Hi, I'm Ross Things have changed, but this generally covers me. In fact, lots of things have changed. Anyway, I like to play videogames, talk about them, and write about them. You may have seen me posting a few comments on the front page; it's rare, but it happens. You may have also seen me in the Forums, which I occasionally rear my head in as Brightside. Send me a friend request, here, there, or on any of my consoles. I'm sure we can be friends forever.*
Cutscenes have become quite the controversial topic in recent times, with the age-old feud between ‘core’ and ‘casual’ gamers choosing the term as the latest battlefield. ‘Core’ players see cutscenes as bloat, disrupting the pure flow of gameplay that should be held as the ideal. ‘Casual’ players recognise the narrative value of cutscenes, and simply enjoy being told a story. In the last generation, games such as Cage’s Heavy Rain and Telltale’s The Walking Dead have fanned the flame wars, with the focus being primarily on cutscenes, often completely disregarding gameplay. Many of the aforementioned ‘core’ gamers see these games as the cancer of the industry, with cutscenes being the largest symptom.
I don’t. I love cutscenes.
There are several games that are used as go-to examples for refuting this opinion. These games either lack traditional cutscenes altogether or only have a very slight amount (mainly used at the very beginning or the very end), but are still considered to present an engaging narrative that does not hamper gameplay. The Elder Scrolls series, the Souls series, and Half-Life 2 are often touted as such.
Though proudly barren of cutscenes, The Elder Scrolls does not boast a solution to the ‘cutscene problem’—cutscenes would be immensely preferable to the alternative Bethesda offers. To present its questlines’ stories to the player, Skyrim opts to completely halt all player agency and glue them and an NPC to the spot while the player selects lines. The complete and utter lack of movement is almost as wooden as the dialogue. This method is archaic at best—acceptable in Morrowind, but as time goes on, and Bethesda refuses to address its flaws, it becomes more and more ludicrous. Skyrim, a game with an immense amount of dialogue, story, and lore, can only support two people in a conversation at a time. There are certain little ‘dynamic events’ in the game, with NPCs awkwardly walking around and regurgitating lines to one another, but the player is allowed no input into this, and is often still glued to the spot. So, in a way, they are incredibly rudimentary cutscenes, lacking all of the finesse and technique of authentic ones. The Elder Scrolls is an awful alternative to cutscenes.
The Souls series, is often praised as the paragon of videogame narratives; an example that all games should follow. Although a novel experience, it’s not. For those unaware, Souls games’ narratives are told through item descriptions, loading screens, and very sparse dialogue from NPCs. There’s a reason this hasn’t gained much traction with developers: it results in a story that’s about as obtuse as Joyce’s Ulysses. Due to practically all of the game’s narrative being missable—often hidden—many players will never get even the remotest of ideas to the actual events of the game’s story. Again, this is a novel experience—I’m not siding myself against From’s method of storytelling. The games present two stories: one, at face-value, the literal events that the player goes through (“I went to X, then killed Y, and carried on to Z”); and two, the lore of the world and its story, discarded throughout the game. This is laudable, but something that wouldn’t necessarily work with other genres and settings. If adopted by the industry at large, it would quickly become very trite, with the same kind of story being repeated over and over. A game set in an established universe, for example, simply wouldn’t work. Souls’ storytelling is completely reliant on mystery.
The last of the examples, Half-Life 2, is often considered the best piece of evidence to give in refuting the importance of cutscenes. Ironically, its story is completely reliant on an evolved form of cutscenes. For those that haven’t played Half-Life 2 (please do), many of the most pivotal moments of story in the game are presented by pseudo-cutscenes. These events take place with information and character interactions being dumped on the player. These often come in the form of NPCs talking amongst themselves, or talking at the silent protagonist. All the while, the player is still allowed the ability to walk about, move objects, and shoot. Essentially, these scenes are cutscenes, but with the direction delegated to the player’s control. They contain all of the ingredients of a cutscene—dialogue, events unfolding, the player being barred from progressing—without ever seeming like a cutscene. The pseudo-cutscene is a technique that quite a few developers have chosen to adopt, with BioShock being another notable example. This is mostly only found within first-person games, as the switch from first to third-person is assuredly jarring for the player. Personally, I’m very fond of this use of the pseudo-cutscene, despite it being in a diluted form—but don’t underestimate my love for the traditional cutscene.
