5 Pet Peeves about Dragon Age: Inquisition

I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition pretty much every waking moment that isn’t already taken with work or maintaining basic life functions. The record shows that I totally love it, but of course it’s not perfect. So in the interest of not completely fangirling over the game, here are a few of my pet peeves.

1) It makes my computer feel old.

I have a solid but unspectacular computer. It was pretty good when I got it, but that was over two years ago. Dragon Age makes my computer weep tears of silicone. My graphics drivers crash at least once a night, and occasionally the game decides to resize itself in the middle of play. My non-SSD hard drive takes what feels like forever to load between scenes. It has reminded me of one of the benefits of playing mostly older and indie games: low resolution graphics. (Bioware, please remake DA:I with retro pixels, thanks.)

2) RPG inventory management is still wack.

Let’s be clear: inventory management in Bioware RPGs has come a long way from the “just omnigel everything forever” system from way back in Mass Effect 1. And I’m glad that they put companion armor customization back in the series after the “streamlined” system in 2. But it’s still time consuming to stand there after a few hours of mission running and figure out who needs what. I equip gear I obtained, craft gear as available and needed, remember to strip out upgrade components, put the components back into the new stuff, and repeat all of the above with weapons. Then I get bored and just start sticking rings, belts, and amulets on whomever comes up first in the character list because WHATEVER people, I have elfroot to pick.

3) The map doesn’t indicate when I’ve cleared something.

A number of people have complained about the minimalist mini-map in the game, whereas I think it supports actually looking around the environment and I quite like it. My complaint is with the more detailed zone map. It would be nice if the map updated to show that you’ve explored a cave or used an astralari-doohickey, just like when landmarks disappear from the map after you claim them. I’ve spent more than a little time backtracking to check a cave that I’ve already cleared out.

4) I like all of the companions.

That probably seems like a weird pet peeve, but I want to hang out with all of them! DA:I introduces a new “camp” system that lets you change your party members frequently while out in the open world, and every time I pass one I feel compelled to switch my group around. When I do a big story quest I almost immediately want to rerun it with other companions to see how they’d react. (I should have saved my game before the mage quest, sigh.) The only person I don’t have in my party very often is Sera. She’s okay if a little hyper, but she has to compete with the great Varric for my rogue party spot and that just ain’t on.

5) Iron Bull won’t be my special friend.

This is how conversations go with Iron Bull the giant Qunari and my cutie kickbutt warrior.

Warrior: “So, why do they call you the Iron Bull? Hmmmm? Any secrets you want to share?” *eyebrow waggle*
IB: “I carry a sword and I have horns like a bull.”
Warrior: “Oh. Well.. that’s… I think I hear the War Council bell, gotta go.”

BONUS: Needs more dwarves.


First Impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition

First Impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition

I’ve written previously about boycotting EA games, and I did so through 2012, 2013, and almost all of 2014. So what changed? EA and their studio Bioware has popped up on a number of propaganda pieces by That Hashtag as a terrible company that tries to treat people with respect. It made me remember the old saying, “The enemy of my enemy … is a purveyor of fine RPG products” and so I decided to welcome Bioware back into my heart.

Anyway, Dragon Age: Inquisition launched at 9pm last night for us West Coast folks which meant I could put a few hours into it before bed. I won’t give away any story spoilers in this post, but if you’re looking for an executive summary anyway: yes, so far this game is super rad.

Having just finished playing 2008’s Dragon Age: Origins, the first thing that struck me about DA:I was the huge upgrade to the graphics. (I also don’t play a ton of new AAA games, so to be fair I’m perpetually impressed with the state of current graphics.) For example, behold my super kickass dwarf:

dai dwarf 500x462 First Impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Seneca, the 2-handed warrior dwarf

Unlike Dragon Age 2 and the later Mass Effects, so far DA:I feels less like an “action RPG” and more like a traditional one. And that’s good, because the combat is not the game’s strong suit (again). It works fairly similarly to previous games, although I find the new “tactical view” difficult to use and my warrior’s two-handed smash is a little slow and clunky. The default weird low camera angles while in combat make the battlefield feel jumbled and you can only assign one action at a time to your team on the fly, so while characters will work off a previously arranged tactics list like in other DA titles trying to be a tactical master on the fly is thus far unsatisfying.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about successes, and on that note one of the biggest new features of DA:I is the open world. This new concept becomes quickly evident when you press the space bar, a key that would pause your game in previous DAs and open a tactical menu in Mass Effect, but in this game it… makes your character jump. That’s right, jumping is in a Bioware RPG!

I’ve only completed a little over half of the first zone, but I’m really enjoy the exploration in this new open world. It reminds me a lot of what people said they liked about Skyrim — stumbling across adventure, treasure, and memorable characters just by wandering around — but with more high-level structure. A number of people have complained about some of the side quests being too “MMO-like” (yes, someone does ask you to retrieve 10 pieces of goat meat) and while I understand the issue the side quests are totally optional and some of them are downright delightful.

There are also some nice quality of life updates in this game, like little speech symbols next to your companion’s name if they’re chatting while on the road, and the addition of mood to certain options on the standard Bioware radial conversation menu so you have a better idea of how your character will deliver their lines.

