The Games Of Christmas: December 24th

By RPS on December 24th, 2009 at 11:36 am.

My dwarf is in big trouble!
And so our journey comes to an end. It’s the eve of the day on which we celebrate the infinity of Horace the Endless Bear, and so we must also celebrate the final game of our seasonally festive advent-o-calendar. What could it possibly be? Could it have anything to do with beards? Let us allow the arm of the one true leader of the Autobots to guide us one final time. Take it away, Optimus…


Dragon Age!

Kieron: I’m the first one to write my notes on this one, and I suspect the tone’s going to be slightly less euphoric than our previous two games of the year. Portal in 2007 and World of Goo in 2008 united us totally. We all played each to completion and adored each one unreservedly. It’s also worth noting that both of those were two of the shortest games of the period, singular statements, easily absorbed and agreed with. Dragon Age is about the furthest thing away from that. In fact, if you add together the total time of the three games and then divided by three, you’re going to end up with far more than the average time of a game. Dragon Age is an enormous game. As such, your own route through iy – your own priorities, choices and tactics – are going to alter it enormously. How can we agree about the game entirely? It was a functionally different game for all of us.

It’s made more so because I also doubt any of us, other than John have, completed it. You release an 80-hour monster towards Christmas and other things are going to get in the way of actually playing it. We all probably played different intros – well, I like, as Jim and I both played the Dwarf one – and we all did the different quarter of the game first, and probably a different one second. Alec did the Elves, I think. I never got to the elves or the dwarves and only a bit of the main city, instead playing the DLC, the tower of magic and the keep and… Christ! I put 35 hours into the thing, and enjoyed the great portion of it. It’s generally well written. Its world-building, while not as radical as you’d have hoped, is a strong riff off standard genre-conceits. Bits really made me grasp they weren’t fucking around – I believe I tweeted THE GREY WARDENZ! THEY IZ MENTALZ! at a certain point near the end of the prologue. In Alistair Bioware pulled off their best attempted at a male romantic lead, good without-out being entirely punchable (though, like many others, I wished I could have set him up with Morrigan – the fact they wanted to explore each other’s high-level instances couldn’t have been more obvious if they started pulling each others’ pony-tails). Shale was a fine playful companion. And…

Basically, Dragon Age was extremely strong genre work. Part of me suspects we’ll never see its like again, and the passing it may signify is probably enough for me to choose it at the game of the year. Hell, even those who cry “Witcher” at this point will have to accept that’s a game which crams you into Geralt’s seedy codpiece. With the multiple dancing intros and character-related paths, it doesn’t compare. It’s simply a different thing.

That’s the thing which probably more endears Dragon Age to me. Despite the months of fretting before its release, it was a full on PC game. I suspect the last thing anyone would have expected before release that the most common complaint after playing it would be “The Battles Are Too Hard”. It’s as a combat-RPG that Dragon Age appeals to me most, in many ways – though I do wish that they’d have tried to work out a non-healing-based system.

One of my fonder memories of Dragon Age is actually related to that, if in a meta-way. I took great joy in mocking John about him having to tone down the difficulty, knowing that he actually was often playing an earlier build with even higher peaks. He took great pleasure in noting that at certain points, I totally would have to do so. All his other friends had, and I would too. Clearly, I didn’t. A handful of encounters required a proper hard think about how to deal with it, but I persisted and got through. Until I hit a battle with a trio of Drakes in the early morning, which hammered me five times in a row. I stopped playing, knowing it was late and I had a few drinks, and I’d work out a way to deal with those micro-dragon fuckers when I returned in the morning.

I didn’t return in the morning, the knowledge I actually had a serious problem awaiting me putting me off. In fact, with the Christmas season approaching, it’s been enough to keep me away ever since.

But one day – and one day soon – I’ll be back. And those Dragons are going to be three fucking scaly rugs.

John: There’s no question in my mind about a game of the year for 2009. For me it’s a lot harder to pick a second place. But Dragon Age stands alone in first, unchallenged. It is an absolutely extraordinary game. It is one of the extraordinary games.

So yes, I’m the story eater. My number one desire from gaming is to experience a story. In Dragon Age I experienced so very many. I have come away with a hundred anecdotes, tales of adventures that are unique to how I approached them, and unique to my race and background. My understanding of the Dwarven city of Orzammar is that of an outsider looking in. Play a Dwarf and it’s home, the obscurities and caste structure something your character was born with. And neither of us understands what it is to be a subjugated Elf.

I’ve taught myself three words in order to be able to express the game to myself and others. Acculturation, enculturation, and inculturation. (I link to their definitions because I’d no idea what they meant three months ago.) These are the three key themes of the game. When I reviewed it for PC Gamer a few months back I’d only learned the first of these. But since I’ve realised it’s often more complex than the exchange of culture. That makes up much of the game – your choices as a character can be defined by the culture you’re from, and in turn the cultures you experience, explore, and learn from. And the impact you make on those cultures is a part of this exchange, rather than gaming’s more familiar “Hello, I’m here to fix everything for you, simple locals!” But I’ve realised since that occasionally it was a matter of being enculturated by my surroundings, and reacting only to that. My background was so irrelevant that to base decisions upon it would only be inappropriate. Then even later still I’ve been considering the inculturation, and the impact the three conflicting religions had on the story. Redeeming features of the Chant seemed to be lost in a manner not accidentally similar to the Roman adoption of Christianity.

I didn’t give these thoughts to any other game this year. As it happens.

I think Dragon Age takes large battles as big as they can get without tipping over into RTS territory. The limitation of having a party of four, and therefore being sensibly limited to able to take on enemy groups no larger the twelve, keeps the scale necessarily small. The clever technique used at the end of the game (not a spoiler, don’t worry) where it lets you fight much larger armies by drastically reducing their hit points certainly makes you feel more powerful right when you need to. But a whole game like that would lack tactics and grace. That achieves a feeling of a final epic battle, but it would make for a woolly RPG throughout. Where can RPG battles go next?

I think Dragon Age takes the volume of tasks and quests as far as is reasonable without the game losing direction or focus. There’s just so much to do, and brilliantly you do almost all of it without taking ridiculous detours from your planned route. You’re heading most places anyway, so why not fight that group, locate that missing item, or talk to that person about that thing when you get there? There’s possibly room to criticise it for having you complete somewhat trivial tasks in light of the impending Blight, but in my first play through that criticism never applied. I was going to the Mage’s tower anyway to recruit them for the war, so why not ask about the Dwarf’s application when I’m there? And thanks to the three act set up of the game, the sense of escalation of immediacy works anyway. What more could be added to an RPG?

I think the trouble with being the best example of your genre in many years is you also highlight the boundaries of your genre. Dragon Age reveals the limitations of the RPG in its current form. It’s getting too big for the box it’s kept it, and the cracks start to show. A new box is going to be needed to take things to the next level.

Where I think there is room for improvement, however, is in the relationships with the companions. And wow, is that a slightly unfair comment, since Dragon Age does it better than any game before. But it still doesn’t get it quite right. I was able to use up all my conversation options with Alistair way too early in the game, maybe just over halfway. So for the rest of the game any attempt to talk with him was met with that most annoying of situations:

“Hello Alistair, let’s talk.”
“Okay, what would you like to talk about?”
“So, we should get going.”

First of all, never let that be something that even can happen. Secondly, force conversation possibilities to get held back until various milestones, so the next time I try to chat there’s likely something left to say. It’s such a clattering frame-breaker, and surely simple to prevent. If there’s anywhere the NPCs lose their human skin disguises and reveal the robot programming underneath, it’s in those campfire chats. They’re close, but they’re still missing something.

I should probably take this opportunity to quickly comment about the difficulty too, since Kieron brings it up. I know for a fact that some of the most ludicrously difficult battles were patched into something sensible on day 1, meaning no one faced the troubles I experienced reviewing it beforehand. Especially that damned Brood Mother. But I also know that many who’ve talked to me as they’ve played it since have still been forced to sneak down to Easy here and there. Kieron may not, because he is a Giant Man with Enormous Testicles. Although I’ve recently started replaying it, and while it’s rewardingly tough on Normal, so far I’ve stayed on Normal.

So yes. Game of the year, unquestionably. I keep promising myself I’ll catch up on all sorts of games this Christmas break. But it’s already obvious I’m lying to myself and others and it’s going to be Dragon Age again. And I don’t play games twice. Not without waiting at least a few years. But this one – I get the feeling it’s not going to be like playing the same game this time. New race, new class, new background, new motives, new religion, new allies, new reason for fighting the Blight. I’m going to find out what it’s like to be that subjugated Elf.

Alec: Yeah, not the most comfortable I’ve ever been with calling something a Game Of The Year, I have to say. For me, it wears that crown purely because nothing else hit quite as many pressure points quite as effectively, not because it was born to it. But maybe I’m missing something. Reading John’s comments about cultures and faiths above, I shake my head ruefully. I saw, or at least interpreted, very little of that: but then, I’m not as insightful in such matters as he. But at least I didn’t play the game on easy.

In fact, I was actively annoyed that my supposedly subjugated Elven background (a mage rather than a humble foresty type, granted) only offered me a very occasional extra dialogue choice, rather than the grand shift in treatment and perception that I was told it’d supposed to be. I wanted to play an outsider character, but instead I was simply The Hero, albeit with an option to say “don’t be racist” to the occasional NPC. But I appreciate Bioware starting to make class choice mean something, of making my Elfishness more than a skin texture and ear shape. They’re beginning to step outside of their long-standing comfort zone, and while DA is a Bioware game through and through, it’s their most progressive and bold in a long while.

But let me go back to the concept of “a Bioware game”, a double-edged sword if ever there was one. They’re almost a genre unto themselves, one from which we expect well-written but templated NPCs, great breadth of decisions but with consequences too brief to have real depth. Dragon Age both adheres and slightly steps away from Bioware’s stereotypes – but hanging onto them is absolutely the right thing to do.

Name another PC game this year in which you can recall the names of over half a dozen different characters, and what’s more describe their characters, their natures without resorting to rote summaries of their roles. Not “human paladin” or “shape-changing sexy witch” – instead, ‘heartbroken orphan of shattered faith who masks his hurt behind quips’ and ‘lonely, over-defensive outsider with a really annoying voice actor.”

That’s what Bioware games do – they give us characters, fascinating, memorable characters. Ones we’ll recall years later, in boring pub conversations about The Good Old Days with other aged gamers. Even the annoying characters stick: I couldn’t stand Morrigan, but I have such a clear image of her and her personality burned into my mind. Hell, I’m not ever going to forget KOTOR’s Carth either, even though I wanted to kill the useless drip on first sight. Dragon Age is no slouch in that regard – it’s given me more characters to remember, love and loathe than any other game this year. No-one else seems able to do that.

And Shale, too. Glorious Shale. Ah, ‘It’ and Alistair are the game’s most vital voices, breaking through the game’s po-faced skin, adding much-needed levity to its grim world. Darkness means much more when you’ve got lightness to contrast it with. It’s easy to create a relentlessly gritty world and story – that’s why we end up with the narratively peurile likes of Halo and Gears of War, even Fallout 3. To balance bleakness with humour and naturally- rather than purely thematically-likeable characters – that’s hard work. Dragon Age makes it look easy.

