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  1. #1
    Network Hub ToomuchFluffy's Avatar
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    Some more thoughts on Dragon Age: Origins

    Dragon Age: Origins; it's basically the only game I have ever played for which I developed real hatred and contempt during my first serious attempt at a playthrough. I want to try and avoid another rant on a topic I have ranted about enough and just mention a few of the things* I perceived the most negatively during that (almost completed) playthrough. I have read too many articles and threads on the topic and thought about it quite a lot. It certainly gave me a lot to think on, since I didn't quite understand why my feelings towards the game were so far away from the reviews and the general opinion. I've learned a few things from it and will try to point them out as well. Also: One thing to keep in mind about former me that played the game back then is, that the only RPGs I had played before DA:O were Baldur's Gate II and Planescape: Torment. And DA:O was basically marketed as a spiritual BGII-successor.

    The main problem I had during my attempted (and eventuall broken-off) playthrough was the incredible amount of what I can only call copy-paste combat encounters. Dungeons were often long and devoid of anything but combat. What eventually made me break off the playthrough near the end, was that I had just finished the Deep Roads, before making my way back to Denerim, only to be thrown into another dungeon. My problem** was - coming off of a very frustrating "journey" through the Deep Roads - that I felt I was being messed around with, when I was presented with human guards virtually identical to all the other things I had killed over a playtime of 50 hours or so and an apparent inability of the game to do anything other than combat. The awful thing about this is, that while the character- and combat-systems are solid, they aren't interesting or deep enough to carry that much combat, especially since the encounters aren't exactly varied.

    Another pretty big factor in destroying whatever enjoyment I was able to get out of the experience, was the lack of meaningful side-quests. I believe there were some exceptions, like for example the Warden's Keep, but the smaller fetch- and kill-tasks don't really deserve to even be called quests. Some of the other bigger quests I tried were just as devoid of almost anything outside of combat as much of the rest of the game. It has been too long that I have played DA:O to be able to offer a good assessment of the quests in general, but I believe that part of the problem is the lack of a proper integration into the context. Especially since that's definitely the case with some of the other game-systems.

    The point about the quests is connected with the disappointing cities. With Athkatla (from BGII) in mind neither Orzammar nor Denerim Ė which were supposed to be cities after all - managed to be convincing in terms of size, people and activity. For the most part Denerim appeared like any other hub-like location in the game. Just with the added disadvantage of appearing like a pretender. As a result Lothering and Redcliffe, which I believe were supposed to be small towns, made a better impression on me.

    There were other problems, which at first I didn't notice or perceive as consciously. Some of those I only really realized through some reading and thinking and through playing other RPGs. First and foremost Icewind Dale and - more recently - Neverwinter Nights 2. In fact, the reason why I occupied myself with the topic so much, is that outside of the points I described above, I didn't quite understand why I enjoyed DA:O so little and why I seemed to be more or less alone with my predominantly negative feelings. In a way I felt like I couldn't properly legitimize my feelings and I also doubted them, since I didn't find them reflected in internet discussions and articles at first.

    One of the most helpful articles (links below) I have been able to find mentions some of these other issues, though I believe that I was somewhat aware of them before. I obviously donít remember every article and discussion Iíve read on the topic, but there were only a few well-thought out articles and comments all in all. Some of the issues Iím talking about concern the pacing and the writing. I donít have much of a clue about what constitutes good writing, so I donít want to talk about that too much. Suffice it to say that I strongly dislike how the camp-discussions seem to be there to let the characters ďnarrateĒ their lifeís history, while there is little meaningful interaction outside of the camp. Even though I have sometimes thought that the writing was better in BGII, I believe the difference lies in structure and not necessarily quality of the writing itself. BG IIís characters just interacted far more and frequently did so in context with the game. A good amount of dialogue also depended on party composition.

    Pacing was also something mentioned in one of these articles and even though it was obvious that there was far too much combat, the way it was put by the author in question was helpful. Basically, the criticism was that both the dialogue and the combat were concentrated in their respective areas, which completely ruined the pacing. Which of course, points back to the issue of lacking integration.