So far I’ve just hung out with my initial group-mates, including DA2 fan-favorite Varric and his glorious chest hair, but all three of this first batch seem like interesting folks who I look forward to getting to know better.

Just by doing some light reading on the game I know there are many features that I haven’t even seen and many characters I have yet to meet and like and/or kill. But with that caveat, I have to say that I am really pleased with what I’ve played so far in DA:I. It seems like a great return to the serious Western RPG format of the original game, nicely updated with modern graphics and an open world concept.

The problem with “one size fits all” vs. niche MMOs

(Hi, I’m back! I have moved to America, and unpacked my boxes! And played games! I missed blogging, you guys. <3 )

Brianna Royce over at Massively wrote an interesting editorial today titled, "Working As Intended: Niche MMOs vs. the everything box“. In it she argues that the MMO industry’s present slide towards niche MMOs will hurt the genre overall, creating games with smaller and less diverse player bases. It’s an interesting essay, and worth a read.

I agree with a number of the fundamentals of Royce’s argument: having many niche MMOs will absolutely fracture players, and takes away a lot of that “massive” feeling that drew many of us to the genre in the first place. Niche games lack diversity of purpose, and you’re less likely to encounter a variety of players. And if a game chooses a niche that is not as populated as the developers think (Royce points out WildStar and hardcore raiders here), they’re on a fast track to failuretown.

There’s one big problem with the essay’s conclusion though, and it’s this: we only need one “everything box” MMO.

If you have one game that tries to provide opportunities and fun for a huge variety of playstyles (a noble goal to be sure!), well… by its very definition that would remove the need for a second “everything box”. If you need a second game, the first one clearly isn’t being everything.

In fact, I would argue that this has been the exact problem in the MMO industry since the rise of WoW. When every game is trying to be all things to all players, what’s the difference between them? So we rush from one new game to the next, only to find that, yep, at its core it’s “just like WoW” or “just like EQ” or whatever your first alpha and omega MMO happened to be. Oh well, on to the next new title!

(And that’s not even getting into the fact that creating a game that encompasses “everything” is prohibitively expensive, particularly in the current MMO economic climate.)

I appreciate Royce’s motivations for her piece — putting the massive back in MMOs, and making them a more well rounded virtual world — but I feel like unfortunately that dream might be left behind with the days when there were only one or two big games to play. With big “everything box” games like Guild Wars 2 and WoW and EverQuest II already available, what’s the point in just adding more to the pile?

Cat Context 63: SWTOR levelling, Alien: Isolation, ArcheAge drama

Cat Context 63: SWTOR levelling, Alien: Isolation, ArcheAge drama

cat context vertical Cat Context 63: SWTOR levelling, Alien: Isolation, ArcheAge drama

This week Ellyndrial and Arolaide were joined by special guest Corranhorn for a Liore-free show!

Elly looks back at this year’s wildly successful Extra Life Marathon, and talks about some of the games he played including Alien: Isolation and Euro Truck Simulator. He also finally had the opportunity to watch the movie Alien, and the crew discusses how the movie stands up to a new audience and whether it enhances the game experience.

Meanwhile Arolaide has been enjoying the pre-expansion XP boost in Star Wars: The Old Republic! Players are able to skip most if not all of the side quests and just enjoy the precious, precious class story. As usual though playing SWTOR is a mixed blessing, and the game swings manically from awesome to terrible and back again.

Corr regales the podcast with some tales of life in ArcheAge, including guild drama and the crazy lengths players need to go to protect their precious land assets. Get land or die tryin’!

Like to watch? This podcast has a livestreamed video version:

If you enjoyed this podcast, please “Like” or “Favorite” it in your media consumption method of choice! It makes us feel nice.

* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

Cat Context 62: Gettin’ Scared with Spooky Games and Movies

Cat Context 62: Gettin’ Scared with Spooky Games and Movies

(Hey, want to hear more podcasts with me on them? Of course you do! Check out the latest episode of Contains Moderate Peril where I guest along with Mr. Murf in a discussion about open world PvP. And if you like these shows, visit The Gaming and Entertainment Network for other great podcasts!)

cat context vertical Cat Context 62: Gettin Scared with Spooky Games and Movies

It’s almost Halloween, and this week Liore, Ellyndrial, and Arolaide sit down to talk about scary games, spooky movies, and what gets our hearts pounding and our adrenaline rising.

Liore starts the discussion with a confession: she loves scary movies, but has a hard time playing scary games. Meanwhile Aro chimes in with some of her favorite scary games (hint: Silent Hill 2 comes up a lot), and Elly comments on the different kinds of “scary”, from plain old gore to more intellectual ennui.

We love zombies but agree that they’re handled pretty poorly in movies and potentially less so in games (same with vampires). And scary space stories — we want more of those in both games and movies, but perhaps the necessary design restrictions of games makes it difficult to convey being alone in space? No matter what, we think games should look to scary movies when considering pacing.

Also, Elly hasn’t seen Alien! Aro is unconvinced about scary games with no weapons at all! Liore is sooooo bored of modern grimdark horror!

Like to watch? This podcast has a livestreamed video version:

If you enjoyed this podcast, please “Like” or “Favorite” it in your media consumption method of choice! It makes us feel nice.

* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

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