Mass Effect 3 - Mission Complete *Spoiler Free*

by on

So I just finished ME3 which was an amazing culmination to my entire experience with the series, and I have one thing to say. What's up with the backlash? Sure, the ending wasn't a highlight of ME3 but I personally felt satisfied and quite frankly the backlash is overblown. For many, I really think it comes down to how they played the game and their level of expectations (and the fact that this is the finale to a series people have dedicated countless hours to). If you spoke to every character until you exhausted the available dialog options, you can easily get a sense of where they'll be once the credits end - your closure to these relationships and the world develops throughout the experience, the ending itself just paints a picture of how things may or may not turn out, the rest is left up to the imagination and I have no qualms about that.

I won't write some long detailed article about how much I enjoyed the game as a whole (I don't think most people care to read that), but in my opinion, after having just played three of these games in a row during the period of a couple of months. I can easily say that this is the most satisfying gaming experience I've ever had narratively and it's a series that has moved me in ways that few video games have. A slightly flawed ending won't change that.

Mass Effect is a Lesson in Tolerance.

by on

*I've been on a ME marathon as of late since reading Seth10's posts about the series, I recently finished ME and I'm well into ME2 at this point, so hence the inspiration for this editorial*

When you ask someone why they love the Mass Effect series, it may conjure up the same sort of reasoning's that would come from any Trekkie, Warsie or Battlestar Galactica fan; that it represents scenarios or worlds that are just plain "different," out of this world, with a tinge of familiarity that seems oddly relatable. They stand as depictions of a possible future where we're allowed to escape and appreciate the ingenious possibilities that can occur through the advent of technology fused with conflict.

Now, try asking the gaming minority why they love the series; we're talking about the resident black guy, the gay neighbor, or the female gamer among others and you may get a less than standard response. There's something to be said where a game allows you to be whoever you want to be, with whichever sexual preference you prefer without restricting the player to a token stereotype. However, it's much more profound than Bioware's approach towards character creation. If you really dig deep, you'll find that ME can teach anyone about tolerance and how it feels to be respected and alienated at the same time, so let's go through the list.

The Strong Female:


They really could have messed this one up from the beginning. It's a fine line one has to dance on to create a female character that appears strong and commanding without seeming like a downright b^#H (although, depending on how you play, she can come off as one). It's an unfortunate tag most women have to wrestle with if they ever want to appear clear-cut and independent, but that's the reality of our male outlook. At the same time, if you try to portray a character with too nurturing of an attitude, there's always the risk of having her seem delicate and frail, which wouldn't fit the personality of a commander that needs to make tough decisions. Jennifer Hale's firm yet soothing voice adds to the illusion by providing a character that consistently sounds tough with believable cracks of tenderness that can only come from a female protagonist. To put it simply, the differences between the male and female Shepard's in terms of raw capabilities are largely invisible and evenly matched, and that's not a sentiment that can be made regularly with most multi genre titles. Sure, she lacks a certain amount of self-conflict and can come off as one dimensional as a result, but it still stands as one of the few gaming moments where I can actually take pride in using a fem character without feeling like something significant was lost in the translation (Yeah, I'm rolling with a female Shepard and loving it).

The Disabled Pilot:


At the start you immediately get a sense of Jeff Joker's limitations once passions flare over his upsetting past at the Alliance Navy. He speaks with a stubborn confidence that comes from years of being told that he couldn't do this or be that. It's a personality profile that you've likely seen parroted in the lives of any disabled individual who had to contend with people who were deemed normal or superior next to themselves.

I personally had a friend who suffered from a very visible limp and he had the same sort of personality, where he'd have moments of expressing opinions about himself that sounded border line arrogant at times, but I understood where it all came from. He taught himself to think in this way to ensure that he would never allow his own mind to believe that he was in any way second cl@ss next to his peers and it helped him rise above and beyond expectations. Joker isn't simply a normal pilot; instead it's his practiced way of thinking that made him arguably the "best" pilot in the entire Alliance navy. Bioware doesn't fall into the trap of depicting his faults as if they were pathetic or tragic, instead his burdens are what make him irreplaceable, it's what produces his unique sense of humor in dire situations and it's ultimately what drives him to be the best in his cl@ss.

