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New Dragon Age 2 Images Tease Relation to Grey Wardens

Released on the Dragon Age Facebook page are images that, while not outright stated to be DLC or a sequel to Dragon Age 2….well, logic would dictate that it would not be presumptuous to assume that these are most likely DLC screenshots.

“We managed to land some high rez images that Mike Laidlaw claims he “found lying around.” Are those griffins?” teases the page.

The griffins, one might recall, are the emblem of the Grey Wardens.  Notice, too, well…the fact that these look like new locations. Thank god. The question, now, then: where shall the DLC take us!?

The other two images after the jump.

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I Don’t Want To Save the World

I don’t want to be the chosen one. I don’t want to get the girl. I don’t want to make kingdoms rise and fall on my whim. I don’t want to dictate who lives and dies. Most of all, I don’t want to save the world.

I want small moments instead; they mean more to me. Getting stood up at dinner. Figuring out how to deal with a student that’s being bullied. Deciding whether or not you’re going to use the swingset or toss a ball with your son. Perhaps, even, dealing with the death of a parent. Hey, that’s an actual game! Well, actually, all of these are. But, we’ll get to this specific game–Winter Voices–a bit later, after I explain my rationale a bit.

Basically, I don’t want games to act as an extension of masturbation. Wish fulfillment. Escapism. ‘Power fantasies‘, as Leigh Alexander would put it. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I want something new, something that challenges the entitlement we experience as players–the power that comes with god-like control. Perhaps then, choice and morality would actually mean something, instead of being just another thing you have have authority over. Perhaps then, relationships with other characters can feel more genuine–they are not simply pawns that we can manipulate how we see fit. Perhaps then, I’d be put in my place–and this could be a valuable experience.

I think back on that now that I’m playing through Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Day 3 happens, and an immortal demon called Beldr arrives and is slated to kill us all at a predetermined time and place. Of course we happen to find the singular item that will slay the supposedly immortal being (not really a spoiler, considering the game takes place over 7 days and so it would follow that you do not die on the 3rd day). My party rejoiced, only to find out there’s three or four other beings like him. Of course, they’re supposed to be crazier and more powerful (than an immortal being?) and  we have to take them out if we want to survive.

No problem. ……right?

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UPDATED David Gaider on Player’s Propensity for ‘Optimum’ Choices in Dragon Age 2

SPOILERS ON A MAJOR DRAGON AGE 2 QUEST AHEAD:

A bit late on the uptake, but I just recently came across a post by David Gaider in which he explains the rationale behind the Dragon Age 2 quest “All that Remains”. Those who have played through the quest know the inevitable outcome: your mother dies. Not just any death, either: a particularly gruesome, unnerving death at the hands of blood magic. The remark by Gaider is as follows;

“The problem wasn’t that “everyone picked to save her”. It was that everyone thought they had to save her, and would reload/re-do the quest until the got the outcome that was perceived as the most optimum– even if the result when Leandra dies is more dramatic and has more of an impact on the larger story.

The quest isn’t about saving her, after all, it’s about putting a more personal face on the darker side of magic and the repercussions it can have on innocents.

If someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine. Up to you. But DLC is created to add content, not to skip it– and, no, there is no material anywhere to make this easy to implement. Dialogue after Act 2 assumes that your mother is dead. Period. Sorry, but that’s simply the way it is.”

All That Remains is one of the few quests whose outcome cannot be influenced and, personally, as someone who ended up having my sibling die on me too, shocked me to the core. I lost everyone, and it was my fault. In that sense, I can recognize that Bioware was effective in their intended outcome: to take away the ability to save everyone as an attempt to elicit a reaction.

It’s something that they’ve been toying with for a while, to be sure–for example, the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 had the possibility of not only losing vital crew members, but also the possibility of Shepard himself dying. The big issue with that was that the way to avoid such a fate is easy to figure out: maintain a good relationship with your party members, make sure to get all their loyalty missions and, pick the roles that made the most sense for them in the final stage.  I ended up saving everyone, and, while I can’t fathom the idea of losing some of my favorite party members, I still recognize that the impact of such a loss would have probably made the game more memorable.

