Did I Do That? Part 6

Did I Do That? Part 6

Or better known as a saga of distraction.

I originally started following up on my treaties by journeying to Redcliffe to talk to the Arl. After arriving, a guard lets me know that not only is the Arl dying, but a curse has fallen on the village, causing zombie-like monsters to attack the village. They would even rise from the ground during the day if anyone tried to escape. You’re asked to help protect the village through the night which is simple enough. The sheer number of enemies is where the real difficulty lies. Even though you have the entire town’s militia helping, they seem to get killed almost immediately. Stupid civilians.

It gets more difficult with the game’s glitch I encountered twice. A cutscene of a memorial service for those who died is supposed to trigger after defeating all of the enemies. If you let Murdock or Tomas die while fighting, sometimes the enemies just keep coming one by one after defeating the horde. It’s clear that something is off because after all of the enemies are gone, I go around and talk to the surviving characters, and they tell me to protect myself. Give it ten seconds and one poor mutant creature wanders down the mountain as if he overslept for the night shift of terrorizing and murdering the locals. After twenty minutes of this I went to look up what I needed to do to finish the game and found out it is a common bug. The only way to fix it is to reload the game. Luckily I had saved between the two phases of battle, but considering the difficulty of the second fight, it was hard to take this advice calmly.

Finding out the bug’s trigger gave me a goal for the next try–keep the two named and semi-important people alive. Too bad they are so useless that at least one of them–usually Murdock–is already dead by the time I make it down to the campfire to help; instead I fight off zombies while trampling all over this empty robes. Frustratingly the same thing happen again. At least this time instead of wandering up and down the mountain looking for something to do, I immediately reloaded again. I didn’t even bother to protect anyone the third time and luckily made it through to the end. Apparently there is a strategy where you can try to keep everyone alive, but it’s not worth it. Maybe if I already had Wynne and could use healing powers, but for now for the sake of time and the safety of my computer, I only have time to be selfish.

After this, I was so frustrated that instead of venturing up to the castle to save everyone else, I started exploring Ferelden and looking for sidequests. I went to Denerim, the village right outside my home alienage, and found more questlines than I know what to do with. There is the Chanter’s Board like before, the Mage’s Collective, the Blackstone Irregulars, and even a category called “Favors for Certain Interested Parties” (you can guess those are the less moral ones). Each has four or five and many ask you to leave town. I went around the newly opened back alleys of Denerim looking for fights and trying to collect different potions and mushroom for the various. um, interested parties, certain and otherwise. The funniest–or absolutely horrible and disconcerting depending on who you are–were where I kept running across dead bodies that needed to be disposed of down a well. Hopefully Timmy from Lassie is out of there now, or his home is about to get much more crowded.

What I really enjoy is how while finishing up a more in-depth quest, the game runs you across a smaller delivery or fetch quest so that you can multitask. While fighting the bandits all over the town, I was also able to deliver death notices to unknowing widows and mark the houses of blood mages. It triggers that same feeling I mentioned earlier about cleaning out my inventory but much more understandable. Instead of being potentially wasteful in the name of greed and over-preparation, here I just feel accomplished.

Apparently not all of my party members have the same adventurous spirit as me. I took Sten to the village of Haven to try to find out more about Geniviti’s research, and he was too happy with me ignoring the world’s impending doom. He tried to stage a coup and fought me. I somehow managed to beat this giant–who is suddenly a lot harder to kill when I’m doing it–and instead of dying, did agree that I was awesome and got back in line. I knew he was a murderer by nature, but this was still a bit unexpected.

Now with all of this exploring, I have discovered two things–one good, one questionable. Let’s start with the good.

In a lot of games with any kind of open world element, I tend to focus on getting from one place to the next instead of looking where I’m going. I abused the Clairvoyance spell in Skyrim just to make sure I could fast-travel to more places. No matter how much I loved its expansive world, I only wanted to get to the dungeon or town. Here life truly was about the destination and not the journey.

