Second time I've come across a progress-breaking bug in Dead Rising 3. Had to restart chapter 5, now 7.

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AndrewB's yearly (?) gaming update!

Dear Giant Bomb,

I have a problem. I buy too many games. More than I'm ever going to play. Currently, in the midst of a job and trying to catch up on other forms of entertainment/education (I could list my back catalog of books and movies/TV series as well; currently marathon-ing Game of Thrones), I'm also trying to finish Pokemon White 2, Valkyria Chronicles: 2, a Hard mode run through in Fire Emblem, Bioshock: Infinite and X-Com: Enemy Unknown, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Assassin's Creed: II, Resident Evil 5, Spec Ops: The Line, a second playthrough of the Golden Sun series, as well as gifted copies of Borderlands 2 and Orcs Must Die! (which obviously can't be "finished," I suppose?), which I feel obligated to attempt to prioritize because I wanted to play them both at some point and they were given to me for free.

And then there's Civilization V, which I continue to put hours upon hours into even before the upcoming expansion claims me.

Oh, and that's also being generous on the amount of games I've written off entirely, such as Batman: Arkham City, Hitman: Absolution, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Dungeon Defenders, Titan Quest... I suppose this list could go on.

There are assuredly at least a hundred threads on adult gaming, and how we just don't have the time to play all of the games we want, so I'm going to randomly meander through my current thoughts on the games most pressing to me at the moment.

Valkyria Chronicles: 2

The reason I bought this game through the PSP side of the PSN store was twofold. First, I'm hot off the heels of the latest and greatest in the Fire Emblem series, and feel like it's too late to go back. Or rather, too expensive, since the Gamecube games released in the States are all hideously rare by now, and the only hope I'd have to play them would be to borrow them from a colleague at work (which, now that I think about it, I might attempt). Second, it's come highly recommended as a tactical RPG from the likes of @abyssful (wait... that's @yummylee... and he was speaking to the first game). Well, at a meager $10, I decided "what the hell." I likely won't play the first game because I don't own a PS3 and, given the backwards-compatibility status on the PS4, probably won't ever have the chance.

Cosette, you're just too cliche to be anything less than annoying.
Cosette, you're just too cliche to be anything less than annoying.

I'm not too deep into things so far. Surely I'm not even halfway through the tutorial yet. Unfortunately, I've hit this wall where the story and the characters are so uninteresting that I wish someone would come along and create a Westernized adult version of the game just so I could stomach it. Off the heels of Fire Emblem: Awakening (a game I adored and a game that opened me up to an entire franchise), I'm just so sick of Anime character tropes; the same tropes that made me become disinterested in Anime to begin with.

Yet I feel like I need to give this game a chance. I mean, the tactical gameplay seems fantastic, even if the early-goings have been brain-dead simple (it's tutorial, after all). A third-person character perspective mixed with semi real-time combat for a sense of urgency seems like a good break from the norm of your typical Tactics game (we'll get to that in a bit), coupled with the diverse set of classes and the choice of who to bring along on a mission makes it seem like it would be right up my alley.

The only downside I see to the PSP offering (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that, judging off the gameplay I've seen from the Giant Bomb Quick Look for the first game, the area sizes seem to be much smaller; separated into multiple mini-areas that you switch between to better accommodate the PSP's hardware limitations. You can also correct me on this one, and it calls back to my comments on Anime tropes, but the story seems like it will end up being your typical "B" grade story tossed together in the transition between full-priced console product to mostly-forgotten handheld hardware (I point to Final Fantasy Tactics / Tactics Advance, although Advance had a serviceable, if more juvenile, story).

Look, guys... I'm just sick of "arrogant hero," "clutzy female love interest," and "even more arrogant rival-cum-friend" (not to mention the whole cast of side-characters). Again, hot off the trails of Fire Emblem and thinking back to my time with Tales of "insert title here"-ia, I've seen this all before and it's not getting any more endearing (in fact, it makes it all the harder to go back to those games... and as a side note to that, might I recommend the aforementioned Golden Sun as a breath of fresh air away from all that?).

