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“We’ve Changed Everything…” or “…But Don’t Worry, It’s Still The Same Thing”

December 22, 2010 4 comments

“Dragon Age 2 looks better, plays better, and has an entirely new story,” says lead designer Mike Laidlaw… And so just about everything has been changed in some way, whether it’s a minor tweak to smooth out some rough edges, or the total reworking of an idea that never quite came together the way it should. But don’t worry, says Laidlaw. It may not look quite the same, but at it’s heart, “It’s still Dragon Age.”

Susan Arendt, Preview: What’s New in Dragon Age II, WarCry

Gotta love the marketing lingo!

Some other points to take away from the preview, new information (at least for me) is marked in red:

  • Gone is the origins concept. You are new (a male or female version of) Hawke, Dragon Age’s answer to Commander Sheppard. Also, your character now talks.
  • The Blight is peripheral noise, compared to the clamor of Hawke’s rise to power, myth and legend.
  • Combat is getting a massive overhaul, particularly in terms of differentiating the classes and smoothing out the difficulty levels. It is also considerably more frantic, a departure from the long-windups of the original.
  • Crafting has been streamlines; you won’t have to hunt down ingredient-specific vendors; once you find the item in the world; all vendors will carry it. (Thank god!)
  • Skill Trees are now more circular in nature, as opposed to the horizontal and linear hierarchy, allowing multiple paths to get to that skill you’ve been craving.
  • The game has a lot more eye-candy than the three primary colors of the original: Brown, Grey and Blood-Spatter.
  • You will no longer be forced to “keep everyone happy” to keep them around; your party will get your back no matter what, but they will frequently disagree with you if you come from different standpoints
  • Junk loot is actually labeled “junk”, so you can sell it without a second thought.

Am I excited? You betcha. Dragon Age: Origins was a stellar game, its flaws notwithstanding. But I am going to wait on some reviews before buying this one.

Categories: Dragon Age 2, Preview

“Dragon Age: Cohesion” or “A Short Wishlist”

November 4, 2010 2 comments

Dragon Age: Origins was a great game. It took me 106 hours and some change to complete the game, and it was an exhilarating experience. Sure I had some problems with the game, but all things said and done it was a terrific gaming experience, epic in scope, terrifying even in its conclusion, and bold in execution.

Dragon Age 2 launches March 8, 2011, and by the looks of it, not only does it already address several of the issues players had with the game, it also improves on existing systems to further streamline the overall experience.

Dave Hinkle of Joystiq had a chance recently to sit down with BioWare and try out some of the systems, and what he reported on seems to have a lot of potential. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here is a quick summary:

  • There is a central narrative that recounts the series of events
  • The narrative is broken up into several self-contained ‘acts'; this helps track the sheer volume of quests you have, and never allows the game to boggle you with too many
  • The classes are much more distinct, for instance, the rogue in the first game was a jack of most trades, master of none
  • Your previous decisions will get imported and have an impact on the world
  • Several old characters will return, including Flemeth and Morrigan
  • Graphically, all three version will look relatively the same, but closer to the PC version in the first installment; the graphical overhaul is extensive and everything looks a lot better
  • The dialogue system will give visual clues to indicate the tone of a particular option

Horny

The above, more or less, covers my wish-list. The self-contained act system, what BioWare refers to as the ‘frame narrative’, is sigh of relief. I recall at one stage mid-game I had so many quests in my log that I couldn’t figure out what to start and where to finish. If I didn’t play for a day, it took me a good half hour to sort out what I was working on, and make my way there. In short, it was a nightmare and clunky quest log didn’t particularly help either.