Religions:


It's pretty jarring to find out that religion still plays such a huge part in a society that has been so scientifically and technologically driven over the course of 200 years. The Asari have the Siari that relies on core universal truths. The Drell much like the religions of today believe that they have souls in addition to their physical bodies, so death in itself is an exodus. While Turians believe that regions or a group have spirits that allow individuals to excel. Ashley, a human, brings things home when she of course admits to her belief in a spiritual power to Commander Shepard with a certain dose of reluctance. Judging by the dialog options, it would seem that faith is a far touchier subject in comparison to something as insignificant as homosexuality or interracial relationships. She of course justifies her viewpoint with an argument shared among many by way of the universe and its splendor; a refusal to believe that it was created by chance. Despite these beliefs among all races however, it plays little significance in how species treat each other. Religion doesn't influence politics, self-preservation does. It doesn't influence respect, scientific and technological prowess does. It's largely a belief system that serves more as a stimulant rather than a regulator of decisions. Like real life, I can respect any belief that isn't imposed upon me and Mass Effect carefully provides this viewpoint.

Sexuality:


The freedom of choice is the long running theme in this series and it would be ridiculous to limit them in an area that remains a political and social hot topic in our own real life settings. Regardless of the preferences of the standard gamer, ME's world consistently attempts to portray itself beyond the laws and morals of our own. This is the future where individuals have more important troubles to worry about than who's bedding with whom, where racial divides mean little next to the divisions of entire species. In other words, people have evolved and Bioware deserves a certain level of appreciation for at least attempting to showcase this view point. The truth is that the "future" platform has always been a great place to push boundaries. Television did it with 1966's Star Trek by featuring Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura, an African American communications officer, or LeVar Burton in the Next Generation as Geordi La Forge, who served as a chief engineer -placing an African American at the head of a technical position. Star Trek however received controversy for ignoring homosexuals in a largely diverse series which is why it's so bold for ME to be taking on this issue in Mass Effect 3 by introducing the male's perspective. I challenge anyone to find games in this medium that try to do the same.


Human Significance:


One common trait that can sometimes be maddening about most Sci Fi epics is this continuous focus on humans, as if they were still the center of everyone's universe. It's the same sensation I get when I hear people idly chanting "America," followed by "@#$ Yeah!" I don't need all that galactic patriotism in my face like I receive it on earth. I get it, we're special, but with all the advanced races out there we shouldn't be seen as important. Mass Effect seems to favor my point of view by placing our race in an alienated position. We are not the most advanced race from the beginning, hell; we're actually seen as rather primitive due to stereotypes or plain racial intolerance by other aliens. As a species rather than a race, we're in a collective minority and that self-importance that comes from our own superiority is absent. This is a society that evolved without human intervention, prospered and only recently recognized humans as a viable, joinable species. We're surrounded by the strange and different, even the Normandy by selection only has a handful of humans on board by the second iteration. As a gamer, you become desensitized to the diversity of this world. In many ways, this approach towards human insignificance mirrors the way any minority might feel in a situation where they are the lesser of a subgroup and it's refreshing to experience such a world view in a video game of all mediums where the player is forced to acknowledge this perspective.

The Message

Mass Effect as a series provides a lot of worthwhile features as a game, but also provides just as much through its message. These are clear examples of a game that's seriously trying to provide voice and a venue for those with alternative views or experiences to the norm (the white male). You don't have to like the series as game, but I dare you not to respect it for what it is.

Who is this Jeremy Lin?

by on

(a rare sports entry for me, if you aren't into basketball, feel free to move along)

Who is this Jeremy Lin character everyone keeps harping about?

Every time I spotted a feature story on this unknown New York Knicks player he always had this giant grin on this face. It was the same kind of playful smile I'd find on the concrete grounds when I used to play street ball religiously way back in the day (even in the pouring rain). Then I viewed the high light reels, and I noticed that his movements were relaxed as he swerved through bodies with on point hesitations, minus the haste. It's that care-free grace that playground ballers share when the only thing riding in the balance is the fun of the game and the bragging rights that go with it.