    Itís not the only aspect of DA:O where I feel that proper integration is lacking. Especially the Codex seems poorly thought out. The fact that Iím rather interested in world-building, yet mostly ignored the Codex, is telling. There seems little point to having this kind of information in a game, when it is not part of the game world. Icewind Dale and Dungeon Siege III do this in pretty simple ways, like having descriptions of the environments or providing context through plaques, inscriptions, item descriptions and so on. With DA:O the individual bits of lore didnít have any connection to the environments and I donít see why I shouldíve been interested in something that for all intents and purposes was separate from the world.

    There are of course even more aspects of the game which I didnít particularly enjoy and where sometimes the comparison with other games helped to realize that more clearly. For example, when I played Icewind Dale a while later it became blindingly obvious how comparatively bland the environments and soundtrack of DA:O were.

    The comparison with Neverwinter Nights 2 then reinforced my notion, that some obvious shortcomings simply arenít something to be excused or accepted. The fact that NWN2 seems so similar to DA:O in some ways, yet managed to have a city, which was at least closer to being believable than Denerim, is something worth pointing out. Also, the simple decision to have unvoiced dialogue means that there is much more of it. Of course, quantity alone doesnít necessarily make the dialogue superior, but consider in addition that NWN2 has consistent dialogue-reactivity (though mostly restricted to Diplomacy/Bluff/Intimidate) throughout much of the play-time.

    Another problem I personally had was that the setting only managed to capture my interest occasionally. Iíve seen it mentioned quite a few times how generic the Dragon Age-setting supposedly is and even though I empathize with that point of view, it seems too easy to just leave it at that. Especially since the setting and basic plot of some of the RPGs I enjoy are also often nothing special at all. Having already mentioned quite a few issues with other aspects of DA:O, it seems obvious that a combination of factors is responsible for the lack of enthusiasm on my part. I canít really justify not liking the setting very well otherwise. But to me, the game shouldíve tried to focus on the whole Circle of Magi/Fade/Demons/Templars/Chantry-complex. The topic seems to be developed better and in this case a number of different themes are interwoven. This simply wasnít the case with the Dwarves or the Darkspawn for example. At which point I would be back at the issue of integration. A lot of topics seem to often be confined to their respective areas and there is little connection between them.

    One of the reasons why I made the effort to write this is, that I wrote something similar on the Escapist-forums a few years back and whenever I'm re-reading it, I don't quite agree with much of it anymore. I have also found some good articles since then and have read some interesting discussions over at the RPG-codex (mostly the NWN2 vs. DA:O-thread). And, as mentioned I have recently finished NWN2, which I thought was much closer to BGII and to what I expect from this kind of RPG.



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  2. #2
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    I think your criticisms of the gameplay are quite correct, honestly. DA:O is extremely combat heavy in a way that isn't very entertaining, for my money. Generally it doesn't play very well.

    However, re: writing, I can't remotely agree that BGII had good character writing or good character interaction. The characters in BGII are more or less universally ill-tempered, poseur-ish teenagers of a somewhat low IQ and strong prejudices, inexplicably in the bodies of adults. Their interaction is generally pretty idiotic and unbelievable, and worse, not even interesting or particularly funny or witty. It certainly reminded me of play AD&D when I was a teenager, but totally not in a good way. I've never been sure how much this was intentional, and how much poor writing.

    DA:O's characters are quite an advance on that, but still rather imperfect. Certainly DA2 and DA:I have character interaction and so on that is both hugely better than BGII and DA:O.

    As for the lack of integration, I'd agree there, particularly re: the codex. The only games I can think of with a codex where the codex both made sense AND got referred to by me were Witcher 3 and ME1/2/3. Codexes are generally where lore goes to die, cold and alone and unread. But Witcher 3 has actually useful stuff in there, and ME1/2/3, well, it felt natural and contained interesting info, so got used (albeit much more in ME1/2 - 3's pace discourages you from using it).

