Tag Archives: Bioware

6 Inch Move Reviews – Dragon Age Origins

Recently I’ve been experiencing a lot of problems with my home PC. I’ve had hard disk partition losses within the last 12 months that caused me to spend a day (with friends thankfully) trying to recover all my data (that I now backup weekly to an external drive). This meant I had to rebuild my machine and damaged some of my saved games. Also, since Christmas my Internet has not been stable, after planning on casually raiding with this patch and trying to keep up with content not being able to play because of crippling lag kind of destroyed my desire to play. Hence my WoW time went to none and I decided to finally try to finish Dragon Age. I’d created a few characters here and there and even had a mage that had done two out of three of the main quests, but I decided to start from scratch with a new toon in a starting area that I hadn’t done yet.

So, enter Theron (not pictured, that’s an Ogre), a Dalish Elf Warrior with a penchant for Archery. I finally finished the game on Sunday evening after well over 20 hours of play. I may or not disclose spoilers in the following prose so you have been warned.

Firstly, let’s start with my impressions after having finished the game; Mass Effect is a better game! There, I know there is a lot of love for Dragon Age and it may be that I am kind of jaded by the traditional format of Bioware games – start character, 4 areas for starting missions that expand later, but this is my honest impression of the game. Bioware are simply the best in the business at building worlds and Ferelden is no exception. The world of Dragon Age is as real and deep as any other I’ve played through and the attention to detail is brilliant as always. There is nothing wrong with the back story at all it’s well crafted and as you go through you come across interesting people and places and carve out your path through them. I like the removal of the Paragon/Renegade display so you don’t necessarily know what effect your conversation choices are going to have on your party members until you’ve picked them and you definitely can’t please all of the people all of the time.

You also encounter some pretty challenging combats and getting through an event despite being hugely outnumbered is very gratifying if you pull it off but you will also die a lot in this game. The scope of character creation lets you know just what kind of game you are getting into where leaving your mark in the communities you live in and pass through is all part and parcel of the game. You can have a pretty dramatic impact on the land and its peoples. This is one of the things I love about Bioware games as you do impact the land in true heroic fashion and this is obviously traditional RPG territory of you being the hero. You get prompts on what you’re doing, you go do it and pick up side-quests along the way and depending on your actions and who you take in your party you can improve your relations with those characters. These relationships can have unexpected outcomes that play out in the game too with consequences on the main storyline.

However, I don’t really want to discuss the story as that if what the gameplay itself should do, tell you the story. What I want to do is tell you of my experiences with the game. I thought that Mass Effect as better because the story was more solid, this is purely a personal opinion (I’ve prepared my anti-flame blanket already) though. I felt engaged by ME1 and 2 on a level that I didn’t in DA. The game pace felt incredibly long-winded, the maps are pretty on rails as they are in ME and the environments can be truly breathtaking but my goodness me things take an age. Whether I just had the wrong party combination or the wrong skill sets I don’t know but every combat takes a long time and all you have to do is make one mistake and you’ll be loading your save and trying again (I took to saving my game after every single combat).

By the time I had finished the main four quests I’d taken to pretty much ignoring the side quests, I wanted to see the story play out and after spending hours in the Deep Roads of Orzammar I was getting a little bored. Some of the boss fights are more like raid encounters in terms or the length they take to complete but the deathblow animations of the more elite monsters are amazing and do add a wow factor. The story itself twists and turns and there is a simply amazing number of ways in which certain situations can go depending on the actions of you and your party, there are moral ambiguities as well as more black and white choices to be had, you can even change the behaviour of some of your party depending on your conversations with them.

In this regard Dragon Age is on a par if not ahead of Mass Effect, you do feel a lot closer to your party members and you can see events evolving around you rather than you going through things choosing the simple good/evil option. You can be a lot more involved in shaping the future of Ferelden. However, as the bulk of the game revolves around combat missions the quality doesn’t carry over. It is more like a single player MMO, fighting through continuous hordes of the same kinds of bad guys to reach one a bit tougher than the others before getting towards a final boss. I liked the stories tied to the main quest lines, they were varied and you have a large range of choices for how things go even within that questline, there are choices within choices to make and these will influence the final outcome of the game. It’s not as simple as pick a love interest to go for, pick good or evil and go for it.

It is worth a play through though, the hardest part is the huge number of starting character options that you think you’ll want to play it through again and again, especially when you consider how things can go dependant on your choices. However, I was kind of glad when it did end. I’d finished and was glad to have done it but do not have much inclination to do it again, that might have something to do with the various false starts I’d had. It’s not a bad game by any means but I think the brilliant storytelling and character interaction is let down by the combat sections and I know that there are many people who rave about the combat in DA. For me though, loved the story, not so much fun with the combat and I loved the combat in Mass Effect and both KOTOR games.