The hardiness or toughness that's expected out of this sport can sometimes make one forget that the game itself was meant to be fun. So when some undrafted new guy comes along, completely absent of the stereotype (a skinny Asian), with a smile on his face that re-appears every two seconds as opposed to the death stare of the Kobe's and Garnett's, it reminds me why I love sports in general. He's not simply popular just because he's an underdog; we've had plenty of those before. Jeremy Lin's entry is more like the humble street baller who's just been given a chance to live out his dream in front of us all, and the love he has for the game minus the politics, is shown through every cracked smile, every high five and each surprising win. Keep it up Lin, and I might just become a Knicks fan again (something I swore off on once Patrick Ewing left).

The Power of Persuasion

by on

A few years ago I watched a film called Old Boy; it was about a man who was kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years in a solitary room, only to be released and left to his own vengeful thoughts and actions in the outside world. As I watched this movie and witnessed an ending that still shakes me to this day, I vividly remember the feeling of being completely mislead. It was a plot that managed to blindside me and really mess with my mind in a way few films have. The main character's reaction to the revelation that he's been doing something so unintentionally disgusting towards the end of the flick was a thought that I had in common with the protagonist, and it completely trampled on my safe vision of a man who would simply get his revenge in the end and move on.

When I think back on that film and the way it managed to paint a false belief before my eyes, a question came to mind: why hasn't this gamingmedium made more of an effort to exploit our expectations much in the same way as a film like "Old Boy" did?

Let's think about this; Artificial Intelligence, for instance, is governed by a set of rules and as a result becomes predictable. Well, I don't know if you've noticed it, but many of our own gameplay patterns are similar. We jump because we know we're supposed to jump, we shoot an opposing character because they lifted a gun at us and yet we never question it - there's no need to. We robotically follow a trail because we know it'll lead to the next level. We're complacent in the way we presume a video game should and would play because the same systems exist much like they did years before.

So I ask that you imagine the suggestive power a title can have over the player given the current state of the medium today. Make no mistake; it has been done before but with different degrees of success, and few titles have attempted to play with this concept but one prime example comes in the form of a 1999 PC masterpiece, System Shock 2.

The game throws you in the middle of a situation completely devoid of answers. Set in the future, you wake up in a cryo-tube; you're nameless and alone. Immediately, there's a distinct sense of loneliness and seclusion from the outside world. There was an obvious disaster that occurred but the game places a mask over what truly happened – you're simply left with the horrific sights of dead crew members, mutilated bodies and the like. As a result, the game does a great job of artificially instilling a certain desire within the player for a companion, or at least someone who can communicate what's going on. Thankfully, as if on cue, the game introduces yet another survivor by the name of Dr. Janice Polito who responds to the player through voice communication. Throughout your journey you learn to trust the Doctor as she guides you to her location and helps you to avoid certain potential dangers. As the player, you do so without questioning any ulterior motives. After all, it is a gameplay method we're all used to experiencing. When the player is met with the inevitable goal of reaching Dr. Janice Polito's hideout, only to find out that she isn't who she presented herself to be at all, but rather the very (A)rtificial (I) ntelligence that caused the dreadful disaster; the player is left helplessly played by a game.

(she played me...)

It's easy to understand how effortlessly a game can fool the most faithful gamer. The reality is that we're all programmed to do very specific things in the titles we play much like the AI we interact with, as mentioned before.. We go into such experiences knowing all this, so it's actually interesting when you think about the power a developer can have if he or she decides to modify our expectations like System Shock 2 did a few years ago; completely breaking the pre-defined rules we're accustomed to.

That 'I had no idea' impact is so much greater with a video game because it exists within a largely interactive experience. It's a form of communication between the player and the game that's symbiotic in nature, and when that eventual twist occurs where a game reveals a separate reality that was obscured from view; we feel it on a personal level unlike something more passive such as a film. The overall impression left on us is great when the guidelines we've become accustomed to are suddenly shattered.

