15 December 2009

gaming

Been playing Dragon Age enough to have a few opinions. There will be spoilers if by some chance, people who wanted to play it and haven't pop by.

1) Morrigan is probably the single coolest video game character I've seen. If it were possible to interact more with Andrew Ryan in BioShock, he might win this competition. But his entrance as a talking head looking gangster-ish through a broken TV screen does not compare to a witch-like causal stroll of a mage staring you down as a lesser mortal. So he loses. She's anti-social (she hates townspeople, anything in the game having to do with religion, children, and your dog) and almost completely self-confident and totally aware of it. In your camp, she's the only one off by herself, which is a pretty clear signal to be "left alone". Pretty much every situation where in the game you can "help" someone, she gets pissed if you do it. Thus far she has been pleased with the following types of events: condemning dwarfs to be enslaved as stone golems, allowing a merchant to "price gouge" refugees, saving an illegal blood mage from death, allowing a tower of mages to be overrun and slaughtered by templars, etc. To top that off, she requests that you kill her mother (when she finds out her mother will try to kill her at some later point, but it's not like it comes out of the blue though). She got annoyed when I saved a village of innocent civilians from a horde of undead that sort of thing. Ryan has the line where he burns a forest he owns to the ground when the people wanted to turn it into a national park. So I can see where this sort of attitude is coming from.

It's not so much that these are necessarily great people and role models in most ways, but they're far more thought-out allies or plot devices than the other "good" characters often are. By simply playing the game in a "people get what they deserve" attitude, you would imagine you could get along great with either character. And you naturally annoy people who believe there's more to justice than that. Like that noble idea that innocents should be protected from harm (another mage got really annoyed when I killed the "wrong" dwarf with the assumption being that dwarfs would again be forced to be enslaved rather than volunteer to be turned into magical monsters as they once did, and the main male NPC got extremely pissed when I let a woman sacrifice herself to save her son from a demon). One consequence of this seems to be that it's really hard to keep everyone you could recruit as allies happy. A couple seem genuinely evil. Morrigan is only anti-social in my opinion, she does not (usually) wish for people to be harmed, but if it is "getting what's coming to them", she's not lifting a finger to stop it either. Sten seems more or less evil. Considering you recruit him by saving him from execution for a senseless murder of an entire family, this isn't terribly surprising.

2) This sort of dark cynical world also carries over into the non-allied characters you can interact with. When you save a town from a bunch of predatory bandits killing or robbing refugees outside of it, some of the townsfolk are annoyed because they're being overrun by those same "worthless" refugees. Almost every major authority figure in the game is only concerned with one thing: power. They willingly allow people who they have nominally supported to be killed because it advances or secures their own position. Very Machiavellian. At the same time some of the dialogues you can have with the "good" storyline folks demonstrate theories on responsibilities of power and the consequential duty to use that power to protect or help others. Considering that there are no examples of this in the game (even the Wardens are basically a secretive cult that doesn't seem too concerned when people have to die to advance their essential cause), it's hard to see where they got the notion however. I haven't played as an elf yet, but one of the introductory story arcs is basically the beginning part of Braveheart. Some human noble comes by to claim his right to sleep with your new bride, you kill him. It's not a pretty world.

3) Game wasn't too hard on hard. Morrigan, in addition to being an interesting character is probably the most crucial addition to the team. It's like playing as Rome in Civilization 4; she's like a full difficulty level adjustment down. She does require in my opinion the most micromanagement to get the most out of the spells though. The other mage you can get, Wynne, can handle healing by scripting it on autopilot and the one good kill spell combo she has, petrify/shatter, available can also be scripted easily enough. Hardest part was early on, pre-Morrigan, fighting a boss ogre where I died about a dozen times before figuring it out. Later engagements get progressively easier. A few longer quests are reasonably hard but manageable if there aren't running battles with dozens of enemies over a wide area. Those sorts of fights will drain out all your abilities and you'll be left using regular attacks more often. Which sucks. There's a fair amount of dying if you're not careful but it's also not essential for every battle that every character "survive" the battle throughout either. As long as one of you makes it, the dead just get back up with some injury penalties to their stats and abilities. It's mostly like a combination of an RPG and an RTS in most battles, sort of like playing Warcraft 3 with just heroes as your army rather than random units. The "perpetual gore" feature also wasn't well thought out. It's good for combat to give you an idea of just how messy things are getting and some of the killing blows are visually impressive, Alistair leaping up on falling ogres and repeatedly stabbing their chests for example, but it does get extremely silly if you then have a conversation right after a battle. A mop would be necessary. The game was rather unstable at first. I had two hard crashes where the computer completely shut down (heat related I assume). But once I patched my video card, parts of the game (usually the ability to loot corpses and quest updates) simply start to run slower after a while instead of crashing the system. I find this an agreeable arrangement, since with Fallout 3 I was getting a fair amount of CTD appearances for the same sort of game. Borderlands was more stable than both.

4) For whatever the controversy was over the ability to have homosexual relationships, aside from the usual RPG tendencies to use specific body types for humans (both male and female) as heroes, it's extremely tame on the "sexual". Fallout 2 had the same prostitution angles as this game did (almost 15 years ago) and only marginally less graphically. That is, sex is in this game only a representation that there is sex going on or about to be going on, it's not pornographic, and Fallout had a casino bell ringing as the screen faded out and returned to normal instead of a brief cutscene of characters in their underwear. I should also note from what I've seen online that Morrigan is arguably more clothed in the game's sex scene for her than in the rest of the game (at least on top). And as far as actual nudity, there are a few basically topless purple demons. Woo-hoo.

If this was supposed to be controversial, I'd say some of the decisions that the game gives you to do as options or which others have done previously which you are correcting (or helping) that amount to slavery (city elves) or genocide (the mage and werewolf story arcs) are far more troublesome than anything sexually related in the game. It's already rated M, and given that an M rating for a video game is supposed to be like an R rating, you'll see a lot "worse" in a movie theatre as far as nudity and sex are concerned. The only difference is that it is not as interactive a storyline. But here again, "sex" is a cutscene. The interactive part would be how you ended up there I guess, but it's generally over a long period of time. The supposedly offensive gay scene(s, there's both gay and lesbian relationships, plus at least one other non-party related character who may be persuaded to join you in the back room of the brothel) would have to be something you would positively chosen to pursue. Considering there is actual pornography which is far more accessible online than an interactive RPG game with the main focus being killing things and doing quests, I'm not that concerned. GTA's "coffee" that you had to unlock manually apparently shocked some consciences as well, though since it wasn't gay males obviously fewer than this. The lesbian angle in the game is pretty much at this point an accepted norm, which I guess is progress of a sort. Really the puritanical attitudes toward sexuality in our society need to do some serious explaining for me to take such shock and scandal as this at face value. You as the player would have to choose to pursue this as an optional aspect and it's in a rated game already with the idea that it will have particularly adult themes in it which ought to be more offensive than sex to our sensitive sensibilities (ie, mass slaughter and the complex and cynical political maneuvers which then result in mass slaughter and war). Get over it says I.
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