In conclusion, I feel obligated to play more of Valkyria Chonicles 2 only to see if the gameplay holds up the end of the bargain that the story does not seem to be thus far, and because I spent money on it. That seems to be the case for a lot of games lately (see Spec-Ops: The Line, even though technically it came free with my early GOTY contender - Bioshock: Infinite).

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

This is my second attempt to play the PSP Tactics Ogre game. I petered out on the difficulty curve with my first attempt, getting my ass handed to me in many a random battle (but only because my OCD-ness means I never want to lose a single character - and boy, let me tell you, that made the early-goings of Fire Emblem: Awakening a lot of fun). I guess all I can say is that things aren't going much more smoothly.

There are just too many systems at play, but damn if I don't want to love it...
There are just too many systems at play, but damn if I don't want to love it...

You see, I have this problem. I know that GameFAQs exist, and I know that these games have such complex systems and minute decisions to be made that can decide the outcome of who lives, who dies, what minor variation to the story you'll see, and what loot/units you'll acquire. Thus, I feel the need to make every mission a research project. No playing until I've studied exactly what I should and shouldn't do, what exact squares I should step on to maximize random loot drops, what characters must remain alive to recruit, which ones must I kill and loot to get the best gear... etc, etc. All of of this is assuredly pointless considering I'm not trying to play competitively and could get through the game without it, yet this is my problem with such games; knowing there are all these complex underpinnings prevents me from dropping the FAQ and just having fun with the game. This is especially true for a game as difficult as Tactics Ogre seems to be, since I feel like if I don't maximize every advantage, I'll be getting my ass handed to me all the more.

Thus, I'm not too deep into attempt #2, much like my attempt through Valkyria Chronicles 2, but already I'm feeling the lure to ruin the fun of the game and fall down the rabbit-hole of Tactical-JRPG system overload. And this is why I buy into games like Project Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Wasteland). I mean, I'm frozen up on what equipment to buy fresh out of the gate, and with 30,000 gil burning through my pocket.

Pokemon: White 2

I was very tempted to just go back to playing any one of various copies of all of the Pokemon mainline handheld RPGs to date, but Yellow had a save file from my mom on it (which I'm sure I'd one day regret deleting, assuming the battery doesn't die long before the worst). Oh, and I have this whole Pokemon game that I technically haven't finished yet. Of course, being me, this is a brand new savegame, instead of the one that was probably past the halfway point in the game.

Maybe I should just keep using my staple team?
Maybe I should just keep using my staple team?

My big problem with modern Pokemon games is the lack of freshness. The story has always been the same old drivel (see also: my above rant about Anime and perhaps Japanese storytelling in video games in general), and even with the heavier focus on it in Black/White 2, I just don't care about anything more than raising a team of 6 Pokemon and beating the Elite 4 (or is that 5, or 6 this time?). So basically, all I want is to use a fresh set of Pokemon I haven't used before or haven't used in a good long while to keep things fresh. So with this playthrough, what I've done is hand-breed (no, not in that way, you sick-minded b-word(s)) an entire team of the exact Pokemon I want to use throughout the game, instead of wait until the very late stages of the game where I'm actually able to capture them.

And it's working! I'm actually making progress! I'm going to Poke-geek out a bit and just state that I'm using the less-than-optimal but awesome team of: Yamask, Gligar, Riolu, Zorua, and Larvesta, with one free slot for whatever else I decide. The idea of using interesting options over the normal Pokemon I'd choose has revitalized my interest in finishing the game, and I'm now in Castelia city doing the Team "whatever they're calling them these days" side-quest; maybe about half-way to where I was in the game before restarting in the first place.

So without a whole lot more to say on the subject of Pokemon, I move along.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

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I could talk for days on the subject, but all I really wanted to say was this - I laugh aloud every time Donnell takes a swing at an enemy, or an enemy takes a swing at Donnell (referring to the late-game with Donnell). And Donnell can't even learn Galeforce.

Then I try to play on Hard, and I weep at how tough it is keeping people alive in the early-goings.

