DA2: Post 02

It’s been a little while since I updated y’all on my DA2 playthrough, so here are some more thoughts…

Is this a good time to talk?

Way back when, in Baldur’s Gate II, I was fighting a dragon. The dragon breathed fire on my party and everyone was looking brutalized. Suddenly, the game froze and the camera shifted. I panicked a little. What is going on?! Turns out, my companion Aerie wanted to tell my other companion, Jaheira, that she really liked her hair (I guess she approved of the fiery/ashen look). I laughed at the time, but I see that moments like this continue to exist. In DA2, Bethany and Aveline decided to have a conversation about having kids — while we were fighting some spiders.

The more the merrier

I didn’t like my group so much when it was just me, Bethany, and Aveline. But now I’ve got a real party happening, and I dig it. Added to the group are: Anders, Fenris, Isabella, Merrill, and Varric. I quite like the variety and the constant debate over the best set-up to complement my hero. Usually, I’m bringing along Bethany for the healing/fire damage, Fenris and/or Aveline for the warrior might, and/or Isabella/Varric for some bonus damage.

Most of my group seems less interested in chatting, but I have had a few food conversations with Merrill, Varric, and Anders.

Slicing and Dicing

Combat certainly isn’t strategic. In fact, it’s quite easy (on normal). That said, I enjoy it. I like sneaking my rogue past the front-line ranks and then chopping them up from behind. I find that when my effort to slip through are blocked, I’m hitting for 8-12 damage at a time and feeling pretty inept. But once I launch a backstab, body parts are flying everywhere and numbers like 250 are rolling up.

I’m tempted to up the difficulty to create more of a challenge, I’ve really only had to re-load a very small handful of times, but I usually resist. I’d prefer to enjoy the story and quests first, get a sense of the overall game progression and master its systems, then, on a second play, I can fiddle with higher difficulty.

Are four stars better than three?

I have heard rumblings that people don’t like the new star-rating system for equipment. They say it’s dumbed down and treats people as stupid. I disagree. If you didn’t have to think about it at all, and your character auto-equipped better gear, maybe that would take it too far. But right now I have 5-star equipment going unused while relying on 3-star and 4-star equipment. It really depends on the side abilities of the equipment and your own preferences.

And on a related note, do I hate that I can’t give my companions new armor to wear — like everyone else? No. I tend to ignore outfitting my companions in BioWare games as it is. I feel like I’ve been let off the leash here. Thank you!

That said, a lot of my companions are wearing 0-star or 1-star armor. I can see how this frustrates people, especially if there is plenty of better armor available. BioWare should have either implemented an auto-upgrade for companion gear — or allowed companions to auto-equip better gear. Or something to that effect.

Last note on this point, I do like the plentiful gear. In DA:O, I complained that I would find something good and be stuck with it for most of the game. Here, I seem to be rotating through equipment much more rapidly. I prefer this.

In and Out

I’m finding that most of the quests feel like they’re wrapped up in about 10-30 minutes. I hit a dungeon and prepare for a long slog, and just as I’m getting warmed up I’m done. Is short bad? No, not necessarily. There are a lot of quests available so instead of taking a lot of time on one long quest, I can jump through a bunch. I’m also liking that I feel less put off to play if time is short. That is, if I have an hour to play — I don’t mind hopping into DA2. I feel like I can still accomplish something.

Other random thoughts

I liked the concept of staying in one location immediately. I didn’t know if it would work, but I did like the concept. So far, I’m liking how it plays out. Traipsing about the world is fun in other games, but delving into the current location here has been just as enjoyable. I look forward to seeing if/how things change when I start jumping forward in time.

Along that same line of thinking, I’m finding that the game establishes a pretty straight-forward pattern. You scan the day-time map, scan the night-time map, and then scan the local-region map. You find the quests. You run through them. You activate new quests along the way. You talk to your companions. You repeat the process. Repetitive? Technically, yes, but I enjoy the pattern. It sets goals, establishes expectations, and creates a sense of reward.

Does this change how I view the motivation? No. I still feel “unmotivated”. I’m caught up in all the little quests now, certainly, but I feel no overall drive pushing me forward through the story. And, at this point, I have no idea what my ultimate motivation is. I understand I will learn this as I play. I hear the last 5-10 hours really tie everything together. But at this point it feels like: make money, invest money to join caravan, make more money… retire? I know there’s more than that, but that’s how I feel now. And, as someone who doesn’t care much about money, in real life or in games, I’m a little wanting for something more meaningful.

Last comment, in DA:O I primarily used one character. When I got to the late stages and had to play with a group that didn’t feature my hero, I struggled. I had played a mage all game long, and this group had only warriors and rogues. I didn’t know how to use them effectively. I’m finding that happening here as well. When Hawke happens to die (rarely — maybe twice so far), and I get jumped over to a warrior or mage — I have this desire to set the controller down and watch. Unfortunately, the AI says to me, “Oh! Let me disable myself so you can play this new character” — leaving me to fend for myself. Sure, I could play around with the others and figure it out, but I am not interested nor encouraged. For people like me, I think the solution is to have a mini-tutorial early on where you play all three character types and can get used to them. This won’t be an issue when I re-play the game, but for those of us on our first playthrough, or those of us who only intend to play once, it’s a problem.

Anyway, I’m at level 9 and 12 hours in. My companions are occasionally spouting off one-liners to let me know that I should hit the Deep Road expedition. Soon! I still have bunches of quests to wrap up. 🙂

DA2: First Impressions

I’m lagging on adding my Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood reviews; I usually post while playing, but here I’m done and haven’t posted. Don’t take that to mean I didn’t love the game. I absolutely loved it. I finished with around 28 hours of play, and that got me to 60% done with “everything”. I re-built Rome to 100%, went through the Subject 16 storyline, and completed all of the critical path and side plot quests. I also completed the training challenges and found the modern day artifacts. All that’s left to do, really, is remove the Borgia flags from Rome, maybe finish a few shop quests — but I think I will pass on that.