There's so much I love about cutscenes. They’re much more interesting than purely verbal or static narration, allowing developers to employ a myriad of techniques learned from decades of cinema; and much less complicated than dumping the plot through scripted events. There’s a simple beauty to cutscenes—slices of polished craft punctuating gameplay. There’s something so elegant about this rhythm. The ebb and flow of gameplay, cutscene, gameplay, cutscene provides a comforting heartbeat. They provide an instant release from often stressful gameplay, and act as a reward for the player’s efforts. The reward can be great, too: I remember stubbornly pushing through Halo 3’s ‘Legendary’ campaign just to see a few extra seconds in the ending cutscene—a clip I could’ve simply watched on YouTube, but pushed myself to strive for. On a smaller scale, reaching hilarious cutscenes is a far better reward than currency or cars in Grand Theft Auto. To give another personal example, I recently streamed Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 on Twitch. All the time I was playing the game, the chat would be buzzing with conversation—nobody was really paying attention to the gameplay. But as soon as a cutscene occurred, the chat fell silent. Everybody was intently watching the story unfold. For me, the cutscene was a reward for pushing through a couple hours of dungeon crawling; for them, it was their reward for tuning in—the cutscenes were the best form of engagement for them, with it being so much easier to connect with a story and its characters, than with a demon firing off spells at countless faceless enemies. Moments like those just wouldn’t be possible without cutscenes.
[This is my first post in a loooong while. Hello again.]
I’m addicted to Pokémon. Again. Just when I thought I was out…
Pokémon X and Y marks Game Freak’s first foray into AAA development for the 3DS, and they’ve entered with a bang. Much of the game will be very familiar to anyone who’s played a Pokémon title before: you’re a boy (or a girl) that’s new in town, gifted a ‘mon from a friendly professor, and sent out into the world to do battle and ‘Catch ‘em all!’ You’ll journey from town-to-town challenging Gym Leaders, solving various problems hindering your progress, and—spoiler—fighting a nefarious ‘team’ bent on doing something really awful. X and Y do nothing to change up the existing formula, but, honestly, that’s okay. The plot, structure, and gameplay are nigh-on identical to previous titles (save for Black and White, which actually attempted an engaging story—in a way, X and Y are a return to form), however Game Freak have added and refined enough features to keep the game feeling fresh.
Battles are now fully realised in 3D. Every one of the 718 Pocket Monsters have been modelled in, frankly, wonderful 3D (complete with idle and custom animations for certain moves). Generation 5 was a massive step-up with including fully animated sprites—this is even more impressive. The battles are still static and turn-based, but they feel much more engaging with the camera flying around the arena, providing close-ups and panning shots of the ‘mons in all their 3D-modelled glory. A lot of the moves have been animated in such a way to take full advantage of their new 3D arenas, with many of them looking stunning. The overworld has gotten the 3D treatment, too, with all of the environments being fully modelled. Areas are vivid and lush; they feel alive, rather than dull and flat. The art-direction is wonderful, too, with Kalos—the game’s new region—being inspired by France. Players will travel across meadow and snow, rustic towns and metropolitan cities.
Though the amount of new Pokémon introduced is a little disappointing (only 69, versus the usual ~150), the new designs are mostly pleasing. The starters are based on the fantasy archetypes of fighter, wizard, and rogue—each of which has a new typing, never before seen in starters. The selection of monsters is quite broad, though many designs are predictable: a butterfly, a bird, a bat, a mouse; while others can be seen as quite weak and uninspired: Klefki, a keyring; Honedge, a sword. Mostly, though, it’s nice to see some new designs while playing through the game (due to the middling size of the new roster, many familiar faces punctuate the new ones—Pikachu, for example, is in one of the starting areas).