One example could help our understanding of the effects of war for instance; where instead of believing you've been killing foreign enemies on behalf of America during a Vietnam assignment, your vision gradually becomes clear. You come to the realization that you've been killing innocent civilians all along. The last bit of soldiers are police officers from behind the shielded doors of their vehicles; guns pointing. It isn't a war field; rather, it's your home town after returning from a mentally wounding war experience. The downed enemies are your family and friends. Lastly, the end credits show up prior to a mock breaking news alert that reiterates your horrific actions as being one of the worst public massacres in US history – "War is Blind". This is an extreme example of course, but it's a type of experience made possible solely through our form of entertainment.

Instead of this medium dancing around the same systems and rules to which we are already accustomed to, developers should take advantage of our already pre-defined expectations and use them as a vehicle to provide experiences that not only shock us but tug at our trust levels to a degree that I truly believe no other form of entertainment can achieve.

You can't sell it, because you own it.

by on

A glimpse into a possible and ridiculous future.

"So I'd like to trade this game in"

"You can't, you own it that, sorry"

"Of course I own it, but I'm tired of it so I want to sell it"

"Sorry, but it's yours for life"

Volition's recent comments about used game sales sparked an ire in me I just can't let go. It squawked with a mood self-entitlement, that of course demonized used game sales through a very narrow scope; so much as to compare it to piracy. I've heard these arguments before that victimize a very rich industry, with brief mentions of a certain chain called Gamestop. Now I obviously understand the argument; that companies view used game sales as a hindrance from the profit they could potentially be making from these consumers (the same flawed argument used for piracy). But to complain about the giant hole in your sizable wallet while ignoring the significantly larger cavity in the pockets of gamers who participate in your lucrative medium is insensitive. This is an industry that demands more cash in comparison to any other form of entertainment (and has for years, this isn't a new phenomenon made necessary by technology) and as such, excludes a sizable portion of people who can't afford these titles at full price regularly. (Essentially, many of the nameless individuals who depend on a used game market wouldn't be able to afford titles at full prices regardless. So the situation would be the same under a "no used games" policy – the argument is flawed from the start)

You shouldn't be held immune from a practice that has gone on before the world had an official currency. The economically strained will always have an avenue for participating in all that society offers because of this system. On the other hand, the moment you start suggesting ideas that prevent me from feeling like I own my property is the moment you cross the line and it's also the moment you must raise your own standards. You're placing gamers in a situation where they must keep their properties permanently for reasons that make selling it useless. As a result, it than should be your responsibility to ensure that every dollar I spend on your expensive product is worth it. I can excuse a piece of #### movie, book or album by selling it – a simple solution. In the absence of that right however, you're demanding loyalty, in fact you're imposing it, so the bar on your end has to raise, and I'm a afraid that a chunk of developers out there do not deserve that same loyalty aside from a select few (not including you Volition). Eliminate the idea that gamers who buy titles used are your consumers because most are not, the same goes for pirates.

Developers, you aren't losing money from a consumer that isn't prepared to purchase your products at full price. If it's a concern, than have the humility to lower your prices to suit the lowered demand so you can provide a better solution and a profitable one (as in, I shouldn't find full priced titles a year later). If your demands are a necessity though, than it's your responsibility to make your games worth the full price tag. If your hard earned work stresses a need for a full blown, straight off the shelf purchase, than the content should reflect that.

Now what I fundementally don't get is how a system that prevents used sales can help this industry. Gamers will only become all the more selective in the titles they choose to buy when faced with the prospect of life time ownership. Lower profiled games would get overlooked by the faithful purchasers and overall would just slow this industry to a crawl.

What's Your Message?

by on

Film buff, non-game playing Friend: Damn dude, you just snapped that guy's neck like a twig.

Me: Yup

Film buff, non-game playing Friend: But that Nathan guy seems so harmless. One minute he's cracking jokes and the next he's a wise-cracking, neck snapping, gun shooting killer.

Me: It's a video game; don't think too hard on it.

Film buff, non-game playing friend: Doesn't make sense to me.

Me: It's not supposed to. This isn't a movie, it's a game. You watch a cinematic and you shoot **** afterwards.

Film buff, non-game playing friend: Whatever

Now, aside from that riveting conversation, let me just lay the foundation for my argument by indulging in a certain comic book hero, Batman; please bear with me.