Bioshock: Infinite

I can't really have a discussion about the game without going into spoilers, besides to say that this game looks breathtaking. PC version, of course. Even with the holdovers from a generation of aged consoles - specifically texture resolution and maybe polygon count - the lighting and and art style make me marvel at every awe-inspiring view I'm able to breathe in-between combat situations.

The game looks so jaw-droppingly amazing so often, before we even take into account all of its other accomplishments.
The game looks so jaw-droppingly amazing so often, before we even take into account all of its other accomplishments.

Unless you want to play through the game multiple times in a quick-like manner just to experience the story, you will assuredly want to go with the "hard" difficulty out of the gate. Normal is painfully easy up until a few very late combat sessions. Basically, if you want the game to be a game, play on Hard. I'm not the only one to realize and suggest this, I assure you.

Word of warning, however: this is one of those experiences you're going to want to play through again a second time, even if time is something you have precious little of, just so you can notice all of the things you couldn't have picked up on with your first time through the game.

It feels weird writing so little about what is surely, as previously stated, my game of the year thus far, but I guess my impressions are echoed in the many spoilercasts/ spoiler-heavy forum threads on the matter. Thus, I'll leave the topic by just mentioning the two "oh my god" story moments and leaving it up to people to ask where they want me to elaborate or talk more about:

Oh my god moment #1: The return to Rapture.

I just didn't see it coming. In fact, I'd heard nothing but denials that there were any links between Infinite and the older titles in the series, even if this link is somewhat of a throwaway thing not directly important to the present story being told. It surprised me and blew me away.

Oh my god moment #2: The ending revelation.

With a wild stab, and much later, a more educated guess, I had actually figured out the revelation that you're Comstock from the early moments of the game. I guess all of those Infinity Series/Extreme Escape Adventure (Zero Escape) VNs have honed my ability to see through space-time related plot twists. Still, the ending was no less affecting. Realizing that it all had to end with your death, and multiverse versions of Elizabeth murdering her own father for it all to end, still made me cry. And even still, I'm finding it fun to go back through the earlier portions of the game and seeing every bit of plot foreshadowing (though again, with a certain sense of loathing knowing I'll most likely never have the time for a full run through of the game again if I want to get anything else accomplished).

XCom: Enemy Unknown:

Hard is hard.
Hard is hard.

I only have one short comment on XCom, which ties into my problem with Fire Emblem: I can't complete a run through on Hard difficulty (at least on Ironman) because of my OCD tendency to never be able to accept losing someone, especially not an entire squad. All of my hard playthroughs have come to a stalemate with me abandoning them because the next move will result in my losing all or most of a squad no matter what I do. So for as much as I love the game and would posture it as the game of the year for 2012, I feel like I have to give up on it unless I want another boring playthrough on Normal.

Also, I'd prefer a hastened new X-Com game to a new Civ game, because there's much more to be tapped out of this pseudo-reboot than there is from a new Civ game. The upcoming expansion pack and further refinements/expansions to an already perfect game are all I would need out of that branch for a long while, so long as they don't make things too complex.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm:

I must confess that I feel a little disheartened by the Starcraft II expansion despite enjoying it greatly (very minor spoilers might be ahead, but I'm keeping things vague).

As someone who plays the franchise for the single-player gameplay and story alone, the additional wait time brought about by the Multiplayer (both to let the current community lavish and to work the balance issues out of the additional expansion units/enhancements) sucked hard, especially since -without trying to spoil anything- there's that huge story backpedal that Brad and countless others have mentioned that makes a lot of Wings of Liberty meaningless, as well the general goofiness of this new all-story that Blizzard is fitting into the Starcraft universe in a big way, and the equal goofiness of the seemingly anime-inspired over-the-top combat in some portions of the game.

And normal is easy.
And normal is easy.

