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Android Games Review

Game Review – Tiny Death Star and Heroes of Dragon Age

I don’t talk about or review Android games very often here, mostly because I’m usually the last guy to try one.  But I want to speak about two games today, and the sharp contrast is enjoyment that has nothing to do with the games themselves.  Both Tiny Death Star and Heroes of Dragon Age are based on franchises I enjoy.  Both games are technically ‘free to play’ as well but oh, that’s the rub, isn’t it?

wpid-Screenshot_2013-12-12-18-36-25.pngTiny Death Star is game by Nimblebit via Lucasarts, a Star Wars spin on the company’s Tiny Tower.  The 8-bit pixel graphics are cute, with animations to match.  You need coins (earned from the levels you build as the game progresses) to buy new levels, and each one costs more than the next.  However, as more levels means more cash, there’s a progression.  The ‘bux’ (the currency you can buy with real money) can be earned by playing the game as well as by spending real cash.  It never seems like it’s hopeless if you want to get the updated elevators or whatever else you can buy with bux without spending real money, but if you want to, go for it.

That’s a stark contrast to EA’s Heroes of Dragon Age.  What amounts to a collectible card game with 3d graphics, I had a lot of fun building my squad of heroes and creatures.  The missions weren’t much more than a wall of text and a battle screen, but I enjoyed it.  Until I got to the first mission on the Carta map.  It’s got me ground to a halt.  I’ve been going back through the missions again, grinding away at the missions to get the crystals you can use to buy new randomized characters, but it still hasn’t helped.  There’s no progression, it just stops.  I am fairly certain that what I need is one more high-end character, but it might take weeks of useless grinding until I luck out and get something the one thing I need.  It stops being fun, and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Heroes of Dragon Age interested me as I hoped it would tie in to the forthcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition in some way.  It comes off feeling like a blatant cash grab for impatient DA fans.  Tiny Death Star is fun just on it’s own, but that can be enhanced optionally with cash.  Guess which one I’m still playing?

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Comics Featured Review

Book Review – Dragon Age: Those Who Speak

I got my hands on a galley copy of Dragon Age: Those Who Speak, the latest graphic novel filling in the gaps in the Dragon Age universe.  Written by David Gaider, this comic follows Dragon Age: The Silent Grove and takes Alistair, Varric and Isabela to the Tevinter Imperium, giving us a taste of that foul place, continuing Alistair’s quest to find out what happened to King Maric. This book seemed to move along a bit better, and gives you some insight into our favorite pirate lass. It felt more like the characters I’m used to, while still giving some depth which was needed.  Oh, and there’s one more ‘friendly’ face that appears but I won’t spoil it. Definitely worth picking up if you’re itching for something to hold you over until Dragon Age III: Inquisition comes out.

Previously available as individual comics (in three parts), what I reviewed represents a collection of all three, available in February.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Dragon Age III: Inquisition Is Announced

Bioware announced the title for the upcoming Dragon Age game, and it’s Dragon Age III: Inquisition.  Further press releases and statements place the game as a late 2013 release, which seems like a long time when they’ve already been working on the game for two years…but we remember the things we didn’t like about Dragon Age II, yes?  So I’d rather they take their time and have a beautiful game with a deep story.

As to what the game will be about, nothing was stated but as Mark Darrah himself mentioned, a lot can be implied from the title.  DA3 will presumably deal with the aftermath of what Anders did and the end of DA2 (Number 4 on my list of potential plots) but as with the previous games, there will be a lot more than just that.  I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of Flemeth, and the whole Morrigan thing is just too interesting to ignore for very long.

This is a game I’ll be keeping a close eye on, and I think I will kill some time by playing through the DA series beginning to end…

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Comics Review

Book Review – Dragon Age: The Silent Grove

The Silent Grove is graphic novel set in the Dragon Age universe, written by the same man who was the main writer of the games, David Gaider, along with Alexander Freed and Chad Hardin.  If you’ve read this site at all, you know I loved Dragon Age: Origins and it’s related content, and came around on Dragon Age 2 in the end.  What’s being reviewed here is the collection of six comics previously only available via the Dark Horse comics store.

