Great Moments in Square Enix History

At a recent media event in Japan, Square Enix president Yoichi Wada unveiled the “Square Enix RPG for the world,” which according to Wada will “become a cornerstone for our worldwide strategy.” He went on to add that “Square Enix RPGs are in a league of their own, and in a world of new technology, we need to expand our portfolio, and The Last Remnant is a brand new franchise being designed by a new generation of developers, scheduled for a simultaneous U.S./Japan release.”

Whoops.

Some Words About Dragon Age 2

Recently I found some time to finish up Dragon Age 2. The biggest problem many people seem to have with the game is that it is not Dragon Age: Origins, which I feel is unfair since DA:O is simply one of the best RPGs made in forever. It is true that it is not as good, and it has a very different feel from the first title but it stands by itself as a good game even if it’s not one that I went crazy about.

I have played through many actually bad RPGs and so let me just get this out of the way: Dragon Age 2 is not a bad game. If you want to play an outright failure of an RPG power up your PS2 and throw in Suikoden IV. Dragon Age 2 is well made, polished and flawed but not bad. It might not be up your alley, and that’s okay but it’s an important distinction. I thought Knights of the Old Republic was well made but found it kind of boring and prefer the sequel by like a thousand fold but I understand that many people hold the opposite opinion.

I liked Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings a huge amount for a few reasons I can distill into bullet-points:

  • The story and main character’s ultimate mission reminded me of a good Suikoden game (that is all of them except for IV if you’re wondering), and Suikoden is my favorite RPG series in the world ever. There’s a war going on, you’re stuck in the middle of a dire situation and have to get people on your side to fix things. Bad things have happened to you and to everyone around you, the bad guys are not just caricatures of bad guys, etc.
  • The talents and skills made available to me allowed me to play the game in the manner in which I found most fun, and the tactics system allowed me to carry this over to my whole party.
  • Traveling to a variety of distinct areas—as I have also been playing Dungeon Siege I appreciated not being in generic dungeon style areas for hours on end.
  • I really liked the other characters around me—they were fleshed out and flawed and interesting, except of course the Dog who is 100% perfect and wonderful.
    Obviously that is simplifying things quite a bit but that’s what summaries do, right? Something about all these factors just gave the game that little extra oomph for me that made it click completely.

BioWare decided to go for something very different with DA2—and I don’t fault them for that at all. They also had a lot less time to make the game, and it definitely shows.

The premise for Dragon Age 2 is very interesting and ambitious—the game spans 10 years of a character’s life and follows their ascent to Champion of the city of Kirkwall and political troubles that are present the whole time bubble over and come to a head in the final act of the game. Unfortunately it doesn’t really come out feeling as grand and big as it should, and there’s not really much sense of time in the game as a whole.

There are three acts, each of them are about a year of the character’s life with three or so years passing between the acts. This isn’t really the same as actually playing through ten continuous years as a character. Beyond that nothing much changes between the acts. Everyone looks the same, everywhere looks the same, nothing much substantial happens to anyone during the three year breaks. Okay, there is a major change between acts 2 and 3 in terms of the city but it doesn’t really make much of a difference in terms of what you see as you wander around. It just doesn’t feel like any time has passed at all.

The other real flaw in Dragon Age 2’s design is the paucity of environments and places to explore. I get that everything is happening in the immediate area of Kirkwall and I don’t see that as a hurdle, but it is a problem when you go to the same areas over and over and nothing really is changed except sometimes certain doors are passable and other times they are not. Even if you aren’t doing side quests this is very noticeable and takes away from the game. I’m not expecting a cave to change substantially in a few years, but maybe there could have been different caves?? This is the kind of thing I think would have turned out differently had the game development cycle been longer.

I thought the character build options were pretty boring. BioWare ditched the linear combat skills and the underlying skills (lock picking, potion making etc) in favor of combat only trees that look like this:

There are about eight tabs of these available for each character and they focus on specific elements of combat (sort of). Some of them specific to certain characters. Some skills have enhancements you can plunk your available points into, and some have “You must have X number of points in Y category” requirements.

Bioware’s reasoning for getting rid of the linear trees was that people found they had to get X to get Y and never used X. That’s a noble ambition but you are always going to have skills people don’t want to use. I felt that there was a lot less available to me and I honestly didn’t use most of them much. So mission not accomplished there for BioWare, in my view.

My last quibble with Dragon Age 2 is that the characters are pretty forgettable. The amount of broody seriousness is offset somewhat but there is really a lot of grim grim grittiness. They have their reasons, of course, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting. I’m also unsure of why they decided to import a major character from DA:O – Awakenings and then completely ignore all the epilogues and endings available for him in that game.

With all that whining out of the way, I want to emphasize that I really do think that Dragon Age 2 is a well made and good game. If it wasn’t, I would not have played through it all or plan to do so again. But unlike DA:O the flaws are pretty glaring and I can see why a lot of people did not like the game.

Some people specifically really didn’t like the combat system but I think some of that is tied to the skills available to players and not the system itself. I honestly thought the actual combat was pretty similar to DA:O, though I didn’t dig the user interface a whole lot. I was able to set-up my party tactics very precisely and keep everyone alive for the most part.