Jim: And there doesn’t seem to be much else that can be said about Dragon Age. My feeling when playing it was, I suppose, one of relief. Bioware hadn’t deviated too far from their now-familiar template, but nor had they failed to create something dashing and bold. After months of doubt we got to see that the game was an impressive revision and restatement of typical fantasy ideals, with superb quests, interesting antagonists, and brutal combat. More importantly, it was a game that absorbed me, almost from the first moments. It was with relief that I set aside work and chores to sink hours into its quests and dungeons. Sometimes that’s what I have to ask of games: that they sweep me up and drag me off into unmitigated escapism – and I’m okay with pouring time into their problems and complexities. That’s something that RPGs to best – because there’s more to think about in the set of challenges and ideas they present us with. They take up more brain time, and sometimes that’s what we’re looking for.

I was glad that it was challenging as a fighting game, even on normal. I feel like the past few years have been a steady forgetting that gamers can put up with extraordinary difficulty and complexity, if the rewards of actually playing the game are enough. The means are the ends, in that sense, and increasingly simplistic lightshows, with “accessibility” being the watchword, don’t always satisfy the need that gaming is intended to service. We want games to be rough and tumble, and 2009 has been a good year for that.

I am now wondering whether Dragon Age’s greatest achievement was to break down my cynicism and engagement me more than any other game this year, despite not really being my usual cup of gaming. Looking back at my obsessions from the decade – Quake III, Half-Life 2, Eve Online, Stalker – fantasy RPGs don’t really factor in, although I do play them on an irregular basis. That means that Dragon Age has either done something really special, or I am finally getting into that old man age bracket that some readers (rightly) accuse us of servicing. It could well be the latter Oh well, here’s to getting on, and getting a beard on.

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221 Comments »

  1. Senethro says:

    It was Dragon Age! Who called it first?

  2. Gnarl says:

    Mr. Walker, if you do play through again so soon, you may find it hard to ignore how cleverly they fooled you the first time through. At least I did.

    • Flobulon says:

      Gnarl:

      Sadly I have to agree – it is only on a second playthrough that I realised that any differences were purely cosmetic. That said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing – it’s all about the illusion, of course – but it was sort of sad to see it so plainly exposed the second time round. Like Alec, I was disappointed with the elven dialogue options, especially when I could remember conversations from my first playthrough, and realised my race/origin had very little bearing on the outcome.

    • skalpadda says:

      I felt quite the contrary, I was surprised at how much it changes on a second play-through, but I’m not only playing as a different origin, but also making different choices in most parts of the game and using an entirely different party setup. That said, I did my first game as a dwarf commoner and my second as an elf mage and it’s a shame the “elf” bit doesn’t come into play more in the elf mage story.

  3. Heliosicle says:

    Wooooo DA! I found that I had no temptation to play it again however, I found the ending to be pretty underwhelming (for me) although it was nice to see the consequences of my actions, especially when I thought I had done the right thing.

    Oh those trailers…

  4. Choca says:

    Dragon Age is a good game, a very good game even. But it is also a game with deep and numerous flaws.

    I, for one, expected much better from Bioware.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Based on what? That describes literally all of their games. Have you ever considered that your standards are just unrealistically high?

    • Choca says:

      Well I don’t know if my standards are “unrealistically high” but I do feel like the writing and game design architecture could have been better (and less generic) in Dragon Age : Origins.

      Since I don’t understand to this day how someone can enjoy Fallout 3, I might be a bitter jadded jerk though.

  5. nabeel says:

    I really enjoyed Dragon Age, I sank 75 hours in my first playthrough and I’m definitely going back in soon. I think the difficulty was at a perfect level for me for most of the game; at the points where I lost battles I tried a different approach and I was rewarded for it every time. This for me was extremely important because I tend to be pretty crap at making decisions in RPGs and RTS’, and I tend to try and put up with less-than-satisfactory gameplay purely for the story – which I was expecting to do again here. But I didn’t need to, I loved the gameplay as well as the story and the characters. Second favourite game of the year.

    P.S. Shale <3

  6. EyeMessiah says:

    Dragon Age is certainly the game I have thought about most this year, and probably one of the ones I have put the most time into (not including games that I play perpetually like Dwarf Fortress and other forever ongoing time-sinks).

    I don’t have a lot of affection for it though. The core gameplay was fine (and became good for me with a mixture of mods & cheating – something I don’t begrudge rpgs anymore) and certainly compelling enough to keep me coming back, but I spent a fair amount of time reloading after deaths due to combats unfolding in improbably punishing directions and strongly considering quitting out and doing something else.

    I think I spent a fair proportion of my time rubbing my face saying “I hate this fucking game!” at all manner of punishing quirks and bugs and tediousnesses. But that said I was probably saying this at 2 in the morning after playing for hours and probably with a few hours still to go. So compelling, but possibly not rewarding?

    I didn’t really enjoy the writing, particularly the character writing – I thought Alistair was intolerable! – and I thought the companion relationship system was worthlessly thin and often obstructive (i.e. I couldn’t get some NPCs to start talking some more because I didn’t have any gifts handy and they had run out of topics so I was stuck a few points below a conversation I actually wanted to have because their friendship number was slightly too low.)

    I found the dialogue tree system very tedious too; I felt a lot of the time like I was more or less just hitting a (Press any key to continue) button while NPCs droned on and on about something only tangentially related to what I was trying to get done. And the plot effect of the conversations was often obviously fixed regardless of what your character said, which for me really reinforced the futility of not just making it a (Press any key to continue button) or indeed just cutsceneing it.

    But yeah, at the end of the day I spent a lot of time playing it, and I know all the characters names, and absorbed a fair amount of lore e.t.c. e.t.c. and John is almost certainly right about a lot of things being “box” problems.

    So most played, and yet most ambivalent game of the year for me probably!

  7. Ricc says:

    It’s Dragon Age, get your beard on!

    Also my choice for GotY. I am close to the end of my first playthrough and there are still so many things I haven’t even explored yet. Never used a trap, never used the Tactics screen, never correctly used a Rogue’s abilities and I don’t think I have to mention story-replayability. I can see myself playing this for a long, long time.

  8. Tei says:

    Dragon Age has a interesting flaw. The game autosave before all encounters, so if before opening a door there are not quicksave, then there are no mobs inside the room, but if the game autosave, better prepare your party.

    Is a game that as give us renoved love for the “party” style of RPG’s. I don’t know other people, but on one of these type of games I end on the “thief-rogue-mague” style of playing, since It pays that the main character steal everything for his teammates to use. You need a rogue!. Hence, that elf assasin was of not use to me, and I killed him. I killed lots of main NPC’s of the game. I even killed Carth (or whatever is called) … but I reloaded, because It was a non-desirable output. So I managed my way trough the conversation tree tryiing to fin a middle land in a dialectic battle withouth middle land. Dragon Age has probably the better “dialog battles” and interesting dialog results.

    • Andrew Dunn says:

      Usually Tei’s just indecipherable but here he’s flat out wrong. The game doesn’t autosave before fights at all. The autosave is pretty awful in fact, as it can go a couple of hours without autosaving depending on what you’re doing.

    • Nick says:

      To be fair, it does *usually* autosave before big bad ‘main’ fights, the boss of whatever dungeon you are in for example.

      I wouldn’t really call that much of a flaw though and plenty of other games do it.

    • Bhazor says:

      Certainly a lesser flaw than *not* saving before a major fight.

  9. Muzman says:

    How well has this done/is this doing? I can’t think of a game with such risible publicity that’s turned out to be so well received.

  10. Crimsoneer says:

    I wasn’t hugely impressed with Dragon Age. Very, very long, yes, but lacking in the polish that made KotOR so amazing for me.

    • CJohnson03 says:

      You thought KOTOR was polished? Good lord. There were ample content and conversation cuts, plot holes, and bugs in BOTH of the KOTOR games. I’ve been waiting years for the KOTOR Restoration project to finish so I can finally play it through with a decent ending, restored planets, cutscenes, etc.

    • Hmm-hmm. says:

      I still don’t quite grasp why KOTOR is so loved. RPGs are my most loved genre, but KOTOR.. wasn’t more than decent. Although it was pretty good at some things, it was, for me, far from an outstanding game.

  11. cypher says:

    DA was a truly great game that I’ve sunk more of my life into than I’d care to remember but… I still have more truly special memories from Mass Effect than I’ve taken away Dragon Age.

    As much as I love the good old days of epic amounts of content, I think I’ll prefer shorter and richer experience every time.

  12. Funky Badger says:

    I stalled on my first playthrough at about 100 hours, then restarted with a different Origin. Glad I did, because the beginning reminds me of how good Dragon Age is – the conciets in the Origins (at least Dwarf Commoner and Human Noble) are cliche, vut they’re effective – combined with glorious, glorious Ostagar they provided me with enough motivation and righteous fuelled anger to keep me going for, well, 100+ hours.

    The beginning is magnificent. I’m not sure the game hits those high-spots again, and its probably too long. But it does so much right, not least the NPCs, Alisdair’s fantastic (“Swooping… is bad…”) clearly, as is Zev. FOr all Morrigan’s annoyances are tendacy to descend in Star Trek speak (“So this the human emotion you call… love?”) her introduction and arc with Flemmeth is fantastically creepy.

    I only really got annoyed with Lorelei? Sanctmonious bint. Glad to see there are some choices that do have a long-term effect though, if only that you can kill or abandon half of your party before getting started.

    The dwarven background was really well done as well (and I’m still smarting from how a certain betrayal played out on my return to Orzammar).

    Great, great game.

  13. Mungrul says:

    It had a musical interlude fer christ’s sakes!
    A sodding musical interlude!
    And a shit scmaltzy one to boot!

    While I enjoyed the game playing it through, I unfortunately saw the flaws very early on. As an exposition piece on the numerous NPCs, it was good stuff (even though the poor quality of character models sometimes spoiled that), but as a game, and more importantly, as an RPG, it was positively mediocre.

    For a game that is supposedly huge, how many actual areas were there in the game? Compared to the game it was supposed to be the spiritual successor of, Dragon Age’s world felt constrained, and as with the Neverwinter Nights games, it was too easy to see the boundaries of that world, making each map feel like a boxed in instance rather than part of a larger world. In a time when persistent worlds that load all in one go are becoming the norm, Dragon Age feels horribly out of date. Compare it to Risen, where the island feels like a world rather than several distinct environments, and Dragon Age is shown for what it is.

    And while the character interactions were interesting and rewarding, the combat, while initially satisfying, quickly became a strikingly tedious drudge, with too little variation in enemies and anaemic rewards. I eventually lowered the difficulty myself, not because it was too hard to handle, but simply because I had gotten bored of it very quickly and just wanted to get to the good parts.

    But my game of the year isn’t even a PC game (unless you count Dwarf Fortress). That honour is reserved for the remarkable Demon’s Souls on the PS3, a game simultaneously incredibly old-school, yet also fantastically innovative.

    • Setheran says:

      I think Demon’s Souls actually ruined Dragon Age a bit for me too. After falling in love with that game’s depth and relative simplicity, and a world that manages to be fascinating and mysterious with virtually zero backstory, it was jarring to then jump into Dragon Age on PC where everything seems to be needlessly fiddly and there’s more backstory than anyone could possibly have the patience to read. I thought I liked that stuff, but I can’t help wishing that it was all just a lot more concise.

      I know I’ll enjoy DA if I can muster the willpower to stick with it , and plan to start again sometime with a different race (only got as far as Lothering before), but for now it’s at the bottom of the digital pile of games I’ve bought in the holiday sales and I just don’t feel compelled to go back to it.

