When you review-as-you-go, you record your first reactions. Normally, reviewers play through a game, noting these reactions, and then write it all up in the end. Since I don’t do that, I want to take a moment to respond to my prior observations — not all of them, but the ones that require addressing.
Yes, this game is overwhelming at the start. Male or female? Dwarf, elf, or human? Warrior, mage, or rogue? Noble or peasant? When you really think about these choices and how they filter through the game, it’s a lot to ask of a person who hasn’t stepped foot into the game world. My suggestion? At the very least, let us play for twenty-to-thirty minutes before we actually start on our adventure. Let us find out if we’re more inclined to blast from the back row with spells, sneak to the flanks and work a dagger in, or charge into a throng of foes. I mean, if we’re going to spend 60 hours doing one of these three things, it’d be nice to know which one we found most fun within the context of this game.
The Dying Man
When you set out for the Grey Warden treaties, I wrote that I came across a wounded warrior in a field. I didn’t rush to his aide, and he died. I was impressed by that: a decision that came outside of the context of a dialogue option. Now, I understand that designers have to make the beginning good (to draw you in) and the ending good (to satisfy those who play that long), but… there aren’t a ton of cool little scripting joys like that one. Alas, most of the non-combat decisions take place in a dialogue box.
I wrote that the story has some great plots — like the two dwarven factions. That’s true, but that one quest is also one of the few (only?) non-obvious story lines — where choosing the obvious good route doesn’t lead to an obvious good resolution. The game could definitely use more. Again, it’s disappointing that we didn’t see more unique stuff like this littered throughout the game.
I remember well my first tough fight. It was in the fields with the Grey Warden treaties. There were some archers up on a hill while some grunts rushed out to stall me. I did not last long working through the grunts while arrows rained down upon me. And I remember wishing I could make this henchman do [this] and that henchman do [that], but being frustrated that I couldn’t control them well enough. Although I’ve learned to better control my characters after 80-ish hours of play, there really is no way on the console version to give individual movement directions to your henchmen. It does make the game feel a lot less strategic than, I bet, the PC version feels. I think that’s why I say the game feels more like the next incarnation of KotOR than Baldur’s Gate.
I was excited about them at first but I pretty much ignore them now — as evidenced by my huge stash of untouched injury kits. Kind of sad when my player has a fractured skull and a concussion, but I’d rather charge into the next fight than take a moment to heal up with an injury kit because the penalties are so minor. I think the idea is right, but the implementation was poor.
I came up with an idea for an RPG where it’d be somewhat “Sims” esque. You’d have a bar that would slowly deplete itself as you adventured, took damage, etc. Time in town would recharge it. The lower the bar, the more poorly you fought, made decisions, etc. Let it get too low, and you have a mental breakdown. The idea was to simulate fatigue and wear-n-tear. I think that could work well, but I obviously understand BioWare’s goal is to not punish the players too greatly, and to add a little more item management to the mix. Speaking of, I wonder why BioWare is so fixated on item management. The game would be 10 hours shorter if you didn’t spend time picking stuff up off the ground to sell it at stores so often.
I hated them at first. Then I was like, wow! These are so helpful! Then I went back to ignoring them. For the most part, characters default to a somewhat-intelligent behavior. You really don’t need to tweak them or implement more fine-tooth strategies for them. As long as they help me out a little (in both play-throughs, my character did more than 50% of the total damage) and don’t get in my way, that’s all I really need. Tactics is a good idea and I think it works well, I just don’t think it’s necessary to invest into extra slots. 4 or 5 is enough and everyone starts with that many. Oh, and I never did find out how to get my healer to automatically rejuvenate a fallen companion.
- I was originally frustrated at how many chests I couldn’t open since I was lacking a rogue for so many sections of the game, but ultimately it’s a very minor issue. Chests contain pretty standard loot, and loot is always coming at you fast-and-furious. Instead of 11 bows in your inventory, with lockpicking you’ll have 17. No biggie.
- I downplayed Coercion when I commented on it, but a second playthrough without it definitely impacted my decision making. A few times. That is, for example, I couldn’t convince Sten’s captors to free him with no Coercion and was forced to incur great wrath by threatening his captors and forcing his release. I like that, but the cost is too high for so few instances.
- Pick pocketing seems useless. Mabari Dominance seems useless. Survival seems useless. Traps is nice for detection, but otherwise useless and unnecessary. Combat mastery is nice for the benefits, but otherwise is no biggie. I’ve invested into all of these skills to the highest level. I wanted to realize I was wrong and find so many uses for them. But, no. Ultimately, every time you play you’re going to want to put points into Combat and Coercion and, depending on your playstyle, maybe Poisons and/or Potions. Nothing else is necessary.
