Dragon Age Inquisition – The Review

Game Title: Dragon Age Inquisition
Developer:  BioWare
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
Director: Michael Laidlaw
Writer:  David Gaider
Released:  November 2014
Note:  The reviewer played the game on the Xbox 360, so some technical issues may not be present on other systems.

So I’m a little bit late to the game with Dragon Age Inquisition. It’s been a financially trying year, among other things, which pulled me away from reviewing and playing some awesome games. So yeah, I’m playing catch-up. But what a great way to get back into the swing of things than with BioWare’s next gem! And boy, they did not disappoint…

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Dragon Age: Inquisition – What is known

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Dragon Age: Inquisition right now. And I mean, a lot. For those of you who are fans, you’re probably thinking ‘duh.’ It’s the final instillation of the trilogy. So, independent of the hype, what do we know? As it turns out, quite a bit.

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Character Races, Male and Female Available

  • Human
  • Elf
  • Dwarf
  • Qunari

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Confirmed Past Characters Returning

  • Varric Tethras
  • Morrigan
  • Cassandra Pentaghast
  • Flemeth

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Development Information

  • Frostbite 3 Engine
  • Speedtree Software Toolkit
  • Will be released on Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and the PC
  • Environments will be reused less than in Dragon Age 2.
  • BioWare has worked on the game since March 2011, two months after the release of Dragon Age 2
  • Release date pushed back from late 2013 to 3rd quarter 2014
  • Development team focused on creating an open world, using Skyrim for inspiration. Mike Laidlaw, the creative director of Dragon Age: Inquisition, said that the game will not be a true open world but rather have a linear story.
  • Further refined combat system, focusing on preparation rather than button mashing.
  • Further refined romance system, moving away from gifts and focusing more on decisions and events.
  • Developers claim decisions from previous two games will have a great impact on the world of Dragon Age: Inquisition. They developed a program, Dragon Age Keep (soon to go into Beta Testing) to allow players to make the decisions without needing to replay the two games.
  • David Gaider, lead writer for the entire Dragon Age series, confirmed there would be a multiplayer aspect to the game.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition seems to have promise, taking to heart many of the issues fans had with the previous game. One thing that I found curious was the inclusion of female Qunari. On one hand, I think that gender/sex diversity will only add to greater options for the players. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female Qunari before. How does BioWare justify their absence until the third game? I am afraid that they might just throw them in there and act like they were always around.

The one thing BioWare does better than anyone else, in my opinion, is improving gameplay from game to game. While I may dislike story decisions they made (see Dragon Age 2: how not to make a sequel for example), I have never criticized how the gameplay progressed. And since the release date was pushed back almost an entire year, it’s obvious that this game is not being rushed.

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I want to believe in BioWare, they they would make the same old high quality story-driven games like they used to. But I was let down with the past two ones. Way, way, way too dark. I like my stories to be a little bit optimistic. Not… so deathy, you know?

If you’ll notice, I didn’t bother saying anything about the story… I guess that’s why I don’t think I have a good sense of it. Sure, there’s a civil war… but who are the good and bad guys? Can you take a side? What will the Inquisition do exactly? How does the tear in the Veil play a factor? Morrigan’s reappearance… is this a good thing or did she cause the tear? And what about Flemeth? What is her role in all of this chaos? There are enough unknowns to where I don’t feel confident about anything about it.

Though I’ll say this. Whatever the result, BioWare is trying their best. Gotta admire that, right?

Will BioWare Die?

I had a chance to read through an interesting thread on the website Hold The Line which explored the question used as the title for this post. The creator of the thread, iggy456, felt that the BioWare brand is tarnished and will die off in a few years. It’s an interesting question. Video game companies die all the time. Will the same thing happen to BioWare?

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I don’t know. I don’t know how they are doing financially. If a company isn’t doing well financially, chances are, they will go out of business pretty quickly. BioWare’s finances aren’t exactly public knowledge, so trying to figure out if they will live or die based on their finances would be difficult. There are other ways to approach this, however. I know EA purchased them a few years ago. So if they live or die…. it’s EA’s call.

So, let’s play pretend for a moment. Let’s pretend we own EA. What reasons would we have to close BioWare? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. But keep your fan-tendencies in check for now and think like a business person. You would only let BioWare live if they could make you money. If they are costing you money, you close them. The best way to figure out if they can make you money is by looking at how their games have sold so far.