Bat's, the Caped Crusader, the Masked Man Hunter….. he went by many names that hinted of a certain allure. It was a magnetism that preceded many others of his kind who also donned multi-coloured outfits, those self-declared heroes of the 80's. Sure, we enjoyed the bad guy repellent banter, witty quips and investigative talents like everyone else, but it was the knack for keeping his moral foundation secure that made the Dark Knight so interesting. Unlike the type of hero that performed fantastical feats in broad day light to the tune of positive praise, Batman represented the comprehensible fears of a masked vigilante who often gambled his actions on shades of grey rather than the standard black and white. Because of this dark image, it was natural for readers to want the hero to act on impulse and break the rules for the sake of entertainment. "Snap that guy's neck," "Let that fool fall," "For god's sake, kill the Joker already!" were all likely echoed, but despite the wants of readers including myself, the gut reactions of the many were never indulged.

(Not even the Joker's antics could get Batman to break his code so he had to take matters into his own hands)

His principles were never cheapened, so my own unblemished idea along with everyone else's of who Batman was has eternally remained the same. Now let's make something clear; this article has absolutely nothing to do with my own favourite comic book hero, so you faithful Marvel fans can release your collective cringes. Rather, I want to pose a related question based on that bloated introduction. Could Batman still be considered a morally heroic vigilante and still kill criminals at the same time? The answer is no, such a notion would stupefy most readers and possibly trigger outright annoyance. Fans would suddenly lose a sense of who Batman was; the consistency would be shattered along with all for which he once stood. It would be a glaring contradiction.

As Blaise Pascal puts it, "A contradiction in itself is a bad mark of truth." It's an incompatibility between a message that claims a singular truth and a competing idea that asserts the same reality. That's why I think it's unfortunate to hear myself say that I actually think it's a problem that's becoming an all too familiar presence with a lot of video games today, whether some of us realize it or not.

My venture into this world of paradoxes mainly occurred in Rockstar's recent hit, Red Dead Redemption. Here you had a westernized Robin Hood in John Marston willing to bend the law to help the weak, use his moral code to judge those who deserved it and help anyone who needed a supporting hand – an abnormally warm personality for someone living during the harsh 1900's. Of course, the competing idea would eventually reveal itself – an idea that came in the form of his world. It was a virtual playground that compelled the player to hogtie innocent women on train tracks for comedic value, pistol whip NPC's who gave dirty looks and on occasion, the dishing out of a massacre or two was to be expected. Now I know what you're going to tell me gamers - that I had a choice to do all these wrongs. But is it really a choice when a Rockstar game is only truly fun when we're encouraged to express these bouts of free-form mayhem? Just how enjoyable would this virtual world be if we always followed the rules, stayed on the paths and kept things in line with John Marston's own likeable personality? I'll tell you what would happen - it would lose its gameplay attraction for one and become an experience driven by a narrative; in other words, it would become an interactive movie.

(John instantly looses his believability for me once I move off of his moral path)

A game is typically about eighty percent gameplay and twenty percent narrative these days (rough numbers here). If the bulk of my experience revolves around the actions I make, whether that means shooting down bad guys or crashing into cars, and a smaller portion consists of the decisions my character makes without my control, there will inevitably be a contradiction if handled poorly. You can't solve issues like personality inconsistencies by forcing the player down a strict path, either. A game, a medium that increasingly encourages free-form interactivity, would lose its own unique sense of self. At the same time, because of the way most games are designed, with an importance placed on freedom and the increasing emphases on storytelling, you can probably say that a universal acceptance towards video games as art will likely not happen as long as there is a lack of cohesive direction. Respected art is expressed best when every element is made to send a clear and concise message on behalf of the artist. When there is a confusion or contradiction by its own creators, it typically loses its value.

(The pressures of show bussines was made clear in Black Swan. But it also had the benefit of a medium that controls every facet of the experience, unlike a video game that dishes out that control freely).

The fact is, I never really believed in John Marston's character nor did I particularly identify with him for reasons I couldn't explain a year ago. The same could be said about Nathan Drake, Niko Bellic and especially Cole Phelps (don't get me started on him). On the other hand, in other mediums I can still fully understand the personalities and traits of completely fictional characters as if I knew them because they were consistent in their actions.