Though my biggest complaint on the gameplay side lies with the single player balance. For as much as they've seemed to refine the multiplayer to death, it's disappointing that I could beat the entirety of the single player campaign on Normal using basically the same strategy: you flood your minerals and gas with the optimal workers, and then you pump out Zerglings. With a continual supply of the things, nothing stands in your way. Couple it with the flying Zergling upgrade, faster Zerglings, and Kerrigan's ability to respawn dead Zerglings, and you have an unstoppable killing machine of hundreds of units able to reach practically anywhere they need to in an instant. All you need is a couple of units to counter the lackluster air support, or on air-heavy missions, just substitute Zerglings for Hydralisks and you're still all set. Then again, much of these complaints are alleviated by playing on Hard out of the gate, as much like Bioshock: Infinite, Hard is the new Normal. Even then, however, I've trounced the first few missions I've played on Hard using the same strategy, where I got my ass handed to me in even some of the early Wings of Liberty missions.

That said, the ending to the game, for as middling as much of the plot has become, still left me feeling like I immediately wanted the Protoss expansion pack. That's unfortunate, given that there's no signs that Blizzard won't withhold that longer for more sales on WOL/HOTS and to give the multiplayer community more time to re-establish after a slight lagging loss to popular MOBA games.


I don't really have one. I've just played a whole lot of games lately, and, in a rare twist, have actually finished quite a number of them because they've just been that compelling and/or good. Either that, or they've been just fascinating enough for me to meddle with and talk about in hopes that conversation might push me to finish them (as is the case for many of the more impenetrable strategy RPGS).

Here's hoping there will be a whole lot more of those amazing titles which compel me enough to divert me from everything else and obsess over this year, and with this coming generation!


Mass Effect 3 is a good game.

Mass Effect 3 is a good game.

In case it bared repeating, As good as Mass Effect 2? That depends on what you mean.

When it comes to combat, you've got a split. They sacrificed a certain level of preciseness in the already imprecise cover mechanics to give you the roll move, which can either be indispensable or a major pain in the ass due to their decision to map it to the same button you use to find cover, pick up an item, or otherwise interact with the environment. On the other hand, the way power cooldown is handled by a percentage based on how weighted down by weapons you are makes for a new level of strategic play, and more importantly allows biotic-reliant classes to become a more viable option. That's not to say they weren't before, but there's a reason I switched to Soldier for my insanity run through Mass Effect 2.

To make my next point, I'll need to throw up a spoiler about types of enemies in the game.

I actually found it to be a major bummer that there wasn't a return for some of the tougher enemies from Mass Effect 2. Namely, I really miss Harbinger. Those Collector fights were the memorable moments of that stellar game, and to have them missing completely from Mass Effect 3 is a bummer. Instead, you get Team Rocket, I mean, Cerebus... I mean, Cerberus. Those nade-spamming bastards are not nearly as fun to fight. The way they mix things up is by walking slowly towards you with a riot shield (aka the cheapest tactic in Counter-Strike), but that's nothing a singularity or a good sniper rifle won't negate. Brutes are manageable if there's a single one, but the game so often throws two or more at you, and then things become hectic. Banshees are cheap and a major pain in the ass that can deplete the ammo of all of your guns rather quickly, being the bullet sponges they are. Even so, there were very few moments in the game that felt difficult, even on a blind run-through on insanity.

The weapon upgrade and "inventory" system is probably the perfect balance of Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2. It's great being able to customize your loadout to fit your playstyle and strategy without having to fumble through a list of 50 useless upgrades you only haven't sold off because the clunky interface and slow scrolling means that it would take hours of your time. Nor is it the "yeah, you have a gun; what more do you want?" dumbed down system found in Mass Effect 2.

The bottom line is that Mass Effect 3 remains just about as fun to play as the second game, though perhaps a smidge worse due to a combination of sometimes awkward level layouts and enemy types.

Of random note, I did notice that the squad AI is generally improved. I'd have to point them manually into cover almost every time in Mass Effect 2, but in 3 they'd so often figure things out on their own that I didn't find myself giving them orders nearly as much, besides power usage. That doesn't mean there weren't moments of me shouting "why the f*** did you leave cover, Liara? Welp, now you're dead. And no, I'm not reviving you."