You can’t have it all. You can’t always get that optimum outcome, even if everything suggests that you might. Shit happens.

Still, this brings up some interesting things to reflect on. There is definitely an ‘optimum’ mindset that frames the way gamers play games. In a way, it makes sense: why would you try to get the “bad” outcome when you can get the “good” one? Or are people willing to take the “bad” outcomes if it means that it will result in a more intriguing premise?

Update: seems I missed this earlier post by Mary Kirby, where she lists alternatives that they considered earlier in the development of this quest.

    • Sacrifice a follower. Your romance, if you had one. Or whoever had the most frienship.
    • Make the player become a serial killer. You’d have to murder a number of innocent and sympathetic characters in order to restore your mother to life.
  • Let Merrill sustain the spell (possibly costing her attribute points) and keep Leandra in her horrible patchwork zombie state in a back room of your mansion. “

Dragon Age 2: On Branding and Circumstance

Small roundup for you folks today, one item dealing with the marketing for Dragon Age 2 and one item dealing with the way conflict is structured in the game. First item of interest comes from an interview over at Game Informer with the Bioware founders, Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka, where they touch upon why the standard male Hawke was chosen as the ‘face’ of Dragon Age 2.

” That’s a great question. One of the things we really embrace in our games is diversity and enabling people to take on different roles so, obviously, we have strong female leads. We have amazing voice acting talent for both the male and the female roles.

That said, for the marketing face we have to make a choice. And it’s a tough choice to pick an iconic face — the face of the brand. You have to pick an iconic representation for the brand and it comes down to the marketing team’s intuition. It’s not easy because we know a lot of the fans enjoy playing the female lead so we always make sure it’s just as high quality as the male lead for the main characters in our games.”

Hmm. Does gender dictate how iconic something can be?

Second item was found over at GameBanshee from yet another interview with Mike Laidlaw defending Dragon Age 2. A good deal of criticism for Dragon Age 2 honed in on the fact that it lacked an “epic scope”; ie an easily identifiable evil villain for which you must overcome all odds to defeat. Instead, we got a lot of politics and circumstance and it wasn’t easy to point fingers or cast blame over the situation. He states the following on the subject:

“The “prominent antagonist” is a staple of fantasy, be it the brooding eye of Sauron or the endless hordes of the archdemon. For Dragon Age II, we wanted to attempt something different and break the mold and try to vilify circumstance, rather than a specific evil. It’s a story of how heroes are made, not born, and I think that by the same token, it’s a story of how the antagonist need not always be the villain. To me, that’s a very human tale. I believe the early game likely could have used some additional appearances by Meredith, but we were likely being over-cautious of her being perceived as a source of confusion or frustration for players: “I think she’s important, but she feels disconnected from my current goals!” ”

Nonetheless most players felt lost and aimless, as if the three acts were disconnected and you were never sure what Hawke was trying to do, exactly. I think that may be why fans clamored for an easily identifiable villain–it would provide them with a sense of purpose and direction. Personally, I found their choice to make a ‘villain’ out of circumstance admirable and refreshing.

Mass Effect 3, By The Numbers

In light of recent discussion regarding metrics fetishism, I’ve tried to parse Destructoid’s newly revealed Mass Effect 2 statistics with some perspective. We all know these numbers aren’t just random trivia: they will be part of the basis for changes in Bioware’s game development. Some numbers of note, along with complete speculation for what these numbers might mean or imply, as well as questions they elicit. I will state in advance that I will happily take being proven wrong on some of these speculations–designing solely by the numbers is stupid. But, let’s indulge in this thought experiment for a second.