The story follows Alistair, King of Ferelden in the continuity that exists for these comics and novels, as he searches for a secret hidden within Antiva.  Along with Alistair are Isabela the pirate vixen, and Varric Tethras (with Bianca, of course).  Unlikely companions for a king, as he himself points out, but his search is a personal one, not an official kingly one, so it fits.  I like Varric and Isabela, so they work for me on that level as well.

Along the way you find out more about the Witches of the Wilds, dragons, and the power of blood.  The plot lingers a bit too long in places, and it’s tough to get the right sense of humor invoked – I don’t think the same jokes work in print as they do when you hear Isabela’s mocking tone or Varric’s smooth delivery.  Because of that, The Silent Grove feels more serious.  Not a bad thing, as it’s definitely got some serious plots, but if you’re looking for party banter, there isn’t much here.  Alistair is a bit of a sourpuss here.  The art style is dark and a bit too busy for my tastes, having grown up on the brighter comics of the 80s and 90s before they started going heavy on shading faces and looking more realistic.

All in all, it’s a solid read if you are a fan of the Dragon Age universe, and enjoy comics.  It helps if you like Alistair and want to know more about him.  To purchase the hardcover book, visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble with a tentative release date of August 7th.  The individual issues can be had from the Dark Horse comics store online.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Dragon Age 3 Speculation, Part 3

Part 1Part 2

Part 3 of my look at what might come to pass for Dragon Age 3 is a look at what characters may return.  Both Awakening and DA2 had some appearances and references to previous characters, in fact they were thick on the ground for me at one point in DA2, and with the plots from the previous games building up to a potential climax in DA3, one has to think there will be quite a few appearances of your favorite characters.  I’ll list characters below and whether I think they’ll appear, and perhaps speculate in what capacity.  Feel welcome to join in!

Help control the pigeon population in Orlais, bring back Shale!

From Origins:

  • Alistair – He’s one of the tough ones.  It’s not yet certain that our saves from the previous games will be imported, so they may have to established a canonical outcome for him.  I think I banished him in my game that ended up being imported to DA2, but he could be King, or dead too.  Tough to imagine he’ll be heavily involved if the saves get imported because of that.  Don’t think many will be looking for him anyway.
  • Morrigan – Now we’re getting somewhere.  There is a MAJOR plot involving Morrigan left unresolved, with the baby.  I think she’s pretty likely to appear in some capacity.
  • Flemeth – A character this powerful, who has already appeared in two games?  Pretty likely to me.
  • Dog – Wishful thinking on my part, heh.  How long do Mabari live?
  • Wynne – I can see Wynne involved, as the Templar vs. Mages stuff will still need to be resolved.
  • Leliana – A favorite of mine, and should be involved as with Wynne above.  We see her at the end of DA2, and appears to be the Seeker’s (Cassandra) boss.  Would fit with the Templar/Mages stuff, as well as Warden related stuff thanks to her association with THE Warden.
  • Sten – A dark horse candidate.  We saw a lot more from the Qunari in DA2, especially with the inclusion of Mark of the Assassin.  Might be covered in a DLC or expansion though.
  • Zevran – Seems unlikely to me.
  • Ohgren – He grew on me throughout DA:O and Awakening.  Doesn’t seem needed though, and if the game focuses on Orlais as is implied, he probably won’t be there.
  • Shale – I’d love for Shale to appear, but also seems unlikely as she is not really that involved in the leftover plots.
  • Loghain – Another one that’s tough to call, for the same reasons as Alistair.  Could be with you right to the end, dead, etc.

Awakening:

  • Anders/Justice – No.  I killed him/them in DA2, and I think most did.
  • Nathaniel Howe – Unlikely, again due to the whole Orlais thing.  Seems to me like he’ll stay in Ferelden.
  • Sigrun – Unlikely.  I imagine she’ll be in the Deep Roads.
  • Velanna – I didn’t even remember who this was.  I think I stuck with Anders in Awakening just for Ser Pounce-a-lot.

There are other companions from some of the DLC, but they seem to be mostly unimportant.  Nobody would be lookinf for them, anyway.