There are, however, a few exceptions that have not been addressed. These things really irked me the last time around, and I sincerely hope they get fixed this time:

  • The dungeon crawls sucked.For the love of god guys, I understand the need to build dungeons in an RPG, but they don’t need to span the length and breadth of Satan’s colon. The dungeon romps were unforgiving in the first installment, and I sincerely hope BioWare either breaks up the crawls, or streamlines them to give the player a break in the middle. For anyone who has played the game, two crawls particular standout for me. The first was on-route to the Urn of Sacred Ashes. The second, *shudder*, was the romp through The Fade. God that was long. And complicated. And long.
  • Storage and Respec. These two issues will fixed via later patches in the first game, but during the first play-through, it was a huge pain to constantly balance everything that you needed to carry and everything that you needed to store. The limited inventory space ensured that you were constantly selling things, even items that you would need later, simply because there was no room left. Much as I loved most of my characters, one gripe I had was about the unforgiving nature of the respec system. If you picked up a skill, you were stuck with it for the rest of the game, even if realize post execution that it was the most useless ability in the game.
  • And finally BioWare, please hire a jumping animator. It will introduce new moves and gameplay mechanisms to the game, and allow the characters to experience gravity like Sir Isaac Newton would want!

Only four months to go. Two if you count the Facebook tie-in. Can’t wait!

“Why I am Excited about Dragon Age 2″ or “The Importance of a Central Character”

July 26, 2010 4 comments

Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins – Two of the Greatest RPGs Ever Made

Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest triumphs in RPG gaming in recent memory. BioWare created a universe that was believable, sucked you in and made you realize the importance of solid, gripping storytelling. Part of the reason the game stood out for me was because it was the continuation of the previous iteration, using a familiar cast of characters and led by Sheppard as the protagonist. This was the single most effective facet of the Mass Effect universe: getting the players emotionally involved in the trials and tribulations of one Commander Sheppard and deeply caring about all the conflicts he (or she) was mired in.

Dragon Age: Origins was also a great game. Part of the reason was the concept of the origins stories and how they inter-weaved throughout all the main story campaign and part of the reason was the rich detail of the universe, which has become a hallmark of BioWare games.

Why I Enjoyed Mass Effect 2 More in the Long Run

What I am trying to say is that I tremendously enjoyed both video games, but my relationship with both over the course of time morphed in diametrically opposite directions.

For Mass Effect 2, each additional piece of lore and DLC added to the universe and pulled me deeper into the ongoing conflict and the lives of the main cast of characters. I was intrigued, unable to put down the Firewalker, Overlord or Kasumi DLCs, because they continued to advance the story of a familiar character we had grown fond of, a character who had suddenly become the most important human being in the universe, an unsung hero by the name of Commander Sheppard.

Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, in the larger sense, failed to do so. The biggest problem Dragon Age: Origins faced was that there was no central protagonist to hold the narrative together. Sure each of the six starting stories inter-weaved and essentially boiled down to the same larger arc and Ferelden-spanning conflict, but there was no singular name you could identify the game with. Dragon Age: Origins was essentially about six versions of the same exact story, and any of those versions may have been the truth. I am not saying the characters were not well-developed, or that the stories were not intriguing in of themselves. I am just saying there was no central glue that held it all together because there was no central protagonist.

Then came the expansion: Awakenings. This new content further deteriorated my sense of involvement in the series by giving m a new protagonist to play with. Sure you could import your existing character, but the problem here is that the Orlesian character added, effectively, a seventh origins story to the mix. Thus I started losing interest in the universe. Put simply, I just didn’t care enough about the predicaments of the Dragon Age denizens, which is a sad thing to realize about a game you spent 112 hours, 13 minutes and 56 seconds playing.

So when I heard that a sequel was in the works, I was less than intrigued to give a rat’s ass about it.

Why I am excited about Dragon Age 2

What has piqued my curiosity now is Hawke. BioWare’s Chris Priestley said the following on the official forums a few weeks back (I know it’s several weeks later, the new job is kicking my ass!):

“While I do enjoy having fun with our fans, I am not joking about this. The player character is a human (either male or female) with the last name of Hawke. Dragon Age 2 is the story of Hawke.”

This immediately had me interested in what else he had to say about the upcoming game.

Dragon Age 2 thrusts players into the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee who rises to power to become the single most important character in the world of Dragon Age. Known to be a survivor of the Blight and the Champion of Kirkwall, the legend around Hawke’s rise to power is shrouded in myth and rumor. Featuring an all-new story spanning 10 years, players will help tell that tale by making tough moral choices, gathering the deadliest of allies, amassing fame and fortune, and sealing their place in history. The way you play will write the story of how the world is changed forever.”

