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Ready, Set, Restart

Let’s face it, I started this blog with no idea of what I was doing. While I’ve improved past the “Th1s gme are grate because” stage of writing, I’d like to leave that all behind and start fresh. As such, I’m starting from scratch at Ready, Set, Restart.

I’ve had a good… I’ve had a run here and I hope that most of my current readers can make the jump with me. Here’s to hoping for a better audience, now that I won’t be burdened by tons of old, emberassing posts that are difficult to edit/obliterate.
Plus, now I’ve got a name that doesn’t suck and a direction for my blog. See you on the other side!

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I was honestly going to review this a few days ago, but several things kept me from doing so. Honestly, I’m kind of glad that I waited. To put it simply, Dragon Age II may be the closest I’ve seen to a video game becoming “art”, if for no other reason than nobody can seem to agree on how good/bad it is.

I’ll start off with the bad to get it out of the way. The game isn’t too polished. While plenty of folks have gotten through the game with no problems whatsoever (myself included) several odd bugs have plagued certain types of PC’s, and higher graphic settings don’t work well on Nvidia graphic cards right now. On the console side of things, the same glitches apply but with the fun addition of regular slow down. I was actually going to do a video review for this game, but my recording tool and Dragon Age apparently don’t get along very. I will say that the vast majorit y of people have nothing to fear whatsoever. Bioware has already released a beta patch that addresses the worst concerns of the PC version. Given that patches like that rarely come out on launch week, I expect that if the same speed is kept up in patching out the other major problem, the game will run perfectly in less than a month regardless of console.

On the actual playing-the-game side of things, I couldn’t be more impressed. Every major problem that Dragon Age: Origins had has been fixed. Insanely high difficulty? Not unless you turn it up to hard or nightmare. Party members responding too slowly to important commands? Everything moves and responds exactly when you want it to. Character editor only makes people who look stupid? No longer an issue. The list of fixes goes on and on and on.

To focus on individual elements, the combat has received the most attention. It’s much more fun to play on a basic level. Individual sword strikes are satisfying and almost every special ability in the game is useful and fun to use. In terms of interface and the way combat flows, it’s almost identical to Origins. It’s just way more fun.

Insert girly shriek here.

 

 

Crafting is a lot simpler now. Instead of worrying about carrying around dozens of otherwise useless items, you just find resources for your contacts. Then, you purchase the items from them for a substantial discount over what you’d get from a normal store. It’s much simpler, makes just as much sense and is much less frustrating as a whole.

The dialogue tree has been replaced with a dialogue wheel fairly similar to Mass Effect. It’s been streamlined a touch, with icons that tell you the tone of what you’re going to say. An olive branch means that your going to say something wimpy or merciful, a laughing mask is a sarcastic or humorous response, a hammer and gavel is a judgmental attitude and so on and so forth. It allows conversations to flow much faster, since you don’t have to read individual response to get a general idea of what you’re going to say and I never felt like I was guessing. It’s a great step up in interactive storytelling.

Isabella, pictured here, hated me by the end of the second act and I never saw her again. Another party member died by my hands. Everybody else loved me though, so I'm not sure who the psychopath was.

The story itself is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of tale. You play as Hawke, a refuge from the overrun town of Lothering as he makes his way to Kirkwall and tries to survive. The game moves forward at a good pace, does an excellent job of foreshadowing important future events. All of the companions are brilliantly written, and the companion side-quests are all excellent. The normal side-quests don’t fair quite as well, but they are still excellent and there are enough of them to take up quite a bit of your time. The reason that you may not like the story is that it’s much more personal than in Origins. It’s about what happens to Hawke, not about some world-ending apocalypse. The main conflict is centered in politics, not Darkspawn. I loved this approach, but it’s a matter of taste.

Finally, the presentation. Origins really dropped the ball here. Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, does not. It plays fast, looks great and sounds better. The graphics have been completely overhauled and they look far better. The subtle changes to the art style are also great. It helps it look unique, as opposed to yet another Tolkien rip-off. The sound design is also superb. The score is amazing, the voice acting is the best I’ve heard in any video game ever (No, I’m not kidding), and the battle sound effects work wonders on selling the exciting combat.

Pros: Amazing story, great characters, fun combat with little of the frustration found in Dragon Age: Origins, fantastic presentation, Bioware is showing great technical support for the loads and loads of…

Cons: …bugs that infest the game.

