By Alec Meer on November 23rd, 2009 at 7:44 pm.
I rather painfully hit a wall in Dragon Age a couple of weeks back, finding my enjoyment stymied by the twin tediums of getting killed far too much and getting bored of wandering endless dwarven caverns and elven forests that required an absurd amount of backtracking through narrow, empty corridors. (Really, would it be so wrong to turn on the instant map travel system in major areas once they’ve been cleared of enemies?) Finding myself with some free time, I headed back in today, only for the former problem to re-rear its annoying head. I knew what was causing it – I didn’t have a good healer. As well as that, my main character, a mage, was a mess of mixed abilities, lacking a core function, horribly prone to inflicting friendly fire with his more powerful attacks and running out of mana horrifyingly quickly to boot. He was screw-up, in short – a liability in every fight.
I’d chosen the wrong skills towards the start of the game, unsure what my build was going to be, no idea what abilities future party members might have (presuming there’d be a dedicated healer along soon; I didn’t go to the mage’s tower, where one can be found, before Elfland and Dwarftown and so ended up with a crapload of melee types in my roster), and naively hungry to make this character capable of everything. I’d tried to shape him into a crowd control type later on, but those misspent early points meant he was still a few levels off being anything like effective. My only options were to press on, suffering an infuriating degree of death and reloading, not to mention burning all my gold on health potions, or to start afresh with a new character. Whichever I picked, I knew the result would be the same: my time with Dragon Age would be as good as over. I hasten to add that I’m quite sure I would have been able to continue with this borked character, eventually levelling my way out of the problem I’d gotten myself into: but I didn’t want to. I wanted to have more fun, not a slog.
So I cheated. Or did I?
I’ve tried to rationalise it to myself, with endless variations upon the theme of the intro above, but I know there’s no escaping that I have cheated. I have pulled the game’s skin away to reveal the endoskeleton below, have performed decisive and powerful surgery that the game did not intend me to, and then pulled the skin back over. Everything looks neat and normal and as it should be, but I have broken the rules, as set by Bioware. My immortal gaming soul is befouled. I know, you can barely stand to look at me.
The exact nature of my cheating, incidentally, is this. I have removed three spells – Inferno, Drain Life and Winter’s Grasp. I have replaced them with Heal, Heal Party and Revive (the latter two from the Spirit Healer specialisation skill tree which, before you point and judge further, I had already unlocked in the game, by purchasing a training manual for 12 gold). Less crucially, and rather more tinkering for tinkering’s sake, I also replaced my character’s two tiers of the Steal skill, because the Rogue in my party has them already, with two tiers of the Survival skill (which turned out to be all kinds of useless. Oh well).
So nothing was added – only swapped, and only swapped for abilities my character could naturally access at his current level. I haven’t given myself an unfair advantage, or anything beyond what the game allows. I’ve just refined my character by creating an alternate universe in which I made better decisions in those early hours of the game. I have, most certainly, irked the purists. At the same time I haven’t created a situation in which I am constantly breaking the game’s rules – and I will remain on the straight narrow now that I’ve gotten onto a straight and narrow that I’m happy with.
Did I do wrong? Did I cheat? Does it matter? It’s an impossibly mild moral dilemma – improving my own experience vs respecting the rules of the games. I’ll admit it troubles me slightly, most especially because the ease with which I’m now blitzing through fights that were formerly incredibly difficult is now almost risible. The group heal and revive powers absolutely change the nature of battles. I pity anyone who plays without them. And now, I am The Best. Go me.
I do feel that Bioware might have been wise to build some official respec feature – say, for a frightening amount of gold, or the loss of a level – into the game, as it does expect you to make some fairly far-reaching choices long before you’ve become au fait with the combat and know what your party setup will be. But then again, there’s something proud and wonderful about making your own organic progress through the game, living with those bad decisions and surviving despite them. That’s how we used to do it, right? But I suppose I’ve become inured to respecification of my RPG characters after all these years of playing MMOs. Once you’ve flown first class, it’s doubly unpleasant to fly cattle class again, and all that. The net result is that I’m enjoying the game more, and so surely my cheating-or-was-it means the game is now better serving its intended purpose. Others will enjoy the struggle against adversity more. I don’t – I’m a hedonist in this regard, prizing my own enjoyment over Doing It Right No Matter What. That niggle, that strange, pointless guilt will likely never quite fade from me as I play, though. I know I’ve rewritten history. What would you do, gentle reader?
Oh, and if you’re taken with the idea of respeccing, let me kindly/maliciously reveal how. EDIT- helpful sorts below reveal this is a much easier alternative. Haven’t tried it myself, but it sounds pretty great.
There is a way to do it with console commands, but I couldn’t get it to work. Instead, I downloaded the 500Mb Dragon Age toolset (you need to register your copy of DA to get it, which requires inputting your CD key again). A click upon File then Open, followed by a browse to my most recent savegame directory (C:\Users\Your Windows Username\Documents\BioWare\Dragon Age\Characters\your Dragon Age Character Name\Saves\Quicksave_1),and then a doubleclick upon savegame.das. Das is gut, ja? Oh, and be sure to take a backup of your savegame folder first, just in case of DATAPOCALYPSE.
In the fugly window that opens, browse to SAVEGAME_PLAYERCHAR. Click the little + to the left of it, then the one next to SAVEGAME_PLAYERCHAR_CHAR, then the one next to SAVEGAME_CREATURE_STATS, then the one next to either SAVEGAME_SPELLLIST (if you’re a mage), SAVEGAME_TALENTLIST (if you’re a rogue or warrior) or SAVEGAME_SKILLLIST (if you want to change skills e.g. herbalism and traps rather than combat abilities).
If you then look for the abilities you have on this page, you’ll spot their identity codes. Replace the ones for those skills you don’t want with ones for those you do want. That’s it, basically, but expect to hit problems if you try to give your guy skills beyond what his level/stats allow. Plus, hey, that really would be cheating.
If you want to do this with a party member rather than your main guy, start at SAVEGAME_PARTYLIST, delve down into SAVEGAME_PARTYPOOLMEMBERS, then under 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 etc you’ll see another instance of SAVEGAME_CREATURE_STATS, and can follow the above process. You big, dirty great cheat, you.