[When I was at NYCC, I found some time to have a quick crack at the games on the floor. Quick. As in, 10-15 minutes tops. I’m writing up some of them, before it all fades, fades away.]
A bit of an odd couple this pair, but – were I forced to conjure a link – I’d pair them as tangential twins of modern development harking back to a previous age of PC Gaming. Dragon Age is Baldur’s Gate re-concieved after Bioware’s console dalliances with modern technology. Battlefield 1943 is Battlefield 1942, but with a technological reboot and some minor tweaking.
And from the few minutes of play, it really does feel like minor tweaking. I was genuinely surprised when I returned to my hotel room to chat with Jim about the anger in the response to its announcement. Dumbed-down-console-shit? It was just me running around Wake-Island for the first time in years.
In other words, the major differences only became apparent with a mixture of retrospect and research. From that, hardcore BF1942 players should question my impressions. Hell, I didn’t even remember that there were multiple classes in BF1942 – from my time there, I just remembered it being a lot more stripped down from the more structured model that BF2 developed into. 3 classes? “Hell, that’s an improvement, innit?” thinks I, not remembering there was five. I’m not sure it matters. And BF1942 was always a more colourful game than its sequel anyway.
The business side is more easily analysed. While more arcade than BF2, it’s still a more realistic game than Battlefield Heroes. However, doing something a little tougher which is still strimmed down enough to fit on XBox Live Arcade allows them to hit another fanbase. And it’s still something that’s a bit of a giggle on the PC – a spruced up Wake Island is actually still a joy, and a chance to play with the scenery-destruction of Battlefield: Bad Company is welcome. It’s eventual appeal, I suspect, is going to depend on what kind of pricing structure they put on the PC version. Price it appropriately, it’s certainly going to be a bit of a giggle.
Meanwhile, I played Dragon Age for much longer, and come away with less to say. That’s the perennial problem with playing an RPG like this on a show-floor – it’s not the format. I can play with the party control mechanism and prod around a few menus, but in terms of key elements like storytelling, I haven’t a clue. The whole demo took place in a dungeon containing (er) things. Which I killed. With swords. And magic.
I managed to get into one interactive conversation with NPCs, which managed to show off the Mass-effect-esque character acting and a pretty-typical Bioware troika of conversation options. As in, the be nice, be mercenary, be a right bastard choice. So, no, I don’t have a sense of whether it’s going to blossom into a delightful RPG epic of dark fantasy or similar.
(Actually, on that dark point, one element of the graphics system which caught my eye was your character becoming blood-stained as they got hammered. It’s got some of the most icky-spilt-body-fluids this side of Left 4 Dead. I probably should write something in praise of Left 4 Dead’s vomit eventually. There’s not enough game writing about vomit.)
But I did get to give the general battle-systems a good run-around. And they’re impressively solid – four party members, which can be switched between at any moment. Each character having two “sets” of weapons which you can switch between, automatically highlighting or darkening the skills you can now use in your taskbar. With admirable speed I was getting the hang of my Rogue character – in one moment when my whole party was wiped out, he did a little hit and run, retreating to bombard with some specialist arrows with poison effects before coming back in to finish it off with the blades. I was even comfortable with the camera angle it was set at – which basically locks itself to a given character in a third-person manner, and zooming to the next character when you select them. It’s clearly evolved from their experience with the console RPGs, but doesn’t distract me as much as I suspected it would. Put it like this: I didn’t feel the need to see if I could find any alternative camera options. And on the more surface level, it’s highly welcome to have a post-Witcher RPG which actually looks attractive on a contemporary basis.
The main thing I took away from Dragon Age was that Bioware hadn’t fucked it up on any core level. Which is welcome – on release I found Obsidian’s Neverwinter Nights 2 close to unplayable as a party in any of the camera modes, if you wanted to play with any tactical level finese whatsoever. Here, I was setting up battlelines and trying to maximise my fireball spells like a good little Min-maxing-munchkin. Hell, I found myself looting the baddies for coins as a RPG-reflex, despite knowing I’d never get to spend them.
In other words, there’s no reason this can’t be good. Conversely, I saw nothing that shows clearly it’ll be great. We return to the thorny question of an individual’s belief in Bioware crafting something suitably epic and human. But I’ll say this: it’s really good seeing them making a primarily PC game again. Missed you guys, y’know?