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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Rik's Reaction to DRAGON AGE 2 (PC)

Right so firstly.. Dragon Age 1 .. Dragon Age Origins was and remains a good game, no question. Bioware, heroes of the western RPG returned to their fantasy roots in 2009 after running around space with Commander Shepherd in Mass Effect (cool trailer on that link) and they created an entertaining and suitably epic story where a great evil is taken on and destroyed by you the hero and his or her companions.

At the time, DA1 was a 50 hour breath of fresh air in a world dominated by man shooting simulators which took a meagre afternoon to see the start and end credits. That trend continued into 2011 with yet more fish based games (That's what COD is right?).. so imagine my excitement when this was released to the masses:

Awesome right!? RIGHT!? Sorry.

However as it turns out.. I was so so so so so SO very wrong to be excited. I have only just got through this game, finishing the main story and 99% of the side quests yesterday evening... and my advice? Don't bother wasting your time.

This game is boring. Fact.

The whole story is set over 10 years (it feels like that too) and follows a simple refugee and the remains of his family who flee to the city of Kirkwall. Here you stay and over the next ten years get caught up in the city's political machinations, engage with its citizens, learn about the city's problems and eventually rise to the status of the "Champion of Kirkwall!" *applause*

Oh .. erm..mate..  there's something on your face..  

So what exactly is it that has made DA2 so despised by me..  well to be honest.. everything.

I'll start with the city of Kirkwall itself. It's brown, or grey..  or brown. 





Ok that last one is from Counter Strike and not Dragon Age 2 but could you tell the difference!? It is boring. Just imagine spending 30 hours there, in all the same places, over and over and over, the city doesn't even slightly change.

Is this a living breathing city? No. It feels like a big brown corridor linked by loading screens... every citizen you meet is a whining moron who needs your help and the idle chatter between people around town is exactly the same over TEN YEARS. Isn't there something new to talk about!?!?

On the rare occasion you do get to leave the city it doesn't get much better. You have something like 4 places you can visit.. which you will... time and time again.. and every time it's the same layout.. the same enemies.. the same the same the same.

Lets check the map and see... oh.. no need.. siiiiiiigh 

What's worse is that when you complete a chapter of the game and the story moves on a few years these areas are populated with a new scattering of crappy stuff to collect (Which we'll get onto) which means you need to explore the entire area again, which still hasn't changed or been populated with new challenges, just to make sure you aren't missing out on something crucial. You trudge over your own footsteps time and time again and it is NOT INTERESTING. 

Sigh..   you could argue I am being picky, but imagine you were given a task, say..  go buy a Mars bar, what exciting adventures will you face!?  You set off down your road, past that post box on the corner and get mugged by MARCUS the MUGGER, you know he has a dodgy leg so you give him a kick on the knee and run off..  victory.. exciting! You see your neighbour, make small talk about Marcus, get to the shop, buy your Mars bar and head home over the same route. 

The next day you are given a task, go buy a Bounty Bar...  what exciting adventures will you face!?..  and EXACTLY THE SAME THING HAPPENS IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. You see the post box, Marcus attacks you, you deal with him the same way, you chat to someone, you complete the task, you go home and look up the meaning of "deja vu".

Now I know that example is just a mundane task spiced up by a spurt of GBH, not the stuff of legend Dragon Age 2 would be aiming for I'll admit..  but my point is that sadly quests in this game end up becoming mundane and the journey through them predictable and dull. Honestly I could tell you exactly when I was going to get ambushed.. and by what .. and how I would deal with it... and most of the time I was right because it happened to me a few hours previous. 15 TIMES!

Every quest in DA2 boils down to killing everyone or talking to someone. That. Is. It. It is the same every time, in the same place, for reasons you don't care about because you are bored and dead inside. 

