Sunday, December 06, 2015

Let's Play Dragon Age II - Part 1

Kids! It's time for another Let's Play, in blog form.

I had a really crappy Thanksgiving that culminated in a lot of money spent on a car, that may or may not resolve the issue at hand. So! I spent the little free time that I did have and played video games before real life took over. I was gifted Dragon Age II and felt why the hell not.

For those who don't know about my Let's Play blogs, this started in 2012 with Mass Effect. I wanted to play something that I never had the chance to play before, that was well-known and/or popular, and mark my commentary about the whole process. The Mass Effect playthroughs have been some of my highest rated postings to date. I tried this again with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel but that dipped off due to my partner in crime getting distracted by other shiny games. It's more fun to play BL with a buddy. And with Twitch and new broadcasting tools making it much easier to show what you're playing, I'm finding less of a need to utilize the blogging format.

That doesn't mean I don't miss it.

So! Let's romp around Thedas once more with Dragon Age II, where you can get the experience here or through my Twitch channel.

I'll get the questions you have out of the way. Yes. I haven't played DA2. I was very ambivalent about touching it after the trouble I had working through DA:Origins. Yes I was swayed by my friend's reviews of the game and the reviews of other news outlets that typically pan DA2 for it's linearity and lack of narrative direction. Yes I cheated and read the Wiki outline before playing Inquisition so I could catch up with the story and figure out what the heck happened.

I started DA2 knowing everything and yet knowing nothing, like a person seeing Star Wars for the first time. They've spent years, if not their whole lives, being told about the journey of Luke Skywalker without having experienced it. They know the story, but not the pieces that helped put it together.

The importance of Hawke and how his/her actions shaped Thedas were not lost on me. But now I could jump in and create the world with a controller.

It also helped that I got the game for free, so I really have no excuse to not play it.

I began my journey knowing full well that I was going to be femHawke. No two ways about it. I was going to be the snarkiest women of them all, and I find it funny to see others get put in their place by my female character's wit. Best decision of the game, so far.

The first thing I wanted to get out of the way was to figure out what job class to undertake: warrior, rogue, or mage. After the mechanics in Origins threw me for a loop, I wanted to test out every class to see what would work best for me. Playing as a mage in Origins sucked donkey butt. I can't put it any nicer way. It was a chore to use abilities, and I don't want to muddle through 40 hours of gameplay hating the job.

Warrior was...okay. I didn't like how some job abilities you can macro-lock and they would instantly happen. While others you have to hit the macro, then a mouse click. The no auto-target thing also sucks. Rogue I found to be clumsy and a lesser version of a warrior. You start out as a duel-wielder, and not an archer (which sucks for me, because I like to play the long game), and after one fight I said nope. Not going to torture myself if I don't have a bow. Then I tested out the mage and was relieved to see that it had improved from Origins. You still have the mouse clicking situation (you can't stand still and click which is annoying as F - why couldn't they pull a Diablo on the control schemes here - it's so easy to run around all willy-nilly) but I didn't feel like being a mage was a bother. That I had abilities to HELP my party and be effective at crowd control, it was a revelation!

femHawke. Mage Apostate. I can work with this.

Here is the obligatory spoiler alert. But if you've read this far, you knew it was coming.

I got my mechanics figured out, sort-of. I have escaped the Darkspawn ravaging my home along with most of my family. Met the Templar's wife. Met Flemmeth. Got to Kirkwall, where I'll be staying for the remainder of the game. A few things bugged me about Dragon Age lore at this point that made me wonder if the team fully fleshed out the history before going forward:

1 - I'm a Mage. A MAGE. In PUBLIC. I don't care how amazing and awesome your connections are, that's a really risky thing to be doing in, notably, one of the worse cities in the region with a very strict Circle. And I'm not the only mage! My compadre Anders is a Grey Warden apostate who left the order (and even by DA law, he should have been sent back to a circle when he left). Merrill is a Dalish Mage who, by all intents and purposes, been caught at the gates to Kirkwall and shipped to the Circle. You can have all the money in Thedas and your kid will still get sent to the Circle. So I don't get this. I really don't. Not when you have the Hero of Fereldan and The Inquistor as markers on the lore - if you select Human as your race, you come from a noble family and get smacked into a Circle if you're a mage. That's just how it is! No one is immune from it, so why is Hawke and everyone in Kirkwall totally cool with her mage status?

2 - To further the first point, the Templars have no trouble at all talking to Hawke and asking her to run tasks. None. I've helped Cullen, then Knight-Commander. And my brain just kept asking "How do you guys, the Templars, not know that I'm a mage? I don't wear this staff for show!"

3 - There seems to be a lapse in the time frame from the time Hawke arrives in Kirkwall to when Act 2 (the game is broken into 3 Acts, essentially) begins. It doesn't line up with the lore presented in Inquisition - that the Champion's actions took place, more or less, in a 2 year span. Where as DA2 implicates that this is a 4-5 year deal. Insane. Also, I highly doubt that all of Hawke's companions, with the exception of Varric and Aveline, would stick around after Act 1. That's a 3 year gap in the story that needs major explaining. Based on the history of Fenris, Anders, Merrill, Isabella...there is no way they would have stuck around in Kirkwall to pal around with Hawke. No. Way.