Dragon Age 2:

  • Aveline – No, I imagine she stays in Kirkwall.
  • Bethany/Carver – Another one where it depends a lot on whether or not saves get imported and how involved Hawke is, if at all.  Unlikely.
  • Fenris – Interesting choice, with the Templar/Mage trouble.  Might be a cameo.
  • Isabela – A pirate captain could travel anywhere, so could be a likely choice.
  • Merrill – Another with something to offer in the Templar/Mage trouble.  But doesn’t feel like someone I’d bring back.
  • Sebastian – Chantry brother, so could be possible.
  • Varric – He’d be a likely one to at least make an appearance, to me.  I doubt the frame the story as being told by him again, but it’s always nice to have a knowledge dump character people don’t mind listening to.
  • Tallis – Another dark horse, depending on what if anything happens with the Qunari.

I think that covers the companions.  Did I miss someone?  Is there a minor player that you think becomes a major one in the new game?

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Featured Review

Continuing Game Review: Dragon Age 2

Note:  Continuing means I will revisit this as I get farther in.

Of course I couldn’t avoid Dragon Age 2 for very long, considering how much I loved Dragon Age: Originsand all the related DLC/expansion content.  So here I am, almost through with Kirkwall (pre-Deep Roads expedition), and enjoying it quite a bit.  I’ll put the rest after the jump as there may be SPOILERS.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Dragon Age 3 Speculation, Part 2

Part 1 of this series looked at the story of Dragon Age 3, and what potential plot hooks are available for the next game in the series.  Part 2, here, will deal with other aspects of the new game, such as technical or gameplay changes.

Combat changed in feel quite a bit between the two games, and (other than the blatant re-use of dungeon maps) remains the biggest differentiator between Origins and 2 for me.  Most battles in DA2 look better, more frenetic, but they don’t need a lot of planning or micromanaging.  The ones that do are forced that way by having the ‘boss’ enemy become unhittable for a stretch to put you up against another wave of enemies.  One battle like that is fun, but there are a few too many like that.  It’s a cheap way to make a fight seem ‘epic’ by making it longer, especially if the mechanic doesn’t feel right for the character you are fighting.

Origins, on the other hand, had slower, more measured combat that was less exciting but required a bit more thinking.  I still think back to fighting the High Dragon as one of the high points of the series.  Overconfidently blowing the horn, the dragon swoops in…and just annihilates us.  The second try, with careful positioning and use of the proper salves and buffs, made the fight actually epic.  My hope is that combat ends up somewhere in the middle, taking the best of both worlds.

The art style between the two games was another difference.  DA:O was a bunch of grays and browns, and monsters that were mostly forgettable.  DA2 updated things quite a bit, added a bunch of color, but went a bit too far off from what Origins started.  I did like the almost comic bookish nature of the interstitial art, but if that wasn’t there, I would get over it.

Character customization was another difference, specifically the armor and appearance for your cohorts.  In DA:O, you had full control over the arms and armor used by all characters.  In DA2, you could control the weapons of your companions, but the armor was set.  You could find improvements that could be applied to them, but not actually change it out.  Nice for making sure cinematics and other talky bits look normal, but lots of us really enjoy tweaking things like that.  More useful in games with a real challenge as mentioned above though, as there were times where I’d tweak my front-line fighters’ gear to defend against the types of attacks we’d be facing (such as protecting against dragon breath).

My ideal version of Dragon Age 3 basically takes DA:O, gives it a graphical lift in the DA2 style, puts back fully customizable characters (perhaps with a ‘use best gear’ button or something similar for the more casual players), and tells a coherent story that’s good from beginning to end.  Not too much to ask, right?