X and Y’s new mini-games are—dare I say it?—worthwhile. Past games have been plagued by pointless and often embarrassing distractions such as Gen. 5’s ‘Pokémon Musical’. Gen. 6’s new additions are actually very fun, and also very rewarding. ‘Pokémon Amie’ is essentially Nintendogs crossed with Pokémon. It sounds just as dumb as Pokémon Musical, but seriously: it’s great. Basically, it tasks players with petting their Pokémon and feeding them cakes to raise their affection—this works surprisingly well with the new models. Once they’re all tired of being felt-up, you have to play various mini-games to refresh them. Certain bonuses are unlocked for battles, too, such as increased evasion, critical hits, and the chance of surviving a fatal blow with 1 HP—all very useful stuff. The other new distraction is ‘Super Training’. It essentially gives a new way to EV (Effort Value) train Pokémon through a football mini-game. Players fly around a gigantic balloon ‘mon and fire footballs at certain spots on its body. When it’s taken enough hits, it will fly off into the sky and reward players with a punching bag. Said bags will award various amounts of EVs to certain stats when used on a Pokémon. EV training is in no way essential to play the game—it’s practically reserved for competitive play—but it’s still nice for Game Freak to finally acknowledge fans’ pleas for a better way to train their EVs. It is not the most efficient method, however, with the fastest way being held by the new feature of ‘Hordes’—randomly encountered groups of 5-or-so Pokémon.
X and Y bring with it a major shake-up to the metagame with the introduction of ‘Mega Evolutions’ and the Fairy type. ‘Mega Evolutions’ are facilitated by giving a Pokémon a ‘Mega Stone’ corresponding to its species, allowing it to evolve—in battle—past the ceiling of its normal final form. This is quite a big deal, as it allows previously non-viable Pokémon to be considered for competitive battling. Charizard, for example, was not viable due to his Fire/Flying typing (Stealth Rock being his downfall), but one of his ‘Mega Evolutions’ gives him the vastly superior Fire/Dragon types. There is not a huge selection of ‘Mega Pokémon’ (28 available at launch, to be exact), but most of them are fan-favourites and sport decent—yet perhaps overly busy—designs. ‘Mega Evolutions’ won’t completely turn the metagame on its head, though, as they are quite balanced: only one Pokémon can ‘Mega Evolve’ per match, so having a full team of them would be a complete waste of item slots. Fairy type, however, will surely make a splash. It was presumably introduced to balance Dragon, gaining immunity and a super-effectiveness to it. Considering a lot of top-tier play revolves around Dragons, this will certainly be a shock to the system for many players.
Perhaps my favourite new feature in X and Y, though, is the ‘Friend Safari’. It’s the replacement of the familiar ‘Safari Zone’. While feeling quite familiar, it’s also very different. Each friend on your 3DS friends list will have a type generated from their Friend Code. Three Pokémon from said type will appear in their zone when their safari is selected. The more friends you have, the bigger your safari. One of the best parts about it has to be that every Pokémon caught in the ‘Friend Safari’ is guaranteed two perfect IVs. Again, this isn’t something that most players should be concerned about, but this is a very welcome gesture for those that enjoy breeding and competitive battling—it’s never been easier to breed the perfect Pokémon (a pursuit I’ve sank many hours into).
Not everything is Roselia (heh) for X and Y, though, as the titles have their fair share of technical problems and oversights that stop the titles from being the perfect Pokémon games. The 3DS’ famous feature of 3D is curiously absent from the overworld—only battles and cutscenes are graced with its presence. This is quite strange, as the game is a first-party Nintendo title—surely they’d want the game to make use of the console’s flagship feature? I can only assume that the ambition of the highly-detailed overworld outstripped the need for the feature. Another niggle with the engine lies in framerate drops during battles: whenever two ‘mons are on screen at the same time, there is a noticeable drop in framerate. This isn’t a huge deal in a turn-based game, but it definitely seems sloppy and should have been addressed before launch. Another thing that most definitely should have been addressed is the bug in which savefiles are corrupted if the player saves in the main area of the central hub of the game. The hub, Lumiose City, is also an absolute pain to navigate. The layout is overly complicated and the camera angles are absolutely hideous. Another, perhaps entitled, complaint is the lack of any substantial post-game content. There is very little to do except the bare-bones equivalent of the ‘Battle Frontier’, catching a few Legendaries (only one of which is new), and the ‘Friend Safari’. Maybe I was spoiled by Gold and Silver, but I was at least expecting some more challenging story content after the credits rolled. Trainer customisation is lacklustre, too (for males at least)—there really aren’t all that many new models of clothes; most are just reskins, which is very disappointing.
X and Y aren’t a departure from the typical formula, but enough has been added to keep the series fresh to appease long-time fans, and also perhaps draw new ones in. It does what it says on the tin: Pokémon; no more, no less (well, maybe a little bit more if you want to 'Touch 'em all!').