Hawke, my friends, is the new Sheppard. Like Sheppard, you can select a first name and decide if the character will be male or female. And most importantly, the series will now have a central character that everyone who talks about the game can relate to. I, for one, after waning interest in the series, am as excited about Dragon Age 2 as I am about Mass Effect 3.

Footnote: Another human male in another universe filled with alleged equal opportunity and various races. Kind of makes me think BioWare is a bunch of xenophobic sexists!

Weekly MMO/RPG Crockpot: “Mummies, Super Heroes, Jedi and Revamping Jumpgate” or “BioWare Bonanza, Trine Sequeled and Dungeon Siege 3″

June 12, 2010 1 comment

That’s MMO slash RPG, not MMORPG. Every week all the random bits and pieces of news that I come across regarding my favorite MMOs and RPGs (or at least the ones that have piqued my curiosity) start piling up in the ‘temporary’ section of my bookmarks toolbar. This is an attempt to clean up my bookmarks.

The following is a quick list if you want to skip to something in particular:

MMOs

  • DC Universe Online Videos
  • Dawntide Beta
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic Dialogue Choices
  • The Mummy Online
  • Jumpgate Evolution Revamped
  • End of Nations Trailer
  • Lord of the Rings Online goes F2P

RPGs

  • Dungeon Siege 3
  • Mass Effect 2: Overlord DLC
  • Fallout: New Vegas Pre-order Bonuses
  • Trine 2!
  • Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 at E3

Here we go!

MMOs

DC Universe Online Videos

The developers of DC Universe Online, recently announced to be set free upon the masses in November, released more videos this week than BioWare, and that is quite a feat to accomplish. To start off, we got the DC Universe Online – Inside the Studio – Episode 5 this week, which addresses some key questions about the upcoming MMO, such as, can players create kid heroes in the DC Universe, e.g.: Teen Titans. Not exactly my cup of tea, if you know what I mean, but the video is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

Next up we have a short video misleadingly titled “Life on the Streets”, where the game’s creative director Jens Andersen walks us through the “super speed” power and how it plays out in both traveling through the world, scaling walls and combat. It’s very short, barely under a minute (if you take out the time for the logos etc.), and doesn’t really tell us much of anything. Worth a look, especially if you are a Jay Garrick fan! I thought “Life on the Streets” would be about the living, breathing world. Guess I was wrong!

Finally, we have “The Suicide Slums Travelogue” trailer. It has to do with The Suicide Slums, and it is in trailer format. How apt. Chris Cao, game director, walks us through the ghetto of Metropolis, that location in every major city in the world that the so-called “civilized folk” dare not trespass.  There are a few threads of storyline and lore as it pertains to this section of the city, along with some fairly obvious information such as “villains can use the slums’ shadows to hide, whereas heroes can come to the slums to fight crime.” No shit. Trailer is below, it’s two minutes long, enjoy!

Dawntide Beta

This is old news at this stage, considering Eliot Lefebvre already posted about it well over two weeks back. But I caught wind of it just now, so I am going to talk about it. If you have a problem with it, go read another blog you pansy! (Yes I am having a weird day.) On May 31st, that would be exactly two weeks ago, the game went into open beta.

Dawntide stands out from the crowd because its central premise promises the creation of towns, cities, societies, cultures and the whole world of Dawntide based solely on player input. This concept is very intriguing to me, and I have yet to come across a game where player interaction shapes the world categorically. A small example would be the manner in which the Wintergrasp battle is fought in Wrath of the Lich King. One team defends the fort, whereas the other assaults is with siege vehicles, trying to take down the walls which will allow them entry into the inner sanctum. Once the final wall to the fortress itself has been breached, the game is over. The tower cap also works, especially if your faction far out numbers the enemy.

Battles of this scale and scope occur all over WAR, I am sure, as towns are captured and bases razed, but as Eliot points out, “PvP” is far too often regarded synonymous with “sandbox”. I hope Dawntide focuses on player input through social interaction and world questing to shape its lands, and not how hard can you stab the next guy. Whether it actually happens remains to be seen.