And hey, all of those characters you loved are back! (Yeah, and Kaidan! I don't know why so many people hate that guy. I don't have a single save where Ashley is alive, personally). Mass Effect 3 has that same boost that Dragon Age 2 managed: the characters are great, as are their interactions with you and one-another. The exception here would be the brief amount of time you spend with your friends from Mass Effect 2. Since all of your main squad is made up of a couple of newbies and people you were rolling with in the first game, the Mass Effect 2 characters end up being relegated to minor sub-plots and then, best-case scenario, become "war assets." But if you've played the first game, which you should have (sorry, PS3 owners), you'll be okay with this. Mostly because Garrus. And the best part is that there are touching and triumphant moments with every one of them.

My favorites: The moment you have with Liara, as she's asking for your opinion on what your Shepard VI should say, as she creates a time-capsule similar to the Prothean devices warning you about the Reapers. Then there's target practice with Garrus. Also, drunken Tail.

Then there's the missions themselves. I quickly found myself dreading every side mission that had you fighting Cerberus, both because the combat arenas were designed for multiplayer and didn't seem quite right with an all AI squad, and because fighting the same Cerberus troops over and over again got boring quickly. The worst part about that is that most of these missions didn't actually further the story, though I suppose that's why you call them side missions. At least the main quest missions, which are your more finely-crafted, if perhaps more linear corridor-crawls, are all about the quality of any given mission from Mass Effect 2; which is to say, they're good.

Except for that mission on Tuchanka. Huge open spaces where they're throwing husks at you? I had half the enemies killed before they were even in range to hurt me. Wasted space in level design.

Now let's talk about the ending. No, let's not. Because there's like 500 FUCKING THREADS ABOUT THE ENDING ALREADY. If you want to know my opinion, you'll find it in one of them. Think of it as a scavenger hunt. Now I never want to hear another word about it. Alright, maybe one snippet to help wrap things up here: the ending leaves something to be desired.

But overall, Mass Effect 3 is a game you should check out because it's overall a lot of fun to play. The only problem with that assessment is that you're either a long-term fan of the series and you'll buy and play it anyway, or you're someone on the outside feeling curious, and this is a terrible point to jump in on.


Turns out Bioware and Katawa Shoujo have one thing in common.

It's been awhile, hasn't it? I think the last time I wrote a blog, it was with the intent to muse about my time with Dragon Age 2. And then I started to loathe Dragon Age 2. And then I gave it another shot. So that's as good a place as any to begin.

Dragon Age 2.

So guess what? Dragon Age 2 is not what Dragon Age: Origins is/was to me. Turns out that the arm of Bioware responsible for the Dragon Age franchise was rushed to put out a sequel and it turned out accordingly. But hey, I have good news for those of you who haven't played the game yet and may have been turned off by the *hatred* towards this game: it's not all bad!

And you thought the Deep Roads from Origins were boring...
And you thought the Deep Roads from Origins were boring...

But let's start with the obvious. The wrong. The things you've probably heard a million times over if you've read any bit of criticism for Dragon Age 2. Recycled areas. Enemies that come in waves which spawn right in front of your eyes. Those are the two big ones. Those are the ones that make playing this game a chore rather than a pleasure. These are the things you should be kicking yourself over for paying $60 for this game. Luckily, I payed somewhere between $10 and $15. I'd say that, of the two, the worst blight on the game is the move from carefully crafted encounters you could strategize for, to spawning waves that leave you wondering if you should hold off from using any of your powers, because it's downright frustrating narrowly surviving a group of enemies only to realize that 6 more just appeared behind your most vulnerable, already pretty battered party members.

This fight was ridiculous, and by ridiculous, I mean stupid.
This fight was ridiculous, and by ridiculous, I mean stupid.

And not to belabor the ill, but that ending! I sided with the mages, by the way, because my main character *was* a mage, and even though she was a goody-two-shoes, she had at least some sense of self-preservation. Anyway, let me just start off this conversation with: what the fuck? Those last two bosses are weird. The First Enchanter turning himself into a kind of abomination you've never seen before, and for no real reason other than why not. Then the leader of the Templars, possessed by a sword. turning gigantic statues that come out of nowhere into your enemies. And guess which fight was the hardest? It was the one before the real final encounter, because at least with the last boss you get backup from an almost endless supply of allies you've recruited over the course of the game.