But in Dragon Age, I love walking around and seeing everything. The more I play, the more I realize that a lot of assets are reused but the events you can come across if you’re paying attention. As a reward for getting an unruly crowd to leave a local tavern, a knight thanked me without giving me much of anything. I was a little confused but didn’t think too much of it. I’d been amassing gold quickly with smaller quests anyway. But walking past him again later, I saw him moving around a little and heard him call for me. Seriously, he noticed and called me over. Then he gave me a sovereign for my trouble. I have trouble thinking of a game I’ve played where I feel like I am truly that present in the world. If you know of another though, let me know because I’m really digging this new concept.

Now for the questionable. This game is full of invisible walls. They aren’t so bad that I can see entire inaccessible areas, but if I’m walking down a path that is slightly raised up from the ground, I have to follow the trail all of the way to the end. I play as a rogue who is lithe on her feet and yet I can jump off a six-foot ledge. It is a small complaint, but with how much walking there is–and how much I actually enjoy travelling–I want to be able to take the straight-path instead of following a clearly marked path. I wouldn’t even mind if it took the approach that happens in games that have a lot of platforming and cause me to lose some health if I fall from too high up.

Now off to see if I go back to helping the world, or trying to earn more gold than I know what to do with. Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 5

Did I Do That? Part 5

I have to say, I am kind of glad to start writing more often for the next month. This game is so expansive, I have trouble getting all of my thoughts into one post. Half of this one is going to cover what I got sidetracked from and didn’t write about on Monday.

Lothering—you know that town I mentioned before I went on a post-long tangent about the romance system? The one that feels like a tutorial but I never mentioned why?

If you talk to the different villagers, you will get a lot of sidequests that feel like they are there solely to teach you. I had different people asking me from traps, poisons, and potions—all things certain party members can make. As a rogue, I luckily already had the poison-making skill, and Morrigan had herbalism to make the health poultices. You then have to look around the outskirts of town for the items you need or—if you are a hoarder like me—you will already have the herbs and containers you need. If you really don’t want to go searching, you can even buy some parts from the same guy who wants you to make him poisons (which I really do hope he plans to use for self-defense like he says). What I loved was having a woman named Allison asking me to make her traps and having to tell her I didn’t know how. Then I immediately walked away and leveled up to learn how, and went back and told her I knew now! How convenient!

Ever read Go Dog Go?

“Can you make me traps?”

“No, I cannot make you traps.”

“Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

Repeat for emphasis

“Can you make me traps?”

“Why yes, I can make you traps.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

Nothing changed on the outside except my opinion. I was glad to be able to go back after learning, but for how realistic this game tries to be, it felt extremely…game-y.

Even with how odd acquiring the quest lines here were, I love the crafting element of the game. Despite being simplistic, I get a great satisfaction from putting the things I find to great use. Like I have mentioned many a-time before, I am a RPG hoarder, but it feels so good to be able to empty my inventory in a useful way. Instead of having the destroy all of the random bits of food and herbs I pick up–or sell it for next to nothing–I can turn what takes up multiple item slots into a consumable I desperately need. It gives me that same relief I get when crossing off a to-do list or finishing all of my leftovers before they get moldy.

And I do enjoy how this game approaches sidequests. The game doesn’t go overboard, keeping me from ever following the main questline. Way back when Skyrim was my main time sinkhole, I would spend hours wandering the mountains, going through caves and dungeons for the smallest quests, not even bothering with the main sidequest stories. Then I would come across ten more things to do before I ever finished what I was working on. I loved how expansive the game was, but it was hard to feel like I was making a dent in the world—not to mention nobody thinks differently of you no matter how many dragons you kill and people you save. But that’s a whole other complaint.

Here there are just enough to make the village feel alive. In Lothering, there is a board outside of the Chantry with requests much like a bulletin board at the local coffee shop. Here was a request from the officials to clear out the lurking bandits looking to profit on Ferelden’s increasing misfortune. I went out and found them and killed them and got my reward. What made it fun was the difficulty. The bands of robbers swarm you and have a large variety of fighters. They have must as many archers and ranged fighters as they do melee, making you have pick a strategy to survive. I died countless times from pure impatience, wanting to take these ten or so criminals head-on. Amateur tip: fight with the ranged tactic every single time. Slow and steady says the tortoise and the frustrated Dragon Age player.

