Welcome to the 1,202nd edition of Loading...
Loading... is the premier daily MMORPG news, coverage, and commentary newsletter, only from Ten Ton Hammer.DragonAge: Origins is perhaps the most anticipated Fantasy RPG of the year, and with good reason. It's a BioWare game (need we say more?) and its production values are top notch, but how does its novel group-based gameplay stack up? While our full-blown review is coming next week, join us for some initial impressions of DragonAge, thoughts on whether DDO Unlimited is going a step too far by putting levels and items on sale, patch previews, and much more in today's Loading... DragonAge: Origins First Impressions.
Biggest movers today:
We cheered when DDO went free-to-play and enjoyed success, we smiled when Turbine went beyond selling consumables and sold class unlocks and content areas (so long as groupmates could access these areas on a trial basis), but now we're raising an eyebrow at the latest microtransaction items for sale in the DDO store. Level 4 characters, 32-point build characters, and (worst of all) +3 weapons, ammo, and armor can be yours for low low prices, but these buy-ins flagrantly violate the ancient rule of sanctioned RMT: letting players buy advancement, at best, takes a lot of fun out of the game and, at worst, breaks the game for players with less disposable income (if not everyone). Let's hope DDO Unlimited doesn't become a victim of its own success, and that games like World of Warcraft don't get any ideas.
What I really wanted to talk about today, though, is this week's addition to this year's quality PC games lineup: DragonAge: Origins. We've had our eye on this game for months, and even though it's barely online let alone an MMO, we need a certain amount of role-playing game in our lives to redress our RPG deficiency from the typical MMORPG these days.
I imagine I'm not the only one on this list that has lost sleep to this game, and while Medawky will be doing our full-blown review next week, I wanted to share my early impressions of the game with you. First off, if you haven't picked up DragonAge yet, note that this is a tactical RPG - almost a turn-based strategy game - not an action RPG. After playing and enjoying Torchlight for the last week, I made the mistake of trying to clickety-click my way through combat, while resulted in massive potion consumption and needless death. That being the case, the most powerful key on your keyboard is [space], the pause button, since you can queue commands to party-mates while out-of-action.
Also by way of apology for forcing you to play a TBS in real time, DragonAge offers a Tactics system, whereby you can script actions for characters you're not controlling at the moment. It's both powerful and limiting. Players who go through an extensive trial-and-error process can no doubt produce some decent tactics from the initially bewildering array of options. But until you delve into the system beyond the presets, your uncontrolled characters are like well-trained B-rate actors - they never deviate from the simple script, even when more powerful or significant attacks are available to them. A character programmed "defensive" (so as not to Leroy Jenkins into the next swarm), will stay in place to the point of not smacking an enemy they've knocked back. Or when you do script something like a AoE attack against clustered enemies, well, don't be surprised if your mage toasts a couple friendlies with Flame Burst.
Apparently you can't script common sense, and the result is that you're constantly micro-managing your group's combat actions, which is made all the more painful by some decent enemy AI. In short, tactics may offer more hardcore flexibility, but for those looking for a more hands-off Neverwinter Nights-ish approach to groupmates, it's a step backward.
But to avoid the game on these grounds due to a slightly wonky tactics system, or more than a few quests that feel a little flat and uninventive, would be a serious mistake. The single biggest reason to dive into DragonAge, though it sounds cliche, is the story. It's a BioWare game, after all, and playing the game is like diving into an engrossing fantasy novel, complete with more quippy dialogue than a Buffy episode. That your groupmates talk to each other as you travel around is a very nice touch, and you might find yourself taking the long way just to hear how a conversation plays out. The laconic warrior Sten, for example, will be a permanent fixture in my group because of the in-transit hilarity he offers, particularly the way he rebuffs the darkly attractive mage Morrigan's advances. Managing your group's approval and disapproval of your decisions and each other is, though mostly unnecessary in the early-going, one of the more absorbing aspects of the experience.
The graphics and audio are first-rate, as you'd expect, though every encounter leaves you spattered with enough blood to make the likes of Dexter wince. The close-in dialogue cutscenes, rendered in exquisite detail, make it worse: you might find yourself wanting to wipe some schmutz from the pretty female rogue's lips before she accidentally ingests some Darkspawn. We know medieval combat isn't clean, but wearing arterial spray like a wink and a grin after every single battle, however insignificant, probably takes away from the desired effect. Even so, I wish I could've been in the USK (the hemophobic German ESRB) conference room when DragonAge was being evaluated just to hear the chorus of "Nein! Nein! Neins!"
Are you playing DragonAge? What's your take? Join the discussion in the Loading...
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