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5:44 PM on 02.27.2011

My Dragon Age: Origins Playthrough, Part 2: Ratting Out Jowen

To read Part 1, click here.


The Playthrough

I had a lot of anticipation leading up to getting back into the game after
my first hour with it. I hoped that I would start questing, experiencing
more lore, and really getting to take in the experience; lo and behold, I
was not.

After coming out of The Fade, you get to explore the mages tower, where
mages are kept seperate from the rest of the world until they go through
The Harrowing. It is punishment for actions committed long, long ago, when
mages brought back demons from The Fade leading to the slaughter of many
people. Well, the twoer is the first area you get to explore, and it is a
really fleshed out area. On bookshelves, I found books that when selected,
upodate the Codex. Also, learning about different subjects from books
yields a small award in the form of 50 XP.

In the Mages Tower, I also came across my first quest, as expected. It was
to talk to the First Enchanter Irving, one of the Circle Mages, about my
success in The Fade. When I meet him, he is talking to a Grey Warden named
Duncan who is trying to get mages to battle the blight. I believe this is
the first place in the story where the overall story arc is mentioned, and
I am intrigued about how I will get to partake. However, at this point, all
I am told is congratulations for making it into the Circle.

One of the characters from earlier, Jowan, wants to talk to me after my
meeting with Irving. He tells me that the Circle of Mages is going to have
him go through the Rite of Tranquility. He found this information out from
his illegal relationship with a girl named Lily from the Chantry, a
relationship which is not allowed to happen. He wants Bones to help him
escape from the Tower and destroy his phylactery, which helps the Mages
track him down if he were to leave the Tower.

I say I will help him, but I go to Irving with the information, just
because I think I would get a reward for ratting him out. Irving wants to
have Lily and Jowan both caught red-handed so what there will be little
friction between the Chantry and the Circle of Mages. I will set Jowan and
Lily up.

To set them up, I need to get something from the quartermaster, that
something being something I need to get a signature from a Senior
Enchanter. The Senior Encahnter is new to her position of staffing the
laboratory. She has a problem in the store room with large spiders, which I
say I will clear out if she signs my form. I do, leading me to my second
experience with combat.

This time, the combat is a little harder as I am still learning some of the
basics: balancing mana pool with spells and keeping an eye on my health. I
died once, reloading and did a couple of the battle better by using better
tactics. Also, I gained some useful loot for selling from the storeroom,
which is always a good thing.

After getting the request for the item signed, Jowan, Lily, and Bones
entered the basement to destroy the phylactery. But because the item I got
did not work, we had to take a more roundabout way to the same room, bring
me to my third combat experience, but first where I figured out how to
control my party members. This led to a lot of experimentation to see how
the system work and I am nfinding that I enjoy the combat experience
immensely because you can combine the powers fot your team mates to
effectively destroy the enemy.

Once we get to the room with the phylactery, I told Jowan that I had ratted
him out, leading to one of the most oddly depressing and emotional
experiences I have experienced in a game. The voice acting for Jowan
thoroughly convinced me that I had let him down, that he and his girlfriend
were going to be severely punished, if not killed, and I regretted my
decision to rat them out.

Jowan and Lily still thought they could get away, but when they got to the
first floor, Irving and the Grey Warden Duncan were waiting, wereby there
was a stand-off. But then something happened that I never expected: Jowan
revealed himself as a blood mage, magic learned from demons and is illegal,
and knocks back all of the people there to stop him and escapes. At this
point, all gult I had for turning him evaporated, and I just wanted to
track him down and kill him.

After some conversations about what was going to happened, I was recruited
by Grey Warden Duncan to take on the Blight where I get to leave the Tower
and become a Grey Warden myself. We leave to go to Ostagar. Once I got to
Ostagar, I saved, ending this part of my playthrough.


I am more and more impressed by this game the farther I get into it.
Learning how to fight with a party seems like it will be quite rewarding as
it pushes you to find what spells and attacks are most effective, and
bulding the best combination is awesome. Looting is becoming a bigger part
of the game as I progress and delegating equipment to your party members is
becoming a bigger deal and a tactic in and of itself.

The locations in the game are the epitome of fantasy and exactly what I
expect from them. They are fun to explore with just the right amount of
interactive areas, along with good looks. I can only say good things about
this game so far.   read

8:15 AM on 02.25.2011

My Dragon Age: Origins Playthrough, Part 1: The Harrowing

Because I found the Dragon Age 2 demo so enjoyable, I have decided to gives its prequel, Dragon Age: Origins, a spin. I have been somewhat interested in the game since its release, but the only time I had ever seen anyone play it (on Xbox 360) gave me some doubts because it looked uninteresting and the combat somewhat abstract. However, I compared this game to similar ones like [bi]Baldur's Gate[/i] and Planescape: Torment, thinking they are games that are fun to play, but a bore to watch, also. Since I have concluded my initial impressions were construed, I rented the game from the local library (for free) and will be evaluating my playthrough with the thoughts I have while going through the game, along with my reactions after completing a part of the game.