Dragon Age II’s Mark of the Assassin DLC introduces Tallis, an elven rogue seeking to steal the Heart of the Many, a gem with an undisclosed past secured within an Orlesian estate, under the guise of joining Hawke on a hunting trip. The DLC introduces Felicia Day’s premier role for BioWare, her latest inclusion in what seems like a campaign of ingraining into gaming culture.
The add-on’s plot does not lack and proves to be entertaining over its 4-5 hour playtime, featuring amusing characters and scenes, and is bookended by Varric's narrative. Fortunately, the story breaks away from the fair assumption of it being “another Stolen Memory” (a previous DLC from BioWare which MotA is seemingly very similarly comprised). The affair is not as simple as it initially seems and provides a couple of surprising twists along the way (one of which is spoiled by the live-action web-series that accompanies MotA, so I would recommend playing first and watching after - unless you have an aversion to plastic, that is). The DLC provides a clear change of gear from BioWare’s last downloadable offering, Legacy, offering a substantially more humorous and light-hearted tone (mostly created by the hilariously French Orlesian caricatures), complete with witty party banter. One thing that one will notice is the amount of dialogue companions have, adding an often charming backtrack to exploring the add-on’s new scenery. BioWare’s writers do not disappoint.
Day provides a surprisingly solid performance and maintains Tallis as a believable, likeable, and quirky character. Not falling victim to the short amount of time to portray Tallis, Day and the writers flesh out the elf considerably, adding an intriguing back-story and firmly establishes her within the Dragon Age universe. I would have certainly welcomed her as a permanent companion for Hawke’s collection of colourful characters, but the option to keep her is sadly not inherited from Stolen Memory (although one can expect that BioWare must have something planned for Tallis’s future).
MotA’s quest are a mixed bunch. The main-quests are generally very entertaining, keeping just the right amount of dialogue and combat. The side-quests, however are another story. They are just plain boring. There are three fetch-quests (two of which are for the companions of one’s choosing (Isabella and Aveline include some plot - so I would recommend taking them along, while other companions are all about collecting). This is understandably frustrating, as most of the side-quests are aimed towards Hawke’s companions, yet only two can be taken at a time, so many of these are notseen by the average player. It would have been much more satisfying if there were more content for a single playthrough. The stealth sections in the main quest are hardly worth mentioning: Hawke crouches and thus walks slower, and all abilities are replaced with two - one for knocking guards out, another for distracting them. Not much to write home about. Again, the quests are left wanting with no real moral choices of consequence, a trend quite obvious throughout Origin’s sequel.
Addressing complaints of the core game, the DLC is thankfully set outside of Kirkwall and is comprised of completely new environments. These environments are, indeed, very nice see and bring a refreshing change from the vanilla game; a vivid green forest and gardens, and a plush estate complete with dungeons and caves below (disappointingly, the caves, although a new layout, look remarkably like the infamous environment from DAII) comprise the new eye-candy. All of the new areas are great to play in, as they are large and sprawling, with the player’s party rarely being confined to small areas.
Yet more variety is added through the inclusion of two new types of enemies (the others seeming original, but only being re-skins in reality): ghasts and wyverns. Ghasts are dwarfed hobbe-esque creatures often found within “ghast holes” and employ archers, warriors, and mage archetypes within their ranks, and often prove to be quite challenging - along with the rest of the DLC, it seems, as mage Hawke was incapacitated often during the harder battles. The wyverns are cousins of dragons, and prove to be appropriately tough. Their design is excellent (especially a certain unique one encountered); I found myself just looking at one during a battle, rather than, well, battling.
MotA’s last boss-battle is one of the best seen in the entirety of DAII; forcing the player to mix up battle tactics from the usual “stay still and press ‘A’” affair due to projectile poison, explosive charges, and pseudo-bull-fighting mechanics. The DLC’s challenge is consistent, with this battle being no exception, stretching the most seasoned of players. BioWare took DAII‘s criticisms on the chin and really made this battle something special.
BioWare have crafted a great afternoon’s experience, but no more. Though the plot and pacing is tight and Day’s character proves to be endearing - the DLC is enjoyable, there is a glaring lack of depth in the side-quests and the inability to keep Tallis is lacklustre. This must not put you off, however, as Mark of the Assassin’s addition to the Dragon Age universe is highly enjoyable, providing entrancing new lore, enemies, and quests, culminating in an incredible final battle, all with a very funny edge to it. This is definitely a must-buy for all Dragon Age and Felicia Day fans alike.