Part 3 of this series will look at what characters might make an appearance in DA3.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Dragon Age 3 Speculation, Part 1

So Dragon Age 3 is happening, while future content for DA2 is shelved.  Bioware is looking for feedback on the future of the Dragon Age franchise, and the first thing I thought of is, where can the story go?  There are a ton of plot hooks out there, and any number of them could make up a worthy Dragon Age game.  Here are the ones I can think of:

  • The Warden and Morrigan – Morrigan leaves with the child that may or may not have the soul of one of the Tevinter’s old Gods.
  • Corypheus – Speaking of, it’s strongly hinted that he has possessed the body of whichever Warden party was still alive after Legacy.
  • Qunari – Especially this, in light of their importance in Act 2 of DA2 and Mark of the Assassin.  They have spies everywhere, and nobody really KNOWS what they want.
  • Mages VS Templar smackdown – I like this one, as it can involve folks like Wynne again, perhaps as leader of an ‘anti-resistance’ of mages that just want to get things back the way they were, and don’t want to resort to blood magic.
  • Flemeth – Still around and causing trouble, implied to be even more powerful than we’ve seen.  How do you kill something that seems to just pop right back up again?
  • Dalish Elves – A wild card in all this.  Could try to establish yet another homeland, though this might not be ‘epic’ enough to drive forward a whole game.  Maybe DLC or expansion material.
  • Tevinter Madness – We’ve so far only seen bits of these crazy mages so far, with Fenris and such.  Lots of evil possibilities here.
  • Something Else – Thedas is massive, and the little corner we’ve seen only scratches the surface.  Many all-new adventures could happen, and might make sense since there is unconfirmed (to me at least) talk that our save games won’t be imported into the next game.

I’m sure I’m missing an obvious future plot hook, so if you know one, comment it up.  I’ll add it to the post.  What would you like to see, plot-wise?  I’ll look at game mechanics in a later post.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Player versus Developer Narratives

David Jaffe, designer of the Twisted Metal series of games, made a splash recently at a DICE summit presentation.  The Ars article linked has a good breakdown of it, and if you want the full talk, go here (he’s a bit obnoxious and vulgar, FYI).  Here’s a pertinent snippet:

My talk is actually a warning, about why we shouldn’t tell stories with our video games. I think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s a waste of resources and time and money, and more importantly I think it actually stunts, and has stunted over the last 10 years or so, the medium of video games. Sort of at our own peril. And to be clear, I’m not talking about player-authored stories, and if you don’t know what that means, it’s kind of a buzzword these days amongst designers, but basically, a player-authored story is something… I mean, the best example these days is… Skyrim and Arkham City are wonderful, but you can also go down the chain of scope to a game like Angry Birds. A player-authored story is basically where the mechanics and the interactive is so compelling and so engaging that the player, by the very act of playing the game, creates a narrative in his mind.

Now, there’s a good bit here to agree with.  I love Skyrim, and if you read the site, you know I’ve actually written an adventure or two I’ve had in it up as a story – a literal player-authored story.  I’m not the only one either.  Other games – MULE jumps to mind – are ripe for this as well, since it’s different every time you play, and can really engage your creativity if you role play it.  But Jaffe’s logic breaks down for me when I think of some of my all-time favorite games, Dragon Age: Origins and Starcraft.  Looking at Starcraft, there was a developer-made story, progressed in a linear fashion, but it HOOKED ME.  I finished that game – I cheated to finish it the first time! – because I HAD to know what happened.  I didn’t create that story, and maybe Jaffe would tell me it would’ve been better as a book or a movie, but I don’t agree.  I felt like *I* did all those things, I was betrayed by Mengsk, I fought the Queen of Blades, it was ME.  Maybe that’s still a player-narrative in his mind, but it doesn’t happen without Blizzard’s story.  Without the story, Starcraft is just a series of skill challenges, which can be plenty of fun, but it’s not the game I love.

I think Dragon Age: Origins is a great example of why a developer driven narrative is still needed.  While I’ve built up quite a player-narrative in my head for the game, often referring to ‘My Warden’ as a unique individual starring in a story of my imagining.  But again, it’s BECAUSE of what we went through.  We killed an Archdemon!  I let out a “Hell YEAH” when she killed that asshole Arl Howe.  How much of that could you strip away, and still inspire me to think of my Warden like that?  To make in-game decisions actually in-character?

It’s worth noting that there are plenty of games I love that work exactly like Jaffe describes, but I don’t know why there can’t be variety.  Just because one set of games works this way, doesn’t mean they all need to or should.