  14. The Sombrero Kid says:

    pretty negative view on game of the year, lol, i think you’se are all overly critical of bioware because you expect more of them, most bioware games are half as long with bigger troughs than DA:O DA:O was solid, long, had the biggest divergance and deepest character development so far, bearing in mind it was finished a year ago and held back by EA, it’s a tremendous achievement, granted it doesn’t push the genre forward the way mass effect does, but that’s not the point it’s anachronistic by design!

  15. sinister agent says:

    Old man age bracket? Pish. That’ll mean I’ve been an old man since I was about 9.

    Oh wait.

  16. simonkaye says:

    I’m not sure Dragon Age is vulnerable to the common accusation that it’s not sensitive enough to your choices. People who are surprised by the relative lack of movement based on your origin should bear in mind that even the changes we DO get based on class and race (and even gender) choice are unprecedented in RPGs, and that every line of (non-protagonist) script was recorded.

    Dragon Age’s sensitivity to your choices, actions and inactions are apparent from the endgame, and the epilogue. The latter half of the game may be ‘on rails’ relative to the first half, but it’s also a crucial key to understanding the whole, and why it’s such a big achievement – which is why John Walker’s opinion here is the only really qualified one. Guys – finish the game, then tell us that it didn’t change enough based on your actions.

    By way of example, this (highly SPOILERIFIC) wiki page gives a fair example of the sheer range of possible outcomes… but don’t look if you haven’t finished at least once.

    http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Epilogue

  17. jalf says:

    Hmm, I think I agree with Yahtzees review of it, I think. It’s kind of weird, there are plenty of annoying flaws to whine about: from the ridiculously clunky NWN2 engine and lousy camera to the formulaic “yes it’s still fantasy” theme and the, so far, very superficial effects of race/class… And yet I keep coming back to it. They must have done something right.

    • Paul Moloney says:

      ” from the ridiculously clunky NWN2 engine and lousy camera to the formulaic”

      Is it the same engine? It certainly runs a lot more smoothly on my PC than NWN2 (which I was playing recently) does even now, several years after release.

      Also, what is wrong with the camera? Must say I find it just fine..

      P.

    • Wulf says:

      The Neverwinter Nights 2 engine was the Electron engine, and it was masterfully done. I won’t hear a bad word about it, because as I recall of the forums, the only people who tended to complain about it were those whose systems were too wimpy to run it on full settings, but the owners were too bloody stubborn to turn their settings down.

      NWN2 and the early Electron tech-demo were a thing of beauty, they just did crazy things like per-pixel realtime shadows (much like those of Far Cry 2), and stuff like that just killed the computers of the time. Even I had to turn shadows off back then, but I’ve played it since with them on and it really is an amazing thing to see. It’s simply stunning.

      Dragon Age does not run on the same engine, it’s a proprietary creation of Bioware’s. They just lifted a lot of elements from the Electron engine, such as the way dialogues are handled, that was totally ripped off Electron, but despite Bioware’s rampant lack of identity and originality, it was an original engine, and to me it just didn’t look as good as NWN2 does on a modern machine.

      Sorry.

    • Funky Badger says:

      Wulf: NWN2 was a piece of shit of release, and not much better 3-4 years later.

    • Lilliput King says:

      The camera was an utterly masterful piece of design. There wasn’t much DA did perfectly, but the camera was perfect.

      Also, it wasn’t in the NWN2 engine.

    • jalf says:

      It certainly **looked** like the same engine, just with the polycount ramped up and with more shaders.
      And I’m not talking about the technical capabilities of the engine (although they were *not* impressive, considering the system requirements).

      If it wasn’t the same engine, I’m impressed that they managed to port over every flaw from the NWN2 engine: Clunky animations, bad interface, long load time and a complete lack of control over the camera (keeping it fixed and telling the player “here, if you want it moved, *you* do it, because we don’t have a clue where it’d be convenient).

      As for the camera being “perfect”, no it wasn’t. You had to move the camera. If it’d been perfect it would simply be where you wanted it. Forcing the user to zoom it in and out, and suffer its predefined not-very-useful camera angles is *not* perfect.

      But as I said in my first post, despite this, I keep coming back to DA because it’s actually got me interested, which puts it miles ahead of NWN2, which I only came back to because it frustrated the hell out of me within the first hour and sheer stubbornness forced me to attempt to like it again.

      But really, anyone using the word “perfect” about the technology behind either Dragon Age or NWN2 is clearly on drugs. Bioware does a decent job at storytelling and portraying interesting characters,but their character artists suck, their animators aren’t much better, and the engines they use are abominations dredged from whatever pit of hell their end-bosses come from.

      Except for Mass Effect, of course.

    • Lilliput King says:

      “If it wasn’t the same engine, I’m impressed that they managed to port over every flaw from the NWN2 engine: Clunky animations, bad interface, long load time and a complete lack of control over the camera (keeping it fixed and telling the player “here, if you want it moved, *you* do it, because we don’t have a clue where it’d be convenient).

      As for the camera being “perfect”, no it wasn’t. You had to move the camera. If it’d been perfect it would simply be where you wanted it. Forcing the user to zoom it in and out, and suffer its predefined not-very-useful camera angles is *not* perfect.”

      It was perfect for me, but then, I’m not sure where you’re coming from. Are you angry that the camera had to be moved? If so, why do you complain in the last sentence that the user must suffer the predefined camera angles?

      Here’s the thing for me. The camera let you decide exactly where you wanted it at each stage. I zoomed it out at the start of a fight, zoomed it in afterwards, and the controls to do so were so simple and unobtrusive that it just worked. No camera is going to be perfect for everyone, so having a simple, quick control system for a camera is a far better option than a developer attempting to place it “where you want it” in every situation. I’d rather the control was in my hands, and DA has the best control system I’ve come across.

      Incidentally, the load time was mere seconds for me, and I lack fancy hardware to that effect. That said, while the art direction was sometimes nice, the game was generally ugly as sin.

  18. LewieP says:

    I got this from a Secret Santa. Going to tear into it in the new year. Undecided whether to get any of the DLC or not.

    On the one hand, with games like these, I prefer to have the DLC available from the get go, rather than play the game to completion then get the DLC.

    To be honest, I might actually pirate the DLC, then pay for it afterward if I think it was worth it.

  19. Andrew Dunn says:

    Dragon Age is my game of the year too. Before it came along I’d have said Batman: Arkham Asylum, but DA just kicks Arkham into second place, convincingly.

    Like John, I loved the storyline and the way the characters interact with it. Played the game through twice fully, as a human noble and a city elf, and each time was excellent and varied.

  20. bookwormat says:

    The Addon-beggar IN the game turned me off so far. That’s too much for me. And the fact that I already have 10 Role playing games I need to finish kept me from buying it when it was 25Eur on amazon.

    I’m waiting for a good deal for one of the version that come with the wardens keep, or for a mod that removes the beggar from the game.

  21. Poet says:

    Played on nightmare from the start and actually have found it to be too easy. I suspect the combo of 2 Mage, 1 Healer and a tank is op. The nerf on Crushing Prison and Force Field helped a little but still way too easy. As long as you spec each Mage different from the other and start using area effect spells they almost never even reach your party.

    One caveat, I have not started the final battle, just got done selling all the crap I saved and now going around buying what spell/skill/stat books are left in preparation.

  22. Adam C. says:

    The fact that a rated-M game is now “game of the year” is pretty emblematic of what has turned me off of video games; these aren’t games you can play around your young kids, or introduce to them as tweens/young teens.

    I’m not saying it isn’t a great game, as I haven’t played it. But, more and more, the industry is dominated by rated-M games — just look at XBox 360 offerings. As a parent, I find this a complete turn-off, to the point that we are back to buying a lot of board games. (And, as long as I’m on the high horse — I’m a lot less troubled by the sex in the games, which is generally tame, than the insane levels of gore.)

    I’m sure I’ll play it someday. But Torment managed to be great without being rated M.

    • qrter says:

      Don’t your children ever sleep?

    • Carra says:

      I am happy to see more R-rated games. It should remind people that the average gamer is not a kid but an adult.

      That being said, it’s not like there are no other games released this year that are suitable for everyone. My other favorite of the year, Anno 1404 is kid safe.

  23. mandrill says:

    Dragon Age is the first game I’ve actually played to completion in a very very long time (I think the last one was Portal, but that hardly counts). It reminded me of what Bioware are capable of (The last BW game I completed was NWN, the first one) and I am now going to go back and finish both the KOTORs and Mass Effect.

  24. Paul Moloney says:

    ” that’s why we end up with the narratively peurile likes of Halo and Gears of War, even Fallout 3″

    Oh surely unfair to the latter. That had loads of humour – heck, the whole world was an in-joke based on an particularly American 1950s idea of the future, with Robbie the Robot-type patrolling the wastes.

    Currently just met Morrigan in Dragon Ages, so probably too early to tell if it’s my GOTY. I keep getting dragged away by the click-fest Torchlight, and now I’ve bought Rome: Total War from the Steam sale and am determined to teach myself how to be a good Roman.

    P.

    • jalf says:

      Note that they said Fallout 3, not Fallout. Fallout was an in-joke based on those things. Fallout 3 is a “stick to the recipe we bought off Interplay”.

      Fallout 3 sometimes tried too hard. It was like Money Island 4, desperately trying to remind us that it’s the follow-up to a game that had humour and atmosphere.

  25. Bobsy says:

    I grew a beard for this game.

    Yeah.

  26. Wulf says:

    I’m actually a bit disappointed at the crew when it comes to Dragon Age. I wanted to believe them that there was some worth to it, but brilliant games of the past just stopped me seeing it as anything more than average. It’s the writing, Gods damn it, the writing is just so poor, and in an RPG the last thing one wants is poor writing.

    I wanted to believe the hivemind about this one. I did. I wanted to believe there was some worth, bu there was nothing. It was so shallow, and a completely hollow experience, there was simply no soul to the game. I don’t even want to play through it again, and I want the time of my life I did spend playing it back.

    The thing is, I rated it like this…

    Lore vs. Uru, on a scale of 1 to 10.
    Characters vs. Mask of the Betrayer, on a scale of 1 to 10.
    Sense of Wonder vs. Beyond Good & Evil, on a scale of 1 to 10.

    Lore-wise it was pretty decent, but I couldn’t lie to myself, it was a mish-mash of Dungeons & Dragons (not just Faerun) and various other fantasy sources, there was absolutely nothing at all here that Bioware had come up with themselves, every little detail was stolen unashamedly from another source. The quality of it was okay, but the jarring and shocking lack of originality hurt it.

    I rated the Lore vs. Uru 3 points. 3 points only because it had no grammatical errors and it was long-winded, as lore should be. -7 points against Uru due to any glimmer of originality.

    The characters were…

    Shale, I liked Shale, okay? I liked the dog a bit too, a tiny bit, but only because the dog could not talk. The other characters were like robots, and their voice-actors would probably be on their death-beds before they learned to convey emotions. The voice-actors of Torchlight were better, even! At least Alric’s voice actor displayed a nice descent from wise, old sage, to corrupted, evil arch-mage.

    Really, take the voice-acting from Mask of the Betrayer, or the Guild Wars 2 trailer, or anything that isn’t Bioware and you can hear the emotion behind the words. Logan Thackeray’s “Nothing will break our spirit!” has more emotion in one line than Dragon Age has from start to finish!