But enough about that. I came here to tell you that Dragon Age the Second *isn't* a flaming piece of shit, because the main story eventually leads to interesting places, which will in turn hopefully lead to more interesting places in Dragon Age the Third. Also, the game happens to include a pair of characters very nearly tied for what would have been my favorite characters of the year for 2011. The duo of Aveline and Varric *make* Dragon Age 2. That is without question.

Aveline redeems Dragon Age 2 almost single-handedly.
Aveline redeems Dragon Age 2 almost single-handedly.

I'm specifically amazed with the character of Aveline, who's tale is more interesting than anything else in the game to the extent where I feel like she could have been the main character. The odd one out in a Bioware game , these days, as a strong and independent woman who's never crying on your shoulder, recovering from the disaster of a battle at Lothering, losing her King, losing her husband, and losing her life, to eventually overthrow corruption in Kirkwall to become captain of the guard, and eventually find happiness in new friends and even a new relationship. That certainly sounds like main character material to me.

Just a shame that she's blind to Hawke's unrequited love for her, though those romantic advances you can make towards her are all the more funny because of it. Bearing witness towards, and helping push forward her relationship with Donnic is just as hilarious.

So ultimately, I must thank Lukas Kristjanson for writing Aveline, and Joanna Roth for bringing her character to life, and redeeming an otherwise poorly conceived video game.

And that's all I want to say about Dragon Age 2, for now.

Katawa Shoujo.

No Caption Provided

There's this visual novel I heard about on the Giant Bomb dot com web forums early last month. Since then, it's been sweeping the nation (or more accurately a handful of people on these forums, and a ton of die-hard crazies over at the "game"s official forums). Hey guys, it's a pretty awesome little project, and you should definitely give it a go.

First you should check out this thread.

Then you should try it yourself.

Then you should come back here and read what I'm about to say, because I'm going to spoil the crap out of it in talking about it here.

Let's start with the awesome. Like, how awesome is it that a team of strangers could come together to create something as well-put-together and sweet as Katawa Shoujo, better than many commercial projects, from the base of a single image posted on 4chan?

I was speaking of characters making a game with Dragon Age 2, and now I'll carry that conversation over to Katawa Shoujp as well. Because what else is more important to a story than characters, to begin with? And when we're talking characters in this visual novel, there's one obvious standout.

Rin is a fantastic character.
Rin is a fantastic character.

There are two factors that draw me to Rin. First of all, she's just well-written. Fantastically unique. Crazy and out-there, but believe it or not… she's believable. And that leads me to factor the second: Rin actually reminds me a lot of myself, and my own struggles dealing with an artistic crisis that's been ongoing since I was her age. The parallels I can draw between myself and her make it all the worse seeing her fail; seeing her utterly break. It's funny, now that I think back on it, she actually ends up being the most fragile character. And her two "bad" endings (technically one "bad," one "neutral") are two of the most depressing things to come out of this game. Particularly the neutral ending, which basically sees Rin trapped, doomed to follow a path in life she doesn't really believe in. But heck, for as sweet as her good ending is, that just ends up with a still uncertain (yet at least free) future for both herself and Hisao.

And I couldn't talk about Katawa Shoujo and not mention Lilly, the tall, blonde, queen of passive-agressiveness herself. I grew attached to Lilly in a weird way. Her path was the first I ended up taking, and by the time I was done, I was left wondering if I really wanted to try any others. It felt like it would taint the experience. And I still maintain that Lilly seems, in a way, to be the "real" choice of girls in Katawa Shoujo. Her path includes moments with all of the other girls, where others paths tend to leave you more isolated. It's also the only one to include an epilogue, and thus is the path that wraps things up in the neatest package. But I've since considered the fact that every path is written by a different person, and I figure that might have something to do with it.

The Queen of passive-aggressiveness.
The Queen of passive-aggressiveness.