The first part of the game, as is common in most modern and traditional RPGs, consists of crafting your character from a number of possible choices. You can pick your sex, which has some effect on the game. I chose male, maybe because I am a male, or something, I don't know. I usually choose being a male first in the game probably because I am one, but there may be more subconscious stuff to it than that. Next, I chose Elf as my race because I knew I wanted to be a mage and the race benefits or great for being as such. Disappointingly, dwarves cannot be mages, otherwise I would have chosen to be one of them. Next, you allocate some attribute points. I see very little reason to put points in Strength as of now, but I did put two points towards Magic, one towards Cunning, and one towards Willpower. You also get to open up a talent, wherein I unlocked a healing spell because I forsee having to buffer allies. I got to name my character, and I chose the name Bones, for laughs. The only major thing I did to his appearance was make him balding and his nose large. I have a somewhat large nose and think I will go bald soon (though i haven't started).

As soon as I was done with character creation, the story starts, with Bones in a Magi Tower talking to 'Circle' mages about entering The Fade. Apparently going through The Fade, which is some sort of dream world, will determine if I am fit to become a full-fledged mage. Bones is talking to the guy on the right in the picture above, who calls Bones young, which I found funny since Bones is bald and doesn't look much young. I enter The Fade by touching a pile of glowing stuff, known as lyrium, and I enter the dream world. here, I encounter my first enemies of the game. DA:O gives good direction on how to combat them, which at this point consists mostly of throwing fire balls at them, because it is the only spell I know. One does this by using one of the shortcuts to spells, in this case, pressing X. Apparently A also has a default spell attached to it, but when I was pressing A, nothing was happening, but I found it easy to kill most of the enemies in two presses of X, so it didn't matter yet.

After defeating a number of enemies, Bones encounters a little mouse who can talk. It is in fact a mage who went into The Fade just as I , but he failed doing so; now he is stuck, forgotten his real name, and cannot escape. I let him come on my journey with me because he says he will help, and he seems to know a lot of stuff I don't know, so I might need him later. After defeating a few more enemies, Bones and Mouse encounter the Spirit of Valor. Valor tells me about the journey that lies ahead, and that if I am sufficiently strong, he will give me a stave I can use against the powerful enemies ahead that would otherwise kill me. I have to duel Valor to show him my worth, but it pays off and I handedly defeat him, getting the stave. Oddly, I don't know how to use the stave, if it involves pressing A or not, because I think I missed a button prompt.

Bones and Mouse continue down the path where they meet a Sloth Demon. Luckily, it seems the Sloth Demon is too lazy to fight us, but after conjoling him a little, he decides to teach Mouse how to change form, into that of a bear. Mouse was a mouse so that he could hide from the evil spirits that reside in The Fade, but now Mouse (who is still called Mouse in the form of a bear) has a little more faith in him self to help me take on bigger enemies.

From here, Bones and Mouse backtrack a little where the Demon is encounter. This is the first big battle of the game (though not that big), and also the first battle where I realize I can control the actions of another character (Mouse). However, I do not have an idea about how to issue commands to Bear, and he is doing fine against the Demon, so I let him go at it. Bear dies (unconscious?) after a little bit as I try to dish out some damage with one of my three spells. Only two if them did much, so I spammed them, quickly ending the battle.

At this point, Mouse comes back to life because I read in the manual that party members do not die, they go unconscious until the end of the battle, but when they wake up, they may have injuries which severely affect their skills. Mouse and Bones talk about now leaving The Fade, because The Harrowing was completed. Mouse asks me if I will help him find a way to escape, whereby I realize there is something fishy going on, I question him about it, and then find out that he is in fact a demon, and the real test of The Harrowing.

At this point, Bones is woken up by Jowen in his bed. Jowen asks me about The Harrowing, which I tell him nothing of. Jowen confesses that he is older than me and will probably never get to experience The Harrowing, because of some conspiracy in The Circle which he thinks exists. I dismiss him, noticing I have leveled up for the first time. However, I had enough of the game for the time being, saved, and turned off the console.

Overall, I am impressed by the back story for each race and class. It makes me feel apart of the game's universe and that I am impacting it. The graphics could be better, but they very much fit what the game is going for. There are no performance issues noticeable, the spells look awesome, and overall. my experience has been totally positive and I cannot wait to come back for more.   read

3:37 PM on 02.23.2011

Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions

I have heard mixed reactions to Dragon Age: Origins, mostly involving the differences between console versions and the PC version. I have the intent to pick up the ultimate version of the game on Xbox 360 when I think the price is right. Hence, I will not be comparing this game to its prequel, but instead to the small subset of knowledge I have concerning RPGs, including Resonance of Fate, Mass Effect 1 & 2, The Elder Scrolls 3 & 4, Pokemon, and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, among a few others.