The follow up to an obviously great game will always leave a lot of people disappointed, and speaking frankly people are going to use a lot of hyperbole when talking about a video game that didn’t live up to their expectations. If Dragon Age 2 were not a sequel I think it would have been received differently by the general population and more like the Witcher which is a solid but not mindblowing game. If you can keep the two games separate in your head and are a fan of RPGs you’ll probably be able to get something positive out of DA2. For all my whining I would say that I had a pretty good time playing through.

Dragon Age Makes Me Stupid

When the Dragon Age 2 demo was released last week, I made a big fuss of how I wasn’t going to download it and some people asked me why I hate Dragon Age. I don’t hate DO at all. The problem is that I loved it way too much. I need to stay away from it for now.

Exhibit A:

 

 

I played Dragon Age for two weeks like it was my part-time job. It makes me stupid. I totally lose track of time and don’t sleep enough. I could write a lot of words about why the game pulled me in—and probably will once I have some more time on my hands since my full time job has been crazy lately—but right now I think the screencap from my Steam profile says enough.

Early Impressions of Alpha Protocol

I will give any game associated with Black Isle Studios/Troika/Obsidian Entertainment a shot, knowing that there are bugs and that they probably ran out of time and that their ambition when making the game doesn’t quite match the end product (even if the game is incredibly good in the end). So, I started playing Alpha Protocol last night to see if the problems it has are big enough to make me want to toss it out the window.

I finished the entire Greybox (tutorial) area and the first two missions in Saudi Arabia, and here are my impressions so far.

  • This game was not built to be played with a mouse. Sure, it’s available on PC but it was pretty clearly developed with consoles in mind. That said, it’s not horrible. There are certain actions like picking locks that are frustrating because of this but so far no gamebreakers.
  • No shock here–it’s a resource hog. I also have an old computer. Once I scaled down the graphics it ran much, much better. You don’t get the typical wide array of tweaks for a PC game, though.
  • Whoever invented the system for computer hacking in-game needs to have their fingers broken. Maybe it works better with a controller, but I can’t tell you if that’s the case since the game only supports the 360 PC ones. I have a nice Logitech dual stick but I can’t use it to play Alpha Protocol, feh.
  • The dialogue system is great, even though I missed a couple of choices while yelling at my cats. You only have a few seconds to pick your approach so you can’t agonize for minutes over which choice you want to go with.
  • Saving happens by auto/checkpoint only, another sign that it was built for consoles. My quicksave finger is going to get a rest while I work through this game.
  • I am terrible at stealth, it’s good that I am not a spy.

Mission Accomplished

It took a while but I finally got my character in Neverwinter Nights 2 to be a perfect Chaotic/Good. Some of the Lawful/Chaotic choices threw me off and I may have chosen some mean things to say at points that pushed my Good/Evil score down a bit.

This is right when you get knighted, if you’re wondering about the weapon choice.

 

Following the law is for losers

Neverwinter Nights

A long time ago I gave Neverwinter Nights a shot and then for reasons I can’t recall, decided that it stunk and stopped playing early on in the game. If I had to guess, I was expecting a Diablo 2 clone and was not pleased when NWN was a different beast with a similar skin. If you aren’t sure what you’re getting into NWN is a game that seems like an action RPG at first but is actually bound very tightly to whatever rules edition of Dungeons and Dragons was around at the time (2.5 I think? I really have no idea). I enjoy turn-based RPGs much more than clicky click adventures normally, it just wasn’t what I was expecting when I started playing.

After years of being hounded, I decided to give in and I enjoyed Neverwinter Nights although I wasn’t completely blown away. I think that not being familiar with AD&D at all beyond computer games takes away some of the appreciation of the game, plus joining the party late meant that I missed the initial excitement.

I went pretty boring vanilla with my player-character, choosing a human fighter (recommended for beginners like myself!) and mostly went along with what the game said was best in terms of character build. Going this path made strategy pretty similar to a Diablo 2 clone with some wait between hits (and misses), honestly. When you run low on health you can even open up the equivalent of a town portal and heal/pick up your dead henchmen quickly and go back where you were. I don’t think that my amazing strategy of trip to Temple of Tyr, heal and go back would change with a different class, of course, but there’s probably a bit more thought than “Attack” with other some of the character builds options.

A lot of people raved to me about the story in the main campaign of Neverwinter Nights but I thought it was pretty pedestrian. There’s no party members to get to know and although you can become chummy with the various mercenaries I felt like the relationships were pretty one way. You ask, and if your character is a certain level or finds a certain item the mercenary talks.

There is a whole lot to do in the game if you are a sidequesting type I certainly am and I didn’t finish everything. I probably got about 70% of the available non-henchman talking at me quests, which seems like a lot but I normally do all the sidequests available in games I don’t hate as long as they don’t involve stupid things like dodging lightning 100 times in a row.

My feelings towards Neverwinter Nights are pretty similar to most of the BioWare developed games I’ve played: I enjoyed it, but thought it was a little overhyped. It didn’t set off the extra flags in my brain that move me to really love and care about a game but I had a fun time while playing.