    If they sounded any more dead, they’d be undead! Has Bioware started practising black magic, to raise the dead to do their voice-acting so that they won’t have tot pay a voice-acting crew that has some amount of talent? I could read the bloody script with more panache than that! They all sound like they’re reading off boards! …how did no one hear this? How? Honestly? There is no acting.

    Painful voice-acting aside, the characters were terribly one-dimensional, and I was hoping that once I’d scratched the surface, they’d actually seem more interesting to me. But Bioware has mentioned in the past that they’re scared to do anything too interesting with their characters, and they’re even terrified of non-human races (I remember that from one Zone/Gamer issue) because they worry they couldn’t do them well.

    I’m sorry Bioware, you don’ even do humans well.

    Wossisname, Warden guy, is the the tortured one who covers it up with bad humour.
    Wossername, Witch gal, is the rebellious one, being rebellious.
    Wossisname, honouur guy, is the warrior dude searching for his honour.
    Shale, psychotic gal, is… er, the nutso one.

    …and it continues like this, for the entire game.

    Let me show you what the cast of Dragon Age is up against:

    Gann of Dreams, a few dialogues on YouTube. From his first encounter, and illustrating the depth of his character, his passion, and the ongoing growth of his character through the game’s excellent writing.

    Now that is a well written and well voice-acted character.

    When comparing against Mask of the Betrayer, the flat, and frankly dead cast of Dragon Age can’t even muster a score. So vs Mask of the Betrayer, I could only award a 2 at most. 1 simply because there were a few rare moments where Shale actually made me laugh (the bit about shoes comes to mind), and 1 more because of that one Ashen tribal guy. You might remember him, you had to calm him down. I wanted him in my party because he was the only person in the game I’d seen convey any emotion at all. But clearly, he was a professional whom they could only afford to get a few lines out of at most.

    Dragon Age earns itself a -8 by somehow entertaining a group of heroes in a fantasy world who are somehow less interesting and less passionate than Gordon Brown.

    Now let’s talk about any wonderment created by the game…

    First we have the peoples, who’re comprised of the staid fantasy tropes. We have the Dwarf trope, we have the Barbarian trope, and we have some Elves who are slightly interesting.

    I could award this section more points, I’ll say that early on, but with everything this game does it shoots itself in the foot.

    The thing is, these tropes might have been interesting, but Bioware robbed every race of particularly interesting culture or accents and made them all just “dudes”, and Gods that was boring, because even the tribal elves, or the barbarian guys, were all just boring, everyday people. They didn’t sound like they were from another world. I was seeing a Dwarf but I was hearing a very average person whom I might talk to in a shop, and that was mildly gut-wrenching. They didn’t even distinguish them, everyone ended up sounding the same! The game manages to create a sense of anti-culture due to this, which would appeal to the idiot anti-intellectual, sure, but not to me.

    One thing they did impress me with though was their ethnic equality, dark skinned elves with afros and all, but I really think they did that just for a knee jerk reaction and a higher score than anything else, because selecting a different ethnicity has no impact on the game whatsoever. We’re all just dudes. Even the women were like that. ARRRGH!

    Still… elves with ethnicities, I can respect that. It did result in a raised eyebrow.

    It did have some surprisingly breathtaking moments too, like the odd massive castle or vista that caught me off-guard because it was slightly pretty, but it was all so very Lord of the Rings. I could love it, but I’ve seen it all before, seen it, Bioware, seen it, seen it thousands of times, it’s pretty and all, but where is the identity of Dragon Age? The whole thing looked like a Lord of the Rings rip-off, from start to finish, every little visual nook and cranny had a Lord of the Rings vibe.

    And yes, that meant it could be pretty occasionally, but it also meant that Dragon Age completely failed to establish its own identity. There wasn’t even one moment where I stopped, gasped, and realised that this is why Dragon Age was simply brilliant. Even Knytt had moments like that! If they had just rolled in a little originality, just a little… a tiny bit. The game was crying out for originality.

    The whole game felt plodding though, and like I was walking through a competent but ultimately boring take on the ideas of other people. I felt Dungeons & Dragons, I felt Lord of the Rings, but Dragon Age only tried to create originality through removing culture, and introducing smut, and ludicrous gore (the gore I quickly modded out). Had I played this at the tender age of 5-6 years old, I might have been able to enjoy it, because that’s the targeted maturity demographic.

    So the originality of Dragon Age amounts to ripping off every other fantasy tale, ever, along with their visual trappings, and overlaying it with an unhealthy dose of “YO BLUD, BLUD IS MATURE, PORN IS MATURE!”.

    I found the Witcher’s porn more palatable, because at least the porn there had some decent art tied into it, some of it was actually (dare I say it) classy, and the Witcher had an excuse for it, and that excuse wa that Geralt was a total arsehole, completely and inexcusably depraved, and he was in the books they sourced the games from too.

    But in Dragon Age, it’s just like they’re doing it to appeal to people like my sister’s boyfriend, who loves a bit of porn and gore, for the sake of porn and gore, story be damned and all that. You know the kind of people I mean. I am not one of those people, damn you Bioware. And I’d think the Hivemind isn’t either, or I’d hope so. That any of them were pleased by the presence of this fills me with utter bafflement.

    So it had some pretty places, and it had black elves.

    Right.

    2 sound fair? Because when I think of the alien locations, and the creatures I was taking pictures of in Beyond Good & Evil, when I think of how beautifully designed that game was, when I think of how often the environments would simply have me gasp with wonder, Dragon Age just doesn’t stack up. Lord of the Rings does a little more, but Dragon Age isn’t excused because of how much it rips off everything else.

    2 then. And -8 because for every one thing it might try to do right, it shoots itself in the foot a thousand more times by getting it completely wrong, and making the proceedings as soulless, and as completely devoid of love as they could be. There is no love in Dragon Age, there was no passion in its making. I feel like a total chump for ever buying into the possibility that it had any worth after the trailers.

    As an average of these scores, I give it a 3 as an average, and I feel even that’s being kind.

    If you haven’t bought Dragon Age yet, I give you this advice: If you care about writing at all, if you care about original lore at all, if you care about a sense of wonderment in a fantasy setting at all, then this game is NOT for you. Your time is better spent looking elsewhere… anywhere else, in fact.

    In my eyes, this is an abortion of an RPG. A true abomination. A walking corpse of a thing. A Frankenstein’s monster, knitted together from bits of other sources and yet devoid of any of the passion, character, or love that those sources had. It stumbles awkwardly with a poor portrayal of life, it moans in a plaintive way that lacks any emotion, and most of the time it just walks into walls due to how anti-intellectual the very construction of it is.

    It’s a travesty.

    That’s the best word for it. It’s a bloody travesty.

    And I’m not falling for it again when Mass Effect 2 comes out. I just don’t care what anyone says. I should have learned my lesson after every past Bioware game (not counting the beautiful Obsidian efforts that shared names with Bioware games). Every time I come away from a Bioware game feeling as totally ripped off as I could feel.

    I’m going to stop writing now before I decide that a 3 is too generous and drop it to 0.

    • Wulf says:

      I hope everyone can forgive me for this. I know it’s Christmas, and honestly… Merry Christmas to you! I hope you have a blast, and I hope it’s everything you wished for. I’m having a grand Christmas too. But I can’t lie about this game. I’m sorry, okay? I can’t lie about this game even for Christmas.

      So I hope you can forgive me.

    • skalpadda says:

      I’ll admit I didn’t read all of that, but hey, how about relaxing a little and just enjoying the ride? Picking things apart and over-analysing them won’t lead to happy gaming experiences (at least in my experience) ;)

    • Wulf says:

      @skalpadda

      “[...] but hey, how about relaxing a little and just enjoying the ride?”

      The ride was teacups, I quickly got bored out of my mind, and began to fixate on how poorly painted the teacups were.

      “Picking things apart and over-analysing them won’t lead to happy gaming experiences (at least in my experience) ;)”

      I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense from my perspective.

      1.) You can pick a brilliantly written book apart and it’ll still be a clever little work of literature, this is true of all of Pratchett’s works.

      2.) You can pick a painting apart and still feel you don’t fully understand the depths of it all, this is true of any of Dada’s paintings.

      3.) You can pick a film apart and still be overwhelmed by its charm, this was true of Labyrinth.

      4.) You can pick a game apart and still be as intoxicated and enthralled as someone who’d just dumbly sat through it, this was true of the three games I ranked Dragon Age against.

      I see that as highly fallacious, and a hallmark of our anti-intellectual age. What if I don’t want to just sit dumbly through something? Do I have to? Is there an obligation? Do I need a lobotomy before I can enjoy games?

      Though I’m not sure I should be replying here, since you didn’t have to focus to get through my review, even. >.> I think we have very different views on things.

    • Wulf says:

      @My own post

      The focus to, rather.

      I really need to get an account at some point. But there’s something alluring about those captchas…

    • Dante says:

      You know what I’ve learned over time? Ignore all other people’s opinions on voice acting.

      Seriously, it’s got to be the most subjective bloody thing in games, not that it should be, but it seems it is. Some people will always find fault with it, no matter how excellent it is.

    • Dante says:

      In the interests of fairness, here is my advice to anyone who wants to buy Dragon Age.

      Ignore this man.

      I’m serious here, I don’t think he’s an idiot, or a philistine, but it seems that, at sometime or another, no matter how universally beloved and fundamentally good a work is, be it a film, book, game or otherwise, there will be a person who seems to be able to offer a well thought out, smart criticism, who seems to know what they’re talking about (they might even be someone you respect, such as Roger Ebert’s inexplicable dislike for The Usual Suspects) but nevertheless hates it beyond measure for all the reasons that everyone else loves it. They’ll tell you the writing is crap when when it’s the pinnacle of the genre that the gameplay doesn’t work when it’s an absolute joy and that the characters are flat when you just wish you could go for a beer with them. They might as well be playing a different game.

      There’s times when you can understand criticism, and there’s times when you have no idea where they’re coming from, hell there’s plenty of faults in Dragon Age, but none of those are what is mentioned in the mini essay above.

      Good clues are if someone is overly insulting to the game or to the people that like the game, it suggest a desire to score points with one’s intellectualism. Perhaps this is why they do it, I don’t know, as I said, I can’t really understand the machinations of their minds. Citing smaller or more obscure games as superior is also a good measure of this form of snobbery, if they’re small enough, not only do they look knowledgeable by name checking them, but it’s more likely you haven’t played them, and can’t effectively rebut.

      Maybe Wulf truly does think Dragon Age bad and the rest of us crazy for thinking otherwise, who knows? There’s plenty of successful games that I’ve been in a similar position on (MGS, I’m looking at you), all I can say is that he’s deeply, deeply wrong. And if for some reason you have decided to take his comment thread review as gospel, rather than the words of the men whose site you have actually decided to visit (and I can’t imagine you would) you’ll be doing yourself a grave disservice.

    • archonsod says:

      The fact you imply Uru, Mask of the Betrayer and Beyond Good & Evil are “brilliant games of the past” pretty much rules out the validity of anything you may say regarding quality games :P

    • skalpadda says:

      Wulf:
      Well I’m an hour late for Christmas dinner already, which is why I didn’t have time to read the whole thing. I just found out that the ham and meatballs aren’t quite ready though, so it looks like I can take it easy.