Anyway, getting back to Lilly, while I feel like her character is the strongest (mentally), and most personally appealing to me, even I have to admit that the actual story arc is a bit cliche. The most sappy-romance inspired of the bunch, to be sure. The thing is, I don't mind that. And the scene where she forces Hisao to experience "things" the way she does, with the blindfold, did a good job of being (I use the word again) sweet and meaningful, instead of straight-up fetish smut.

In fact, Katawa Shoujo does a good job of organically tying in an incredible number of fetishes into their sex scenes, if you're coming at it from that angle. The thing is, I feel like if you're coming into a visual novel like Katawa Shoujo because you're looking to satisfy something your typical "harem" story would accomplish, you're going to be sorely disappointed. For one thing, alllll~ of the sex scenes in this VN made me feel uncomfortable on different levels. I think that had something to do with the attachment I had come to feel for the characters, and being a little more interested in hearing their story than watching them fuck, but at the same time that's an intregal part of their stories and development as characters… so it's a bit of a dilemma.

Hisao doesn't actually say this, but he should have.
Hisao doesn't actually say this, but he should have.

And then of course there's the frustrating parts to Katawa Shoujo. Namely Hisao, who so often acts like the most dense moron n the universe. Can I get a show of hands for people who *didn't* guess the fate of Emi's father at the first mention of him and the fact that Emi was a part of a car accident which took her legs in the first place? That's easily the worst of his dumb moments. Or how about not immediately going after the woman you confessed your love to before she exits your life forever, waiting until it's almost too late and then nearly dying of another heart attack as you finally reach her? It's these moments where you wish you had more control over the character who is supposed to be your surrogate, although I guess you could argue that he isn't really representing *you,* as someone like, say, Gordon Freeman. He's his own person with his own story.

Speaking of own story, I did find it particularly interesting how much Hisao's own path changes based on which girl he's dating. The biggest changes are in choice of career path. With Lilly, he decides to become a Science teacher. With Shizune, he wants to be a sign language teacher. Then there are the more hazy moments. I can't remember if he ever really thinks ahead for his future with Hanako. He's even more lost than Rin herself in Rin's path. The other curiosity is what Hisao chooses to do with the letter he receives from his long-forgotten first love, Iwanoko. I can't remember specifics from each path off the top of my head, but I recall that his reaction to the note is quite different depending on the girl he is with. For the most part, he dismisses the letter, figuring he is not meant to reply in the first place. In Hanako's route, however, he seems particularly weak. He responds to the letter. It has more meaning to him. He clings to his past where he wouldn't have with any other girl. It's a nice While it never really amounts to much, it's still… interesting.


Finally, let me speak of Shizune's path; a path I was at first super disappointed in (it was the second one I tried for, and at that time I was still feeling weirdly attached to Lilly to the point where it felt wrong seeing her in any other light besides "girlfriend"), then came around to much later in a second run. I still think it's weird that there is literally one choice to be made in her entire story, and that things wrap up in the most unfullfilling way. I also have to admit that i'm not really interested in the love tale between Hisao and Shizune. I was always more drawn in by the triangle. By Misha's not-so-secret lust for Shizune, and her jealousy towards you because of your closeness. I also, god help me, like Misha. There, i said it. I liked her character. I'd honestly rather be dating her than Shizune, but that's never to be, because Misha is after only one thing, and it isn't your comfort.

Just because wtf?
Just because wtf?

And the last thing I'll say about Katawa Shoujo is this, and something I touched on a bit earlier when talking about Rin: some of those "bad end" paths are pretty brutal. As I said, I already mentioned that bit with Rin, but the other noteworthy (and similar) one is the neutral end for Hanako, in which you continue to cling to her like a "project," and she realizes that nothing in her life has changed, that she'll just be isolated with herself and her two best friends, forever living in her protective bubble, and seems to give up any hope that things will ever be different. All this in front of a completely oblivious Hisao.

Seeing those bad endings made me hate that I needed to get them in order to get to that 100% complete mark and fill out the gallery (and that last picture you get at 100% is so not worth it…)

Look, if you're crazy and you still want to hear more about my thoughts on Katawa Shoujo, or want to talk about it in any way, I'd be more than happy to talk with you (as long as you let me talk like Misha the whole time~!), but I feel like I have to end it or risk writing my own little novel right here.