    Story-wise, DA2 and DA:I, again, do a much better job of integrating and inter-relating the world-elements and general producing a more cohesive whole (both have significant flaws of their own, of course, but different ones).

  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Fumarole's Avatar
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    I find the AI chats in camp to be more realistic. That's the time in the day when people would have lengthy conversations with each other, not right after an intense battle as often happened in the earlier games. In earlier games they feel like interruptions, in this game they feel more natural. Plus if you don't want to have that conversation at that time just don't initiate it. I don't think this is the case is previous games; can you cut a conversation short and resume it later?

    While I usually do not refer to codices in RPGs I am certainly glad they're there for the occasional in-game lookup on a particular point of interest to me.
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  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    The whole levels and loot model of game design drawn from D&D is the root problem with most RPGs, through its sheer ubiquity and its roots as a skirmish wargaming system.

    It puts a great deal of emphasis on combat driven encounters and weakens narrative interactions as a result, especially when players feel that certain choices undermine their expected payout.

    Loot also in itself becomes a rather pedestrian acquisition, which also undermines narrative because the value of things is loss about who gave you something, or what you found versus what its stats are.
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  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus EPICTHEFAIL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    The whole levels and loot model of game design drawn from D&D is the root problem with most RPGs, through its sheer ubiquity and its roots as a skirmish wargaming system.

    It puts a great deal of emphasis on combat driven encounters and weakens narrative interactions as a result, especially when players feel that certain choices undermine their expected payout.

    Loot also in itself becomes a rather pedestrian acquisition, which also undermines narrative because the value of things is loss about who gave you something, or what you found versus what its stats are.
    The narrative comment brings to mind that one Mass Effect sidequest where Wrex has you invade a planetary outpost and murder dozens of random goons for a piece of armour, which he promptly just puts in display case somewhere because it's centuries old and has infinitely worse stats than the stuff he can buy from some random guy in a corner store. One of the very few cases I can recall of a game hanging a lampshade on how loot works and how it fucks with narrative.

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus vinraith's Avatar
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    At the time, I think many of us were willing to put up with DA's excessive combat and other assorted quirks because we were starved for anything that looked like an RPG in the 90's sense of the term. At the point that DA:O came out, the genre had been functionally dead for a distressing number of years. Looking back at it now, with the vast diversity of deep and substantial RPG's on the market these days, it's hard to imagine how we put up with it.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EPICTHEFAIL View Post
    The narrative comment brings to mind that one Mass Effect sidequest where Wrex has you invade a planetary outpost and murder dozens of random goons for a piece of armour, which he promptly just puts in display case somewhere because it's centuries old and has infinitely worse stats than the stuff he can buy from some random guy in a corner store. One of the very few cases I can recall of a game hanging a lampshade on how loot works and how it fucks with narrative.
    The one that sticks to mind for me personally is in The Witcher 3, with the Hanzo sword quest. You go through a whole bunch of rigmarole to get Hanzo back making swords, only to be given a blade which you'll likely either already have surpassed if you've been doing the witcher equipment quests, or will eschew in a couple of levels.

    Does Arthur drop Exaclibur drop for a new sword? Does Luke Skywalker trade up light sabres? Nope. so why this endless BS filling up RPGs....
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  8. #8
    Network Hub ToomuchFluffy's Avatar
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    @LexW:
    However, re: writing, I can't remotely agree that BGII had good character writing or good character interaction. The characters in BGII are more or less universally ill-tempered, poseur-ish teenagers of a somewhat low IQ and strong prejudices, inexplicably in the bodies of adults. Their interaction is generally pretty idiotic and unbelievable, and worse, not even interesting or particularly funny or witty. It certainly reminded me of play AD&D when I was a teenager, but totally not in a good way. I've never been sure how much this was intentional, and how much poor writing.
    I didn't say that I thought BGII had better character-writing, just that I sometimes thought that was the case. I was trying to explain my dislike, as I have explained. What I actually said is that the dialogue in DA:O often happens in huge chunks with one character, while in BGII it's more spread out and what kind of dialogue you get partly depends on party-composition. People also talk more to each other, not just with the player. Of course, the fact that there are so many of them also means that a lot of them didn't get enough attention.

