What happened?
Twelve years!
You hit me with a cricket bat!
Ha! Twelve years!

Sunday, April 17


Dear Hosting Company

If you don't have the exact configuration the customer ordered, it's generally acceptable to substitute a more powerful configuration at the same price.

It's not so acceptable to substitute a less powerful configuration.

Particularly if you don't bother to tell the customer.

And when you do this, it's really not a good idea to argue that this less powerful configuration is actually better.  Apologise and fix it.

Update: They apologised and fixed it.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:29 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Friday, April 15


Dragon Age II

This is the review I posted at Gamespot, with some italics added.

We all knew that Dragon Age II wasn't going to be a direct sequel to Dragon Age: Origins.  Since, depending on your choices in the first game, your main character might well have ended up dead at the end, that would have been tricky.  But that doesn't mean we can't compare the second game to the first - it's called Dragon Age II after all.  And when we do, it comes up short in almost every way.

Other reviewers have covered some of the glaring flaws, such as the mindless reuse of assets and the way the plot has you on rails from beginning to end, so I won't go into those.

The combat in the first game was somewhat stodgy but certainly allowed you to plan out your tactical assault.  Dragon Age II on the other hand has your characters leaping about like crack-addled squirrel monkeys with ADHD.  The combat is as easy as it is mindless, but most of all it betrays the same laziness and incompetence of the designers that shows up all through the game. 

The original game had such a fetish for surprise attacks that the true surprise ended up being not having your face ripped off the moment you opened a door, but Dragon Age II lacks any factor of surprise at all.  Enemies jump on you, you stab them, they explode for no readily apparent reason, then more enemies fall on you out of the sky as if some giant monster-crapping pigeon was circling overhead.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

But none of this is the actual problem with the game.  The unlikeable main character, the unlikeable secondary characters, the uninspired story, the fact that the combat system has been targeted at preschoolers, even the fact that the entire game relies on a set of art assets adequate for a half-hour tech demo, none of that is what's really wrong here.  Even with all those flaws, there's still fun to be had.  Not a lot of fun, but some.

The problem is that while the story itself is uninspired, the telling of the story is a hundred times worse.  The game seems determined to yank you out of any immersion you might achieve.  Right at the start of the game, a family member and a companion are killed before your eyes.  And you will not care.  You don't know these people, and they're portrayed with all the liveliness of frozen oatmeal on a stick.

Once you get out of your darkspawn-infested village and make your way to the city of Kirkwall - which is where you'll be spending most of the game - you need to find enough money to bribe your way inside because they're not accepting any more refugees.  You have the choice of signing on for a year with either a smuggler or a mercenary company, and I chose the smuggler because it sounded like the missions would be more varied. 

Whichever one you choose, your first mission - to prove yourself and get hired - involves you killing a bunch of identical thugs, and your second mission doesn't ever happen.  The moment you're accepted, the game forgets about that part of the story, the part that would have established your character and made you glad to eventually return to the safe confines of Kirkwall, and simply skips ahead a year.

That's so inane it left me dumbfounded.  Give me something.  I don't expect or even want to play out every day in the life of Pirate Penny but give me something to indicate that it actually happened.  Because otherwise, as far as I'm concerned as a player, it didn't happen, and I was magically teleported into the city with no involvement on my part whatsoever.

What follows is an attempt to raise enough money to mount a treasure hunting expedition, which makes no sense because, as your own character points out, if you had enough money to fund the expedition you wouldn't need to do so.  When the characters in the story are pointing out that the plot is broken you have to assume that the writers have simply stopped caring, and if the creators of the game don't care then I see no reason why I should care about playing it.

And I don't.

As a standalone game it's just not very good.  As a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins - and don't try to tell me that something with a II on the end shouldn't be considered as a sequel - it's an embarrassment.  The only thing Bioware can do to recover at this point is to pretend that this game never happened and go back to the drawing board.

As a standalone game I give it 4/10.

As a sequel to the exceptional (though flawed) Dragon Age: Origins I give it -1/10.  It not only has nothing to offer in that respect, it actually detracts from the original.

Verdict: Wait for it to hit $5 on Steam and then buy something else.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 03:21 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Monday, April 11


Dead Horses

Warning sign nine: Someone started a constructive criticism thread on the Bioware forums.  It's up to 72 pages already and it doesn't seem to be a flame war.  Listen up, Bioware: You took everything that made Dragon Age: Origins a good game and lobotomised it.  What's wrong with Dragon Age II is Dragon Age II.  If you want me to buy any of your games ever again (and I have almost everything you've ever produced up to now) you'll ditch Dragon Age II completely and pretend it never happened.  I'm not expecting a direct sequel to Origins - after all, I died at the end so that would be kind of a surprise - but I'm expecting something in the same spirit, not this dumbed-down tarted-up choiceless aimless plotless wasteland of human misery.

Sorry, I've been watching too much Zero Punctuation today.  But the point stands.  What's wrong with Dragon Age II is the entire game and you need to bury it and go back to Origins.  If you can't recapture the spirit of Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins, all games that you yes you produced without going to your customers and having them tell you your job then there's no hope for your company or indeed the RPG industry given the hilarious recent failure and collapse of Squenix.