  • 82 percent of players play as a male character

Despite Jennifer Hale’s critically acclaimed performance as FemShep, the likelihood of us seeing any marketing campaign giving FemShep the limelight is slim. This, too, holds true for other Bioware games: we see Garrett Hawke’s face plastered everywhere, not…whatever FemHawke’s name is (I don’t even know her name!) One part perpetuation of our little boys club, one part “catering to your audience.”

Moreover, it may influence how much effort is put into love interests–the vast majority of players are maleShep/maleWarden, so the love interests need to cater to them. I can’t be the only one that feels like the females in Bioware games get slim pickings for love interests, while the males get highly eroticized, completely idealized versions of women (who are literally perfect–like Miranda).

  • Garrus is one of the more popular choices for squad members

This one is a toughie: does Bioware bring Garrus back as a party member by virtue of popularity? Does Garrus even warrant the attention of three games? Do they take this, and instead of bringing Garrus back they form an archetype around him, since he’s proven to be a favorite (and we all know Bioware loves it some character archetypes)? Do they bring him back simply for fanservice, but don’t make him a party member (think of how they handled love interests from 1 in 2)?

  • 50 percent of players have fully upgraded the ship by the end of the game

Where some RPG aspects of the ME franchise were stripped back, streamlined, or removed, the upgrading of the ship was one of the only new additions with an RPG-like aspect. So, here’s another toughie: what does Bioware do with a stat like this? Do they keep building more systems which are governed by the same principles (upgrading vs resource management), or do they see that sort of thing as a waste of their time because only half of the users took complete advantage of it? Sure, we might not see ship upgrades in 3, but the numbers attached to the “success” of the ship upgrade system may influence how other mechanics work–most likely, in regards to their complexity. The issue here would be evaluating the statistic in a wider context: just why did only half of all players fully upgrade their systems?

  • 14 percent of all crewmembers die at the end of the game

I’m glad to hear that, for the most part, players tend to experience at least one death in their suicide mission…but then again, we must also remember that this 14 percent only applies to half of all ME2 players, since only half ever finish the game. Anyway, experiencing the death of a crewmember is paramount toward showing just how dangerous the mission actually is. After all, just how much of a suicide mission is it if most players manage to get all the crew back? Still, this means that most players only had one or two characters die out of about a dozen: does this mean Bioware made the suicide mission too easy? Do they think players actually get the gravity of the situation with that number of casualties?

This statistic is interesting to think about in the scope of ME3, if only because 3 will be when (ideally) everything falls into place. Players will, hypothetically, engage in situations that are equally high risk, if not more so. This statistic may be useful in determining to what degree Bioware molds the experience. To what extent do they give players control over their fate? How do they balance their vision and message for the game with player control? 14 percent can either be seen as a failure to properly balance player control versus vision–the player has control over too much of the system–or a success, because most players experience a death no matter what they do.

  • 36 percent of players choose the renegade option at the very end

A statistic like this might dictate how Bioware chooses to unfold the story. Yes, they will probably not issue a ‘canon-choice’ but if an overwhelming number of players choose the paragon option…well, what do you do? Do you put an equal amount of effort into crafting the consequences for both options, despite the fact that one will hold the most relevance to most people? Do you cast the importance of this choice aside because of how uneven the turnout is?

And then, the real biggie: only 50 percent of all players have finished ME2. This is probably the trickiest of them all, and perhaps the most controversial of the stats. You’ve got to wonder, just what is causing this? Disinterest? Difficulty? Both? All one can hope is, they don’t take this as an opportunity to make the game further streamlined, if not easier.

We’ll have to wait until ME3 is released to see just how much, if at all, Bioware worships the numbers. If 2 is any indication, it’s probably quite a bit.

Dragon Age 2 Round Up: Changes Keep RPG Alive, ‘Final Verdict’ On Combat/Controls, Morrigan/Flemeth, More

Been too long since we posted something on Dragon Age, hasn’t it? Not enough new information floating around, but I scoured the Dragon Age 2 forums and have come up with a trove of new info on Bioware’s upcoming RPG title. Enjoy, in bulletpoint form.