    DA:O's characters are quite an advance on that, but still rather imperfect. Certainly DA2 and DA:I have character interaction and so on that is both hugely better than BGII and DA:O.

    As for the lack of integration, I'd agree there, particularly re: the codex. The only games I can think of with a codex where the codex both made sense AND got referred to by me were Witcher 3 and ME1/2/3. Codexes are generally where lore goes to die, cold and alone and unread. But Witcher 3 has actually useful stuff in there, and ME1/2/3, well, it felt natural and contained interesting info, so got used (albeit much more in ME1/2 - 3's pace discourages you from using it).

    Story-wise, DA2 and DA:I, again, do a much better job of integrating and inter-relating the world-elements and general producing a more cohesive whole (both have significant flaws of their own, of course, but different ones).
    That sounds encouraging, but so far I have always been burned with Bioware games. BGII remains an exception. The last example is Kotor, though I admittedely did only barely make it through the tutorial. In this case the culprit was definitely the writing. I don't think I have ever seen so much bad writing in such a short time. Especially in an RPG.


    @Fumarole:
    Plus if you don't want to have that conversation at that time just don't initiate it.
    And that's part of the problem in my opinion. It's all about the player; there is not even an attempt to pretend otherwise. I don't have a problem with camp-conversations, but I have a problem with conversations mostly being restricted to the camp (Edit: with its focus firmly on the player).

    @Kadayi:
    The whole levels and loot model of game design drawn from D&D is the root problem with most RPGs, through its sheer ubiquity and its roots as a skirmish wargaming system.
    Well, yes, but Bioware put an enormous amount of combat into DA:O, yet apparently didn't understand how to make it work. What I'm trying to say is that even if DA:O is that kind of RPG, it's not a well implemented iteration of that kind of RPG (loot, encounter design etc.). Icewind Dale knew what it was, DA:O didn't. There seems to be a clash of genre conventions and some Bioware design sensibilities. I just wish they had at least had the sense to cut it down to 30 hours or something like that.

    @Vinraith:
    At the time, I think many of us were willing to put up with DA's excessive combat and other assorted quirks because we were starved for anything that looked like an RPG in the 90's sense of the term. At the point that DA:O came out, the genre had been functionally dead for a distressing number of years. Looking back at it now, with the vast diversity of deep and substantial RPG's on the market these days, it's hard to imagine how we put up with it.
    That's understandable. I hadn't played a lot of RPGs and after a good number of BGII-playthroughs, it was still firmly lodged in my brain when I started with DA:O. I could not help but compare BGII and DA:O and the latter simply seemed to have made one or two steps back in almost every regard. Presentation wasn't something I did care about a lot. Especially since it wasn't that well done (animations during conversations!).
    Last edited by ToomuchFluffy; 03-09-2016 at 08:24 AM.

  9. #9
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    It's dangerous to compare Game X with BG2 simply because BG2 is probably way better than it. That's not really fair on Game X. BG2 is just really good.

    I think criticisms of of "copy-paste" encounters are somewhat (but only somewhat) misguided. Those sorts of encounters are very useful not to provide significant challenge to the players but the allow them the space to evaluate and re-evaluate different approaches to combat. Having said that, pretty much every sequence in Dragon Age: Origins does outstay its welcome. Curiously, I was never as bothered about the Deep Roads as everyone else seems to be. The Mage Tower struck me as much more tedious.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  10. #10
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    I think the mages tower is a bit more tedious, but it's also shorter. And whilst mages tower does have one major, boring detour, deep roads is just one long endless 'is it over? Oh no, there's another bit. And another bit. Oh, a boss, is it done? Oh nope, here's another bit. And some more. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd more. It's like the last hour of lord of the rings in interminable videogame endless combat form. Every time you think it's faded to black for the last time it's got a whole other scene to wade through.
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  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Bioware's entire approach to level design is almost always linear and they rarely if ever think to have an exit at the end, so oftentimes you do have to backtrack through a bunch of empty rooms/areas to get out. They need to take a leaf out of Skyrim or the witcher 3, where in you'll find more often than not that after you've defeated the big bad, there's some nearby exit/portal that lets you get back to the main world sooner rather than later. There's more respect for the players time in that regard.
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  12. #12
    Moderator Grizzly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    Bioware's entire approach to level design is almost always linear and they rarely if ever think to have an exit at the end, so oftentimes you do have to backtrack through a bunch of empty rooms/areas to get out.
    Huh, what games of Bioware are guilty of this specifically? I don't recall this being a thing for them since the IE games (and even then, in Baldur's Gate all the major dungeons have quick exits).
    Last edited by Grizzly; 04-09-2016 at 08:51 AM.

