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Steam; A Modern Day Gaming Essential

When it comes to what platform people prefer to play on, everyone will have different answers for different reasons. Some prefer the Xbox 360, some prefer the PS3 and some prefer the Wii. Some people even prefer older consoles such as PS2, Nintendo 64 or older handhelds such as Gameboy Colours. There’s a wide variety to choose from to be sure and for a long time I just considered myself a ‘console person’. I hadn’t really considered PC gaming as a route for me. I did, and admittedly still do, prefer the feel of a controller in my hands as opposed to keys. However, with the recent ‘next-gen’ argument only getting more heated I thought now would be the best time to try it.

Steam had been sitting on my computer for months at this point; somewhat neglected. It was in dire need of updates and my library was barren. I wanted to give it a fighting chance so I bought a good wireless mouse and mousepad, and got it back into fighting shape. I figured the most logical first step would be to download a game I have already on console and see how smoothly it flows for me.

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So I downloaded Dragon Age; Origins. I’d played it time and time again on my Xbox 360 (not to mention it was only £20 for the Ultimate Edition with all DLC packs in the Steam Summer Sale) so I figured it would be my best shot at getting an appropriate comparison. The result? My god, was it smooth to play. Less buggy, better interface, it even looked better. It completely took me by surprise and to be honest I adapted to the WASD way of things much faster than expected. I fell back in love with a game I hadn’t touched in quite some time due to new releases piling up at my doorstep. It rekindled my love for what is -in my opinion- the greatest RPG I’ve ever played. All because of how perfect it was for the PC.  Keeping in mind this was coming from a devout console gamer who was confident that Steam wouldn’t be able to convert me. It hadn’t completely done so yet, though; I wanted to try a few more titles before I could consider Steam my next-gen solution. So I bought a few more; Alice Madness Returns, Portal 1&2 and Magicka. All perfect, all VERY convincing. It was making me wonder why I hadn’t tried this before and the overall better gameplay wasn’t the only thing that I found seductive either.

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Another incredibly tempting aspect of Steam was the price of its games. The Summer Sale was incredible, but even without it a lot of the games were very modestly priced and most cheaper than their console counterparts. Not to mention there were different offers on every week which I can see would be extremely tempting if I had the money to spend on them. Sadly, I don’t being a student and everything but it’s safe to say my library would be packed if I did. My point being I would be much likely to buy a title off of Steam than I would be to walk into my local game store and buy it new from there. The only advantage I could see that console games have would be that you then always have that game on disc but you can access your Steam account from another computer so sharing isn’t a problem and I’m pretty sure Valve would be more than happy to help you if you had a faulty game or it just stopped working somewhere down the line. All in all? Cheaper with better deals. The idea of PC gaming is getting more and more appealing by the minute and yet, it isn’t over.

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And so we get to my last point; indie games. Yes, I know that Xbox Live has the Marketplace but with Steam the market is just so…Vast! So many incredibly promising titles just waiting to be discovered at prices that would make your head spin. Rogue Legacy was a hidden gem that’s finally getting the recognition it deserves and I don’t regret a penny of what I spent. There’s also Greenlight which further encourages indie developers to get stuck into such a promising market. It’s a win-win situation from where I’m standing; Steam get a larger market and more money, developers get recognition and money for their creations. Nowhere here do I see a bad point. Steam are giving indie developers all the right nudges in all the right directions and you only need to look at their ‘Indie’ section to see what a brilliant job they’ve done. It’s fair to say that some titles in that genre are better than some mainstream ones; it goes without question. It was the final blow for me; Steam was pressing all the right buttons.

So there you have it; a console gamer admitting their affair with Steam. And I’d never go back.

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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~