      Of course there is value in delving into something and rummaging around amongst the details and inner workings. At the end of the day though, it is an entertainment product, playing through a fantasy story. It’s not the basis for starting a religion or finding the truths of the universe. What I mean is that if you really dislike it that much, to keep digging, comparing, analysing and pinpointing every little nuance that you dislike seems like self torture. It is a game, if you hate it, why not just shut it down and do something more fun?

      Also, what I meant by enjoying the ride, well if you go into it with the mindset of figuring everything out and comparing details to other experiences from the start, I think there’s a real risk that you won’t be able to judge the experience on it’s own merits.

    • Damien Stark says:

      @ Dante

      I’ll second the “voice acting is subjective” bit. Especially since English voice acting gets published to both US and UK, there’s always someone convinced it’s terrible. Often someone else is convinced “that was a great ‘British’ accent!” – listening to an American try to voice Scottish. Then there will be someone convinced that “he has the most laughable imitation Irish accent!” – listening to an actual Irishman. Someone will complain that the military guy’s voicing is too wooden and flat, while others complain that the madman sounds too manic.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Hehe, true. I found the criticisms of Leilana’s french accent amusing, considering she is voiced by a french voice actor.

    • jalf says:

      Oh good grief. There are quite a few things to dislike about DA, but a writing it off as “shallow” or “a mish-mash of Dungeons & Dragons” just staggers the mind.

      One of the things that really impressed me about the game is what John mentioned: This is the first RPG I’ve ever seen that deals with so different cultures in a more detailed and meaningful way that “they met, they didn’t like each others, they fought wars”.

      Where in D&D did it have anything like the elven alienages? Where in D&D does it say that dwarves live in strict caste systems and exile any who ventures to the surface?

      It sounds to me like you’ve decided to dislike it in advance. Which is fair enough, but I don’t think we need a 3-page rant just to convey that. ;)

      And of course, comparing it against three different games in three different genres is hardly fair. Compared to Tetris, BG&E failed horribly at addictive gameplay. Compared to Day of the Tentacle, Mask of the Betrayer failed horribly at humour.

      You’re not comparing DA to “what a DA should be”. You’re comparing it against the whole goddamn games industry. Anything that isn’t “best ever” in *every* single facet will fail that test.

      I’m enjoying Dragon Age. I don’t think it’s *my* game of the year (although I can understand the rationale behind RPS’s naming it so), and I think it’s flawed in quite a few ways — but I’m glad I bought it. With any luck I’ll even finish it.

    • Wulf says:

      I was going to leave this alone, but I don’t like personal attacks and debasements. I only do it in retaliation, and I need to retaliate here, because Dante has painted me as some kind of foul, evil savage, and like any bloody human I feel. So I’m going to speak my mind about it.

      @Dante #1

      “You know what I’ve learned over time? Ignore all other people’s opinions on voice acting.”

      This renders all reviews void. Good-o. I guess I don’t stand a chance against that, do I?

      Whilst you may think that’s valid, I don’t. I think that it’s perfectly reasonable for a critic to be able to judge the quality of the acting in any given medium.

      “Seriously, it’s got to be the most subjective bloody thing in games,”

      We agree. And your point is? Reviews present a point-counterpoint system, you should be able to comprehend that. You present your point, I present mine, and the reader finds the middle-ground and makes their decision.

      It’s not fact, it’s never supposed to be. It is subjective. It’s advice, and I never claimed that my opinions were objective. They’re only relevant insofar as myself and people who think like me. But when the cup overfloweth with mindlessly positive platitudes, it can help to have an opposing viewpoint.

      Are you telling me that because something is subjective and you disagree with me that I’m not entitled to my viewpoint? Are you telling other people that they’re not in a position to judge for themselves based on the reviews?

      Do I have you that much on the defensive? If I do, there’s got to be some truth in my words, no matter how callous they are.

      “Some people will always find fault with it, no matter how excellent it is.”

      Excellence is subjective, and therefore subject to review.

      @Dante #2

      “In the interests of fairness, here is my advice to anyone who wants to buy Dragon Age.

      Ignore this man.”

      That’s not advice, that’s a direct order. I wouldn’t call that fair. :p

      “[...] but nevertheless hates it beyond measure for all the reasons that everyone else loves it.”

      If you’re going to disagree with me, please don’t use weasel words. That should read like this: [...] but nevertheless hates it beyond measure for all the reasons that I love it.

      I can’t fight an imaginary army. I hate it when I have to. We don’t know how people generally feel about the game, do we? Does the majority love it? Does the majority hate it? It’s impossible to say, and I certainly won’t.

      At the end of the day, it’s my opinion versus yours. And you shouldn’t use trickery to add weight to yours.

      “They’ll tell you the writing is crap when when it’s the pinnacle of the genre [...]”

      /sigh

      That should be: A reviewer may tell you that writing is of a poor quality when I personally believe it’s the pinnacle of the respective genre.

      Please stop doing that. You have an opinion, you are no more or less of an authority than I am. We are equals, and therefore our opinions are equal.

      “[...] the gameplay doesn’t work when it’s an absolute joy [...]”

      I didn’t say that the gameplay was bad, and in fact I didn’t even mention the gameplay at all. But don’t let me stop you when you’re on a wild tangent. :/

      “[...] and that the characters are flat when you just wish you could go for a beer with them.”

      No, no I don’t wish that. You wish that, personally. I think they’re as flat as pancakes. Opinions FTW.

      “They might as well be playing a different game.”

      Or the same game but the two people simply have very different standards of excellence.

      “[...] but none of those are what is mentioned in the mini essay above.”

      Again with the opinions presented as facts…

      That should be: But I couldn’t perceive any of the flaws presented in that mini-essay when I played through the game.

      You cannot say that they didn’t exist just because you didn’t see them. You can only say that you didn’t see them because you perceive things differently than I do.

      Please try to be fair to me, I can’t compete against rewriting reality and all. All I did was review a game…

      “Good clues are if someone is overly insulting to the game or to the people that like the game,”

      What could or couldn’t be considered an insult is a purely subjective thing and falls victim to personal feelings.

      Of course, another possibility could be that I’m simply speaking out against the populist view and you’re trying to paint me as a villain for doing so. Which is very political of you. Cull the evil rebels and all that, I’m a TERRARIST. Filthy rebels are nefarious fiends who aren’t entitled to opinions because they’re savages who’re out to hurt you. They know nothing of civilised society!

      That’s just my feeling though and I can’t say whether you’re really doing that or not. I point out regularly in my posts that what I say simply reflects how I feel, because I am human, I am fallible, and I’m not perfect.

      “[...] it suggest a desire to score points with one’s intellectualism.”

      And what’s wrong with that? You act as if you’re not doing all the things you’re accusing me of doing right now. Do you believe that you aren’t? I point to the previous quotation and replly for my personal take on that.

      I feel that when it comes down to stroking one’s own intellectualism, on this point, it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

      “Perhaps this is why they do it, I don’t know,”

      Now you surmise and admit that there are things that might lie beyond your understanding. That’s a change of pace.

      “I can’t really understand the machinations of their minds.”

      If you really felt that was true, if you really, honestly felt that was true, if you really, really felt that you couldn’t figure me out and take me apart, this is the only thing you really needed to post. You could have put this in your post and pointed out that you liked Dragon Age and couldn’t understand my particular view of it.

      You could have reasonably and civilly offered your own review in opposition to my own. But you didn’t, you just went on the warpath. And I’m going to come out of this the bad guy…

      The irony of life.

      So no, I would posit that you don’t believe that’s true. Indeed, I would think that you believe you have me totally figured out. You want to fool people into believing that with the bit of text I’ve quoted so that you can fool people into believing the picture you’ve painted of me.

      Nice try. But I’m going to point it out. I don’t know who’s going to care, but I’m going to bloody point it out.

      “Citing smaller or more obscure games as superior is also a good measure of this form of snobbery,”

      And now it’s snobbery? You’ve moved on from not knowing my motivations to claiming that my motivations are borne of snobbery? You’re very contradictory and I don’t know if I want to talk to you any more.

      …but I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

      You subjectively believe the games I’ve used as comparison are obscure. However, you believe that you have superiority, you believe yourself the better being, you believe that your opinion is the better one. Because of this belief, you portray these games as obscure and inferior, even though they were only used as a point of comparison in a personal, subjective review, and you then go on to paint me as a snob.

      Again, nice try.

      Am I being paranoid? I mean, really. To anyone else reading this. Does anyone else see snide, personal attacks here against me for having an opinion? Does anyone else see Dante trying to underine me and chip away at my strength of character just to point out his opinion as superior to my own?

      Because from where I sit, this is nasty, hostile stuff.

      …and all over a review.

      :/

      Remind me to keep my opinions to myself in the future if I’m going to get raped like this for them.

      “[...] if they’re small enough, not only do they look knowledgeable by name checking them, [...]”

      I’ll give you Uru, but I loved Uru, all right? It’s as simple as that. I loved Uru. I’ve talked about it often, and I’m sure that others have seen me proclaim my love for it. You can’t help what you love, just like you can’t help what you don’t.

      Mask of the Betrayer and Beyond Good & Evil though have been much lauded, talked about, and critically acclaimed, they’re hardly small names, or obscure, and they’re simply games that I love.

      And for my opinions, for my likes and dislikes, you continue to chip away at my character. Good show though if it makes you feel big, clever, and special though, I suppose.

      But again, I name them because I love them, simple as. You can take my word for it, or you can debase my character some more.

      “[...] but it’s more likely you haven’t played them, and can’t effectively rebut.”

      And the attacks keep coming.

      Why would you even insinuate that? What point does it serve? I hope I’ve taken this snide, nasty post apart enough for people to see the colour of your character.

      I have indeed completed them, and had you given me a point for rebuttal rather than simply debasement, I would have replied.

      Gods you’re a dirty debater.

      “Maybe Wulf truly does think Dragon Age bad and the rest of us crazy for thinking otherwise, who knows?”

      Weaseel words, again.

      You imply that you speak for the masses to try and trick people and give your argument more weight.

      I don’t think anyone’s crazy. I just get tired of being attacked for an opinion, and if I’m attacked, I’ll attack back. Archonsod attacked me, I retaliated. You’re attacking me with your vile debasements, and I’m striking back at you.

      But I never thought anyone was crazy.

      It’s funny, you claimed you didn’t have any idea what my motivations were, and here you are doing it again, acting like you have some kind of telepathic link to my brain, and trying to paint me as something I’m not.

      “all I can say is that he’s deeply, deeply wrong.”

      Well sure, after that much personal debasement, I can’t be anything but wrong. I feel thoroughly deflated.

      Gee, I’m a monster for having a different opinion.

      Naturally my opinion must be deeply, deeply wrong. Instead of deepl, deeply different.

      You could’ve spared my feelings and used misguided. :p

      “And if for some reason you have decided to take his comment thread review as gospel,”

      Why should anyone do that?

      Honestly, why?

      It’s a review. A review in which I disagreed with mighty, egotistical you. Get over it.

      “[...] rather than the words of the men whose site you have actually decided to visit [...]”

      Can I continue that for you?

      because I believe that some people are inferior, and anyone who agrees with me is my equal, and anyone who disagrees with me is an insipid pile of rot.

      Your intent is transparently clear.

      And that’s about it.

      I just… don’t like personal attacks, I don’t do it unless someone’s struck a blow at me first. And this was full of snide, personal attacks. In fact, it was nothing BUT snide, personal attacks.