I played the game through once early in the morning, not paying much attention to it because I did not think I was going to like the demo, nor have I had much interest in this game since it was first announced. I picked the standard warrior character because they seem to be the character class that is the most balanced to do battle, whereas I view mage characters taking a little more work to play as. I had some fun, so I decided to come back after classes and go through the demo again with another class. With my second playthrough, I chose the female rogue, whose specialty is archery and duel-wielding daggers.

The demo opens with a cutscene of a female character unknown to me interrogating a short, stocky fellow who knows the tale about the Hero and his history. Cutscenes are very dramatic with very good camera work, although close-ups on the environment lack detail, looking a little smeared. However, the characters all look detailed and do not look the same.

Right after I was drawn into the cutscene, trying to figure out what was going on, the option to pick character class is given. There are rogues, warriors, and mages. Once you choose class and sex, the character can have their look individualized. Nevertheless, most of the personalization features are locked on the demo, but you can name you can name your character. It should be noted that it seems like the demo takes place at the beginning of the game, the demo is quite long, almost an hour, but your save will not carry over to the full game, so it doesn't much matter what you name your character.

After character selection, you are immediately thrust into a combat situation. Combat is fast, mostly fluid, completely intuitive, brutal, but does not have much weight to it. Critical attacks do not have any more feel to them than a normal attack, but this did not bug me much since the big chunk coming out of the enemies' health bar was satisfying in itself. The 'A' buttion on the 360 controller is a normal attack which you will use waiting for your special attacks to come back online. Each special attack can be used as soon as its cool-down time is over. Cool-down times vary from attack to attack, but you are never longing for them much as they are necessary for combat so the game allows you to use them much, but they are not spammable.

All of this seeming button mashing does not come at the cost of strategy and cunning, as the first mid-boos fight, which comes right at the beginning of the game, got me down to very low health and all of my compatriots were dead causing me to run around, evading, chugging health potions. If I would have planned a little but more, I could have beat the boss faster, but I got a little too used to button-mashing. Some of the strategy will come in the form if switching characters, which can be done on the fly, but you do not need to switch characters if you do not want to. I never fought with a character besides the main one, though the option is there. A lot of the strategy come from allocating your attribute points with some thought to it (putting all points into strength is a bad idea, especially if you are a mage).

I noticed the score during the cutscenes and battles and am quite impressed by it. In fact, there was a dramatic scene where a character dies, and the score at this point really added the layer of depth necessary for emotion to be conveyed.

A cutscene leading to the second part of the demo was presented in a manner which I found confusing and ugly. In Dante's Inferno, most of the story was told through layered-cardboard cutscenes, which seems like a bad way to spoil a good story. Maybe it is just a place holder in the demo, but it really looks like crap and is totally out of place. Something else that is out of place are the large breasts on every single woman. Since when was Dragon Age anime?

I really wish I was able to get a handle of the loot in the game as well. I seemed to be picking up some really cool things to supplant the basic weapons given to you at the start of the game. Some of the difficulty present in the demo may be due to the fact you cannot equip the better swords and bows you find. Loot is plentiful, though, so I am not worried about its inclusion in the final product.

And thank God Dragon Age does not delegate Experience Points like Mass Effect 2, where one is given XP at the end of each mission in a set amount, regardless of how many enemies Shepard killed. In DA2, the XP bar will slowly fill as you kill enemies and at the end of a skirmish, the game will show you how much XP you accrued. I am very happy about this because the last RPG I played with a 'standard' XP system was Borderlands.

As a whole, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up to be a very strong action-RPG, with more emphasis on the RPG part than the developers other franchise, Mass Effect. The combat is as brutal as one would expect from people swiping at each other with swords, the story drivaes the quest with an unrelenting push, the options for player customization are deep and intuitive, and the XP system takes on a more traditional system. Although there is some room for improvement, DA2 will be great even if released in its current state   read

4:24 PM on 12.10.2010

Review: Dante's Inferno

Two of the truly great forms of entertainment media we have available to ourselves are literature and video games. Up to this point, few attempts have been made to meld the two forms into one, but this is what Visceral Games attempted to do with Dante's Inferno. Sadly, they fail horrendously in almost every aspect of crafting an experience anywhere near as deep what Dante Alighieri crafted in his masterpiece The Divine Comedies.

Reading the first of three parts of The Divine Comedies will give the reader an emotional, thought-provoking journey which follows the author in his fictitious adventure through Hell, experiencing all the turmoil such a place is thought to exhibit. Whereas, this video game follows Dante through a series of boss fights with the intent to save his lover, Beatrice, from Lucifer, whom she has fallen under the influence of.

