Category Archives: Free Time

All kind of things I do in my free time

Game of the Month: Dragon Age II

As I had really enjoyed playing BioWare‘s Dragon Age: Origins I was of course interested in Dragon Age II, the second game of the series. But as the game received very mixed reviews I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to play it. In the end I decided to give it a try to be able to form my own opinion.

Dragon Age II doesn’t continue the story of the first part. It tells a new story taking place in the same fantasy world during the same era. Hawke, her  siblings and their mother have to flee from Lothering during the invasion of the Dark Spawn (which the player has to stop in the first part). By the skin of their teeth they manage to reach the city-state of Kirkwall where their mother’s family lives. But after their arrival they learn that their uncle lost the family’s fortune. As the city is already overrun with refugees Hawke has to enter into indentured servitude for a year to pay for their entrance. The game tells the story of Hawke rising to fame and fortune against all the odds. But she also gets drawn into the escalating conflict between Mages and Templars that threatens the peace in Kirkwall.

One of the most frequent complaints about Dragon Age II is the combat system. I personally noticed that combat is faster and that console players finally have the ability to properly pause a fight and issue commands to all four characters. In particular the latter counts as a big improvement in my opinion. Another complaint is the small setting. The game only features a relatively small number of areas which each get (re)used for multiple missions during the course of the story. Some maps (e.g. the standard cave) even get recycled for a lot of different locations. The game designers try to hide this with crude tricks like moving the entrance around or closing parts of the maps depending on the mission. Overall the world and therefore the game lacks the epic proportions of the first part. Players also complained that BioWare dumbed the game down. They definitely simplified the role play system. And while I’m alright with some of their changes like the removal of non-combat skills I’m not very happy with other aspects, in particular the restrictive weapon class system. But there are also big improvements in Dragon Age II which I appreciated very much. The main character is fully (and excellently) voiced which makes the game feel like an interactive fantasy movie. The animation of the characters is also much more exciting. Mages now swing their staffs in artistic moves depending on the type of spell that they are casting. Or a rogue’s dodge is now a spectacular backflip instead of an enemy attack which simply misses for no obvious reason. The stories and the characters are also more complex. There is no obvious good and evil side in the conflict between the Mages and the Templars. There are heroes and villains in both fractions. Hawke’s companions are also multifaceted. In particular the potential romantic interests all have a troubled past and issues that Hawke has to deal with.

I definitely enjoyed playing Dragon Age II. While I agree that the game has flaws (in particular the excessive reuse of maps) it excels over its predecessor in e.g. story telling and graphics. I also suspect that some of the fans didn’t enjoy the blurred lines between good and evil. But in my opinion this is something which makes it even more worthwhile to play this game.

For the next part BioWare have promised the fans to learn from their mistakes in Dragon Age II. If they keep their promise and deliver story telling of this quality with the epic proportions of Dragon Age: Origins then Dragon Age: Inquisition will become a remarkable game. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Movie of the Week: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Last Sunday Silke I finally managed to see the second part of Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit trilogy. It was a long wait after the release of the first part but definitely worth it.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug continues the story of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins and the company of 13 dwarfs. After a long and perilous journey they finally reach the Lonely Mountain. But now the real adventure begins as they have to face the enormous dragon Smaug. Defeating Smaug is their only chance to reclaim the Kingdom under the Mountain that the dragon seized and destroyed over 150 years ago.

If there was anything wrong with the first part of the Hobbit trilogy it was its occasionally slow pace. The second movie however is anything but slow paced. Peter Jackson is at his best again and tells another exciting tale from Middle-earth full of action and wonders. He made some changes to the original story and gave Gandalf and the Elfs a stronger presence. Jackson even invented something that is completely and utterly missing in the book: a female character, in form of the elven warrior Tauriel. These alterations bring a fresh breeze to the film without diminishing the original.