      Dante, you’re a foul excuse of a human, and I hope you have a lousy Christmas.

      There, I feel better.

    • Lilliput King says:

      He was being as fair as you are, and only pulling off the same snide attacks you do. It’s tiresome.

    • Psychopomp says:

      @Wulf
      I normally don’t say this, but, TL FUCKING DR. Sometimes brevity is a good thing. Not every point you make needs to rival the works of Homer in length.

    • Bhazor says:

      “Where in D&D does it say that dwarves live in strict caste systems and exile any who ventures to the surface?”

      Maybe not in D&D but it’s been the key plot point in at least two Discworld books (Fifth Elephant, Thud maybe Jingo). So yes the surface of the game is very derivative but theres still a lot going on in the back story and a lot of nuances to the characters.

    • Dean says:

      @Wulf
      “That should be: A reviewer may tell you that writing is of a poor quality when I personally believe it’s the pinnacle of the respective genre.

      Please stop doing that. You have an opinion, you are no more or less of an authority than I am. We are equals, and therefore our opinions are equal.”

      Seriously mate, they’re both reviews. We’re all grown-up enough here to understand that what’s posted is opinion, even if presented as fact. He’s not taking some authoritative high ground in (most) of what he’s saying. He’s just not using personal qualifiers (eg. “I think”) at the start of every point because it reads better and more concisely without. Your versions may be more accurate in defining the precise meaning, but they’re clunky as hell to read – not qualifying everything like that is a stylistic choice in writing, not an attempt to demonstrate superiority. I mean, look back at your original post. There’s a fair few statements there you don’t clarify as opinion – as if you did that every time it’d be almost unreadable, rather than just clunky.

      And yes, there are a few occasions where he uses a call to authority (“we think”, etc) but y’know: Metacritic. All the reviews. The critical consensus is that’s it’s a good game. The sales figures would appear to back that up. He has grounds.

      And yes, I’ll acknowledge that there’s a bit of snide sniping in there, a suggestion that your opinion is uninformed… but this is the internet, it’s really not that bad. Honestly if you really can’t handle that then yeah, you should think twice about giving your opinion in future. Especially if it’s somewhere less civilized than RPS. Because the Eurogamer commenters will make you cry.

    • tapanister says:

      Ok, I don’t have a lot of time so I’ll keep it brief in regards to Wulf’s blogpost on DA: O. Here goes:

      When I started the game, I was dumbfounded for some reason (which I suspect was playing Mass Effect quite recently) that my character didn’t have any voice work. It was stupid, how can a game in 2009 have a hero with no voice? Then the camera wouldn’t move far enough out of the battle field or you couldn’t go over to the other edge of the map and click there and have your characters cross all that distance without you having to navigate them (like BG2, for example).

      Then, the cities were very unspectacular, and not big enough and not like BG2 enough. Then I found more and more things that bothered me, and so much as I was trying to play the game as a Chaotic Good character I didn’t know what I was doing.

      And I was so fucking annoyed and telling my friends for the first 30-40 hours of gameplay that the game is completely mediocre, and then some fucking asshole npc decides to ambush my party (the elf assasin guy), and after I defeat him he barters for his life and shit. He’s all charming and whatnot and swearing undying loyalty in exchange for his life. You know what I did? I slit his fucking throat and told him to fuck off.

      And then I got it – this is not a game that you play for the story or even the characters that suround your main character or even to save the world. You play Dragonage so that you can play a cookie-cutter fantasy RPG with your own character and make him a hero that will carry the banner of your own ideals and personal belief throughout the game, and do things the way you would do them if you were an immortal asskicker in a dragon infested altered reality. Dragonage is about the player, and the choices that you want to make and saying “fuck the consequences, I feel like killing this fool who’s begging for mercy and if need be, I’ll sacrifice my main character to win the game. But sure as hell I ain’t sparing any of these motherfuckers”.

      Merry xmas to everybody!

      /edit and btw, it’s the best damn game I’ve ever played.

  27. skalpadda says:

    A bit embarrassingly, the party banter between Zevran and Wynne is what’s stuck with me as the high point of the game..

    BOSOMS!

    • Wulf says:

      /twitches uncontrollably

      The sad part is that you’re right. It’s just that hard to find a high point that one would have to resort to… that.

      Okay, I’m going to go away from this thread before my sour recollections of Dragon Age kill my Christmassy vibes.

    • skalpadda says:

      I didn’t mean that as a criticism of the game in any way.

    • Dante says:

      You’ve not heard Oghren and Wynne talking about Real Ale yet then.

    • Pace says:

      Bosoms! Also, the sexual innuendo between Morrigan & Sten was hilarious. The party banter in general was a definite highlight to a great game.

    • skalpadda says:

      Dante: You’ve not heard Oghren and Wynne talking about Real Ale yet then.

      Ah, I haven’t used Ohgren much, I’ve had pretty much a static group with each play-through. Next time I’ll be sure to give Ohgren and Sten some quality time as well. Something to look forward to, I’m sure :)

  28. Ergates says:

    So, you didn’t like it then?

    • Wulf says:

      If that was a reply to me, then … I don’t think it can be summed up that simply.

      I put to you that I understand that looking at it through the eyes of the average person, it was good. It had decent mechanics, and it read like a horrible TV soap opera, and to most people that’s actually going to fulfil their needs.

      I felt it had no soul. I felt like Bioware were taking the piss and I was the town fool, I was the patsy, the brunt of the joke. I felt like I feel some people do when they fall for TV adverts. I felt completely tricked. So many people had tried to paint this as a game that had some glimmer of passion, some humanity, some life.

      I found a walking corpse, and I was understandably quite put out.

      I think it’s understandable, anyway.

      With the passion, soul, and identity of so many other games I’ve played, the lack of these elements meant that I felt repulsed by Dragon Age. It was so hollow, it was hollow like a rich person’s designer handbag. It was just so empty and devoid of the things I love about PC gaming.

      It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that I’m depressed by it. I’ve seen the heights of PC gaming, and I have to wonder… is this the future of the humble computer RPG?

      God, I hope not.

    • qrter says:

      So you did like it, afterall!

    • Hmm says:

      A challenging, 100-hour, fully voice-acted, party-based, epic RPG with branching quests – released with toolset, probably isn’t going to become the norm, no.

  29. Dante says:

    I think Dragon Age is going to dominate most game of the year lists this Christmas, and it’s only right that it does, it’s a totally astonishing game, so brilliantly done on so many levels.

    I think Alistair might well be my favourite Bioware character ever. So often the first character they give you is someone over serious, who spends most of their time prodding you to go on with the plot and the rest expending their angst. But somewhere along the line some absolute genius on the dev team decided to make Alistair so gloriously flippant and irreverent, it really makes him so much more likeable. And what’s even more fantastic is that they managed to do it without turning him into a comedy character (like Shale, for instance) he’s still very human, he still has troubles (although you’ll have to dig very deep to find them) his quips are a facet of his personality, they’re his way of keeping the world at arms length. And even more wonderfully they never shove that in your face, they let you figure it out by yourself.

    • Dean says:

      Well said. And the really awesome thing here is, they let you banter back at him. There’s witty responses for all his sarcasm and piss-taking there for you to choose. And brilliantly, bantering with Allistair will make him like you, but if you push it too far or hit a nerve while being playful you’ll lose approval.

      This is basically my life.

  30. oceanclub says:

    “The Neverwinter Nights 2 engine was the Electron engine, and it was masterfully done”

    When it came out, anti-aliasing didn’t work. At all. So combined with the fact that on high-end machines of the day, you had to set many settings to low, it really did look like shit.

    It’s not much use telling people “Oh, once everyone has bought a new machine in a few years, _then_ our game will look great! Promise!”

    P.

    • Garg says:

      @oceanclub

      True, NWN2 ran like a fat man in treacle when it was released. But when I played Storm of Zehir there were some beautiful areas, and the performance optimisation was sorted out quite quickly in the first batch of patches.

    • Wulf says:

      @oceanclub

      Actually, the anti-aliasing did work, but it was disabled for video cards that simply couldn’t handle it. The anti-aliasing worked for me, which is why I was wondering what people were blabbing about at the time. They patched in later the ability to just turn AA on anyway, and then people complained that their shitty system couldn’t handle it.

      Some days, you just can’t win. Ultima VII had the same problem back in the day with EMS vs XMS, and there were bitchy people who were all hoity-toity about how they didn’t want to disable EMS just to play some silly RPG. And we can all accept how moronic that was now, can’t we?

      See where I’m going with this?

      Some games are just ahead of their time, however, some games are ahead of their time and scalable, so settings could be turned down. And as has been pointed out, they continued to optimise it in many patches after the game, they worked hard on that engine, bless ‘em, and it was a thankless thing considering the intelligence of the average PC user, or dare I say, person.

      Yes, I am bitter about this. I scowled at the people who were idiotic about Ultima VII back in the day, too. Every bit as much.

  31. James G says:

    DA:O was probably also my GOTY, but stopped short of being much more than that., which sounds like an utterly ridiculous criticism, and that is mainly because it isn’t intended to be one.

    The game succeed in all the areas I feared that it might fail, and there aren’t any major flaws which were bothering me. However the game never managed to achieve anything ‘special’ which stops it short of leaping in to the list of games which are something more than just ‘very good.’

    I’m actually very interesting to see where Bioware take this in the sequel, as I’m hoping with an established franchise they might be a bit more willing to take some risks. However, the epilogue hints that the next game may be set in Orlais, possibly about 20 years down the line. While this potential plot/setting has enough room to do something original, it also leave the potential for following a fairly uninspired route.

  32. Bhazor says:

    I absolutely loved this game.
    Then I downloaded the patch.
    Then the game wouldn’t start up.
    Then I downloaded the hot fix patch.
    It still wouldn’t start up.
    Then I uninstalled it.

    True story. Just waiting for the next patch now.

    • Bhazor says:

      And of course I find out that the new patch has already come out. In fact it came the day after I uninstalled it. Brilliant.

  33. The Hammer says:

    I doubted and doubted and doubted and doubted.

    I was waiting for this game for years. Ever since its announcement, I have waited.

    I doubted and doubted and doubted and doubted.

    A Bioware RPG that I could get to grips with, because it wasn’t using the confusing D&D system.

    I doubted and doubted and doubted and doubted.

    Then the trailers started appearing. The Manson soundtrack. The dodgy gameplay videos.

    I doubted and doubted and doubted and doubted.

    Then John’s review, and the quite-good-actually flash-based game.

    But still, I doubted and doubted and doubted and doubted.

    Then I played the thing.

    <3

    Game of the year for me, too. Merry Christmas, folks!

    (But where is Trine on this list?!)

    PS: And a Happy New Year!

  34. Garg says:

    @archonsod

    Eh? Beyond Good and Evil did have a brilliant cartoon world, and Mask of the Betrayer had a better story than Dragon Age. I do love Dragon Age, but in some ways I prefered MotB, and even more so KotOR 2, in regards to characters. There’s an excellent recent Eurogamer article about the best gaming baddies and he’s dead right with Kreia being by far the best.

    • Wulf says:

      @Garg

      I suppose it’s a matter of seeing it from another person’s perspective. You have the sourpuss who doesn’t enjoy art, who never reads, and the height of their day is sitting down in front of East Enders. Then you can see why they wouldn’t gasp in awe at Beyond Good & Evil, or be emotionally moved by Mask of the Betrayer. It’s different strokes for different folks. There are people who’ll find Dragon Age decent, but I couldn’t bring myself to.