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PC Games

We need to talk about Starcraft 2

I kind of hate Starcraft 2.  There, I said it.  That feels better.  I guess, I should be more specific – I don’t hate the game itself, as it seems like a perfectly good (probably an all time great) RTS.  I had fun with the single player aspect.  What I hate is what it’s turned players into.  You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an SC2 player studying build orders and worrying about their lackluster ‘macro’.  It’s almost impossible to find someone just playing for fun, and if they say they are, they are probably taking it easy on you.  Not much fun for them.

My time with Starcraft is some of the best gaming I ever had, but I should’ve seen the cracks even then.  I played Bunker Command and Bunker Command 2, a ‘Use Map Settings’ map that pit you in a fast-paced game against the other players where you got points for blowing up their dudes, which in turn earned you new units.  The trick being you had to defend your bunker while you went after theirs.  Simple and fun, and it didn’t take 2 hours to play out.  But as SC aged, people stopped playing it.  It was all about improving their rating.  No one had time to play a game that ‘didn’t count’.  SC2 has jacked that up ten times at least.  Sure, there may be a few holdouts like me, but I don’t have time to find them.  It’s honestly one thing that has driven me away from multiplayer gaming and back to things like Skyrim and Dragon Age.

If anyone finds a working SC2 version of Bunker Command, I’d be interested.

 

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Console Games PC Games

On Sequels

Reading some of the reviews and discussions out there on Dragon Age 2 got me to thinking – Did Bioware do a disservice to themselves by declaring this game a sequel?  They call it a sequel on the game’s official site, and they put a ‘2’ after it, but it may have damaged the perception of the game a bit to do so.  Even the CNN review says it “isn’t exactly a sequel” and I agree with them.  A sequel, to use the wiki definition as an example, is:

a narrative, documental, or other work of literature, film, theatre, or music that continues the story of or expands upon issues presented in some previous work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as a previous work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.

Let’s examine DA2 in this context.  It *is* in the same fictional universe, though DA2 starts during DA:O, not after.  You’ve got a bit of character overlap but not much, but the most important character from Origins is not directly present, the Warden.  The new game is set in the same world, but all new locations.  The DA2 story has some elements you came up against in the first game, which I won’t spoil, but still, to me, doesn’t seem like all this adds up to clearcut sequel status.  It became clearest to me when someone mentioned Baldur’s Gate:  Dark Alliance, a game my wife and I very much enjoyed, but played quite a bit different from other BG games.  DA2 doesn’t stray THAT far away, but it did move.

That isn’t a bad thing, though.  The problem is not with the game, but how it was sold to the consumer.  When I hear ‘sequel’, I’m thinking of games like Diablo 2, Warcraft 2 and the like.  Games that are bigger/better/MORE of what came before.  Yes, there are new features, graphical upgrades, but you see the progression.  You don’t see that so much with DA2.  There’s enough things that are different (some would say downgraded) and enough gameplay has changed that it really feels more like a spinoff than a true sequel.  Instead of slapping a ‘2’ after the name and calling it a day, Bioware should’ve titled it something like “Dragon Age:  The Champion of Kirkwall” while simultaneously announcing development of a true sequel 2-3 years down the road, closer to the Elder Scrolls dev cycle.  Those playing the Kirkwall game wouldn’t necessarily be expecting ‘more of the same’ as DA:O, and a real high fantasy epic world-spanning adventure ‘true sequel’ would still be very welcome.  Everyone is happy, and we can be done with the whiners complaining about not having all the origin stories in the game NOT named Origins.

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Console Games PC Games Review

Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions

I played through one full run of the DA2 Demo (male rogue), and to be honest, it’s got me a little worried.  The visuals are definitely different, probably better, but with the way combat jumps around so much it feels more like an older MMO.  The powers recharge quickly, the action more frenetic (yes, I know you can still pause it), and I never got the sense of what was happening to my characters at a glance.  Maybe the interface is TOO sparse, the details too hidden for my tastes.  The conversation wheel is fine, probably a change for the good, as it allows the hero to talk and emote.  I didn’t like Hawke’s family that much,

I definitely want to give the full game a try, as the story could save it easily, and I may just need time to adjust to the new style of play.  Still, I am tempering my expectations just a bit.