Dragon Age II is one of most conflicting games I’ve played. On one hand, its tight, responsive combat system and unique art style provide satisfying highs; while on the other, the story, setting and RPG elements offer mundane monotony - often stifling any enjoyment from Dragon Age II’s successes. The game serves as a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, which was lauded with many Game of the Year awards. It’s safe to assume Dragon Age II will not be.
BioWare attempted to do what it did to Mass Effect 2: retain its core components, add some new features, and strip away the excess. This worked with Mass Effect 2, retaining the feel and character, yet still making it more accessible to a wider audience; but it didn’t work with Dragon Age II.
The combat is arguably the only successful simplification they’ve made, but even then, there are still gaping flaws in its design. The system works similarly to Origin’s (accessing assigned abilities through X, Y, B, and switching layers with the right trigger) but the combat is much tighter and faster paced. For example, the rogue in Origins could employ a ‘backstab’, and then slowly meander around the enemy to engage in the stabbing; in Dragon Age II, the rogue throws a smoke bomb onto the floor and instantly appears behind the enemy. This applies to all classes: mages can instantly fire spells at their foes, rather than flailing their arms around to summon a AOE spell, and warriors speed towards their aggressors in the fashion of an enraged bull. The violence is satisfying, visceral, and often over the top (which suits its art style inextricably) - it often doesn’t refrain from having the enemies practically exploding in a haze of red and gore (although, the likelihood of this happening has been reduced in its most recent patch).
While securing hype for release, BioWare reps often quoted their mantra of “Think like a general, fight like a Spartan.” While the latter is most certainly true, the former is sadly not. The game retains Origins’s ability to pause and issue orders and that is all well and good, but the scenarios in which our intrepid adventurers find themselves are often determined to undermine the player’s ability to “Think like a general”. Dragon Age II implements a wave system in almost every fight: foes stream down from rooftops, pull themselves up through the ground, and sometimes just plain appear from nowhere. The system works against strategy, as it’s impossible to know what’s coming next. In Origins, one could easily prepare for a fight (pausing the game and issuing orders to one’s companions), but in its sequel, this simply can’t be. This would be acceptable - Hell, expected - within boss battles, but with random encounters on the street? No. When exploring an area of Kirkwall at night, it would not be out of place to see two or three gangs of enemies - all complete with waves. Not only is this tedious for the player, but it brings one out of immersion (I found that, at least) - how bad can Kirkwall’s city guard actually be? It seems to me that the encounters are designed to encourage plain ol’ hack n’ slash - simple bashing of the A button for extended periods of time. This, frankly, bores me; I have frequently turned the difficulty down to easy, just to get it over with. The combat is fun in short battles, but over elongated periods of the same enemies, it's not.
(It’s worth noting that due to a recent patch, auto-attack (Origins style) has returned. It can be simply engaged in the options. This may please some, but I found one of the most engaging things in the combat was the instant gratification of manually attacking.)
Dragon Age II’s new art style is something of an achievement. Origins was dull, muddy and boring, but its sequel improves on this greatly: the streets of Kirkwall are mostly a glorious white marble, blisteringly so, in comparison to Origin’s equivalent, Denerim; the Wounded Coast and its subsequent offshoots are a beautiful amalgamation of a still, azure ocean, gently lapping upon pristine cream beaches; bordered by a veritable oasis of lush green foliage - with a sprinkling of shipwrecks and debris. The environments are all very lovely the first few times you see them; they’re all very nicely detailed and generally show a high level of polish. But when you spend at least 30 hours tramping through the same handful of areas, exploring soon becomes a laborious chore. This, coupled with the same combat scenarios, over and over, leads to a very repetitive and tiring game. A game is doing something very wrong when the player is delighted to find a new environment. This is the thorn in Dragon Age II’s side. Every time the game’s mentioned, the lack of environments will soon follow. The game could have been so much better if more time had been invested into its world.
That said, though, the game’s new art direction is an overwhelming success. The visuals are more unique, shall we say. (I hesitate to say ‘cartoony’, as it doesn’t really do the style justice.) Dragon Age certainly has an image now; you could recognise it from a screenshot - the series is certainly shaping up to have a unique identity. The art that comprises the loading screens and cutscenes between Acts is, I feel, the best part of the game. I simply love the character that comes across and the rustic, broad strokes in which it is represented - I actually look forward to loading screens (which is probably testament to what the game actually offers)!