I will be trying out the Dawntide open beta with in the week, and post more thoughts here.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Dialogue Choices

BioWare has long touted story and character development as the fourth pillar in MMOs as one of its major strengths. Well that is until Derek Smart came along, and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Way to go douchebag.

Anyway, in a prior developer walk-through, BioWare explained how their NPC dialogue options were deep, engaging and laden with all manners of choice. These choices, they have now revealed, go beyond the cookie-cutter good and evil, and also delve into the flirty, whimsical, or purely cosmetic to accommodate for a greater set of play-styles and personalities. What I find really cool about the whole affair is that the dialogue options will vary for each class, allowing specific responses that may be tailored to reflect the class and lore. In addition, when grouped, multiple players will be able interact with the conversation, advancing the structured and segmented dialogue tree.

We already know SW:TOR has over 50 novels worth of dialogue and story written for it, and more is being added every day, and that every NPC in the game is fully voice-acted. So this comes as an added benefit, and one that I am really looking forward to.

Here is a quick poll, and your participation is kindly requested.

The Mummy Online

Branden Fraser is to mummies what Francis, Louis, Zoey and Bill are to zombies.  With three movies shot on the premise of ancient mummies, and a spin-off starting he who dares you to smell what the rock is cooking, I suppose it was only a matter of time before there was an MMO spin-off. The game will be set in the 1930’s and feature both player versus environment and player versus player opportunities.

Universal’s Bill Kispert had this to say:

“The Mummy franchise is chock full of exotic settings, supernatural enemies, exciting quests, and over the top action. It is ripe with gameplay possibilities, and we look forward to extending our relationship with Bigpoint to bring the world of The Mummy to life for gamers.”

There you have it, as generic a launch statement as it gets which can be summed up as follows: “We think this is a cool idea, you should too.” For the record, unless I see something groundbreaking, and despite my affinity for mummies, this is likely the last time I will post about this title!

You can find more about the game at it’s official website.

Jumpgate Evolution Revamped

I am a huge fan of the Jumpgate series, so it always pains me to see the game go through so many delays. In fact, next month will mark a full year since the original estimated release date of July 2009. With deafening silence from the developer for the last several weeks, fans of the series were finally given a questionable ray of light. Executive Producer Lance Robertson wrote a detailed forum post on the game’s development.

So what is with all the delays? Apparently the development team has scrapped most of the gameplay elements in the game and replaced them completely with a new vision for what the game should act and play like. Good news I suppose, considering it will always be better to have a game revamped and restructured prior to release and not after (*cough* Alganon *cough*). This does, however, imply that the game will be inevitably delayed even further.

*sigh*

End of Nations Trailer

Here is a novel concept: an MMORTS. Developer Petroglyph has been working on this game for a while, and there was an interview I came across on Bitmob that shed some much-needed light on the title. Petroglyph’s Mike Legg, alongwith the core of Petroglyph, has been working on the RTS genre tracing back to Westwood’s genre-defining Command and Conquer series, and even as far back as Dune 2.

In true E3 fashion, and in order to create some hype for the title, a launch title was revealed. The title itself sets up the storyline of the game, but does not give actual gameplay footage or indication of what to expect. Good watch for the lore and background buff, terrible watch for the anyone looking for massive armies wreaking havoc on the battlefield. I fall squarely in the former category, so I thoroughly enjoyed the trailer, lack of in-game footage notwithstanding.

Lord of the Rings Online goes F2P

This is likely the biggest news in this bunch, but it has been covered to death by Rubi Bayer over at Massively, so head on over to get all the juicy details. They also sat with the development team over at Turbine for an in-depth interview.

RPGs

Dungeon Siege 3

Dungeon Siege holds a special place in my heart, and that is because I absolutely loved the first one, and absolutely detested the second one. The first one needs to be put on a pedestal with a Parabolic Aluminized Reflector spotlight above it, whereas the second one needs to be fed to a pack of wild dogs, pissed upon, and buried six feet under. The first was a work of art, set in a unique world filled with mystery and twitch-based combat, whereas the second was a piece of crap so vile I couldn’t bear to get past the first few hours without throwing up. The first… well… you get the idea.