Dante's Inferno starts during the Third Crusade, with Dante being stabbed in the back, whence Death comes for his soul. Dante is told by Death that he will be sent to Hell for his sins, however Dante will not accept this fate because the Bishop told the soldiers of the Crusade that their sins would be absolved for taking part in the war. Fighting Death, Dante acquires Death's scythe and uses it to defeat him. From here, he makes his way home to find his wife and father killed. Here, he witnesses Lucifer drag the soul of his wife, Beatrice, to Hell. Dante then embarks on a journey to save her.

Dante's adventure encompasses exactly what is wrong with Inferno. This is not how is happens in the source material, and his reasons for wanting to save Beatrice are selfish and ungodly, whereas in The Divine Comedies, Dante's journey is often interpreted as an allegory where he becomes closer to God after being saved from thoughts of suicide by Virgil. Everything Dante is doing in the game can only possibly push him further from God. I am not saying the game should have followed the source material word for word, yet there is no reason for even having such great literature as the backdrop, except to profit off of the notoriety of the work. None of the themes of The Divine Comedy are present in this game, only the idea that Hell is bad and the setting of the literature.
Dante enters Hell to save his lover Beatrice from the hands of Lucifer. It seems, however, that his motives are not wholly encompassed by his pure love of this woman, but in fact the jealousy brought about by Lucifer taking Beatrice away from him and fondling her in front of him. Also, Dante feels that he still deserves Beatrice even though he cheated on her with a whore in one of the cities he traveled to for the Crusade. Instead of wanting to save Beatrice as an act of selfless love, Dante is more worried about his jealousy and wanting something that he wrongfully views as his.

Not all the criticism of the game need be leveled at the incorporation of the source material neither. The gameplay mechanics of Dante's Inferno are forgettable as well. Dante will literally follow one path, and only one path, all the way through the game with no deviation except into a nook or cranny here. It is so pathetic to find the 'hidden' loot nearly in plain sight. One of the odd mechanics instituted into the game by the developers is hiding things with the camera. What I mean is, the camera is locked on the character and cannot be manually controlled, so the developers like to hide things using this in mind, in places that the camera would not normally see unless you tread just slightly more to the right or left of the beaten path. Instead of coming up with something clever to award players looking out for loot, Visceral Games actually used their crappy camera to obscure collectibles.

When you are not viewing the little amount of the world the developers let you see in this game, you will be fighting the creatures of Hell, which provides at least some redeeming hope to this game. There are many types of creatures in this game, or at least there appeared to be for the first three hours, and then they were recycled (sometimes with armor!) for the rest of the game after each model is introduced.One of the first creatures fought in the game are the usual minions which do not put up a much of a fight. The minions are found throughout the game, but traveling deeper into Hell introduces a new type of minion, one that dashes to and fro, but is still as weak. In one level of Hell, babies with cutting edges as hands become enemies. Yes babies in Hell, and unbaptized babies at that! The thing is, they are introduced in the Limbo stage of the game, yet pop up throughout the rest of the game, unchanged. Why? Hell if I know, but Inferno has very few enemy types. This is a big drawback in this game. Individual character models are quite unique, but there could have been so many more types of enemies if the developers would have used any imagination. Even the enemy designs they have are sometimes used too little. Large, worm-like creatures make an appearance in one section of the game, but are largely unused for the rest of it.

Battling the creatures of Hell is hardly a fun experience, either. One of the ways to attack enemies is not well implemented at all. Near the beginning of the game, a Christian cross is received from Beatrice before Dante leaves for the Crusade. Used as a range weapon, the cross 'shoots' Holiness, damaging enemies. For the most part, the cross is effectively useless, nor is it used often. Enemies are never far enough away to string together combos, so its use is relegated to taking down flying enemies or softening up far away enemies until they move closer. In most cases, the player is fighting hordes of enemies, where cross attacks are useless because the player will be hit by an enemy before they can get off a substantial combo, so it becomes better in these cases to mash attack buttons that use the scythe.

Fighting enemies with the scythe yanked from Death is somewhat more satisfying, yet it is not implemented well into the game either. There are two standard attacks: light and heavy. Unlike most games, there is no way to meld light and heavy attacks into a combination. One can partake in a string of light attacks followed by heavy attacks, but there is no way to combine them. Inferno handles combo attacks poorly, and in a hack and slash such that Inferno is, this is unacceptable.

Dante's Inferno gets little use out of the timeless source material it is very loosely based on. There is nothing here for anyone looking for a story, neither is the main component of the game, the combat, really up to any decent standard. Dante's Inferno really fails in all ways. Almost any other hack and slash action game is more worthy than this game, which should be avoided at all costs.

Read my latest articles and reviews first at my blog, The Broke Gamer:   read

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