The game’s narrative is portrayed as a ‘framed narrative’, with Varric explaining the story of Hawke’s ascension to the Champion of Kirkwall. I don’t feel that enough was made of the ‘framed narrative’ gimmick. It only serves as a transition between Acts, and even then its importance is tenuous. I can count on one hand how many times it actually affects the main portion of the game: namely two times. There is a lot of missed potential with the gimmick; Varric could have vastly exaggerated boss battles, actually injecting fun into the game. But sadly, this only happens twice, and both times are lacklustre.
The story is divided into three Acts, with each one being more disappointing than the last, culminating in the criminally short Act III. The narrative comes across as poor, because of its unsatisfying events and their links with one another - or perhaps lack of them. It seems that Hawke is simply only being blown between event after event; it’s as if Hawke has no effect on the world: things happen to him, not because of him. There is also an acute lack of moral choices within the game; all of the choices that are present seem tame compared to Origins’s: the final battle of Origins could yield fatal results, while in Dragon Age II, the culmination of Act III results in the same situation, whichever side you choose. This is disappointing, to say the least, but will hopefully lead to a more focussed Dragon Age III.
However, the narrative isn’t all bad. The story has a natural feel to it; characters and situations are slowly drip-fed: for example, in Act I Meredith is only really hinted at, and as each Act passes she becomes more prominent. Hawke’s companions also have relatively interesting backstories and quests surrounding them (Aveline and Hawke’s siblings exempt). The companion quests are some of the most interesting and insightful in the game, often leading to a fondness surrounding the characters. I feel that the companions are much more accomplished than its predecessors - they all share an equal spot in the limelight, and almost all are welcome to it. The companion system is more personal this time round, too: each companion has their own home around Kirkwall, which you can regularly visit to enable mostly charming conversations.
Hawke himself (or perhaps herself) is amiable at best. There’s not really much to be said about him: he’s supposed to be you, so he’s better off with a blank canvass. The writing for Hawke is what you’d expect: the good option in conversations results in a serious, often prudish response; the witty one often provides a few smirks, but nothing particularly hilarious (Hawke is often unintentionally hilarious, especially with his battle cry of “BE CAREFUL!”); and the aggressive stance is, well, aggressive. Hawke is what you make of him, really. His voice actor is quite good, as with the rest of most of the voice actors, and his battle cries and conversations often sound sincere enough. It provides more of a compelling watch than Origins’s Warden, at least.
One of the BioWare’s more admirable accomplishments with Dragon Age II is that of the race differentiation. In Origins they were all pretty much the same; similar character models, similar features, pretty much similar overall: the humans, elves, and Qunari weren’t that different. The dwarves were unique however, for obvious reasons. But now, the races actually feel like different races: the Qunari are now much taller, muscular and grey-skinned - horned and war-painted for good measure; the elves are much shorter now than humans, with sharper ears and slenderer physiques; and the humans are, well, human. The voices behind the races are also much more distinct, namely the Dalish elves now have a Welsh accent, which is far superior to their Alienage cousins’s grating American accents.
With the simplification of pretty much the entire game, a lot of staple features native to RPGs have fell by the wayside. Again, like Mass Effect 2, one cannot change the companions’s apparel. It wasn’t even handled as well as Mass Effect 2’s system of having two interchangeable costumes each; costumes only change with certain events or after competing a romance scene with Hawke. Unfortunately, only Aveline and Anders change their outfits without being romanced, so only three costume changes per game are likely. Plus, once they’ve changed, one cannot change their clothes back. This leads to the unlikely situation of a character not changing their clothes for seven years. Although, this does lead to characters with more personality and flair. But still, at least three or four costumes per character would be expected; even just one per Act.
Collecting loot is another staple feature to have fallen by the wayside. It just makes no sense anymore. Half the stuff the game allows you to find is practically useless. Any armour that is not able to be equipped by one’s class is useless. They hardly sell for much either, most of the time, so they just end up gathering virtual dust in one’s virtual chest. It’s design choices like this that have really let the game down - the majority of the game’s ‘improvements’ don’t even make sense.