      I’m spoiled, that’s the problem. I’m spoiled by beautiful things, and I expect beautiful things. I expect my games to have a little soul. Some do, some don’t.

      I see a story like Mask of the Betrayer’s, and the futile war against the Wall of the Faithless, and how jarring, how tasking such a thing is, and I feel that to compare the empty plot of Dragon Age against it is an insult. But that’s just my take. I’m old, I’m grumpy, I’m a curmudgeon, but I’ll be damned if I let myself become so jaded that I can’t enjoy things with passion and soul.

    • Lilliput King says:

      So you’re saying the people who weren’t moved by MotB or BGE and like DA are philistines who watch Eastenders.

      I read Proust, man.

    • The Hammer says:

      @Wulf:

      Wow Wulf. You write a lot of decent and thoughtful posts (That one about UKers’ behaviour on the Internet struck a chord with me, definitely) but what the fuck, do you want to get any more condescending, ignorant, and elitist? I realize (maybe a better word here would be: hope) that you’re exaggerating, but you’re boiling this down to “Oh well, this game didn’t appeal to me, so let’s categorise the ones who do like it with everyone else who likes things that I don’t.”

      For fuck’s sake, people can like more than one thing, y’know. People can like Gears of War, and they can like Beyond Good and Evil too. People can like World of Warcraft and Deus Ex. It’s not up to you to say, “Errnrngh, that’s too mainstream and stupid!” Realize you’re debating with intelligent people, who have tastes outside RPGs that you might not like, or don’t debate at all, because all you’re going to do is annoy people and alienate yourself. Dragon Age appealed to a lot of people, including myself. Sure, it might not have hit the highs of the best fantasy literature, but that’s because it’s the best fantasy literature. It’s a field owned by the best writers of our world. Dragon Age is not. What Dragon Age is, is a competent, impressive attempt at providing us with a 3D fantasy world, full of vying factions and characters. And if you can’t see that, then I… Well. I just don’t know.

  35. Kua says:

    Well poo. Now I’ll have to buy it after all.

  36. MedO says:

    Strangely, I really regret having paid the full (european = 1.5x US) steam price for the game. The dialogues and characters are ok, but after about 5 hours of playing I’m already sick of the combat. I can’t really explain why, but I find that part of the game tedious and repetitive, and I stopped playing. 50 Euros down the drain I guess.

  37. Dan(WR) says:

    GOTY for me too, but one that I liked rather than loved and it’s hard to pinpoint why.

    I played it voraciously and explored every nook and cranny I could. The story is good, the characters interesting and their interactions are wonderful. My favourite was Alistair and Shale discussing pain.

    I think the balance in the game is off, with so much weaponry and armour that I would simply never need to touch, and spellbooks that contain several powerful spells that render the others pointless and make combat almost too straightforward (force field for example).

    But those are pretty common complaints to all the CRPGs that I’ve played. It’s not really Dragon Age’s fault – I personally feel the whole genre needs a kick up the arse. The way they play still feels too… mechanistic. These are videogames. I was raised on P&P RPGs but I don’t feel I have to see all the dice rolls and number-guts anymore.

    Even the expression of lore feels too mechanistic – I’m sick of exploring dialogue trees for exposition dumps and reading dry codex entries (the DAO codex is relatively well-written but awful to navigate). I want better use of graphics instead of toolkit houses and boxes, and more life within the world that you can observe instead of walking up to people and demanding to know their name, profession and underpant size.

  38. Buybuybuy says:

    £17!!!! Well while dragon age may have its issues, its undeniably more than worth that, buy it, buy it now!

  39. Teliach says:

    Best RPG in yars, no game had me going to be at 4 AM for several days for a long time, I think that sums it up, yes it had flaws, but it’s still one of those rare masterpieces that comes once per decade.

  40. Pace says:

    Woohoo Dragon Age! Loved it!

    Minor thing; the ‘approval rating’ from each party member was great. Every time you did anything or talked to someone you’d have to think about how the party members would react to it. It really added to the feel of a ‘relationship’ you had with each of them. (and of course the gifts, where you had to learn what they liked.) It felt quite real and natural.

    • qrter says:

      You thought the assigning of a numeric value to appeciation felt real and natural?

      I thought it was more than a bit silly.

    • Schadenfreude says:

      “Morrigan Disapproves”.

    • jalf says:

      I thought it was completely ridiculous, and simply an incitement to game the system. Make sure Morrigan isn’t in the party when you accept a quest to help people who aren’t vitally important to the plotline. Kick Alistair before doing something silly like inviting the guy who tried to assassinate you to join your party. And so on.

      And when talking to a party member in your camp, just say what you know they want to hear.
      The only “relationship” it makes me feel with my party members is contempt. I’m manipulating them and lying to them in every way possible just to deceive them into liking me.

      Hand out trivial gifts to get nothing but a “thank you” and a +6. I’d have been impressed if it’d led to little anecdotes or other dialogue from the recipient. But it didn’t.

      I simply can’t take the “approval” system seriously. It was silly in previous Bioware games, but that they continue to make it even more detailed just highlights its fundamental flaws.

    • Pace says:

      Well, right, there was a lack of subtlety there, what I mean is that (ignoring the exact mechanic) party members reacted to what you did or said. I recently started going through mass effect again and I kept noticing how it just didn’t matter much what I said to party members. I could nail the sexy blue lady as long as I had the interest, it didn’t matter what I did or said to her. Basically, I think this system is better than a paragon/renegade rating. (which is cleary no more subtle.)

      jalf; well, it worked for me. It probably helps if you don’t think of it simply as another game mechanic to be mastered. (I never adjusted who was with me in anticipation of a change in approval rating.) Just treat them as people.

    • jalf says:

      It’s hard to treat it as anything other than a system to be gamed though, when after every dialogue line, you get a “Morrigan disapproves: -4″

      The system is fundamentally broken, in that it boils what *should* be a complex relationship down to a single “likes/dislikes” dimension. It’d make sense for my party members to like or dislike individual things I said or did. If I tell Morrigan I think witches are awesome and “sanctioned mages” are poor suckers who don’t deserve anyone’s pity, and then go out of my way to help the mages anyway, it’ll pretty much cancel out. She likes and dislikes me, and it evens out.

      In reality, what **should** have happened is that she called me out for being a hypocritical inconsistent piece of shit who’s just trying to get on her good side by saying what she wants to hear.

      *That* would be a meaningful relationship. The numerical system (whether they show you the numbers or not) does not convey the illusion of a relationship. If someone says something I find offensive, it ticks me off whether or not I “approve” of them as a whole or not. Everyone I know are a complex mix of “things I like” and “things I dislike”. And I’ll remark on both when I’m with them.

      If Bioware’s NPCs did that, I’d be impressed. If Alistair later in the game makes a reference to the exact dialogue choice I picked before the battle at Ostagar (when you’re told to go light the beacon), I’d be impressed. It could have made a difference to him that I was so eager to accept this trivial job, when we could have been down in the battle making a difference. Or that I complained and wasted precious time, where we might otherwise have been able to get to the top of the tower earlier. Or whatever option I picked.

      For these NPC relationships to make sense, they need to remember more than a “likes:+44″ score, but a set of “things I did that irked this NPC” and “things I did that please this NPC”. And then they need to act on that information.

      That would provide an illusion that they care, and that it’s not just a game of “guess what the NPC wants to hear, and say it”.

    • Pace says:

      So you’re saying this is too simplistic? Well, it’s still better than any other game I’ve played at least. If there’s a better character interaction mechanism in a game I’d like to hear about it.

      Part of the reason I liked it though is that it wasn’t just ‘guess what they want to hear.’ Or, it was sort of like that in the beginning, but that’s just life! It’s part of getting to know them. For instance with Leliana saying the nice thing usually works. She’s a nice lady. But with Morrigan or Sten that doesn’t always work. They’re not so nice. With Sten you’ve got to be tough. With Morrigan you’ve got to be a bit of a dick. It’s just getting to know them. Same with the gifts. It was funny when I found out Sten likes paintings. And I was quite pleased when I saw how much Leliana liked her pet nug.

      If the approval rating goes down because of something you did, so be it, you can overcome it. If not, well then so what? It’s not essential. If you had everybody’s approval rating all the way up quickly there wouldn’t be any point to it.

      To be specific; my first full playthrough I had a female character, and I figured I’d try and hook up with Alistair. But, because I killed Conner in Redcliffe, and some other things, his approval rating never got high enough. So, I couldn’t do it. That’s great! I mean, that the game decided he didn’t like me enough because of things I’d done, to me is, well, great. Leliana however did dig me, and I dug her, so I went that way instead.

      (oh, and merry Christmas RPS land!)

    • Psychopomp says:

      Jalf, you can be irked at every game being incapable of simulating a real relationship. I’ll be over here with realistic expectations.

    • Wisq says:

      @Pace, Jalf: Regarding the relationship thing, I think you can see it one of two ways.

      You can look at the bare mechanics and declare them shallow. It’s just a bunch of numbers. You couldn’t romance Alistair — not because he had deep issues with you, or contempt for you for saying one thing and doing another — only because an arbitrary number wasn’t high enough owing to the sum of certain deductions.

      You could look at the result and declare it fine and realistic. The result is that. since there’s a limited amount of positive relationship modifier dialogue options / gifts / plot actions available in the game, what you does actually matters. Doing certain things will indeed lock off certain options like romance permanently, even if it’s only due to sapping a limited resource and never letting it get high enough.

      Personally, I tend to lean more towards the former. While I realise the DA system is much easier to code, I would have perhaps liked something more. Your companions ought to be forming their own opinions of you, and when you walk up to them in camp and do a complete 180 on your moral outlook, they should be questioning you and making you justify yourself. They should make you prove you’ve really changed your viewpoint and you’re not just saying what they want to hear. And if you then go out and do the opposite again, they should be far, far more upset with you than if you had just gone out and done them in the first place.

      Hard to do right? Probably. But here, as in many aspects of Dragon Age, I think the “everything must be 100% voiced” approach is the biggest hurdle to this. It’s hard to make truly adaptive character dialogue when you would have to record everything two or three times to take into account the player’s prior moral stance. Far easier to just have every conversation be a blank slate, with perhaps an interjection or two to mention particularly praiseworthy / grievous prior player decisions.

      The dialogue system stands up a lot better if you really try to roleplay rather than playing the game. I always try to establish my character’s view on certain topics and then stick to them as strongly as I can, meaning I don’t try to game the dialogue system. It removes the biggest flaw of the relationship system — I’m no longer just trying to bump up a score even if I have to bald-facedly lie to everyone around me to do it.

      On the other hand, it exposes a second, perhaps worse flaw. The dialogue options are very limited, and it often seemed like there was nothing in the list that my character would have realistically said. When I was forced to reluctantly choose a particular option because it was the least inappropriate line for my character’s personality, it would often be taken the wrong way.

      I know that IRL, we can’t dictate how people will take our words, but we can at least provide cues that help them be taken correctly. But because the dialogue authors wrote the line with a different personality in mind and then let the other characters pick up on that, I often found that other characters’ reactions were completely inappropriate, and would lead to a set of options that made even less sense for my character. And so, even on inconsequential dialogues that I knew had no long-term effect, I would still reload in order to “get it right” (for my character, not to “win”) and try to retain a sensible conversation.