It is a huge game, far too much to be explored by just one play through, I have in fact started a Human Noble (female this time rather than my male) and am using the cheats to alter my image, I am therefore playing through at the moment looking like a Desire Demon, much more entertaining watching the conversation options with a Succubus standing there. However, similar to how I am with WoW, knowing the starting zones and their length really means I am not inclined to spend the time doing it all over again.

I did reload one of my saves before the final mission and replayed the Morrigan “romance” as the Desire Demon too, I have screenshots too lol.

Overall I’d give it a 4 out of 5. I’m not sure about getting the next one to be honest but I know that once Mass Effect 3 drops I will pick it up without delay. I’ve got 2 more characters to run through that game with before the next episode hits so, while I love me some fantasy, when it comes to Bioware I’m strictly in the sci-fi camp.

6 Inch Move Review – Mass Effect 2 – Beware of Spoilers

Over the weekend I managed to complete the exceptional Mass Effect 2. As friends can attest I am quite a fickle gamer and therefore if I actually finish the single player campaign of any game it is heralded with fireworks and other celebratory effects. It is this singular fact alone that shows how remarkable the original Mass Effect was when I went through it three times! Once I had finished that game I was super-excited for the sequel, already knowing that this was going to be a trilogy. Of course, shortly before the release of Mass Effect 2 my Xbox took a dump and red-ringed while I was playing Fable 2 (I finished it eventually after getting a new Xbox 8 months later). Once the new Xbox was here I wasted no time in buying Mass Effect 2, it had also massively dropped in price by the time I picked it up too, every cloud…

After having imported my Paragon Shephard from the first game I fired things up, I knew a few bits and pieces from having watched the trailers but in the main the storyline was unknown to me. I loaded up the game, saw the Normandy get decked, enjoyed the awesome moment of walking out of a burning ship into the noiselessness of space and then the moments with Cerberus. Now that I have completed the game I have to say that I am very happy with the experience, I like how it integrated the choices I had made in the previous game and the fact that you come across your old team members really was a series of joyful reunions. You can tell a lot about a game if you actually engaged with and identified with the characters, books are more normally the medium for this to happen but it is great to see video games with this much detail lavished upon them where you feel a genuine connection far beyond the code and pixels.

I enjoyed spending my time recruiting and talking to my team, the old and the new alike. I performed every single loyalty mission and did every single sidequest that came up before doing the final mission. Unfortunately I haven’t got anything other than the autosaves after completing the game so I need to go through the final boss fight again and make sure to save this time as I played around a bit after the final curtain. I want to make sure I have the save in the right place when Mass Effect 3 comes around so I can import again.

Throughout the game the storytelling is fantastic, if you are playing this game for the combat side of things I believe you’ve got the wrong game. Bioware’s real strength comes from creating a believable world in which you can live through the actions of your party. I have loved Mass Effect’s world since the opening mission on Eden Prime in the first game. It was nice to see some old enemies from new perspectives in the sequel too. Of course there are the Bioware staple options of pursuing romance within the game (though no lady on lady action as was possible in the first game) but the campaign plays out beautifully. Nothing takes forever to do, in some cases the missions even feel too short, I remember things taking much longer in the original but this really is a minor criticism about a game that is executed so wonderfully. Everytime I landed for a mission it was a real decision to choose who was coming with me, there is a lot of diversity in the characters and they have some pretty useful abilities so depending on what you expect to face on a mission can have an impact on what you want to take along. I did tend to default to the same people with slight variations but overall I took more of the different team members in this one than I ever did in Mass Effect 1 where I took Tali and Liara on pretty much every mission once I had recruited them.

I like the addition of the Paragon and Renegade action triggers, I’m on my second play through to see how the Renegade ends up different and am enjoying being a badass for a change, although personally I find it easier to identify with an altruistic character, rather than one that is horribly self-centred. Sometimes things aren’t all that clear though as when I have chosen options that seem the most Paragon like I accumulate some Renegade points alongside the big hauls of Paragon from within the same conversation. I was very pleased to survive the final mission and not lose a single team member from any of the assignments I gave them, I imagine that will have an impact on the final game.

One thing that did frustrate me was the fact that your old romantic relationships have been completely closed off. While meeting Liara for the first time (the romance I pursued with my ME1 Paragon Shephard) there isn’t much you can do, what with Liara being focussed on kicking the Shadow Broker’s ass. Sure the story picks up two years later but you’d have thought that a relationship would last a bit longer but this is purely down to personal perception and I am not in charge of the characters nor how Asari deal with the death of a lover considering their longevity.