“Consoles:

  • Press A to perform basic attack.
  • Open radial menu and press A to issue attack order, character will auto-attack.
  • Non-controlled characters will behave based on tactics.

PC:

  • Right click to issue attack order, character will auto-attack.
  • Non-controlled characters will behave based on tactics. “

While it’s a shame that the title will adopt a system akin to Fable’s, I’m glad that I have the option to not button mash to make something happen continuously. I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds button mashing tedious, and the ability to auto attack plus the pausing via the radial menu means the game will retain the necessity for tactics. And speaking of the radial menu and tactics, another tidbit: the radial menu will now has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve meant to increase complexity and strategizing, according to gameplay engineer Seb Hanlon.

“DA2 supports pause’n’play to allow you to carefully consider your positioning, basic attacks, and ability use for all your party members. On the PC, it plays much like Origins, though with faster, more expressive, less hesitant movement and animations, and better hit presentation. On the console, we’ve made it easier to play tactically by improving the radial menu (for example, it no longer automatically closes after issuing a command) and adding the ability to give move-to-point orders to your party members.”

  • There are some incoming changes, UI wise. Like Mass Effect 2, when you look at an equippable item, you will not see hard numbers. Instead, you will see a number of stars denoting its effectiveness relative to your level. Mike Laidlaw describes it as follows:

“The stars offer an at-a-glace indicator of the weapon, armor or item’s usefulness compared to your current level. An item that used to be five stars at level one will slowly drop off to none when you’re in your teens. The goal there is to make it easy to tell what’s above and below the curve for your current character.”

The purpose is to  have “at-a-glance information clear and easily digestible, while having another layer underneath that lets you dig deeper and get neck deep in the statistics,” a philosophy that will be followed by things such as character creation, skill trees, and so on. Fortunately, us stat junkies can still get our fix–you can ‘inspect’ items to see all the hard numbers…but the fact that we have to press an extra button to see the relevant information is a drag: can’t they find a way to relay the information easily without initially hiding it? The answer is simple: the changes that are occurring, aren’t really for me. We already know that the combat changes are meant to attract the Fable/Borderlands crowd (….???), but changes to the UI–such as these, but also the streamlining of companion’s gear (actual “armor” will update on its own, but we can equip other items to them) are meant to bring Dragon Age 2 to a wider target audience. Mike Laidlaw poses the UI changes as follows–though I believe you can probably assume this is the sentiment behind all the aforementioned changes.

“Have you considered that it might, just maybe, help someone who has never played an RPG before understand the concepts of equipment and stats at a high level, and then encourage them to go a little deeper into the stats themselves and maybe start to love a genre for which you apparently have so much passion? That, maybe, just maybe, they might become an RPG fan that helps keep the genre alive, and maybe, just maybe, even more robust than it is today because it’s got a larger fan base than it currently does?”

It’s all to keep the genre alive. It’s dying, don’t you know?

  • Moving on to the narrative side of things. First, let us revisit our my favorite duo, Morrigan and Flemeth. Bioware has said it time and time again, but just in case you weren’t convinced, have Mike Laidlaw state it once again: “The answer’s always the same: “We’re not done with Morrigan’s story.” Of course, what he means by this is still unclear: it may be less of “Morrigan’s story” than it is “Flemeth’s story,” since the two are quite…intertwined. Maybe even the same person, depending on your choices. And, don’t think Bioware has forgotten about your choice regarding the possession of Morrigan. We already know that Flemeth meets Hawke & co before the fall of Lothering, and that she tasks them with a mission–ie, after the warden has met Flemeth, but before Morrigan asks him to slay Flemeth. On the subject, David Gaider says the following: “As to how that ties into what the Warden might or might not have done in DAO regarding Flemeth– well, you’ll just have to see. But we certainly don’t ignore it.” The plot thickens!

And that’s it for today’s roundup.

