Friday, March 18, 2011

So Far In Dragon Age II...

I am really, really digging this game so far. When I am playing, I rarely want to stop. It has been a bit of a battle with myself to make sure I get a decent amount of sleep, because I have been staying up most nights playing, even though I told myself I wouldn't stay up late playing video games anymore except for a few certain nights a week. Sigh.

I am very curious to see where the story goes. I think that I like the episodic pacing it has going on, though I am reserving final judgment for once I have completed my first play-through.

I definitely feel like this game has more humor than the first one did. Part of this is that, with your character actually having a voice this time, your dialogue options have a tone to them, and one of those tones is "smartass," which is usually the one I opt for unless I really feel like it is inappropriate (like when my character's mother is being all sad and stuff). Even more so are the little throwaway references to pop culture that the designers managed to work into the game. While running around various parts of Kirkwall, I heard one citizen complaining to a friend, "I load sixteen tons and what do I get?" I don't know if the line gets completed, I ran by him so fast that by the time the reference had registered I was already out of hearing range. I also had heard (a couple of times) part of a conversation in which one person says to the other "Can you hear me now?" And of course there was Varric's reference to the one-armed man during my session yesterday.

But what really has me cracking up most of the time? Hands down, it is the interaction between my character and the companion characters, and just between the companion characters themselves. I have been having a really hard time picking a set group of three to accompany me because I have been so enjoying playing with the combinations. Varric and Isabella are arguably the best at ribbing the others, and when you have them both in the party (which I don't do often because, with me being a rogue, that means three rogues in a party of four people) they each give as good as they get. They both enjoy teasing the moody emo elf warrior, and Isabella's more worldly ways are a source of many amusing conversations with the very innocent elf mage. She also likes to give Varric crap about the fact that he named his crossbow (Bianca), and won't tell anyone the story behind that. Quite often I will be headed from point A to point B with a firm purpose in mind and get sidetracked halfway there because I stop to listen to the conversations my companions are having with each other. I think for that reason alone I may have to place DAII above the original in the rankings.

So far my character has romanced/made overtures toward Isabella, Anders, and Fenris (not all of those were intentional, which is another often amusing quirk of the game). It just dawned on me that those three make up a full party (rogue, mage, warrior). I wonder what would happen if I went on a quest with all three of them at the same time.... I suspect a major snark-fest would ensue. Hmm...

One interesting change that has been made to this game from the first is the way the inventory works. As I suspected from the demo, once I got used to it, I enjoy it a lot more. The approval of this new system is not very universal though. Armor can no longer be equipped on companion characters. Instead, any armor you find is for Hawke only, and throughout the game you can find or purchase various upgrades for your companions' armor. Personally, I LOVE this. It makes my life much easier. If I personally can't wear a certain kind of armor (i.e. if it is for a warrior), I no longer have to save it until one of my companions that can has leveled up enough to use it, I can instead just sell it and use the money to buy cooler daggers. I have seen it voiced in a few places that this is one of the places where the game has been "dumbed down" from a traditional RPG to be more accessible to casual gamers and that real hardcore gamers should disdain this system. Whatever. Look, I never claimed to be a hardcore gamer, and I guess this makes it clear that I am not. I don't have a problem with being required to equip my party's armor manually. BUT, do I have a problem with the system being made easier and allowing me to have less clutter in my limited backpack space and more money in my pockets? Heck no.

Another complaint I have seen is that all of the "dungeons" (which in the case of this game are the Deep Roads and various tunnel/cave networks) look the same. While this is true (after your first couple of tunnel runs it is quite clear that they are only using two or three layouts), it doesn't really bother me. There are enough differences in which parts of each tunnel you can access that I still have to look in every nook and cranny in each cave and tunnel just in case there is treasure or a quest item hidden there. The artwork more than makes up for this in my books.

In fact, to be quite honest, my only real complaint about the game is the elimination of the party camp. In the first game, the camp is where you could go to relax and talk to each member of your party (and equip them all or give them gifts) and deepen your character's relationship with them, as well as to get your companion quests (and initiate romances). Furthermore, you could initiate conversations with your companions outside of camp, they would just be less willing to talk about certain things in that case.

Now instead each companion character has their own hangout somewhere in Kirkwall. They are scattered all over the town. You can only initiate a conversation with a companion in his or her hangout, and you can't even do that all of the time. Conversations are only available once certain story lines or quests have been triggered. It makes me feel like I do not have much opportunity to get to know my party, and I don't like that. In the first game, I could spend an entire gaming session in camp talking to each (or sometimes just one) member of my party, finding out everything about them available up to that point. Also, now there is no one central place where I can access all of my party through the inventory at once (companions don't get armor, but you do still have to equip their weapons and accessories), and that drives me bonkers.

I realized the other day that this is very similar to the setup in Mass Effect 1 & 2, which never really bothered me that much. But there were a few key differences that they left out of DAII. In ME everybody has their own haunt, but they are all on the Normandy, your ship. You just have to run around the ship to talk to each member of the crew, not have to go from location to location (often requiring you to gather your party up each time) to talk to more than one person. It was still one contained space, they were just in different rooms. Also, there were "equipment lockers" which allowed you to access your entire party's inventory and get everyone equipped in one convenient place. There's really nothing like that in DAII.

But other than that, as I said, I am having a hard time not playing. When I do sleep, I dream of shimmery loot.

I have been getting slightly better about screenshots (though I will admit that I often get so wrapped up in the game I still forget). Here are a few for you:

Like I said, gorgeous artwork. Just look at that sky.

The Chantry is pretty impressive too.

As are the dwarven Paragons.

The first two companions I got in the game were female, and because my Hawke is also a female, I had a fun little girl power thing going on for a while:

Aveline, Hawke, and Bethany.

The character you play is Hawke. Here's my portrait:

And here are the rest of my companions:

Anders, a human mage.

Fenris, an elven warrior.

Isabella, a human rogue.

Merrill, an elven mage.

Varric, a dwarven rogue.

It is so hard to decide between Varric and Isabella in my party...

So yeah, so far so good. Two big thumbs, way, way up. :o)

And now my friends, I shall bid you adieu. I am meeting up with some friends at the zoo to enjoy this gorgeous weather we've been having.

Go check out today's Gronk (Katie is at a con, so it is a really beautiful piece of fan art this week), and have yourself a fantabulous weekend!

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