So while I do intend to add at least one more post on AC: Brotherhood — first, there’s Dragon Age II. I recently got my copy and played for almost four hours today. Here are my initial reactions:

Combat:

I played the demo three or four times so my reaction today isn’t as jarring as it would have been otherwise. To be honest, I don’t really think combat is all that different in DA2 from Dragon Age: Origins. I’d say the only differences are that it feels faster, the animations are more diverse, there are more things to do during the fight, and you get to press the [A] button over and over. I don’t see the point in making the player press [A], but the rest of the changes are fine with me and represent a better overall experience from DA:O. I could compare the game to Arkham Asylum or Brotherhood, but that’s not what DA is about. I anticipated spending more time staring at cool-down timers, but so far I haven’t. Then again, I’m a dual-wielding rogue with only one cool-down power, backstab. This is a comment I may have to revisit in a later post.

The system of combat aside, the biggest change in the flow of combat is that it usually occurs in rounds. You see monsters up ahead and you charge to fight them, but then mid-combat more pop up behind you — or all around you. Like ME2, DA2 seems to be moving more in the direction of taking you out of your comfort zone and forcing you to make decisions on the fly. I liked it in ME2 and I’m liking it here.

Story:

(spoilers?) So far, the story is that my guy Hawke, and family, are fleeing the dark spawn. We decided to hide out in the coastal city, Kirkwall. Getting in to Kirkwall meant a year’s worth of indentured servitude for me and sis. Once in, we discovered that uncle gave up our estate to cover a gambling debt. Oh, and Flemeth asked us to deliver an amulet — which I just finished putting to rest on an altar. I’m generally OK with the story so far. It’s a personal story, which is nice, and it’s a simple, easy-to-follow story, which I appreciate. My biggest criticism of the story is how quickly it jumps and how much I don’t get to experience.

When we started the journey, the game’s narrator mentioned that we boarded a ship and endured some tough times, but we were so happy when we finally saw land! And, as indentured servants, me and sis worked really hard in the seedy underbelly — doing those things we did. After regaining our freedom, we even bumped into a guy who wanted to chat about “those things we did.” I hear a lot of people complaining that DA2 has a slow start. I’m guessing this kind of stuff is part of the reason.

Motivation:

The big thing is always motivation. The player should be motivated to progress the story, because he cares about the events or because he wants to see what’s next or because he wants to kill stuff. There has to be some reason. So far, I feel like a back-seat driver. I’m not so much curious about what happens next. I have nothing “to do” in the sense of “goals”. My character seems to want to make money. That’s something. I suppose my motivation to continue playing is that it’s fun so far — I enjoy gaining levels and upgrading gear — and I hear the game gets really exciting after the first 8-10 hours or so. But, story wise, I don’t think there have been any real hooks yet.

Volume:

The music and VO are pretty soft out of combat. And booming in combat. I have to resist the urge to crank the volume when I’m exploring and muting the volume during fights. That aside, I’m finding that I’m listening to the VO a lot more than I have in the past. I think that’s a testament to better flow (fewer long-winded monologues), and quality voicing.

Exploration:

I think I remember playing DA:O around the same time period as AC2. Now I’m playing the follow-ups to each in the same time period. The problem is that exploration is such a focus in AC — and so very, very well done. And in DA2 it’s disappointing. I hate saying that but walking into Kirkwall isn’t impressive; it’s a series of small maps (oftentimes, indoors or out, you’re exploring “hallways”) with a few stationary, repeating-animation shop owners and no crowds. In Brotherhood, Rome feels lived in. I believe it. I loved that city and level design. It created such amazing levels of immersion. You may say this criticism is unfair, and I almost feel it is myself, but my understanding is that I’ll spend much of my time in DA2 navigating the city of Kirkwall. Even a “2D” version (that is, the removal of parkour) of Brotherhood’s Rome would have been pretty awesome — and beaten the pants off of what I’ve seen of Kirkwall. Note to BioWare: that’s your goal for next time.

Equipment:

Money, for one, seems to be coming much faster than it did in DA:O. For a character so worried about making money, I seem to be doing a very good job of it so far. I had heard that BioWare auto-sent items to junk so you knew it was safe to sell. Yes, it takes away some of the realism, but I don’t think it in any way detracts from the game. We’re supposed to be focused on the story, not sorting through our inventory to figure out which items need to be saved for gifts or potions, and which can get us money. Right?

Party Members:

I… generally like the people in my group. Right now I have Aveline, Bethany, Varric, and Merrill. Bethany is my sister, and doesn’t stand out very much one way or the other. Aveline I like because I need a warrior, but I haven’t spoken much with her. I did go out of my way to re-recruit her after she disappeared from my party (I must have missed the line where she said she was leaving me, thankfully she came back). Varric seems to be potentially amusing but hasn’t said much yet, either. And Merrill is too nervous for her own good.

And… ?

That’s all for now. I’ll write more later. Oh wait, you want a summary opinion? OK. I’m enjoying it. I am. It’s taking me a little time to get my mind off Brotherhood and back into a DA state of being, but it is happening. DA2 feels a lot like DA:O to me. Little changes here and there — kind of like the jump from ME1 to ME2. BioWare is figuring out and refining their formula, while at the same time trying to keep the foundation feeling settled. I sometimes worry about the direction their RPGs are moving. I also worry at times that they’re not moving enough. It’s a fine line. But for now, for me, I’m liking DA2 and I’m looking forward to putting some more hours into the game.