Bottom Line: This is an amazing game. The bugs probably won’t even ruin the experience for you, and they’ll be out of your hair fairly soon given Bioware’s patching speed. But still.

Bugs.

Fallout 3 had a veritable deluge of DLC, so, carrying on in that makes-more-money-than-Bill-Gates tradition, Obisidian has released the first in a stream of new content for Fallout New Vegas.

The expansion has almost nothing to do with the base game. It takes place in a new area, has little exploration, and has far more in common with survival-horror games than most supposed survival-horror games do. It’s quite scary at times with a constant sense of dread and refreshingly different enemies. You do need to scrounge for survival, as items are at a premium. This is doubly true if you’re playing on Hardcore, and need to eat and drink to survive.

While more veteran players won’t have any problems with the challenge I imagine that newer players could have some issues. Whether you have a high level character or not, the start of the expansion strips you of any equipment you had so your ability to survive comes straight down to actual skill. It’s refreshing to actually have to play well and not just have to get the best equipment and blast your way through any encounter in the game. This won’t be so much fun for anyway who hasn’t mastered VATS combat, though.

Think fast: Do you target the leg, head, arm, or weapon? Picked the wrong one? You just became a bloody smear across the pavement.

While the high difficulty may not agree with everyone, the story definitely should. Attracted by a strange audio signal, the courier (AKA you) gets drawn to an abandoned Brotherhood of Steel bunker. Ambushed upon arrival (Yeah, they went there) you end up in the desolate Sierra Madre casino. There’s an explosive bomb collar on your neck and the person with the detonater needs-your-help/wants-your-help/is-crazy so he “enlists” you for his mad scheme to get into the vault. The story is done well enough, but doesn’t really cover any new ground. The true intrigue comes from your team: a schizophrenic super-mutant named Dog (or God, in his alternate personality), a smooth talking ghoul that’s been waiting for a crack at the vault for almost two-hundred years and a¬†horrifically¬†scarred lady that had her vocal chords removed by the same guy who forced you to join his little heist. The characters are brilliantly written and I really cared about what happened to them. Throw in some unbearably interesting hints into the setting of the next DLC, and the story is exactly what it should be: a fantastic addition to the existing lore with a few reasons to keep playing until the next DLC is released.

Dog is so cool...

On a more technical level, Dead Money ups the level cap to 35, adds a few new perks, and provides the player with a couple new toys that they can take back to the Mojave upon completion of the Sierra Madre quest line. One huge annoyance is that the player cannot return to the casino after leaving it, so if you want to complete the new content 100% you’ll need to expect to spend a lot of time running around grabbing stuff in the undersized area surrounding the casino before heading back to the main game. It’s fun to explore while there’s a reason to, but as soon as the quest wraps up and the enemy numbers diminish it quickly just turns into an overly long collect-a-thon for a bunch of items that will quickly get replaced once you get back to the Mojave anyway.

One final note, with some minor spoilers: the vault is full of gold. So much gold, in fact, that you can’t carry it all back. It’s literally impossible without glitches. Even with glitches, it’s insanely difficult (even harder than just surviving the already-difficult heist scenario). Even if you do carry everything back, there’s almost no way to spend it all. The gold will end up sitting in some storage container somewhere serving no purpose whatsoever. It’s interesting because it ultimately ties back into the core themes of the story: letting go. To put it simply, it’s one of the purest forms of combining story with gameplay in a way that helps bring things closer to home. Throw in some very well written epilogues for your party members, and the finale is easily bests both Fallout 3 and New Vegas’ conclusions. I wasn’t expecting such a moving ending, especially from a ten dollar add-on, but it’s a brilliant way to end a brilliant new expansion.

Pros: Cool new enemies, superb new characters, an excellent art style that makes up for the aging engine, and a fantastic ending. Plus, the gameplay is pure skill, not “Come back with better armor later” like the main game. But…

Cons: … if you aren’t ready for this difficulty shift, it’ll kick your ass. As in: really, really badly. Seriously, run away screaming.

Bottom Line: For all of you who didn’t run away screaming, just go buy it. It’s that good, and for only ten bucks you can’t go wrong. Unfortunately, I think Obsidian really missed their core audience here. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t like getting brutally murdered every five minutes.

Preview: Dragon Age 2

A quick video preview of Dragon Age 2. As always, sound off in the comments.