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Posts Tagged ‘Dragon Age: Origins’

“Of Orcs and Men” or “Of Story and Perspective”

October 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Consider the following primer:

The humans are in noble, righteous and peace-loving. Dwarves and Elves are hesitant and peripheral allies. Orcs, trolls, goblins, or some similar, vile, green-skinned, primal species is the main enemy. They are barbaric, unrelenting and murderous. The humans, guided by the light, must tame these wild beats if there is to be any hope for peace in the world.

Now pause here, and tell me which fantasy plot I am referring to. The reason most of you cannot, is because this is the typical tale that fuels the propagation of events in most fantasy books. When these norms are challenged, the result is stunning, unexpected and refreshing.

One example that stands out in my head is the fate of the Elves in Dragon Age: Origins. They were not the reclusive, noble, near-mystical beings that lived in an eternally protected magical kingdom. They were the lower class of citizens, occupying slums and begging on the streets in the game’s many locations. That was cool, it was different, that stood out.

Of Orcs and Men, an upcoming title from Focus Interactive is one such title. I can’t speak much of it, because I have an early access copy and I am in the process of finishing it. But what stands out to me is that it is a fresh perspective on an aging story. It is still humans allied with dwarves and elves against the green-skins, but you get to play and experience the world purely from the green-skin side, switching roles between a diminutive, conniving Goblin named Styx, and a hulking mass of muscle and nerve Orc named Arkail, in a world that shuns, hunts and subjugates green-skins with extreme prejudice.

Can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.

“200 Hours of Amalur” or “Amalurning to Not Trust These Numbers”

February 6, 2012 4 comments

Context

There are a few things I want to talk about today. But in order to do that, I need to establish some context. Damn context. Gets me every time!

First and foremost, 38 Studios’ lead designer, Ian Frazier conducted an internal test. He had testers play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and complete the game in a “speed run”. Since speed run sounds (intentionally) ambiguous, this is how it is defined:

“That means easy difficulty, skip all cut scenes and dialogue, sprint everywhere that’s sprintable, fast travel everywhere you can, don’t do any combat you don’t need to do… that all took around 200 hours, and that was a speed run.”

That is actually an astronomical number. In a day and age where single-player versions in video games take 3-4 hours to complete (hello modern Warfare 3!), a 200 hour video-game is an unprecedented, shocking and welcome event. Of course it is also said that the main storyline should take only 30-40 hours (which is between 15-20% of the 200 hours) to complete. So the 200 hours of gameplay is largely dependent on how much of an overachieving completionist you really are.

The second piece of contextual information you need is that since August 2011, I have invested about 14 days of playtime into my main character, a Night Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft. 14 days is approaching 350 hours of played time in WoW. This implies I spend around two hours daily playing WoW.

Beyond the Context

MMOs, by design, require you to invest a significant amount of time. The meta-game, at every level, is designed around grinding. If you want the best PvP equipment, you must grind points in PvP. These points are further gated by a weekly cap, so you cannot play for a hundred hours in a week and get the best gear in a week. Professions, PvE content, world events, daily quests, transmogrification, and just about every other in-game mechanic is designed around perpetual grind. The reason for this is simple and possibly forgivable. No developer in the world with a finite team and finite resources can create content fast enough to be consumed by the player base. Months of coding, tweaking and planning can be completed in a 20-minute dungeon run. I don’t like the fact that i have to grind everything in an MMO, but as a lifelong fan of the genre, I understand the rationale.

Lately though, it seems that this design decisions seems to be penetrating single-player games, particularly RPGs.

Take Skyrim for example. Prior to the launch, there was a statement by one of the developers that the quest system in the game would technically spit out an infinite number of quests for the player to take on. One example of such behavior was the Thieves Guild, which could send you on a wide variety of jobs across the land. The jobs were randomly created and you could pick from one of several mission types. A second example were jobs made available through barkeeps and innkeepers in towns and cities. These randomly generated quests could send you to go kill <insert antagonist> at <insert location>. Technically, you could have an infinite number of quests in your log. However, I personally found this to be incredibly lame, as it seems to add unnecessary, artificial padding to an otherwise great game.

I enjoy a complex RPG with a deep, compelling storyline and well thought-out lore. Dragon Age took me over 106 hours to complete, and I veered into every nook, cranny and cramped dungeon corridor I could get into. I was elated to find that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’s “speed run” will take you over 200 hours. But after realizing that only 15% or so of that is the main storyline, I can’t help but wonder how much of this game is fluff activity that yields limited to none player satisfaction.

My point is very simple, MMOs should certainly try not to artificially inflate content, but I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. Single-player games, however, don’t need to pad content with unnecessary grind mechanisms, random quest dispensers, and fluff, unpolished content simply to get more player hour mileage out of the title. 10 times out of 10, I would prefer a tight campaign with side-quests that have meaningful premise, meaningful consequences and meaningful rewards, than “the ability to complete an infinite number of quests”. I am hoping the the later is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when I open the box and install the game tonight. But I guess I will let you know in 200 hours of playtime!

“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!