  13. #13
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    I liked DA:O quite a bit at the time, and I liked NWN2 quite a bit before that. At the time we were starved for RPGs, and really decent games in general, and they stood ahead of their peers. With the niche explosion we're finally getting back some of the quality that games had been missing for decades. That said, Dragon Age and NWN2 had improvements over BGII.

    + Designing a character is much more fun in NWN2, it's allows incredible breadth. The kit system is a pale comparison, even though it provides overpowered kits people love. BG2 had a ton of virtually useless classes (Bards especially).
    + NWN2's quick cast menu was so much easier to use the BG2, or NWN's horrible radial menu.
    + DA:O's combinations were really fun when you discovered them.
    + DA:O's origin stories were generally pretty good. The dwarf stories in particular are just great game openings, for any era.
    + Race and Class dialogues are nice. Eventually there's a question of how much content you can put in, but the personalization is an improvement.
    + Out of combat skills, even though they are weak in both, are certainly better than BG2s neuter the stat by giving a ring for anything you need.
    + Some of the strongholds in BG2 were amazing, but some were lackluster (*cough* planar sphere *cough*). NWN 2 had better stronghold systems in general, and your stronghold felt more like a base of operations.
    + The isometric specialty kill animations in DA:O were really fun.

    All of that said, BG2 really nailed some elements that all RPGs have problems with (even though I generally find myself enjoying BG more these days).

    - Companion interactions. I like how some of the characters fucking hated each other. Others had love triangles and weirdness.

    - Itemization. Everyone who played BG2 remembers the Redeemer, or if you got it, the Crom Faeyr. The soul-bound weapons in Pillars are the closest a modern game has come to that experience.

    - Companion quests. Some suck. But many, like Keldorn's and Nalia's were quite good.

    - Simulationism in level design. BG2 was far weaker than BG1 in this category, but I think simulationism is something more RPGs should think about. The example I think of is the empty houses. They have a little gold in them, but really don't serve any purpose. However, they make the world more believable. I love Pillars of Eternity, but there's like three houses in Defiance bay. It's believable that thieves guild can hide out in a house in BG1, there are a ton of them. BG2 went back and filled most, not all of these areas with sidequests, but many are relatively minor.

    - Content density. BG2 is one of the most content dense games I have ever played. It's rare that you ever had a fight of the same enemies over and over. Firekraag's dungeon is a great example of how a dungeon can vary opponents. Even Irenicus' dungeon is pretty good about mixing it up. DA:O had horrible variety; and not just in the deep roads. NWN2 was better about this, but there are times you go into a dungeon and not much changes (like lizardmen).

  14. #14
    If you felt that contempt for DA:O then do not get Inquisition, it's bloated with Ubigame and has wait timers and limited potions to lure you back to your Castle.

    It's like the opposite of the loot eating gold poopin goblin in [Diablike I forget] or being able to send the pet to the shop in Torchlight, it's an inconvenience feature, they tried to think of a way to lure you back to the castle and decided to make being their for more than a few minutes useless but being their once every half hour mandatory, and Holy crap the 'platforming' half the stuff you desperately want to clean off the map is up hills you can only ascend in a zig zag, or by spamming jump.