 

Dragon Age 2’s “Rise to Power” Trailer

Things to note: there is actual gameplay showcased here (despite the lack of HUD). That being the case, I think we can all agree that Dragon Age 2 has gotten a visual rehaul of sorts.

The narrator is a dwarf named Varric, he is telling this story to an inquisitor trying to figure out how it is that the world is on the brink of war. We also get to see what we can probably assume to be a love interest for Hawke. She’s a gypsy pirate. Lastly, yes, the Qunari invasion that Sten mused about in Origins? It’s what is happening in DA2–here we see more snippets of this invasion, though the backdrop is most evident on the Destiny trailer, where we see Hawke battling a horned Qunari.

Dragon Age’s Potential Dirty Dozen(ish)?

Mass Effect 2, for all its critical acclaim, could be said to have one major weakness: plot. Sure, the story sort of moves forward…but the plot regarding the Reapers isn’t really the point of the sequel at all. The real story was behind your “dirty dozen” party members, a term employed by Bioware themselves in regards to the crew. These people, getting to know them and your adventure in recruiting them: this was the real star of Mass Effect 2. Hence, this:

Now, a lot of information has been floating around regarding Dragon Age 2 in the last couple of weeks. One of which may have been easily overlooked by everyone is in the revealed boxart:

What? Don’t see it? I suggest you take a closer look at the bottom of the dragon’s wings. Those, right there, are the silhouettes of about 11ish, possibly more (12?!!?!), people (I’m not sure if I should be counting the small, completely disfigured ones inside his arms). You can clearly tell that some of those are heads and arms, though admittedly the bodies are rather thin and twisted.

Could this be a reference to the number of party members in Dragon Age 2? Lord knows. But if recently revealed changes to the franchise are any indication, I wouldn’t put it beyond Bioware to have a similar setup for DA2.

Still not convinced? Well, even Gametrailers is suggesting it.

New Dragon Age DLC Follows Morrigan

No matter what you did at the end of Origins, there was no escaping Morrigan’s departure: either you pissed her off and she left, or you had the demon baby and she left. Needless to say, there was no real closure in that setup, and ever since then fans have been obsessing over how Bioware planned to tie that loose end. Just where is Morrigan going and why doesn’t she want us to follow her? What about the demon baby? This has got to be a storyline that continues onto Dragon Age 2, right? Well, it seems as if this new piece of DLC called “Witch Hunt” drops on September 7th for 7 bucks, and it promises to answer some of those questions.

The Bioware website describes the DLC as follows:

“The dreaded Archdemon has been slain and the advance of the darkspawn halted by a lone, heroic Grey Warden. The kingdom rejoices, but at least one question remains: what happened to Morrigan? The sorceress joined the Wardens cause, but it is said her true purpose was not revealed until the eve of the last battle. She vanished into the shadows, and while rumors claimed she crossed over the mountains into Orlais no trace of her path could be found. She was never heard from again… until now. Nearly a year has passed since the Archdemon’s death, and word has reached the Wardens that Morrigan has returned to Ferelden. She has been sighted in the southern wilderness where she was first encountered. Is it truly her? If it is, then why has is she here and what secret does she carry with her? The Warden heads into the forest to find out and tie up this last loose end once and for all.”

And, while yes, you’ll get to earn special items that you can import into Origins or Awakenings, here’s the kicker: at the end, this DLC is described as the “dramatic conclusion” to the Origins storyline. So, what better way to sing your swan song than to tie up the biggest loose end? Here’s hoping that this still isn’t the last we see or hear from our Witch of the Wilds, though–if we’re seeing Flemeth in DA2, we better damn well see Morrigan, too!

Dragon Age 2 SUPERRoundup: Dialogue, Framed Narrative, Graphical Update, More

It’s that time once again boys and girls: the time where Dragon Age 2 information is taking up way too many tabs on Firefox, so I have no choice but to relay the smaller details which you may have missed. You may have missed them because you’re not insane like me, and you don’t take to combing the recesses of the internet for any and all details surrounding the game. But, enough about my insanity…let’s talk about Dragon Age 2! And let’s talk about it at great length.