There is one thing I wish I had realized a little bit sooner. When I bought this game, I got the Ultimate Edition with all of the DLC since it was deeply discounted. Too bad I didn’t notice until well into the game that all of these extras installed with the base game. For example, as I kept exploring the romance system, I found a bunch of incredibly specific, free gifts at the merchant’s shop. Without thinking any harder than, “FREE FREE FREE,” I brought them all over to my inventory and started doling them out. Abruptly Morrigan was so upset with me she wanted out of the party and Alistair, one of the members who is supposed to be the hardest to romance, wanted to go straight to the tent. Apparently these ultra-powered gifts were free in the game because I bought them with real money. They are part of a DLC bundle that give sthe player free gifts geared towards quickly speeding up and slowing down relationships. I have never been more grateful that I save about every other minute.

I also set out on my first real story mission after getting to my party’s camp before realizing it was another piece of DLC. It was a fun quest, giving me loads of backstory on the downfall of the Grey Wardens in the public’s eye, but it was not how I wanted to be spending my time. Instead of following up on those treaties that sound like manuals on how to prevent the apocalypse, I followed a white bunny named lore into a four-hour long rabbit hole.

At least now I’m off the Redcliffe to give Alistair a happy reunion. Can you hear my hopeless optimism coming through? Yeah, this game is teaching even me to give that up as soon as humanly possible. Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 4

Did I Do That? Part 4

So it might have taken roughly fifteen hours, but I have finally reached the real start to the game and the story.

After Morrigan the mage–a witch from the wilds, an apostate–joins your party, you set off to try to get help to defeat the archdemon and the darkspawn. Alistair has the treaties stating loyalties to the Grey Wardens from different parts of Ferelden. Finally the game opens up, the near-apocalyptic world is your oyster but first–go through a town.

Your first real stop after your main heroes’ call to action is a small village called Lothering. Plenty of refugees have found their way here with little more safety than a bridge and some cobbled-together walls. Even the bandits have leaked through to the outskirts of town not to mention giant spiders. Weirdly this town feels like a self-contained tutorial. The significance of the Origins subtitle is pretty clear from the start. When I play RPGs, I tend to go for in medias res–no prologues, all confusion. Throw me in the deep end and let me spend fifteen hours working out what happened instead of spending just as much time playing out some of the more mundane parts of my character’s life. I can definitely appreciate the depth it gives and making the choices that land me where I am, but now that I am onto the main quest, it feels a little cheap in retrospect. No matter what move I made, Duncan would have still recruited me to the Grey Wardens, and Alistair and I would still be the only surviving members. Here I am still mourning the death of my cousin back in my alienage and no one alive knows the hand I played in his execution. Hell, it doesn’t even come up in personal party conversations. Whenever I’m asked about home, I only am ever prompted to mention my parents and whether or not I’m an orphan–nothing more.

And since this first choice, I have yet to feel like anything is life or death–merely a popularity contest. My plot decisions affect my present members’ opinions of me and the likelihood of me getting into bed with them. But then, since this game with an incredibly shallow romance mechanic forces me to value love and be faithful, I guess I only ever need to be concerned about one person’s opinion. I do like that there are other benefits to positive relationships because after spending a couple of hours at camp experimenting with this system, it isn’t too enthralling. If you do get a high enough relationship with a character, they receive passive stat bonuses. I love this because so far when it comes to the character I control, I only ever use myself or Morrigan (I can’t resist the spells, damn it). So since I typically let the rest of my party members roam free, giving them the ranged tactic to try to keep them safe–hey, they can’t say I don’t care.

Also, do you want to know the only other main way to increase someone’s love, friendship, or approval–whichever you prefer? Gifts. Not special, thoughtful gifts. Just random shit you find on the ground and or steal from locked chests. Each character does have their preferences, meaning there is a whole strategy on who to give what, but honestly, I overload one character with riches until they love me enough to become stronger and move on.

None of these things bother me though bccause I have a dog in the game who loves me no matter what and all is right with the world. I can pet him, love him, and even be him if I need to explore my animal instincts. If you brought a wildflower back from the wilds for the kennel master before you took part in the Joining, this nameless Mabari war hound comes and finds you. You can choose to keep him and name him and walk him and feed him and change his newspaper and…let him die in battle?