    It will wear you down with tiny little jobs and keep you going with lore text and dialogue, but it's just not a great game, the godsdamn praise that got at release.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Internet View Post
    BG2 had a ton of virtually useless classes (Bards especially).
    Blades are actually really powerful if run correctly. The other bard classes are probably bad, but I don't have a lot of experience with them because the Blade is much more appealing. Although I played as a Jester in a Throne of Bhaal multiplayer game and I was not impressed.

    Some of the druid kits and that Ranger kit Beastmaster seemed completely awful to me, but maybe I was missing something.

    I think everything else is playable, or at least forms a good dual or multi class somehow, although Wizard Slayer is mostly outclassed by the Inquisitor in the anti-wizard role.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by NathanH View Post
    Blades are actually really powerful if run correctly. The other bard classes are probably bad, but I don't have a lot of experience with them because the Blade is much more appealing. Although I played as a Jester in a Throne of Bhaal multiplayer game and I was not impressed.

    Some of the druid kits and that Ranger kit Beastmaster seemed completely awful to me, but maybe I was missing something.

    I think everything else is playable, or at least forms a good dual or multi class somehow, although Wizard Slayer is mostly outclassed by the Inquisitor in the anti-wizard role.
    They had to give thieves the ability to break itemization rules to make them more than something you dual class away from, which leads to them being vastly underpowered until late game. Archers vary dramatically based on level. Druids are just worse than clerics at damaging spells and healing (storm of vengeance, sunlight, and resurrect). They just decided to shatter an already broken magic system with wild mages, (I would like to cast dragons breath as a first level spell, how did you know?).

    I love the games deeply and truly. They're some of my favorite games of all time. But the class system sucks. The system is balanced by making characters useless and then overpowered. NWN2 did a much better job, and Pillars has done a better job since then. That doesn't make them better games.

  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly View Post
    Huh, what games of Bioware are guilty of this specifically? I don't recall this being a thing for them since the IE games (and even then, in Baldur's Gate all the major dungeons have quick exits).
    DA:O, DAII, DA:I even.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    If you felt that contempt for DA:O then do not get Inquisition, it's bloated with Ubigame and has wait timers and limited potions to lure you back to your Castle.

    It's like the opposite of the loot eating gold poopin goblin in [Diablike I forget] or being able to send the pet to the shop in Torchlight, it's an inconvenience feature, they tried to think of a way to lure you back to the castle and decided to make being their for more than a few minutes useless but being their once every half hour mandatory, and Holy crap the 'platforming' half the stuff you desperately want to clean off the map is up hills you can only ascend in a zig zag, or by spamming jump.

    It will wear you down with tiny little jobs and keep you going with lore text and dialogue, but it's just not a great game, the godsdamn praise that got at release.
    True enough. I got into the final act of the game, but ennui set in and I put it down and Post-TW3 I'm not sure I have the stomach to go back.
    Last edited by Kadayi; 04-09-2016 at 02:14 PM.
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  18. #18
    A word on baldurs gate, Multiclass Cleric Ranger, yes it padlocks you to good morality if you want to use all of your abilities but it's got the best of both worlds on the two classes, you can pretty much just steam roll everything, even with mediocre stats.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    DA:O, DAII, DA:I even.
    Aah, that figures. That's the ones I didn't play :-P - It's surprising as even Baldur's Gate 1 had plenty of shortcuts to the level exit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    A word on baldurs gate, Multiclass Cleric Ranger, yes it padlocks you to good morality if you want to use all of your abilities but it's got the best of both worlds on the two classes, you can pretty much just steam roll everything, even with mediocre stats.
    Ooh hell yes. To clarify: The Cleric/Ranger actually gets both the Cleric and the Druid's spells rather then the Cleric and the Ranger's spells, which means that the class is actually a lot more powerfull spell-wise then it says on the tin.
    Last edited by Grizzly; 04-09-2016 at 04:05 PM.

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus
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    I believe in the Enhanced Editions this no longer works.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

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