The data is taken from vgchartz.com.

If I were EA, I’d look at the numbers and be pretty happy with BioWare. The bread and butter games for EA comes from their EA Sports line: Madden and the like. These games can sell around 4 million copies each. Since 2009, when EA purchased the company, BioWare has created games that consistently sold over 2 million copies. That seems like a good benchmark for a company to reach. And considering their worst selling game was rushed to distribution (Dragon Age II), it seems like BioWare games sell fairly well.

Some of those numbers may be a bit deceiving, like with Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 sold less than 3 million copies on the Xbox 360 and less than 2 million on the Playstation 3. Sales were abysmal on the Wii U, though most games sales are terrible on that system. Though the games did average at best on individual systems… taken together… we get higher numbers. Will this make EA see BioWare any differently? Doubtful. If I were EA, I’d be quite happy with those numbers.

Will BioWare die? Eventually. Every company will eventually go under. Will they die in the near future? I’m going to say no. The next BioWare game will come out in 2014. They are going back to what made them successful in the first place (expansive worlds, choices that matter in the development of the story, great gameplay) and moving away from their artistic integrity bullsh*t (they are showing they listened to fan feedback/criticisms on Dragon Age II). As long as the sales for Dragon Age III can match the sales for their other hit games… over 4 million copies sold… then BioWare should be fine for the immediate future.

Video Game News: 8-7-2013

Video-Game-NewsThis is your video game news brief for 8/7/2013

  1. BioWare finally released details for their most anticipated game of 2013: Dragon Age 3. The interview emphasized BioWare taking player feedback into account when designing every aspect of the game, hinting their marketing department is still worried about the fallout from the Mass Effect 3 ending.
  2. Pat Robertson, when answering a viewer’s e-mail, argued that sinning in a video game (like murder, theft, etc) was the same as doing the actions in real life.
  3. The August 2013 issue of Pediatrics published a study showing children with AD&D and autism are at a higher risk of video game addition.
  4. Robin Antonick won $11 million dollars in a lawsuit against EA Sports. Antonick, creator and original programmer for Madden, sued for damages, as he did not receive royalties that he was due. This part of the lawsuit covers between 1990 – 1996. For post-1996, it is possible for Antonick to win hundreds of millions of dollars.
  5. Four new skins were announced for Batman: Arkham Origins –  Long Halloween, Earth 2, Thrillkiller, and Dark Knight of the Roundtable.
  6. The Senate is considering a bill to fund research on the effects of violence in video games on children. This bill is called Violent Content Research Act of 2013.

 

Dragon Age Origins; Review

Most people I know that own any major gaming platform (PS3, Xbox 360, PC) have played Dragon Age; Origins at some point and everyone I’ve met says the same thing.

It’s amazing.

I’ve seen a few odd bad things said about it through different reviews but they’re but a small stain on the otherwise massive canvas. So, by and large, Dragon Age; Origins must have done a LOT of things right. My opinion? Yes, yes it did. It isn’t by any means a perfect game, but those don’t exist. So, I’m going to try and flesh out the good parts and the few bad parts to try and explain to people who haven’t played it while it’s such a worthwhile investment.

First up, and probably the thing that has the most impact; storyline. This game has a story that trumps almost all other RPGs I’ve played. The main story is compelling and you never find yourself bored with it. There are just enough twists to keep you entertained but not so many so that you expect them. Progression is well paced and enemies scale appropriately according to your level so you’re not over or underwhelmed. The 6 different backstories give the start real depth because it’s something you’ve chosen. It also gives the game replay value right from the off as people treat you differently throughout the game depending on what you chose. The sidequests can sometimes be a bit of a pain depending on what they are but most of them have good pacing with appropriate rewards at the end. Companion quests are extremely worthwhile and engrossing as it makes you realise that the characters you recruit had a life before they joined forces with you. It gives them a great sense of depth and thought. Overall, there isn’t anything to complain about when it comes to it’s story. It’s got everything it needs; nothing more and nothing less.