I won't get into Merrill being a blood mage. A massive, WTF on that one BioWare. These points are a general overview of issues that I have with the lore. There are a number of smaller instances within quests that I've been nitpicking at, but most people would gloss over (the date on one of the Codex entries for the start of the 5th Blight was completely wrong).

Having typed all of that...I'm enjoying the game. Which is not at all what I expected. The linear model has made it so much easier to dive into and not feel completely overwhelmed. The story is about Hawke's journey and the city of Kirkwall. There isn't a need to have this open world exploration, or to have him/her trouncing around Thedas. And even with Varric telling the tale, and his ability to be exuberant on the details, he gives the facts as straight as possible. It makes sense, and allows the gamer to developer deeper, meaningful relationships with the characters as well as the city.

Oh. Yeah. Varric tells the tale of Hawke. When the first cutscene occurred, I immediately knew what was going on and I had to stifle a giggle. What a smart way to start a story; where DA2 ends and the Inquisition is about to begin. Varric has been taken in by Cassandra for questioning about Hawke and his/her whereabouts. She wanted to know how much was true about the tale of the Champion, and find him/her to help with building the Inquisition. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It also helped with some of the comedy of the story, such as when Varric single-handedly stormed his brother's home, took out his guards, and saved the day. Yes Cassandra. We know that probably really didn't happen, but let the man spin his tale. It's more fun that way.

This form of storytelling lends the game more charm then one would expect. It feels lighthearted even though the topics are heavy handed. And allows for more character development since the focus is more centralized, and not on "we must save the world!" The relationships feel deeper, more meaningful. Even with Isabella, who seems like she'd be ready to pounce on anything cute that moves. I'm actually slightly concerned for Hawke's brother, Carver, knowing full well what's coming up soon. He joined the Templar's to make a name for himself, even though he's resisted the order since birth and still wants to protect Hawke since she's a mage. Whatever happens, I need to make damn sure he is safe. He's an ass, but he's my bro.

I'm at the point now in the story where I've been through The Deep Roads and have seen Red Lyrium. Though at this time it hasn't been IDed as Red Lyrium and the crazy shiz it'll do to a person. But instantly I saw it and went nope! I don't want to mess with that. You go that way. Bye!

I've completed a number of the loyalty quests with my companions and even have Merrill on friendly terms, which was a challenge given that most of my choices are against her preference. Sorry...I don't do the blood mage thing. o_O I'm closing in on the main quests in the second Act that will carry me through to the next stage.

My next big decision is who do I side with: mages or Templars. As a pro-mage myself, I'm all about saving them, giving them freedom, allowing them to govern themselves. It's not all bad like Tevinter. But after playing this game, there are a lot of jerk-ass mages. Like, a lot. Some make me dislike the notion of being a mage with their snobbery and artificial needs. I'm not saying it's right that the system is set up where they are locked away for their lives, but yeash. These mages make me want to be pro-Templar! Some Templar's suck, sure. But they're not ass-hats like the mages. It's making the events in Inquisition seem tame by comparison.

So let's talk about the companions. BioWare loves to stick to the "why the hell would these people work together" trope. It's all about entertaining the masses! Because in no logical way would Former Grey Warden Apostate Anders possessed by a Spirit would work with Captain of the Guard Aveline or former-slave, hates all mages Fenris. Let's be honest here. No. Just no.

One thing that I have noticed in DA2 that looks like it borrowed from Mass Effect 2 (released in 2010, while DA2 was released in 2011) was the party banter. There is a lot of it. Companions interact with the environment and with each other throughout the game that I find myself stopping and listening instead of pressing forward with the quest. It's refreshing. They don't feel like PC counterparts there to help balance my party. They help build the world of the game by being an active part of it.

My go-to party choices have been Varric (because he provides my Rogue lock-picking needs, has a good variety of weapon skills, and is the best at the party banter), Aveline (from a stat comparison, she's the best at tanking), and Fenris (great range of DD abilities, eye candy, and thoughtful comments on the missions even if he dislikes mages). And between the three of them, it's given me a lot to enjoy and think about. They are also the most temperamental about my decisions in game...except if I chose to go with the mages then I have to leave Fenris on the sidelines. I want a laugh, Anders, Aveline, and Varric or Isabella really help complete this step. Anders is special. He's the creepy cat man with a good heart. Who happens to be possessed by a spirit. And that's not okay...but okay. Isabella is very forward. She goes after what she wants, and I think that's why I'm a bit put off  by her. I'm not use to that kind of confrontational demeanor, so it tends to cause me to recoil. I'd rather sit, reflect, and then make a decision instead of charging in headfirst. On that front, it has been interesting to have her tag along with my full mage party for the dialogues that ensue.

Merrill. I can't tell if I like her or not. I'm creepy out by her, for sure. The Eluvian for one (and in my head the entire time I was screaming DO NOT TOUCH) and the use of blood magic to purify evil things. But she seems so sweet and innocent, that I have a hard time trying to figure out where I stand with her. With single cutscenes of just her, I'm ambivalent. Together as a team when we all talk as a group, she doesn't seem as strange.

We'll see where the rest of Act 2 takes me. For now, enjoy fan art of Anders with a cat.


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