DA: O (post 4)

I’m at that point in the game, just over thirty hours in, where I’m helplessly drawn into the game, and even somewhat anxious to beat it so that I can start it up a second or third time and try different things. But I’ve also been playing long enough that the newness has worn off more fully and I can see the warts and flaws more clearly. Here’s a post dedicated to some of the current issues that bug me.

  • I found a Magic Staff during my origin story, and I’ve only just now, at level 13, switched to something better. Why? Three reasons. For one, I never found anything better in my looting. For another, when I occasionally found something better I couldn’t use it because I did not meet the item’s requirements. And for a third, I’d now-and-then find something in a store but these items were very expensive and I didn’t have or want to spend the money. Games like Diablo have you rolling through equipment change — even when you’re upgrading your equipment with magic. Dragon Age is the other side of that coin, kind of like KotOR (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic). I prefer something more toward the middle but it’s not a “bug”.
  • The issue the former comment addresses strikes me as odd because there is a system in place for near-constant equipment upheaval. For example, there are seven tiers to differentiate the quality of a piece of leather, so why not start the player with a tier one piece, then let him find a tier two piece from looting, see a third tier piece in a store, and be rewarded with a fourth tier piece from a boss? But again, this hasn’t come into play for me. I think Alistair, who has gone through three sets of armor, has had the most change.
  • I have a ton of runes that I can use to magically upgrade my equipment, but almost no equipment that can be upgraded. I think I have one sword and one dagger, plus a third item that was so weak I sold it off. For a long while, I was saving up those magic bits — for when I found a good item that I could also upgrade. I thought maybe the highest-tiered items would have more slots. Eventually, I realized that even if that were the case, using up an inventory slot on an item that adds one point, or even five, to the fire damage of a weapon that normally does 50 in a hit isn’t worth it.
  • One of the things I like better about Neverwinter Nights 2 is that it forces you to manage your resources strategically. You can’t unleash every spell you have on this fight, because you’re going to need them in your next fight. And the fight after that, too. There are long stretches where you don’t get to rest, so your party is often struggling — hurt, no spells left, etc. For me, it adds to the immersion, forces me to be creative, and generally makes everything a little more challenging. Dragon Age, on the other hand, lets you recover all your abilities, at worst, every few seconds. If you have five or six combat damage spells, by the time you’ve used the fifth or sixth spell, the first is ready to go again. And even if you use up all of your mana, that, too, recharges — in combat (slowly), and out of combat (almost instantly). As a result, I could walk from one dragon to another and have just as easy a time with the second as with the first. This plays to personal preference, but there you go.
  • Similarly, falling in combat and receiving an injury doesn’t amount to much since the penalty is only a -1 to some ability — possibly a non-important ability. This definitely keeps things “friendly”, so to speak — or casual. Combined with the removal of the necessity to manage your resources, I’d argue that they go too far in terms of making it casual — but obviously the model is KotOR and that game did very well. I won’t argue that one, even if I do have my preferences.
  • There has been more than one time when I spoke to someone only to get feedback that I received some experience and money. I had, apparently, resolved a quest. I like the quest/journal system so I wouldn’t criticize it, but I think there’s a learning curve to it all and that it’s easy to miss information — and that’s what led to me earning an unexpected reward. One suggestion I’d offer is that maybe there could be a new tab added in for “quests that are complete, but for which you have not yet received a reward.”
  • The talent trees strike me as too shallow (and, yes, I realize it’s roughly mirroring KotOR’s, and KotOR only had three levels as opposed to DA’s four). If you focus all your points into one specific branch of a tree, you get too powerful too quickly. Under Primal Spells, you can go from Winter’s Grasp to Frost Weapons to Cone of Cold to Blizzard — and you’re done. Cast Stonefist at a frozen demon, and watch it get shattered. I admit, it’s very awesome to see yourself with that kind of power. But I wish, since each of the four winter spells are different, that they started weaker and that you could raise the power of the individual spells as you progress.
  • I mastered Persuade early on and I’m somewhat regretting it. It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of use to it. I have probably avoided three or four fights as a result of Persuade. I think I earned some extra treasure a couple times. But the only time it really stood out is when I used it against the Desire Demon possessing the kid. That was cool. I wish there was more of that. On the other side, Leliana has 3rd-level mastery with lock picking and twenty-some Cunning, and that’s good enough for about half the locks I come across to not open.
  • Speaking of “twenty-some Cunning” — I think when there is no scale or range to an attribute, it’s hard to know what’s good. In D&D, you (used to) roll three six-sided dice. Your range is three to eighteen. So a score of fifteen is pretty good. If the scale is percentile based, 1-100, then you know an 85 is very good. In Dragon Age, I know the higher level talents usually require as much as a 36 in an ability, so I can assume that’s a pretty good number. But do I really need to raise it higher? I have no clue. This is one of those things where you need the online community to break it all down — take the game’s fog and bring clarity to it. The hardcore fans won’t mind that but it is somewhat off-putting to the new and casual players.
  • I’m a little disappointed with the plot options, from how I understand it so far. They usually boil down to helping people the way you think you should, or not helping them at all. One thing I liked about the Witcher is that they often times put two desirable options in front of you — forcing you to accept one and be at odds with the other. Even if there wasn’t much consequence to it, it still made for a tough choice. In DA, your not-tough choice amounts to whether you want to generally be the good guy or the bad guy.
  • I mentioned it before but it bears repeating: auto-saves are good. In a game like this, where you don’t know what’s around the corner and sometimes feel there is nothing around the corner, death and a re-load can come quickly. And while the game does auto-save somewhat frequently, I have come across several tough encounters that were not preceded by an auto-save. This game needs more checkpoints. Forcing gamers to obsessively save every three steps is a game design dinosaur.

Another lengthy post. I’ll stop here for now.

2 thoughts on “DA: O (post 4)

  1. I haven’t yet played it (laptop not quite up to snuff), but that’s my usual complaint in games with moral choices. Burn the orphanage versus donate a kidney to a stranger. Harder choices, such as the ones presented in life, are like: which friend to help?

  2. Exactly! In the Witcher, the choice I was referring to is that you have to pick which group to support — prejudiced humans who hate elves and want to make them all second-class citizen-slaves, or violent, rebellious elves who want to kill all humans in their grab for freedom. It’s not a good-good choice, but it’s a tough choice if you hate slavery and disagree with murder. Burn the orphanage or donate a kidney is just too easy and boring. Hey, you could BioBorrow an Xbox/PS and a copy of the game if you wanted to try it out. Eh? Eh?

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