I am so bored

Now to that crappy stuff I mentioned, aka loot. To the uninitiated loot is the stuff you find in chests, boxes, barrels, dead bodies, ethereal dust, ectoplasm... take your pick and for me, loot is the LIFE BLOOD of these kind of games. If the story isn't up to much.. and in DA2 it isn't up to much... then other than levelling up your character and learning new skills it's the promise of bigger, better and shinier things. 

The progression of taking your character from a lowly scrapper with a blunt sword, a barrel lid shield and crappy clothes to a legendary warrior in powerful gleaming armour, wielding a 6 foot sword that crackles with lighting and holding a shield the size of a stable door which is just as thick is really appealing to me, and a lot of RPG gamers. However in DA2 the utter crap you have to sift through to get to that point is almost a job in itself.

Seriously, trekking through the same brown place you've trekked a thousand times before, to visit the same warehouse you've visited a thousand times before, to kill the SAME SET OF BANDITS you've killed a thousand TIMES BEFORE, the only thing to look forward to is the gleaming golden chest hidden in the back room filled with promise.

But once again, no.

The amount of "tiger eye fragments" and "moth eaten scarves" I discovered in a box or chest after committing mass murder to reach it was becoming way less heroic and a lot more psychotic. I am not kidding..  have a quick look at the complete list here and just revel in the amount of crap you can collect for no bloody reason.

So wasn't worth it.

The only benefit of this tidal wave of tosh is the sense of relief you get when you actually find something useful, but even then it isn't that often you'll swap out your weapons or armour for your new find, because normally that's also junk....

.... but what about your companions that accompany you on your quests? Surely some of the stuff can be offloaded on them? Not when it comes to clothes it's not! In a bizarre game design choice you have to find full armour and clothes sets which are specifically for your friends.. and I mean find them, like collecting Pokemon or something, and when you have a spare pair of boots, helmet, gloves etc just lying around it makes no sense at all that they can't just take this superfluous rubbish and WEAR IT. 

I am not wearing that you utter tramp! It doesn't match my eyes....  

The companions you quest with are unremarkable and fit certain sterotypes. There's the sexy pirate whore, straight laced warrior woman, moody outcast etc etc...  you can annoy them.. or make friends with them but honestly this has no effect on anything.  It really is a transparent attempt to make the game more emotive or something, to make you care about the story and the people it effects but essentially when all is said and done your companions become the help when the fighting starts and not much more. 

Sure I had my favourites, but then I have my favourite flavours of crisps....  but I don't fall to my knees weeping if a bag is accidentally sat on. The characters are like crisps to me, yes.. I went there.

Talking about the fighting...  it's all spectacle and no real substance. The first time the swords start flying you'll be genuinely blown away by the speed of the action and how dangerous it all feels, however by the end of the first act, when you've been in combat for nearly 10 hours, it just becomes a grind.. and my friend, you've got another 20 hours to go. 

I found myself muttering under my breath as I walked 4 yards from the pile of dead in my wake only to be assaulted again, by the 20 cookie cutter bad guys I JUST KILLED.

You deal with nearly every enemy in the same way, using the same tactics and skills. As with the location, the quests, the dialogue.. it is all the same and it just wears you down.


I am not one to usually rant, or moan about bad games too much (I haven't even talked about the music, it's a new kind of pain) and I know there are loads of people out there that see Dragon Age 2 as the pinnacle of RPG greatness, maybe like this guy:

Just... wow

...but I honestly don't see how.

The game is a time sink, nothing more, I will never get those hours back and I only got through it so I could write about it after seeing the whole thing.

Please, even if someone is giving the game away, don't waste your time. Avoid. 

There are much better stories and RPG's out there for you..  go have a look at the Witcher 2  or Skyrim. Please... promise me.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rik's Reaction to RAGE (PC)

So id software..  pronounced ID..  not I.D..   clear?  No.  Well anyway masters of the FPS way back in the early 90's they've taken their first stab at a new game in 7 years and it feels like they have kinda jumped on several band wagons for this one..  

We all remember being terrified by unconvincing pink pixel monsters in DOOM.. 