  • Dialogue choices you make may be enveloped under Mass Effect’s conversation wheel, but there’s actually an underlying mechanism that makes the conversation wheel unique from ME’s. You see, dialogue choices influence what dialogue is made available to you later, too. So, being the knight in shining armor will make more “good” options appear, but if you choose to take things lightly and joke around a lot, one-liners may be in your future. While interesting in theory, I’m unsure if I, personally, will enjoy this dialogue change: I tend to play very erratically in terms of personality and actions. Playing a certain way may shoehorn me into being able to ONLY play in that way. This also means that the paragon/renegade system may still be taking over DA2 in spirit, because you’ll have to play an extreme character in one way or the other to be able to take more of those options, if not take the more “advanced” good/bad options (the equivalent of which would be the red/blue options in Mass Effect).
  • As you know, combat is getting a rehaul–the whole, ‘Think like a general, fight like a spartan’ bit. Mike Laidlaw expands on this, citing that they wanted to get rid of “shuffle and lag.” Those who have played the Dragon Age 2 demo have made comparisons to God of War and Fable (spartan), only you have the ability to pause and give out orders (general). Moreover, Laidlaw says that “You have every ability you had in Origins in terms of being able to attack, move and position guys. But it’s faster, way more fluid, way more comprehensible. You may have to pause a little bit more to pull off the ‘grand strategy,’ but you can still pause the game, move between all of your characters… All those things are still there.” On the more tactical side of things, this new “responsive” system makes for faster orders. “”What I never felt was that my orders were being followed in that they weren’t orders so much as suggestions. Alistair would kind of move up, get in position, then attack, and I was like, ‘Dude, get up their with your sword and hit the guy,” Laidlaw says. And, sure enough, previews cite the ability to cast instant orders…which come at the expense of longer recharge times.
  • Origins players may expect many a nod and rewards. Not only will our overall choices affect the world in Dragon Age 2, Laidlaw also teases that Origins players will note many references and “secrets” which other players will not recognize. The experience will be “fulfilling” for Origins players, says Laidlaw…I’m hoping this means we’ll get something better than what Mass Effect 2 did with its email system, because that was pretty lame. Bioware says these events will depend on the gravity of the choice. “Depends on the decision and its relevance to DA2 – some choices in Origins (or Awakening) are more integral to what is happening in DA2, others are mere rumours of things that may be happening far away in ferelden – and are reflected in that way.” And, for those players who are upset over our inability to keep playing as the Warden? Laidlaw cryptically says that “We want the warden to certainly be in there.” It’s unclear if he means that the Warden will make an appearance, or if he’s simply talking about the Warden’s choices. It would be amusing to have Hawke meet the Warden, though, no?
  • Details on the graphical update: “We’ve enhanced our graphics engine to support a bunch of new technical features such as self shadowing, enhanced terrain generation and smoother lip synch and more face customization. It’s not a complete overhaul, but the end result looks better and runs smoother” says Laidlaw. “The redesign of the visual style has an added benefit of running much smoother on our engine. We can get a lot more creatures on screen, with better framerates,” he adds.
  • The social network will continue to be supported in DA2, and we can expect to be able to “upload” our Hawke to it. More specific details on how this functionality will differ or diverge from what Origins offered are not yet available says Bioware.
  • Those of us that fear the Shepard-ing of DA, fear not. Bioware has no intention of creating a Hawke myth ala Shepard, but rather creating a larger gameworld. Hawke himself isn’t the point, inasmuch as the details surrounding how the game world got to be on the brink of war–Hawke just happened to influence this. “While hawke may have a continuing role in the series, I have always viewed Dragon Age as a series of games about the world, rather than about individual characters. Not to say Hawke isn’t important, he is, but the world is really our focus.”

And, that’s about it for today’s uber roundup.