As its predecessor The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a very good movie. It features all of the magic that made the Lord of the Rings trilogy so enjoyable. I’m very much looking forward to the (hopefully) epic conclusion of the Hobbit trilogy.

Game of the Month: Dragon Age: Origins

I’m a big fan of BioWare role-playing games. Their award-winning title Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was my all time favourite game until I discovered the Mass Effect trilogy. But as it is unlikely that there will ever be a proper sequel to Knights of the Old Republic and as the next Mass Effect game is still years away I decided to try out BioWare’s Fantasy role-playing series Dragon Age. As the development of the story greatly matters in BioWare games I started at the beginning and played Dragon Age: Origins the first part of the series.

Dragon Age: Origins is a modern take on a classic computer role-playing game. It tells the story of the fantastic country Ferelden. As growing numbers of Darkspawn, violent and twisted humanoids, attack the population the King’s Army and the Grey Wardens get ready for battle to stop an invasion before it fully begins. Your character is destined to join the order of the Grey Wardens who devote their lives to fight against the Darkspawn. How your character gets to this point depends on her on his Origin. Their are six completely different origin stories which take part before the main events. Which of these stories your character experiences is determined by her or his race (Human, Elf or Dwarf) and class (Warrior, Mage or Rogue). But while the origin has a influence on details (e.g. dialog options) the main story line always remains the same.

Although Dragon Age: Origins looks like a third person action game on a quick glance it is still a round based role-playing game at the core. Both your characters and the enemies can only perform one action (melee attack, casting a spell, use of a potion, etc.) per fixed time round. But fights progress in real time unless you pause the game. The success or failure of each action depends on the attributes of the characters (e.g. strength or dexterity), objects (e.g. the type and level of a weapon), various boosts (e.g. magic spells) and a random factor. Careful aiming or quick reflexes are not required. Strategy on the other hand is important. It starts with picking the correct party with a mix of different classes. You need Warriors to protect your Mages from physical attacks, Rogues to disarm traps and for stealth attacks and Mages to heal your party and to combat hostile magic. Picking the right kind of attack is also crucial: Dragons are immune to fire attacks but very susceptible to cold attacks.

Dragon Age: Origins has a lot of virtues:

  1. The game has epic proportions. It took me over 88 hours to complete the main story and most of the side missions. It took another 25 to 30 hours to play through all of the extensions.
  2. The story is very well written with a lot of attention to detail. The history and social structure of Ferelden are very coherently defined and let the setting appear almost real.
  3. It features a huge number of locations and massive dungeons that you can explore.
  4. You will encounter a huge number of interesting and excellently voiced characters. There are a lot of very entertaining dialogs.
  5. The player is allowed to make a lot of decisions during the game. But they are not aligned to a moral codex, they are not classified as good or evil. They only change how people interact with the main character, in particular how much your companions approve of her or his actions. But while a particular choice might please one of your companions it might anger another one. And while the consequences of your actions are sometimes severe they are not always easy to predict.
  6. The extension Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening has the scope of a full game.

There are also a few minor aspects that could have been better:

  1. The main character isn’t voiced (except in one of the extensions). This disrupts the flow of dialogs.
  2. The game’s background is strongly influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A bit more novel content would have made the story even more exciting.
  3. Round based role-playing games usually allow you to pause the game and select the actions that all your characters will execute during the next round. And while this is possible in the PC version of the game it is missing in the console version. You can pause the game by opening the radial menu. But as soon as you select a single action the game continues. This makes managing your characters unnecessarily tricky, in particular if you fight a large number of enemies with a party of four.
  4. Some of the extended content recycles the layout of locations from the original game, even if the plot takes place somewhere else.

Dragon Age: Origins can definitely hold its own against BioWare’s science fiction titles that I enjoy playing so much. I can highly recommend the Ultimate edition of the game as you get a lot of extra contents for your money. I would also recommend to play all origins stories first and then pick the character you like the most for playing the main game.