And then being ASSAULTED by a "varied" palette of browns in Quake..

It is just so BROWN

And most recently encountering slightly more convincing pink monsters in 2004's DOOM 3... in the dark...


For me those are mostly fond memories and RAGE kinda threatens that deep-rooted nostalgia initially, and fails to make a good first impression...  mainly through a lack of originality...

The game has been in production since 2007 and over that time the men at id appear to have been enjoying 3 specific games..  and their influences are clear to see...
  • Open world?   CHECK   (See Fallout 3)
  • Mad Max style end of the world apocalypse badlands?  CHECK  (See Borderlands)
  • Moody guitars mourning better times?  CHECK  (See STALKER)
  • Mutants, zombies and mutants? CHECK ( See ALL THREE 1, 2, 3)
And RAGE has these in abundance.. 

Open World & Badlands, Guitars, MUTANTS!

"I'VE PLAYED THIS ALL BEFORE" you might scream as you begin your first mission to murder a den of mutants for paper thin reasons, however in truth...  I don't think you'll actually care.

id have a long and proud history of making guns sticking out of screens feel chunky, heavy and dangerous and RAGE is no exception. Every pull of the trigger with every weapon feels like a ballistic face punch and it's satisfying when you nail a shot with such kinetic force that your target cartwheels through the air to land behind the wall he just vaulted to get at you. 

It makes you feel like a bad-ass, like the cowboy in the white hat who has arrived in town and things are gonna change. That is exactly what RAGE is all about and really what your ticket price is paying for.

Although the game may have taken some pointers around what theme and features make a game sell these days, it is still firmly an old school shooter which see's you essentially moving from one shooting gallery to the next. 

The combat is a relatively straight forward affair, with simple retro mechanics. You won't find a "take cover" button ala Deus Ex, with the camera zooming out to a third person perspective and your character expertly hugging your choice of refuge. There isn't even a lean button to allow a little peek around corners, it's all about crouching with your face seemingly pressed against a wall, popping up and blasting away.

The AI are about what you'd expect from a modern game, most of the time they do a good job of staying in cover, moving up and around to flank you. The don't always hit and they don't have eyes in the back of their head. You never feel like the game is cheating or they have an unfair advantage.

They also have a few surprises up their sleeves from time to time..  believe me the first time a screaming maniac charges at you, serrated axe held high, you'll line up the head shot, confident in your prowess (maybe you'll invite your girlfriend over to watch?  [don't by the way]) and as you pull the trigger said maniac DUCKS and your shot explodes in the wall behind... you'll raise an eyebrow I'm sure. 

If you duck I'll KILL YOU

They are fun targets which provide an entertaining fire fight across the board.

One thing that certainly isn't old skool about RAGE is the graphics...  and my word are they pretty. If you have a good enough PC this game really looks wonderful, the weapons in particular are actually jaw dropping in places. Look at this screenshot from the PC version of the game... then imagine it moving towards you at speed. Eep.

"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIT! Sir! .... you dropped your wallet!" 
The PC version did suffer universal reports of terrible texture pop in at release, however I can report I haven't had any of those issues and as always recommend the game is patched and up to date before playing. Both the Xbox and PS3 versions have also received many plaudits for its graphical muscle and to be honest, do we expect anything less from id and John Carmack

The citizens of city hubs like this one will provide you with jobs and missions to complete

There isn't much else to say about RAGE, sure you get a vehicle which you can upgrade with weapons, turbos and armour however it just serves as a mode of transport to get from point A to B and your next corridor full of evil doers.. oh and something to race in from time to time.

You can visit merchants to upgrade your weapons and you can buy materials to build things to help you, such as cute little spider robots that follow you around and help out when the shooting starts.

There is a story of sorts...  however much like you as the protagonist, it's best not to ask questions.

Go play, shoot some bad guys and have fun.. and in the end, what else do you want from a id FPS? 

For me...  not much.