Can this contradiction be solved as games become more freedom-based with a continual focus on storytelling? I honestly don't know because it's a barrier with which other mediums don't have to deal with. But if we ever want this hobby of ours to advance beyond what it is, and not only be viewed as a true form of art, but a respected one, we have to find a way to send a unified message that extends from the gameplay to the presentation.

In other words, if you want young people to understand the horrors of wars within a Call of Duty game aside from loading screen quotes, I suggest you not allow them to feel like action heroes prior to killing hundreds. War has consequences, so pick a message and stick with it creators.


What Half Life 2 Does, Your Common FPS Don't

by on

Every once in a while you come across a quote that puts everything in perspective through the use of mind numbingly simple logic. Take Josh Weier's comment in regards to game design - a software developer who had a hand in Half Life 2's creation.

"Puzzles are really useful devices for getting players to calm down after an exciting part of the game and focus on the details of the world around them. We build all this detail into the world and in many cases the player whizzes through it at a breakneck pace. Puzzles and 'down time' are like a sorbet in a multi-course meal, in that they allow the player to better appreciate whatever action comes next. Without those pacing contrasts, everything becomes a numbing blur of relentless action, which winds up being fatiguing and not very fun after a while." – Joshua Weier, as supplied by Reddit.

This is a quote illustrates my utter distain for the recent releases of Killzone 3 and Homefront to a really simplistic degree – an issue that never really crossed my mind. For one, I can't recall the last time since Half Life 2 where I played a shooter that demonstrated an inkling of "downtime", much less a simple environmental puzzle. I can't even evoke a moment within the last few years where I was driven to stay still for a moment and admire a fictionally created environment like the unique world Bioshock provided, as encouraged through its slow paced design. Are my annoyances simply down to the relentless supply of the action formula that has made up just about every first person title?

In a genre that restricts you to singular view points and perspectives; it really makes me wonder why developers insist that we only shoot a gun for nine plus hours while naively expecting us not to get bored of the rinse and repeat experience over time.

3DS Launch Event (In Image Form)

by on

A couple of things you should know.

1. This event was held in Toronto

2. I was there covering the event for Urbanology Magazine with VIP access.

3. It was ridiculously cold outside.

4. No, I didn't buy a 3DS.

5. I took these photos with an Olympus EPL-2 (awesome camera)

If you actually knew how cold it was on this day...Nintendo has some pretty dedicated fans.

Oh Mario..

This was actually the entry point to the VIP tent. One of my favorite pictures

Matt Ryan of Nintendo Canada

When will it end...

by on

I know that I used to like this white stuff at some point in my life, but I'm pretty sure that ended as soon as I was introduced to a shovel...

In other news, I plan on covering Toronto's Nintendo 3DS launch event, so expect to find a lot of pictures and impressions soon (though, I'm not really a portable gamer).

I also want to note that I recently beat Homefront which can be described best as one big giant tease of a game. It started off with a strong direction (with set pieces that literally gave me goosebumps) but quickly caved to the many stereotypes of that already plague the genre. I planned on writing my impressions but as short lived as that experience was, I think such a game would adequately deserve an equal amount of respect (which amounts to none).

Dragon Age II is its Own Beast

by on


Let me just start off by saying that I'm enjoying my time with Dragon Age II for the most part. It's a game that doesn't present all its most appetizing flavors out right but if you really take the time to dig deep enough at its core, you'll find the unseen positives amongst the more visible negatives. It's important to note that my impressions are based on the first act (approx. 9 hours and 58 minutes in, hard difficulty, screenshots taken from my time with the game)



The Narrative

Negatives:

Now I'm sure many of you played the demo and much like most trials of its kind, they drop you in a random situation without much of a backstory, they ask you to care or interact with characters you know nothing about which is commonly acceptable for over glorified tutorials. Despite this common tradition, I was pretty surprised to find out that the full game started in this very same fashion where you ultimately go through the same situation, only to then skip through an entire year (time lapse!) you've never experienced, while being situated in a town you've never lived in, and in the process of meeting individuals you supposedly know but never really met- immediately there's a lack of narrative direction.

They manage to get away with this because of course; you're playing the part of a tale that's actively being told by Varric. I'm disappointed to say that I spent much of the first few hours trying to get a sense of who Hawke was and how he is tied into the world of Dragon Age and Lothering.