Anyway, DS3’s developers released some screenshots from the game that look suspiciously like artwork. You be the judge.

Mass Effect 2: Overlord DLC

In three days, that is June 15, 2010, the Mass Effect 2 universe will see it’s latest DLC addition in the form of Overlord. The DLC features a rogue AI and Commander Shepard’s race against time (why is always against time?) to stop it. The DLC will feature five missions set on the same planet, interspersed with more driving in the Hammerhead.

Shepard’s latest exploit will cost you a whopping 560 points, which is approximately $7. Pricey? You betcha! Worth it? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow!

Fallout: New Vegas Pre-order Bonuses

Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop, Amazon and Steam are all offering some extensive lists of exclusive content if you decide to line their pockets with your hard-earned doubloons. Here is a full list:

The Classic Pack, available when you pre-order through GameStop, contains:

  • Armored Vault 13 Suit – Extensively patched up and dotted with piecemeal armor, this outfit is an homage to the classic ending of the original Fallout.
  • Vault 13 Canteen – This handy device is useful for staving off dehydration and providing a small amount of healing in the Mojave Wasteland.
  • Weathered 10mm Pistol – A well-worn 10mm pistol that packs an extra punch despite its modest size.
  • 5 Stimpaks – Food and water are good for long-term healing, but when the fighting is fierce, Stimpaks help keep Wastelanders upright.

The Tribal Pack, available when you pre-order through Amazon, contains:

  • Tribal Raiding Armor – Pieced together from scraps of armor, this outfit provides protection without impacting mobility.
  • Broad Machete – This heavy-bladed melee weapon does high damage against limbs and can quickly deal out a flurry of attacks.
  • 5 Bleak Venom doses – Useful on any Melee Weapon, Bleak Venom makes short work of most living targets.
  • 10 Throwing Spears – If you would like to silently pin an enemy’s head to a wall, Throwing Spears are the way to do it.

The Caravan Pack, available when you pre-order through Steam and Walmart, contains:

  • Lightweight Leather Armor – This hand-modified suit of leather armor reduces its overall weight without impacting its ability to protect.
  • Sturdy Caravan Shotgun – Despite its rough appearance, this Caravan Shotgun will reliably fire 20 gauge shells until the Brahmin come home.
  • 4 Repair Kits – Useful for repairing any outfit or weapon, Repair Kits are a valuable tool for any caravaner.
  • Binoculars – The Mojave Wasteland is a dangerous place, but with these trusty Binoculars you’ll be able to spot trouble coming.

The Mercenary Pack, available when you pre-order through Best Buy, contains:

  • Lightweight Metal Armor – Modified for long-range travel, this Metal Armor sacrifices some protection for mobility and overall weight.
  • Mercenary’s Grenade Rifle – Though similar to other 40mm Grenade Rifles in the Mojave Wasteland, this model has a faster reload cycle.
  • 3 Super Stimpaks – When you absolutely, positively, need to keep your blood inside your body, Super Stimpaks fix you up in no time.
  • 3 Doctors Bags – Mercenaries and broken limbs go together like Iguana-on-a-Stick and Nuka Cola. Thankfully, these Doctors Bags take a bit of sting out of the inevitable crushed skull.

I personally like the Mercenary Pack, but considering there is no best Buy within, well, a few countries of my geographical location, I suppose my doubloons are only good enough for Steam’s Caravan Pack.

Trine 2!

Trine was a fantastic platformer. It was innovative, varied and presented you with a plethora of challenges that tested both your wits and your ability to pay attention to your surroundings. Despite the obvious solution, the game actually allowed you multiple solutions to almost every puzzle situation, which is why it stood out from the crowd.

Trine 2 has now been announced. That is all I have to report now. I will post more as more is (inevitably) uncovered at E3, but this title has my undivided attention. I just hope it isn’t like the Dungeon Siege sequel.

Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 at E3

Take a look at the following floor plan from E3 2010, courtesy of Kotaku. There really isn’t any additional information, but I am siure more will surface as E3 marches on.

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