, but we enjoy her as an intriguing literary character. Some people are just not that happy go lucky and they do have to occupy that realm of anti-hero. So yea, Morrigan's kinda... the best at what she does, but what she does isn't very nice? Heh...

Alright, some issues I've got with the game... starting with a MAJOR one. Terrible invisible walls. Dragon Age Origins is astonishingly awful at making any kind of sense with the edges of the levels. You go travel in the Korcari Wilds or the Dalish forests... little shallow ponds are invisible walls. WTF? These four inch deep puddles are able to prevent you from any further exploration? Is it because the plate armor will somehow rust if you dip your feet in em? Okay, another example... go to Ostagar. There are trees four feet apart that will form an impenetrable barrier. Steps that are only two feet high in Orzammar will block your movement. Head into the Deep Roads, and you'll be stopped by an invisible wall about six feet in front of the rockslide it's supposed to represent.

While doing Shale's special quest, you'll have to venture into this... place that I won't really name, so this won't require spoiler tags. But in the location, there are these hot spring pools on the sides of the level with steps leading down to them. You can actually see that the level designers crafted steps, for humans, leading down into these inviting hot spring pools. Why not go down for a little soak? Well, tough shit, cause the invisible walls again won't let you. This isn't some sort of a major gameplay flaw, but rather just kind of a puzzling choice on the part of the BioWare level designers. Why would it be better to actually limit the player in so many ways? Is freedom really so frowned upon? It kinda makes me wonder if they're somehow totalitarian fascists or something. Well, that's kind of a joke, but seriously... what could be harmed by letting the player walk down into a hot spring pool? Or allowing us to walk over tiny little ponds? Or making the trees more crowded in a location so the invisible wall looks like it'd actually impede movement? This is just really sloppy work. Bottom line, they need to be better at making limits for areas. The really strange thing is, I don't believe this bizarre level design issue reared its head at all when I played through KOTOR or Mass Effect. Maybe I forgot about it but... I don't think so. Just seems to happen in DA.

Moving right along... what is up with the loot lag? Sometimes I'll just loot everything after a battle, move on, and then backtrack a little while later and discover some more shimmering bodies. See, that's how I know that loot lag is present in the game. For a singleplayer game, it shouldn't take forever for loot to show up on bodies. Is it really that hardware intensive to process some loot stats that are probably in a small text file? It's just sad that I've encountered so much more loot lag in DA then in an MMO like WoW which has to deal with lag and all sorts of other complications.

The design of encounters in the game can seem very uh, strange and ass backwards. I'll not explain this in great detail, that might spoil something. In some quest situations, you'll have to answer a riddle. If you get it right, hurray. If you get it wrong, you have to fight a demon. Killing the demon gives experience, but just getting the riddle right doesn't. Why the hell would I want to answer it correctly and get no experience? What sort of incentive is that? It's completely counter-intuitive and ridiculous. People are actually punished for answering correctly. Everyone wants to get more XP, this is an RPG after all. Getting a dialogue answer correct should reward the player just as much as getting it wrong, if not more so.

Lastly, what is up with sustains? Most of the sustains work fine, but some are just janky and for no reason. Or they work differently but it's never explained in the description. For example, Rally seems to turn off automatically whenever I enter a new area. Wynne's Vessel of the Spirit has some unknown duration. This is no good.

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