Everything is nicely setup for the final chapter of the game, I’ll be picking it up on release providing this Xbox is more compliant that its predecessor. What I am also hoping is that Mass Effect avoids the horrible fate that seems to afflict some game worlds these days of being transferred into the MMO market. I love Mass Effect and the story, however, porting it online where you’d have a veritable horde of Shephard wannabes I don’t think would work, at least not for me as a consumer. I’d like to see that Mass Effect stays as a single player RPG title, luckily Bioware are very good at these kinds of games and while The Old Republic is taking KOTOR into the MMO market I hope that we don’t end up with their sci-fi magnum opus going the same way. I love the experiences I’ve had so far and look forward to finishing the series and closing off a wonderful gaming journey.

Mass Effect 2 – 5/5 as far as I am concerned. Brilliant!

Video Games – Studios of Renown

As I move slowly through the 4th decade of my life it’s interesting to look back and see the path that I have trod and the things that have happened along the way. I was born way back in the seventies and have therefore seen the rise of the micro-processor and the wonders of the home computer. Having witnessed first hand the changes that have swept through industry during the previous twenty years or so I was enjoying comparing how things used to be when I was at school growing up to how I view things now.

One common theme is that there always seems to be a few stand-out studios that really seem to just own the video game space. While I am sure that there are many that people could list, from my own personal viewpoint I may see things differently. While names like Infinity Ward and their Call of Duty series now own the FPS space I remember back to the nineties when if something didn’t come out of id Software you pretty much knew it was going to suck. The Doom series and then Quake really pushed forwards the FPS market and there were a lot of FPS games around at those times. While there are some nowadays I feel the choice is a lot more restrictive than it used to be, but more than likely it is just that I am not playing those types of games that much anymore.

However, from my dim and distant gaming past there is one name that stands out as a shining beacon of yesteryear a studio that was absolutely brilliant in what it did, a studio that produced games that I actually went and finished in some cases, but I remember my shelves filled with their titles. Let us bask in the glory of…

I spent many an hour trying to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do in Populous. But if you look beyond that first title we see some of what I consider the greatest games of their time. While development and the power of PCs moves ever onward I think we lose out nowadays as many of the game types and the innovation of the last decade of the 20th century are consigned to history. I remember titles like Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet and Syndicate blowing me away. Bullfrog were one of the seminal studios of the era, producing new and interesting games that you weren’t seeing anywhere else. Ocean were producing flight-sim after flight-sim, id were the masters of the FPS, Lucasarts were consistently producing good games in-house (Tie Fighter, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, Sam & Max, Monkey Island) and we, the gaming public were awash with a whole heap of games that you wanted to play. Whether I am just less involved with the gaming market due to my advancing age, or whether things really have changed I just don’t see things the same way these days. There appears to be a lot less innovation in games, less of the little gems that you weren’t expecting and turned out to be really excellent.

We seem to have moved from some genre-blurring games to very specific titles, we still have FPS, RTS, RPG and the now ubiquitous MMO, but we lose a lot of the adventure titles and space simulators that I loved. I do think the MMO market has something to do with this reduction in variety as we were very much stuck in the single player and maybe LAN multiplayer as I was growing up.

While Bullfrog stole the show (for me) during my formative teenage years there is a studio today that I have to say excels in nearly all it does. You may also be surprised that I am not picking Blizzard for this accolade, sure they did Diablo, Starcraft and unleashed the world’s most successful MMO from their Warcraft franchise. No, I have another company in mind, and while they specialise in one arena only, they do it with aplomb.

There we have it, for me these guys are probably the premier development house in gaming at the moment. Their vast repertoire consists of the most accomplished (literally and critically) RPGs over the past fifteen or so years. From their beginnings with Neverwinter Nights through the massive selling Knights of the Old Republic through to the current best-sellers Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Bioware have breathed life into a genre that provides alternatives to the current domination of MMOs. While The Old Republic will see them also trying to take a slice of this cake I look forward to their trademark attention to detail.

I am currently enjoying Mass Effect 2, carrying on from the character I used during my first completion of the first game. What amazes me are all the little touches, the vast quantity of information available, not only when visiting an uncharted planet but the wealth of material in the Codex. This was also in Dragon Age, you felt a part of that world, it sucks you in and immerses you. I truly feel that these are like visual novels, they suck you into the story and you are unwilling to put it down, constantly playing just to see the next “chapter” play out. Very few games for me will pull me in like this, sure there is the grinding of levelling in MMOs that I can get into and beat out a rhythm but to actually want to keep playing to see the story pan out, that is a rare treat I feel.

