Return of the Inflatable Sword

dragon age 2 header

So, last year at Comic Con, one of the things I missed was Dragon Age and the chance to have a play on it. In fact, I skipped the computer games entirely because my main focus was going was to watch TV and film panels.

This year is slightly different and I’m trying to correct mistakes, so, when I had a gap in my ‘schedule’ I decided to leave the Convention Center and check out Dragon Age II.  In fact, as I walked across the road away from the Convention I was even handed a ‘come play Dragon Age II’ postcard, so even serendipity was on my side. I kind of ignored the fact there was also Dead Space 2 in the same location, so sorry about that folks – it’s not my cup of tea so I didn’t pay it too much attention (though I did get an inflatable weapon from them also!).

Ah yes, the inflatable sword swag – something I brought home from last year. They had inflatable swords advertising Dragon Age and I assumed this was just leftover stock, so I grabbed another couple – but these are branded Dragon Age II, so they just must know how much we all loved them. In addition, there were some blood splatter tattoos advertising the game, and showing a good sense of humour about one of the things people (myself included) mocked about the original game.

I should say now, don’t expect any pictures of the game or gameplay – we signed enough of an NDA to cover that, but I did specifically ask about blogs and twitter and that’s all fine, I mean, they obviously want us to spread the word. There was a queue to get in to Dragon Age II, and no queue for Dead Space 2. Make of that what you will. 12 people were let into a room at a time to get some hands-on experience, plus a couple who could stand around and watch, which is the option I took, since I just wanted to SEE the game.

We were treated to a little overview first, explaining some of the main changes and how they’d all come from customer feedback from the first game. The graphics are sharper and use a slightly different style (I thought this would be fairly minor, but when you see the game in action it is genuinely a lot more beautiful!). Fighting is punchier and looks a hell of a lot more responsive – mages now have a cool death blow animation equivalent to jumping up and stabbing things in slow-mo, blood is less ridiculous but still flies around a lot, and some of the spell and fighting effects are just gorgeous – we saw a warrior and mage taking on some hurlocks and an ogre, each showing off their special attacks.

There’s a couple of big differences which I think will prove quite interesting, but obviously which we can’t really see in a short playtest. First of all, the hero is voiced! No more silence. Apparently, this is going to avoid situations such as a silent response to diatribe in a Landsmeet, and the little clip we saw of it was great, but it’s still a very hard one to judge. But, they do have it so you’re not just repeating a dialogue option, the options paraphrase what your char will actually say. Oh, and while we’re on dialogue options, they now have icons next to them that give you a hint how they might affect things (it looks like there are only a handful of icons to get used to though, and I quite like the idea).

Secondly, the narrative structure of the game has changed. The game covers a much longer period than Dragon Age, and is told by a couple of (not necessarily reliable) narrators – the tale of The Champion (that’s you, that is!) and who s/he was. This allows Bioware, and the player to play key points in the life of the character, with each being able to have a massive influence on the rest of the story. Your character escapes Lothering and heads north, and you know becomes The Champion of their new locale (Kirkwall, or something with Kirk in, anyway – sorry, this is all from memory). And the world is on the brink of war by the end of the time period being discussed. So you get to see how this Champion became who they are. I was dubious, but I quite like the idea now. Bioware said it helped them actually show a longer and more fulfilling timescale, and avoided things like an epilogue that just told you what happened years later, now we’ll be able to play so many flashback sessions that we get to see our character’s full story.

The section of playable game was chosen to show off some of the fighting and a little of the dialogue, but it was pretty short. I thought it definitely looked like the combat flowed more and I liked what I heard of the voices and what I saw of the new art style. In fact, there really wasn’t much I didn’t like about the changes and I’m now really looking forward to playing the game, due out in Spring next year – in perfect time for my birthday!

Gaming News: RealID was merely a setback, Dragon Age 2 announced, Firaxis hit by layoffs, E3 Game Critics Awards

I’ll start with my one and only World Cup joke, in honour of the World Cup finals: France, the only national side with 21 strikers.

Incidentally, Paul the Psychic Octopus now has his own facebook page (we assume under his real name).

WoW players love their pseudonyms

Blizzard this week announced that new Starcraft 2 and Cataclysm forums would require all posters to display their real names, as currently shown on their battle.net realID. Following widespread backlash from the community, they later withdrew the part about displaying real names in favour of a forum id.

Normally “Company A announces X. Company B then unannouces it 3 days later” would not be news. But the big story here is in quite how loud and unanimous the feedback from players against this change really was. There were crazy huge forum threads (I think the Blizzard IT team who kept those forums up all week under the heavy load are the unsung heroes of the piece), posts and comments all over the blogosphere, and reports in numerous national media. I am not sure that anyone would have predicted that quite so many people felt so strongly about their pseudonymity. I certainly would not. On a less pleasant note, some protestors also publicised information about Blizzard/Activision employees including addresses, details of family/ kids etc. I can’t condone this, but it undoubtedly was effective.

I do notice though that in many of the media pieces, they mention that gaming forums often use ids. Whilst failing to mention that this is thoroughly mainstream practice online outside facebook and many of the selfsame publications allow people to register with ids to comment on their own news stories.

We have assumed for awhile now that the spread of real names across the internet is inevitable. If nothing else, the facebook generation who were introduced to the internet via facebook will consider it normal. But now I wonder. There are certainly advantages to pseudonymity, many of which have been raised in this week’s discussions.

Anyhow, there is no doubt more to be said on the topic of internet privacy, as well as how to clean up gaming culture for the mainstream. The only arguments I have little time for in this debate are those who claim that it isn’t important.

Dragon Age 2, now more Mass Effectish

One of the other stories which caught my eye this week was that Dragon Age is apparently Bioware’s biggest selling title. I would have expected to see Mass Effect/ Mass Effect 2 in that position, and if you look at the actual article, Rob Bartel’s quote is:

“last November it was the single most globally successful title we’ve put out to date”

Last November was before ME2 was released. So – yeah – draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, this week Bioware announced Dragon Age 2, a sort of sequel to the first game which features a different protagonist, different continent, updated graphics, and possibly very different style of combat. I hope the trademark blood spatters stay in though.

Unlike the original game, DA2 won’t offer the option of multiple character origins. Players will play Hawke (a character who, like Shepherd, can be either male or female) and the game tells the story of his/her rise to power over a period of 10 years. I do love that Bioware takes a different storytelling style with each DA release with the first being a classic ‘callow youth goes on adventure and saves world’ story, then Awakenings where you have to establish a power base around your keep, and now a 10 year epic tale.

Some commentators have said that they think the new DA2 sounds too much like ME in style for their tastes, and that the hero won’t feel as though it belongs as much to the player. We’ll have to wait and see.

Layoffs at Civilisation Developer

Firaxis laid 20 developers off this week, presumably a sign that they haven’t yet started work on Civ 6.

E3 Game Critic Awards announced

Every year, a poll is taken of critics from various publications to see which games or hardware presented at E3 most impressed them. The winners for this year’s awards were published this week.

I don’t see anything here that is either surprising or exciting (except maybe that Portal 2 beat SWTOR for best PC game). The critics liked the DS3 a lot. Games which got a shout out include Civ 5 (best strategy), Portal 2 (best PC game, best action/adventure), SWTOR (best RPG), Rage (best console game, best action game, best graphics).

I’m assuming here that ‘Best Action Game’ means best shooter, and I don’t really get why they don’t call it best shooter. But what do I know?