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Next up is combat. Combat is functional and flows smoothly enough, but can feel quite awkward sometimes considering if you click off and enemy your character will just stand about like an idiot. Your abilities have modest cooldowns as do the various poultices so when you’re in a tough battle you feel as though you’re actually being challenged as opposed to just constantly necking health poultices so you’re Mr./Mrs. Invincible. It’s not very fast-paced but it gets your heart pumping in other ways; suspense coupled with constantly checking up on your allies to make sure they’re coping alright. The combat might not be approaching warp-speed any time soon but it gives you plenty of time to deliberate on your options. Faster paced combat used in it’s ‘sequel’ (though I use the term loosely) Dragon Age 2 can sometimes make you panic and hit any old button, praying it works. Overall, it could be a bit faster and a bit more user-friendly, but it makes up for it in slightly less conventional areas.

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Then comes characters. You fall in love with them. Full stop. I can guarantee there will be at least one party member you come across who will capture your heart, romantically or otherwise. For me, it was every one of them. Even the merchant Bodahn who stays on the fringes of your camp has an extremely in-depth backstory for you to ask about if you choose to do so. Romances are believable and charming, and the gift system is extremely rewarding. Approval and disapproval is very well done; for example if you take a character who prefers immoral choices and a character that prefers moral choices then you make an immoral choice, you’ll earn approval from the character that prefers immoral and disapproval from the character that prefers moral. It’s a challenge to make everybody like you but it’s not impossible. Companion quests hold real sway for them as they almost always have personal items that will last you for at least the majority of the game. However, it’s their own individual personalities that sell it the best. Each character is different and unique. The voice actors are convincing too, sucking you in further. You care for them deeply by the end of the game and whenever something bad happens to them you feel it. It’s not often a game can do that to a person. There is absolutely, definitely no fault with the characters. There may be a few flaws here and there to some, but I can’t see any.

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The last thing I’ll touch on is soundtrack. The score for this game is amazing. Even the menu screen music captivated me for a good 5 minutes. I didn’t start the game until it’d finished. The amount of sheer effort gone into composing the music for this game is monumental and you can tell. It always suits the situation and the battle music changes depending on the severity of the enemy you’re facing. It can make you stressed out, but it compels you to do better. It makes you want to win. Some of the scores make your heart swell; sometimes with pride, sometimes with determination. For me, it was half of what kept me going when I’d face a strong opponent and they’d keep killing me over, and over…And over. I probably would’ve given up before long if I hadn’t heard the score and thought;

‘…Yup, I can do this.’

Again, nothing to complain about. Only praise. A good musical score can be just as important as the story in games like this. If the music is awful and fits poorly, you’re not going to want to play it. It ruins the immersion and the fun, for me at least.

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So…There you have it! I’m sure there are plenty of better reviews out there but here’s my addition to the ranks. If you haven’t played Dragon Age; Origins I would strongly recommend it. Considering the game isn’t that new, the price is very modest. Even the Ultimate Edition on Steam with every DLC pack is saving you a lot of money as opposed to buying the vanilla then adding all the DLC afterwards. Don’t take anyones opinion as true; you’ll only know how good this game is if you try it for yourself. Try it, you won’t regret it.

ashenRenegade, signing off~

Review: Dragon Age 2 – How not to make a sequel

If I were to summarize the story of Dragon Age 2 in two words, it would be this: soul crushing.

This picture is as happy as the game gets.

This picture is as happy as the game gets.

Dragon Age 2 was the greatly anticipated sequel to the hit game Dragon Age: Origins. In DA:O, the gamer played a hero who helped unite a continent in a struggle against a despot ruler and to defeat an old god (called an Archdemon) and his army before he destroyed the world. It was a heroic struggle of good versus evil. There were twists and turns, victories and defeats.. but it always ended with the player feeling like things weren’t hopeless, that the decisions that was made helped influence the game in some way.

And then, it was like BioWare looked at that and said, “No. Happiness is too video gamey. We need to make things more realistic. Let’s beat the hero into the ground with a huge series of defeats.”

Nothing screams heroic adventure like seeing your mom transformed into some sort of flesh golem.

Nothing screams heroic adventure like seeing your mom transformed into some sort of flesh golem.

Yep. The hero helplessly searches for his missing mother, only to find that he’s too late. He comes in to find his mother sitting silently with an insane mage behind her.. spouting generic crap that screams “kill me, I’m evil.” Once you defeat the mage, you find out that the hero’s mother was somehow still alive-ish, somehow. And the hero gets to watch her helplessly die. After that, the hero’s uncle blames the hero for his mother’s death, as the hero didn’t save her.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the only time the hero fails to save someone:

The first in a long line of body counts.