I complained that it was too easy to keep your henchmen fat and happy with the huge number of gifts. Well, my second play-through broke that comment. I took a lot of different turns at those forks in the road this time, and that ended up bothering my henchman greatly. Leliana left after I destroyed the ashes. Wynne fought me to the death when I sided with the Templar faction. Sten and Morrigan nearly left me because they had to come along with me while I did quests, while I’m sure Alistair would have left me if he could (which he will, when I get Loghain). Only Zevran has been easy to manage, and even he was a little disappointed with some of my decisions. So despite the huge assortment of gifts, I’ve lost and nearly lost a few henchmen. So really, this one comes down to who you have with you and what decisions you make and how good your persuade is. There could be too many gifts or not enough, based on how you play.
My first playthrough, I found I only rarely bumped up against the limit. On my second playthrough, I rarely even get that close. So much of what you come across is junk only worth selling. After ridding myself of that junk, I’m usually sitting with a backpack using no more than 23-out-of-120 slots. The rest is filled with gathered junk to sell at stores.
I think I underestimated the diversity. In my first game, I milked Cone of Cold from start-to-finish and pretty much felt like it was the one-and-only way through the game. Then I discovered a few different spell-casting tactics and approaches (such as the arcane warrior specialization) and it changed my tune. I even found Earthquake to be occasionally useful, and found ways to really milk some of the spells like Blizzard, Inferno, and Tempest. And that was before trying out different rogue and warrior builds — such as sword-and-shield, dual weapons, the bow-toting ranger, etc. There are definitely a lot of different types of characters and ways through this game. It feels more like a good start than a polished finish, but it’s enough to add to the re-play factor.
Upgrading Your Equipment
This is another point I underestimated. But only slightly. And only because I’m a warrior now and they cycle more often than mages. I’m not going through equipment willy-nilly, or maybe not even as much as I should (I found a plain longsword early on and it’s still better than some of the special weapons I’ve been gifted with since), but I do cycle through equipment. I’d say I’ve gone through 3 or 4 sets of armor and may make another change or two before the end game. And with my weapons, I probably cycled through a few sword-and-dagger combos before settling on my current set. Same goes for my henchmen. I’m even using runes a little more often since I seem to have come across more items that can be upgraded. I’d downgrade this system from a fail to a poor.
I complained that I sometimes had trouble keeping up with which quest I just completed or updated. That hasn’t been a problem my second time around. I pretty much know all the quests and it’s pretty obvious what’s going on with them at all times. I was a little overwhelmed the first time around but it’s not so difficult on subsequent play throughs. That said, I would still appreciate a new tab for quests that need to be cashed in — or maybe a tab for “active quests related to this area”. Ooh, yeah. That would be nice. And some of those quests could use more updates — like the ones where you have to talk to five people across the world, and you got four but can’t quite remember who the fifth was.
My first play-through was just shy of 60 hours. My second play-through (even after completing more quests) is probably going to wrap after 35-ish hours or less. If I was racing, I’m sure I could drop that down but that’s not my point. My point is actually that this many hours for a game is very solid. Pretty good for an RPG these days, I think. But the claims of 100+ hours seem off, for me at least (unless we’re adding my two play-throughs).
As for completion rate, I’m doing well there, too. I’ve finished all of the origin stories at least once, and I’ve taken the obvious routes though every quest (I’m sure that there are some slight differences based on character choices, but I’m referencing the more major options). I just need to see the three remaining endings and I should be into the 90s, if not 100%. (I’ll update this post after I finish that second play-through.)
I almost don’t want to do the whole summary here because I feel like I’ve done it a lot already with this game. But OK, I’ll try to be brief. Yes, the game is great. Yes, it’s about what I expected from the previews and hype. Yes, it’s a rare game with replay value; I rarely beat a game and then immediately re-play it all of the way through and enjoy it more the second time. But that doesn’t change that DA:O has a lot of flaws and poor design decisions and, from the context of future’s hindsight, I think this game will probably end up looking a lot less exciting when compared directly with its inevitable (I hope!) sequels. So the bottom line is that I would heartily recommend this game. (And when I get a PC, I’m sure I’ll grab a Game of the Year edition sometime down the road and go again.)
So that’s it. After tons of redundancy and plenty of omissions 😀 I’ve written up all my thoughts on the game. I’ll be playing DA for a few more days, but then it’s time to move me and this site onto something new. Saboteur? Prototype? Mass Effect? LEGO Star Wars? Mario & Luigi? Batman? Nothing has me too terribly excited (that level of enthusiasm is more reserved for Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect 2, and Heavy Rain). Guess we’ll see what the mail brings. 🙂 Ooh, I’m thinking Assassin’s Creed 2 or Borderlands. Yeah, that sounds good. 🙂