(yeah I stuck with the default look this time around)

I also have to mention the dialog tree as it's an unpredictable fiend. Choices simply aren't as black and white this time around. A response that highlighted as bad may simply translate into a stern form of dialog, or if you're going for a blunt answer, Hawke may reply with something only a brain dead brute would say. Go for good, and Hawke just may say something completely timid (eye brows raised with his best wussified sad face).

For those like me who are just plain anal about consistent personalities, you may find yourself frustrated thanks to the various unpredictable extremes. I found myself rolling my eyes thanks to Hawke sounding inadvertently out of character a lot of the time, and it's ultimately one of the flaws with adding voice to a character. You're a slave to his potentially cringe worthy responses.

Positives:

So naturally I felt pretty disconnected at first narratively speaking, but as I continually began to take on side mission after side mission (a ridiculous amount btw), I began to feel a sense of intimacy with my new home, Kirkwall. As I continually attempted to help people around me to gain status and coin, I started to feel that sense of purpose within the city, when individuals would refer to my reputation; I began to feel that progression of status, like I belonged. I think Bioware placed a lot of care in assignments non-related to the main plot as I found myself nine hours in without having touched the main storyline. (I really can't imagine this game being short at this point)

Exploration:

Negatives:

Much of the first hours will involve missions within the self-contained Kirkwall. I say self-contained because I really felt confined thanks to a limited city made up of different sections, all with relatively straight forward paths. You won't find a whole lot of areas where you can simply explore with actual purpose. Every enterable location for the most part is presented in plain sight, which really discourages adventuring in my opinion. You'll also find yourself going through several missions all confined to a singular location which just ended up feeling like a series of dungeons masked as an actual city.

(get used to this map)

Positives:

There's something to be said about being forced to traverse through the same locations while meeting different characters and personalities through your time at Kirkwall. I again have to go back to that word intimate, because unconsciously knowing where certain characters will be, becoming familiar with the shortest paths, and constantly seeing the same structures and aesthetics imposes a feeling of familiarity with the town. When Hawke referred to Kirkwall as his new home, I truly felt like it was coming out of my own mouth, and whether this was purposeful on Bioware's part or not, I think it was a positive change. I just wish it was more lively of a place.

(I started to like Kirkwall after a good while)

Mechanics

Negatives:

It's strange, I played ME2 and didn't mind the fact that I couldn't change the way my companions looked, but for some reason it really bothers me when DA2 mirrors this thought process. It's just disappointing to play a title set in this medieval world, with all its fantastical armors and weapons that mostly seem to be limited to Hawke and Hawke alone. I think it's one of the bigger offenders after coming off of Dragon Age Origins, where I was given the freedom to dress my team in any fashion I saw fit. It provided me with a small sense of visual progression to see my mages and swordsmen stylized for battle as opposed to the rags I met them in.

(dude..seriously?, why even bother with the loot..)

I also have to talk about the constant reuse of dungeons when it comes to actual battles. I encountered the continuous recycling of levels, something Bioware themselves admit to doing and while I can live with it, I'm only nine hours in, so I'm hoping that I don't burn out from all the derivativeness as a result.

Positives:

The combat is just plain fun, and this has little to do with it being dumbed down. In all fairness, it's essentially the same game with much of the same strategic complexities as Dragon Age Origins. The only difference is an infusion of new animations which provide tighter responsiveness and flare. Now I'm playing the PC version and did so with the previous DA, so the exclusion of a top down camera is missed, but you really get enough elevation with most situations. A greater focus simply has to be placed on positioning your characters since your viewpoint is obviously limited.

(Me and my boy showing these sword hoggers how the mages throw down!)

"Don't cross the streams!"


Final Thoughts So Far

I think DAII is its own beast and it's best approached with a clear mindset (don't expect DA: Origins), for some it may come off as streamlined to the point of disgust but to others it may be just what the series needed to be more approachable. If you loved ME2 and really disliked DA: Origins, it's likely that you'll enjoy this far more than the previous. For all others, lower your expectations to appropriate levels and you'll enjoy what's offered here.