The same applies to side quests. Once they were little tiny clichéd stories that involved saving a child from something or other, but in Dragon Age II, they’re not even that. Basically, all you ever have to do is find something in a chest and take it to someone in Kirkwall. That’s all you ever have to do. It’s just so mind-numbingly simplified; there’s literally no content in there. It seems like it’s there just to be there - no other reason other than to cause a diversion.
Finally, the boss battles are simply terrible. Most - if not all (save two) - of the big boss battles are recycled from Origins. That’s just lazy. So very, very lazy. Most are made up of enemies that have been previously seen (Golems, Pride Demons, Desire Demons, Ogres), and others are comprised of bosses that were clearly created for Origins’s DLC and just shoehorned into its sequel (the Varterral and the Harvester). One of them is the penultimate boss; you’d think some originality would be due there!
Dragon Age II seems like the setup for Dragon Age III. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s simply a vehicle for the introduction of the events in its sequel. A lack of care and attention that I can only assume has been preoccupied with the third in the series. I genuinely hope that it isn’t rushed, or else Dragon Age II’s sacrifice will have been in vain.
I love this game, though. I absolutely love it. I don’t know why I do, because I shouldn’t. Maybe it’s the character it exudes; its art style; perhaps the fun-if-not-repetitive combat; or maybe it's just the endearing companions. I love it and I really, really shouldn’t. There are so many gaping flaws that simply cannot be forgiven, but I love it no less.
Dead Space is a frightening game. I can vouch for this: it’s taken me two years, one month and six days to complete. I suppose you could say that I’d built up an irrational fear of it; the game seemed scarier in my head than it actually was on my TV. The game has been sitting on my shelf all that time, daring me to play it. Just put it in the disc-drive, press start, and see how scary it is now, I told myself, after all, it’s been two years. And I did.
Dead Space takes place on a titanic mining ship, USG Ishimura. The game starts with Isaac, our hero, an engineer, being flown to the Ishumura to repair it, after it mysteriously lost communications with Earth. The player, and Isaac, quickly realise that this isn’t just a simple “Have you tried turning it on an off?” mission, as it dawns that the ship is overrun with grotesque and fearsome alien creatures known as Necromorphs.
The atmosphere of the game really is superb. This starts as soon as you start the game up - I still insist that the main menu is one of the most unsettling parts of the game - the text and background violently flicker, the audio screams in tandem with the quick, vicious distortions of the screen - it’s scary. Like the scares, the immersion starts then as well, as the blue holographic menus jump into life, beginning the futuristic-technology theme that Dead Space never leaves. The player never leaves this immersion, as all of the menus (save the pause menu) and HUD is shown in holographic form in without taking the player out of the game - making for some frenzied scrambling to get access to a health pack. This eery, unsettling atmosphere continues throughout the game: dimly lit corridors; gently blinking lights; footsteps with no owner; illegible messages strewn across walls, scrawled with blood - these all add up to one terrifying game, and this is without any sight of the Necromorphs. This is often the case, as sometimes the scenes that keep your eyes fixed onto the screen, your palms sweating, are the ones with implied threat, not actual threat.
Which brings us onto the actual threats, the Necromorphs. A unique aspect of Dead Space is how you deal with them: engineering tools and dismemberment. This isn’t the traditional aim-for-the-head kind of game, that tactic won’t do anything apart from wasting ammo (which is scarce throughout the first half of the game, before your money starts to pile up), you have to aim for the limbs and tactically dismember them. This can cause more problems than it solves. For example if you shoot the legs off one of the game’s vanilla enemies, they will fall to the floor and continue on, Terminator-style, except at a much faster pace - so it serves well to remember the most efficient way of carving up the monsters. The majority of the game’s scares are supplied by the Necromorphs, which come in two flavours: firstly, jumping out unexpectedly (although you learn to expect their advances when there hasn’t been any action for a little while); and secondly, simply being trapped in a room which has been kindly filled with a mass of screaming, slicing and stabbing Necromorphs. When the player falls foul to one of these creatures, they are treated with a gruesome ‘death-scene’ which features a plethora of different animations, all filled with juicy decapitations, impaling, and general butchery.