Eh, no perma-death, no problem.

I named him after my dog, Cooper, and spent a good hour frolicking him while the real Cooper poked his nose and my elbows and toes, wishing I was playing a point-and-click so I had a free hand. You can even make him wear a cone of shame.

So here I am playing a game where you can spam pretty girls and handsome men with trinkets and statues until they will shed their armor with you in your tent, and I can’t stop dressing up my dog. Priorities, my friends, priorities.

Now I have a question for you readers out there. Last year I finally won my first year of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, if you didn’t know) after trying for over five years. I was considering going for a second win but had a thought. What if instead of writing a novel that I will print out and immediately hide from the world I make content for my blog? Instead of only doing these weird written let’s play/first impressions/critiques, I would do small op-ed pieces and even research posts. For example, I would look into gaming terms that I have always made assumptions about before realizing that I never knew what they meant, e.g. horde mode.

Are you interested in this kind of content? They would be daily updates of varying length. I probably won’t aim for a word count as much creating variety.

Let me know in the comments! If there is something you would love to see me write about, go ahead and suggest it. You do not want to leave me with all of the power, or I might spend a month posting photos of Cooper the war hound. Choose wisely and stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 1

Did I Do That? Part 1

Note: This is obviously going to be spoiler-filled for the path I took for the game. I’d still say read it and don’t make the same mistakes as me, but read at your own risk.

Or better called–an ode to why I can’t ever play games with effective choices correctly.

I’ve played through my origin story and have officially joined the Grey Wardens and already feel like I single-handedly ruined the lives of everyone I’ve encountered. Whether my outcomes were unavoidable, I still feel guilty because of the choice mechanics.

I grew up in the land of linearity. I read everything in sight, overly-invested myself in TV shows, and watched the same movies over and over again. Even when I ventured out and read choose-your-own-adventure-style books, I would try to read every possible path and outcome, never committing to a choice. So here I want to save before every conversation and area transition in case I make the wrong dialogue choice.

Speaking of which, so many times I say something, and it comes out all wrong. I am a naturally sarcastic person. I say mean things, but it is always a joke in tonality. Every now and then I would pick a mean comment that was funny. I told one of the other Grey Warden recruits that it stunk to be stuck with them, and he took major offense and wouldn’t stop referencing it anytime I tried to say something nice. I hate there aren’t any choices that sound like me; all are two extremes–brown noser and sociopath. I feel embarrassed when sucking up and guilty when being rude.

I replayed an entire section because I did not choose the right answer to keep a girl from having to go to a labor camp with sexually-frustrated soldiers. But in that process I went from easily acquiring money as a gift for my upcoming arranged marriage in one conversation to horribly offending the same guests and getting nothing. Then I realized something cool might have happened if I had this money because I could give a coin to a homeless man and then who knows what would have happened!

These are the things that keep me awake at night.

And how I caused my cousin’s execution by accidental choice. That one stings a little too.

I’m playing as a female city elf who was placed into an arranged marriage on the same day as Soltris, my cousin. The arl’s son Vaughan crashes the wedding and kidnaps all the lady folk. Luckily my cousin finds us and together we fight our way through the castle. After finding Vaughan and refusing to take his bribe and leave, we are forced to kill him.

Once escaping, the guards come down and ask who is responsible for the massacre in the castle. I keep silent, hoping they would go away and then the village girl who was jealous of my marriage match rats us out. I get conscripted to the Grey Wardens, and my cousin gets taken for execution. If only I’d known not taking credit for my crimes would have consequences…

I’m also playing as a rogue because I wanted a challenge. Too often in RPGs, I play as a mage so that I can spam spells and set everyone on fire. Easy peasy. Rogues are typically thieves, archers, and assassins. I wanted to try playing more strategically, but I didn’t realize strategy was already forced down my throat. I knew the game had party members, but I didn’t realize I had control over them all. Of course I haven’t gotten to experiment too much because fighting with me is a kiss of death.

Now to keep going on with my most ambitious series yet. Let’s hope I don’t pull all of my hair out by the end.