The first in a long line of body counts.

The hero’s sister, Bethany, was slaughtered before the hero’s eyes by an Ogre. Yeah, that was a “fun” one, as the mother got a chance to watch her daughter get killed in a horrible way. This is only if you play a mage for the hero (which I did). Though if you play a fighter or rogue, you get to watch your dear brother, Carver, share exactly the same fate.

The game set him up to be killed

The game set him up to be killed

This could easily have happened to Bethany instead. This is Carver. He’s the hero’s brother. Nice guy. At some point in the game, the hero has a chance to travel to the Deep Roads (where the Dark Spawn is at). Before the quest begins, Carver BEGS the hero for a chance to go. The guy BEGS. In most stories, when a character begs to go, you take that character. Nevermind that the hero’s mom was apprehensive. That was fine, since Carver really, really, really wanted to go.

Turns out, if the player didn’t also take another character named Anders, who was a Grey Warden who knew how to deal with a certain type of poison that killed Carver, then Carver was a walking dead man. The worst part of this? There was NO HINT AT ALL to take Anders with. We just had Carver beg to go.

In other words, the player was being set up to watch another family member die. Nicely done BioWare! You got the entire set.

She stole a priceless artifact, causing a war that killed hundreds within an hour.

She stole a priceless artifact, causing a war that killed hundreds within an hour.

Meet Isabela. Yes, that’s her name. Not Isabella. Isabela.

Isabela stole the Tome of Koslun, a Qunari artifact that’s unimaginably important to the Qunari people. It was the reason why the Qunari were living in Kirkwall to begin with. They wanted it back. At one point, Isabela asked the hero’s help to retrieve it. So the player has a choice. The player could pander to Isabela’s greedy, self-serving, nature and let her keep it which would most likely lead to a huge war between the Qunari and Kirkwall (they would be PISSED), or the player could do the right thing and try to return it to the Qunari. So playing the hero, I did the right thing and tried to return the artifact. Right in the middle of this, Isabela splits from the group. She stole the Tome and left a message to the hero saying… in not so many words… she’s a horrible person who wanted the Tome because she felt like it.

The Tome was one of the huge reasons the Qunari was still in Kirkwall. Because they couldn’t get it back, as Isabela left Kirkwall, they stayed. This led to the Qunari attacking Kirkwall, killing hundreds of innocent people caught in the crossfire. The hero never had a chance to do the right thing. No matter what, Isabela would steal the Tome and leave the hero high and dry. But that’s okay. It’s “realistic.”  Who needs heroics, right? Who would want to do the right thing and prevent a looming war when we could watch Isabela stab the hero in the back?

This is just a small sample of all the defeats the hero suffers through in the game. The story is brutal and soul crushing. The hero cannot make a difference in the world. Everyone is horrible and the world is going to hell. No matter what good the hero tries to do is quickly forgotten as those with power overtake everything, making the world a place nobody wants to live in.

Just like real life!

Enough about the story. Let’s talk about game mechanics.

The fights

The fights

The battles are far faster in Dragon Age 2 as compared with the first game. As a matter of taste, I prefer the first game. But that’s my opinion. I’ve met at least a dozen people who adore the battle interface in the second game. It’s streamlined.  The player can have up to four character on screen at a time to wage war against the bad guys. It’s easy to switch between them and their abilities are very easy to access.

On the downside, the fights are nothing but a series of waves. BioWare eliminated the boss fight because it’s too video gamey. This works to the game’s detriment, as this is a video game. The main bad guy that the hero is about to face should stand out in some way. But nope. Every character blends together in this game on the battlefield. And since the battles happen so quickly, I never realized when the antagonist I was trying to kill actually died. It’s frustrating and makes the battles feel less important.

On the bright side, the soundtrack is awesome. The voice acting is top notch. The graphics have improved.  Though these are minor when compared to the mountain of problems this game has.

The game isn’t worth it. As a sequel, it fails. Completely. The first Dragon Age was a heroic adventure at heart where the hero could, and did, make a difference in the world. In Dragon Age 2, the player cannot make a real difference. Most of the events that happen are well outside the player’s control.

Dragon Age 2: AVOID

Dragon Age 2: AVOID

Do not buy it. Do not play it. You will regret it.

(Note: all pictures are owned by BioWare)