Warning sign ten: They're giving away a free copy of Mass Effect 2 with every copy of Dragon Age IIMass Effect 2 (which I haven't played yet) is apparently a good game or at least well-received but I can get Mass Effect 1 and 2 on Steam for less than the price of Dragon Age II alone and that's exactly what I'd recommend anyone to do.  I'd do that myself except that I already have them both and even Australia's tough consumer protection laws don't let you return a game on the basis that the story is completely bloody stupid.

The bloke who wrote the critique of Dragon Age II on Rock, Paper, Shotgun also wrote a shorter but more focused "what I think" piece after the first few hours of gameplay, again confirming everything I experienced.  This is not a good game.  Don't buy it.  If you bought it, don't bother playing it.  Get your free copy of Mass Effect 2, or if you've already played that, all the old Infinity Engine games are available cheap on GOG.

If you still doubt me, check out the user reviews at Metacritic.  Given that in the obscenely skewed world of game review scores anything below 7.5 means that the program raped the reviewer's cat and burned down his house, an average of 4.3 and an outpouring of zeros and ones means that the fanbase is very, very, very ticked off.

This rant by Evis T is enormously nerdy but spot on:

As is his review:

And this, what he calls a catharsis (warning, it's long):

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:42 AM | Comments (8) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Sunday, April 10


Kicking Dragon Age II Some More

I went poking around the review sites to see if Dragon Age II was worth playing after all.

The verdict is: If you liked Dragon Age: Origins, if you like Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate, if you're looking for more of the same - Dragon Age II is not it.

Warning sign one: The lead designer of Dragon Age: Origins left Bioware when he decided he wasn't interested in the direction Dragon Age II was taking.

Warning sign two: The game was designed with sequels in mind.  The opposite is true of Dragon Age: Origins, which tells its story to the end.  Depending on the choices you make, there isn't even a hook for the expansions Bioware already released.

Warning sign three: EA bought Bioware.

Warning sign four: The review scores are lower than the original (down from 9.5 to 8) and the user scores are lower than the review scores (7.3 vs 8).  That second part is significant: For a title targeting a particular niche, you'll often see user scores higher than the review scores, because a flawed game that caters well to its target audience can still be a hit.  When the review score is down and the user score is lower still, that means it's a big disappointment.

Of course, I pre-ordered it to get the extra goodies, so I didn't get to see the reviews first.  But I'm not nearly as cross about the $60 I wasted as I am about the potential Bioware wasted.  They had an excellent game, an interesting world, a history, a cast of characters already brought to life that they could build on, and they produced something...  Adequate, and disconnected.

Warning sign five: There's an introduction to your character near the beginning of the game.  It's being told as a story within a story at that point, and the character you play then is not necessarily the character you will create for the game.  It's the default.  The moment my character opened her mouth I wanted her to be eaten by the darkspawn.

Warning sign six: Once you actually create your character and flee the destruction of Lothering (and these people were not in Lothering; I was there; I know) you need to earn money to bribe your family's way into the city of Kirkwall.  You have a choice of either joining a mercenary company or a smuggler for a year to pay off the debt you incur.  I joined the mercenary company, and was looking forward to seeing what sort of missions I got sent on.  It doesn't happen.  The game just skips forward a year.  And according to this review, that disconnect between the story as it is intended and the story as it is told only gets worse as the game progresses.

Warning sign seven: The music for Dragon Age: Origins that plays when you fire up the game launcher is gorgeous.  (The music for Mass Effect is pretty nice too.) I sometimes stop just to listen to it.  The music for Dragon Age II starts off with an unpleasant drawn out violin chord (or something like that) that makes me want to click away as quickly as possible.

Warning sign eight: The user interface for Dragon Age: Origins feels right.  It fits the game.  The user interface for Dragon Age II looks like it was swiped from some indie budget RTS title.  It's awkard, ill-considered, and incredibly jarring.

You know what this game is?  It's The Phantom Menace.  It might be an okay-ish game in it's own right, but it's not Dragon Age.

The one good reason, the one good reason to play this game for just a couple of hours is so that you can properly appreciate it when Zero Punctuation tears it apart.

Update: Rock, Paper, Shotgun says it's much, much worse than that.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:06 AM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, April 09


Dragon Age II, A Possibly Unfair Review But I Don't Care

As I mentioned before, the Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening expansion is narratively broken and not any real expansion on the original game.

Dragon Age II turns out to be...  Average.  Perhaps on the good side of average.  But Dragon Age: Origins is close to great, and I'm just not interested in average right now.

The characters are bland.  Despite the fact that you have a much smaller choice of main characters - so that your speech is fully voiced, unlike the first game - you somehow end up less expressive.

The background graphics are noticeably more detailed and smoother, but at the same time many of the characters are more cartoonish.  And the camera angles for some of the dialogue scenes are laughably bad.

Also, the user interface designer needs to be punched in the face.  The old user interface wasn't perfect, but it was functional and the design fit the game.  The new interface is strikingly ill-suited to the game; everything about it is jarring.

I've only spent a few hours playing it, but that's enough.  It seems like an adequate game, but it's a console game, not a PC game, made of shallowness and flash rather than narrative depth.

Dragon Age II is Final Fantasy X-2 to Dragon Age: Origins' Final Fantasy X.  There are worse things you can be, but that's still not a good thing.

Actually, it lacks X-2's exuberant silliness, so it's not even that.

Not recommended.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 10:24 PM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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