      And this leads me to my biggest complaint about DA’s dialogue. If you go through DA’s dialogue once, or on multiple distinct occasions with enough time and gameplay inbetween to forget much of the dialogue, you might think it amazing that they could actually record everything at all. But if you find yourself regularly retrying scenes and choosing different options, it rapidly becomes obvious that what you say has no real effect on the conversation. You might cause it to branch a certain direction more quickly, or slow things down as people try to convince you that you really should accept the direction the game is going to force you in anyway — but ultimately, unless you’re at an actual fork in the plot, you can say just about anything and people will respond the same way.

      This is particularly apparent on scenes for the main plotline, such as the preludes and the scenes at Ostagar. For example, the Joining ritual at Ostagar. Since this issue was becoming pretty apparent to me by then, I actually went through that particular scene and picked different options in turn. They ignore you entirely and just keep arguing amongst themselves. Fine, so they’ve got a lot on their minds and aren’t concerned with what you think, right? But then, why give us the option at all?

      A lot of this could have been mitigated if they made “remain silent” a more regular option in cases where people weren’t specifically expecting a response from you (or were likely to continue blathering even without one). It would be an ideal fallback in cases where none of the options really matches my character’s viewpoint, and I would just like the conversation to continue rather than having to utter some contrived line that does nothing to further the immersion when I’m promptly ignored anyway.

      So yeah, IMO, DA’s dialogue system is okay but far from ideal. I think the heavy use of voice acting plays a large role in that, which is unfortunate, because I really don’t see Bioware going back to text-based systems any time soon. But then, I don’t remember actually finishing a Bioware title since Baldur’s Gate 1. So maybe I’m just trying too hard to like something that just isn’t to my tastes.

    • Pace says:

      Wisq; as Psychopomp said above, it’s a game. Of course there’s limitations. You have some good points, but practically how could it be done better? What game has done it better?
      For one, I think the voice acting is very important to the immersion, to the interaction with the characters. (Um, verisimilitude is it?) And of course most of the time it doesn’t matter too much what you say. But you have like 10,000 choices to make throughout the game. And a great many of them do matter.
      Also, I couldn’t romance Alistair because I’d done things he really didn’t like, and therefore he didn’t quite like me enough. Yes, that’s represented by a number, but I don’t see that as shallow. It’s just a practical way to make the game. Better than Mass Effect, where it didn’t matter at all what I did.

    • skalpadda says:

      I’ll throw my vote in with Pace on this one. Sure it was a little clumsily implemented, but it is certainly a step in the right direction compared to the Good/Bad-o-meter of so many other games. An improvement is an improvement after all :)

    • EyeMessiah says:

      (Sketchy reply function- GO!)

      IMHO its great that they tried to do something with companion interactions, and its great that they did a better job than their predecessors, but despite these relative successes they still built a system that didn’t work for me.

      Commercial VR headsets were a pretty commendable stab at doing VR at the time, but they were still rubbish at the end of the day. Personally I would have preferred that they hadn’t bothered with the lacklustre interactions system as it exists, and spent their time crafting polished, linear companion exposition instead.

  41. Adventurous Putty says:

    I am NOT an old man, thankyouverymuch!

    *grumbles about those rapscallion youngsters and goes back to watching Casablanca on TVLand*

  42. Casimir's Blake says:

    Anyone else disappointed and utterly lacking in enthusiasm for this game?

    • cjlr says:

      @Casimir’s Blake:
      Disappointed? Yes. Unenthusiastic? No.
      Just because it’s not what I hoped it could be doesn’t mean I’m not fairly impressed, and it’s certainly better than what I feared it might be (see: EA Marketing, and the arses they make of themselves on every possible occasion).

      Yes, there were moments when I thought sadly to myself just how heartbreakingly generic the whole deal was (which is, more or less, inevitable in a genre as straightjacketed as “fantasy”) but under the surface there are some nice twists to the lore.
      Also, it’s Bioware, and say what you will about them, if you liked their past entries, there’s a hell of a lot to like here, too.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      I tried Icewind Dale, and it was pure generic suckitude, or something of that caliber. The last thing I want to play is another generic western fantasy RPG. (Hell I bought Gothic 2 in June and … didn’t get further than about level 5, it’s more compelling at least)

  43. cjlr says:

    Yeah, DA was a good time. I sure played the fuck out of it the first time round, but I get the feeling, having put a few hours into the second playthrough, that the magic has gone out of it a little.

    Now, as for Wulf:
    Bad voice acting? Really? I know it’s ridiculously subjective, but… Really? And the characters – one-dimensional? Did you talk to them? I get the impression, no… I mean, of course everyone sounds flat when you describe them in eight words, as you did. Can you describe any complex character (forget DA) in such a paltry sentence and ever expect to convey any of the depth which might there exist?
    As for the bit about everybody being ‘just dudes’, well… I honestly can’t figure out what you were trying to say. Really. I have no idea. The characters are… what, mundane? Somewhat relatable? Dare I say, human (much as I hate to use that word to describe someone in a ficitonal setting who is in fact not at all a human)?

    And then there’s the relationship score. Yes, we mostly agree, it’s a bad concept. BUT in a game where interpersonal relationships between party characters are rather important, one needs to be able to gauge those relationships. So your alternative is… what?

    That just leaves one more thing: GOTY. Are you really gonna make it Dragon Age, RPS? ‘Cause I just don’t know.
    My pick’s still the Void.

    • Pace says:

      re: relationship scores; right, I suppose perhaps the numerical score could be done away with, but the system is sound.

      (and I thought the voice acting was top notch.)

  44. Morti says:

    Eh, Risen was better.

  45. Kadayi says:

    No surprise. Bioware done good (and after all those worrying trailers). Needless to say not a perfect game, but an engaging and challenging one. Like most of the Hivemind I’ve yet to finish it, but I have clocked up an obscene amount of hours with it so far, after a couple of false starts.

    Stand out moment for me personally (so far) was tackling The Fade in the Mages Tower. I honestly expected that to be a minor diversion, but it took almost as long to do as Tower itself did, and was stupidly awesome.

    Also best (and equally worst enemy) so far is undoubtedly the Revenant, to paraphrase the Dude ‘ Fuckin’ Revenant… that creep can roll, man.”

  46. R. says:

    I honestly can’t disagree with this choice, no game has had me eating crow like this one. I was gleefully awaiting a disaster of so bad it’s glorious proportions, the terrible marketing campaign really hammered home that this was going to be dreadful…

    ..oh boy, was I wrong. Yes, it did drag on in a few places (the Deep Roads, the Fade) but while on paper it’s just the usual generic Tolkein shtick, they did just enough with the characters, races and situations to make it transcend my dismal expectations. Playing as a City Elf was fantastic, I wasn’t some mysterious and awesome forest creature, I was a pissed off , downtrodden member of an underclass grumbling about being betrothed, before quickly becoming a vengeful widow facing execution for the bloody swathe I’d carved through the ruling class’ estate. It started with a wedding and ended up I Spit On Your Grave in mere hours.

    But as good as that was, the Dwarves story was the real clincher, I feel. It’s quickly made clear what each candidate is like yet if you let yourself just default to thinking ‘oh, that guy’s nice, that guy’s nasty, clearly I should help the nice guy’ without looking beyond the surface of their society and seeing what each actually stands for, things start to take on a different tone. It was that rarest of things in a game, a truly difficult choice to make.

    As for the characters, Shale is often picked out as the standout because it’s funny but really, they all had their funny moments. Sten’s withering sarcasm and face off’s with the dog, Oghren’s drunken antics, Alistair’s sweet geekiness and blatant attraction to Morrigan (yeah, try and convince me otherwise), Zevran paired with anyone…time and time again, the characters and writing would do a fine job of ensuring the game was anything but as po-faced as it’s detractors tried to claim it was. The game was just self-knowing enough to get away with it (see the very first fight you face as a human noble).

    Loghain was a great antagonist, his motivations are made clear and (disappointing Alienage twist aside) far from the mere mustache-twirling, evil for the sake of it variety. The earlier commentator claiming the voice acting was all flat and passionless was just outright wrong, no more so than when it came to Loghain. His arrogance, his paranoia, his determination that everything’s he’s doing is for the good of the country, the venom in his voice whenever the subject of Orlais came up in any shape or form, it was as good as any you care to mention.

    Finally, *my* ending was glorious (you own may be very different). It was clear what was being set up but I didn’t shy away from it. I took the Kobayashi Maru test and came up with my own solution and was left suitably satisfied. If you’ve gotta go, go out in style, right?

  47. Lucas says:

    Everything I read about Dragon Age sounds like such a design mess that I have zero interest in it. It does not sound like fun, and there is not a single instance of “wow that sounds like good gameplay” that I can recall reading. It’s not on my wishlist, not even on my radar. The marketing and review scores and RPS GOTY are totally mystifying to me. As best I can tell, D.A.O. seems like a Baldur’s Gate for the console crowd. I really can’t reconcile the enthusiasm with what it appears to be like. Maybe the battle system is the best kept secret in all of gaming.

    I don’t hate RPGs as a genre, and have my share of favorites, but they have to be games I want to PLAY. Story, characters, and writing are all fine as backdrop, but I’m perfectly happy to play games without any of these things.

    Maybe I prefer RPG-ness being suitably expressed in genres with better gameplay (action, FPS, strategy, etc), and leaving the tired old setups behind (like pure adventure games). Mostly I really want to see better world dynamics in pretty much everything.

    As an aside, I’m very happy that RPS convinced me to get AI War: Fleet Command, and am 100% certain it has stronger characters and more interesting stories than D.A.O. does. Happy Holidays!

    • Psychopomp says:

      “Everything I read about Dragon Age sounds like such a design mess that I have zero interest in it. It does not sound like fun, and there is not a single instance of “wow that sounds like good gameplay” that I can recall reading.”

      Greater than the sum of its parts, would be the proper term.

    • Kadayi says:

      No you’re wrong. Buy this you won’t regret it.

    • Bhazor says:

      So you’re critizing the gameplay of a game you have never played? Based on how many reviews? Certainly the vast majority of reviews I’ve read praise it for it’s constantly challenging, occasionally unfair, tactical battles. To miss that you must have really been trying. So well done there I suppose.

      Then you say the story in a non scripted multi player game is better than this games story. A story you’ve not actually heard let alone experienced?

      Ladies and gentlemen, games critiquing at it’s finest.

  48. RagingLion says:

    I plan to play Dragon Age at some point in the not-too-distant future because I’m similar to Mr Walker in loving a great immersive story and I loved Mass Effect for that reason (got an awful lot of other games to play before then though).

    I’ll also mention at this point that Braid was my personal game of 2009.

  49. 1stGear says:

    I’m on Alec’s side with this. Dragon Age is GOTY because nothing else was quite up to snuff (Though Arkham Asylum gives it a run for its money) not because it deserved to be GOTY. I’ll admit to being an Obsidian and Chris Avellone fanboi and thus have an inherent dislike of Bioware and their utterly formulaic games. But in a year with some stronger releases, Dragon Age would have been only in the Top 10, where it should be.

  50. Psychopomp says:

    “I feel like the past few years have been a steady forgetting that gamers can put up with extraordinary difficulty and complexity, if the rewards of actually playing the game are enough. ”

    Man, did you see the shitstorm over the difficulty on the official forums?