While I still lament the demise of Bullfrog and their innovation I appreciate the supreme skill that Bioware bring to their games, this excites me about the possibilities for The Old Republic, I love Star Wars and having a Bioware tag on it already makes it stand out, Galaxies was a good games before the NGE destroyed it and I know I am not the only one to feel that way. A Star Wars MMO is certainly something I look forward to diving into again. Bioware for me are the current top of the pile for games developement, while we seem to have moved to a place where the studios only develop one specific kind of game now that doesn’t mean we don’t see the bar being raised and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

The Eternal Dilemma

I had a look at the stuff on Bioware’s new epic, Dragon Age and couldn’t make head nor tail of it.  Apparently the first rule of Dragon Age club is that you don’t talk about Dragon Age Club.  I am a Bioware RPG fan though so I’ll probably check it out when it finally comes out from behind the sofa.

But…  Which platform to use?  This is the eternal dilemma which has faced geeks since the geekdawn of geektime.  Back when I was a youngster and finally realised there was a world outside of digging in sandpits the fight was between the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum.  We were quite young so had no concept of the technologies involved, and no ability to get involved in deep arguments, so we used to let our fists decide.  Hordes of kids would rumble for their cause, when in reality it made no difference because we had no purchasing power and therefore no choice as to which side we were on.

As time wore on, we became wiser and got jobs and better pocket money and eventually began fighting over the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST.  By now we knew what kilobytes were so could argue and sound technical.  The ST kids would forever go on about their better sound capabilities, but in reality the Amiga was unbelievably better in all other respects, most importantly in the games department.  Realistically, if you bought an Atari ST you were either a peasant (the Amiga was more expensive) or a bit of a masochist.

Around the same time other kids were fighting their wars over the consoles available.  Firstly the Nintendo NES versus the Sega Master System.  Both were pretty lame compared with the 16-bit computers available, but then some people just don’t have the dexterity to work a keyboard.  Eventually the kids became entrenched for either the Sega Mega Drive (AKA Genesis) or the Super Nintendo.  Both sides had their plus points and their followers willing to die for their brand.

Nowadays, we are older and have better jobs, so now the hardcore child gamer within us no longer has to pick sides.  Our younger selves had to fight for the cause because we could only afford one machine, so we had to justify our decision.  Our older selves could, if needed, stray from one platform to another.  The loyalty is no longer so strong.  Personally I have a PC for work, internet and a few games, and an Xbox 360 for gaming.  I ended up with the Xbox because it’s main rival, the PS3, is comparatively a bit overpriced with no discernable increase in game quality for the types of games I like to play.  Online play is important to me and I’m wary of anything that’s free.  Xbox Live does cost, but in return it’s an excellent service.  With the PS3’s online service you get what you pay for.  However, if things changed and the PS3 became the more appealing choice I would probably invest in one, because after all, I am no longer the battle-hardened platform zealot of my youth.

So back to the crunch of the matter – When Dragon Age comes out, do I go for the console version or the PC version?  At the moment I am not sure.  Yeah the PC version will be better, have better mods, be more customisable.  But it will also be as buggy as as a beetle colony, be more likely to have hardware conflicts and take ages to get running correctly.  The PC online servers are going to be full of hackers, bots and spammers.  The console version on the other hand will be way easier to run, and will work well.  In multiplayer modes there will be no hacking, but there will be a high likelyhood of getting yelled at by a 13 year old.  From Ohio.

Here be Dragons

In a break from our normal scheduled tabletop antics I bring you news from the computer gaming world. As you may or may not know by now RPG powerhouse Bioware are gearing up for the release of the modern successor to their excellent Baldur’s Gate series. The new feature, called Dragon Age takes place in a typical fantasy world where you get to fight off hordes of evil doers. Now, while this may sound pretty run of the mill check out the videos on the site. Not only are they awesome in and of themselves but Bioware has a long history of creating games with excellent backstory to help you really immerse yourself as you play.

For the most part I missed out Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2 on the PC, despite the fact that I own both of them. What really brought me around to their side was the Knights of the Old Republic games. I’ve played the first one through many times and did complete the second one, which, while good wasn’t the same calibre as the first. I’m also a huge fan of Mass Effect and have finished that three times to date, all are amazingly detailed in their stories and worlds so I look forward to seeing the next incarnation of their brilliance. I’m notoriously bad at finishing off single player campaigns in games so the fact I’ve finished the Bioware titles I played during my adult years says a lot to me about just how good they are. I’ve pre-ordered my copy so am hoping it arrives on the release date of November 6th, I am then anticipating locking myself away for the weekend to play it. I could go through all the details I know but you’d be better of checking out the site and making up your own mind.

Personally, I can’t wait!