The combat in Dead Space keeps the pressure and fear factor up, but also makes the game worth playing - and incredibly fun. It takes a little getting used to, as Isaac’s movement is slow and cumbersome, as well as his aiming - but this all accounts to standout moments in the game which induce genuine moments of panic. Luckily, Isaac has some nifty tools at his disposal. All the weapons (save the assault rifle) are kept in the context of Isaac being an engineer, as they’re all tools that he would be accustomed to using - which retains the immersion that the player is wrapped in from start to finish. They’re also immensely satisfying to use, which is derived from the feedback the player receives - be it their raucous sounds, or the satisfaction of seeing their visceral results, they’re simply fun to use. They range from gravity gun-esque tools, to vicious saw-firing machines. But there is non better than the Plasma Cutter. It’s the first and best weapon received in the game (in means of effectiveness, and in means of plain, stupid fun). I can’t decide whether this is a good or bad, on one hand it makes sense to give the player an efficient tool at the start when they have no other means of attack, but it also gives a lack of progression when you're ending the game with the weapon you started with, albeit massively upgraded. But I don’t care. The Plasma Cutter is just so good.
Dead Space’s sound is still standout compared of most of the newest games I’ve recently played. The score of quick, stabbing screeches is a cliché of the Horror genre, but its use here is so well done that it’s forgiven. But the sound-effects are what really stand out: guttural sounds of the monsters haunt the corridors; whispers fill Isaac’s helmet; distant clangs of metal; the slow, methodical stop of boots. These are where the true scares of the game come from. All of it is excellent.
The plot, or lack of it, has received a fair bit of criticism. But I don’t think that’s a weakness. The game thrives on isolation, it’s just the player and Isaac walking through this ship, no one’s going to jump out and save you from the claws of a baddie. It’s all up to you. Sure, there’s occasional order of “Oh Isaac, go and fix this,” or “Isaac, be a dear and plug the anti-gravitational-stratosphere-inducing-isotope back in,” down the radio, but these only serve as a means to move onto the next objective. But that’s just the plot that’s forced onto you, there’s plenty of audio-logs to find which unravel the final days of the Ishimura. I don’t think the game would work as well with a big plot, complete with cutscenes.
The game doesn’t stop being brilliant once you’ve completed it, oh no. New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing the player to start over with all of their items. This makes the game really quite addictive, I wanted to start again as soon as I finished. This is probably due to the upgrade system: each weapon and function of Isaac's suit can be upgraded, but there aren't the means to fully upgrade everything in one playthrough. It seems simple, but it really does make a game seem so much more worthy of its price-tag. This should really be included in all games, they would see so much more playtime.
Dead Space is a truly stellar game. It combines tight combat, plenty of shocks, immersing sound, visceral graphics, and a hell of a lot of replayability, all laced together with plenty of gore and lots of fun. I’m glad I finally played it, and I hope you do to. If you haven’t played this yet, and you’re a fan of action or horror, you really need to get this. Plus it’s cheap now, which is always great.
It really did take me this long to muster up the courage to play it.
Hi, my name's Ross. I've been a member of Destructoid for quite a while now, and I've been through quite a few accounts - mainly through me forgetting the password/email address.
I'll pretend I'm new, so let's do some formalities. I'm 17 (since Wednesday); I live with my parents in the North East of England; I'm currently at Sixth Form, studying English Lit, History, Politics, Computing and Philosophy and Ethics; I own a cat, he's called Tom. Oh yeah, I forgot; I also like videogames.
I own a 360, a DS Lite, a GameBoy Micro, an iPod Touch and a Mac (not the best for games, but we're getting there).
And here's some copy and pasted stuff from my last intro, albeit edited into relevance:
1. How'd you get into gaming? Well I first got into gaming when I first saw the Pokémon anime on Cartoon Network (those were the days...) which indoctrinated me into joining the still-strong army of Pokémon fans. And what does every self-respecting Pokémon fan need? A GameBoy to play the games on! I remember pestering my parents for long enough to offer me the choice between a cat and a GameBoy; obviously I chose the limited edition Pikachu GameBoy bundled with Gold and Silver - but it's okay cat lovers, I'm not a heartless cat hater - I got the cat too!
2. What are your favourites? I'd have to say my five favourite games are: Pokémon Gold/Silver, Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Fallout: New Vegas (used to be FO3, but I think it's been topped), Mass Effect and Half Life 2. (There are even more, and I think that one of the Fables needs a mention, as well as Oblivion but I'm going to keep it at five.)
3. What are you playing now? I'm playing through the Undead Nightmare Collection for Red Dead Redemption. I've just finished Dead Space. I'm also dipping into the horror that is Deadly Premonition, I can only take that game in small doses.