All things Mass Effect.

In commemoration of the third and final game (in this story arc), I somehow found myself playing through the current Mass Effect franchise from beginning to end. Again. This is run number 3 (how fitting!), I think. Twice paragon, once renegade (twice renegade for ME 2).

Honestly, there's not much to say really.

Well, there *is* the fact that I played through both on the hardest difficulty levels. That was a first for me in Mass Effect 1, and again, my second for the sequel. What I learned from the experience is one of two things: either these games just aren't that difficult, or I've found some sort of Zen (not the planet from Half-Life, either). I breezed through both, particularly the second game. In fact, I hadn't died once up until the Collector ship. And man, that reminded me just how brutal some of the checkpointing can be. Making all the way through a good 10 minute combat sequence only to be cut down by the very last Scion, who is at just a sliver of health himself, no less, is frustrating.

Turns out this wasn't that hard after all.
Turns out this wasn't that hard after all.

This is also my first renegade Shepard from start to finish, and let me tell you, I'm finding the game more fun playing Renegade. It works out a lot better in the first game. I got through while maintaining a romance with Kaidan, being a hardass, but never feeling like I did something "evil." Mass Effect 2 doesn't do as good of a job with the grey areas. Or maybe it's just that they make the future ramifications for your actions seem more obvious. Destroy this possible cure to the Genophage? Hand over the keys to the Collector base to the egomaniacal space racist (and have every single crewmate, even the EVIL ones, comment to you about how much a dumbs you are)?

Even renegade female Shepard saved the council. Because you should.
Even renegade female Shepard saved the council. Because you should.

But man, those "pull the right trigger for awesome" sequences are almost always priceless. I also feel like the dialog and even the tone of the character *fits* better as a renegade. Shepard as a no-compromises badass feels right; feels like the only way someone could get the things she does done properly.

Except you'd better damn well give Liara a hug when that left trigger sequence pops up, regardless of how much of a space asshole you're role-playing.

So yeah, I'm done with all games Mass Effect besides the third game for a very long while.

Also, I know how the third game ends now (don't worry, I'm not going to say anything spoiler-y here, but you should maybe avoid looking at my prior forum posts in case I've quoted something with spoilers in it). Yeah, curiosity got the better of me, and my hunch that I had pretty much figured where things were going… well, it turned out to be right, so I don't feel like anything was necessarily spoiled for me. It's the journey that matter right now. I won't comment on how I feel about Bioware's storytelling opus, and I feel like I really can't pass judgement until I've seen it for myself, but there it is.

The future?

So I recently purchased Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate 2 Complete on GoG (mostly for the easy access to the soundtrack, as I already own BG2, of course). I tried playing a little Icewind Dale. It's surreal playing the only Infinity Engine game I've never set eyes on before now, a good 12 years after its release. It's also… not good. I can't sit through Infinity Engine combat (D&D 2nd edition, no less) without a story that's worth a damn, or characters I care about. My party may be my own creations, but the most interesting thing about any of them is that one is voiced by Sarevok (Kevin Michael Richardson), who even jokes about wishing he was in Baldur's Gate when you click on him too many times. So I gave up on that early on.

We meet again?
We meet again?

Now I'm thinking about playing through Baldur's Gate 2 instead. It's been FOREVER since I made it any deeper than that first Irenicus dungeon/tutorial area and up to recruiting Aerie. Even though I've seen most everything there is to see from that game, I feel better playing a story and experiencing it with a lovable cast. Besides, I've never finished the Jahiera romance, due to it being perpetually BROKEN, and only fixed via a fan made patch years later.

Unfortunately, that plan may have to be put on hold for awhile. For now I have work, and then hopefully at the end of the work week I'll have Mass Effect 3 in my hands. Maybe. Hopefully. I'd hate to be one of those people who takes a sick day to play a video game. I might have to admit I have a problem, at that point.


My GOTY: 2011.

Let's get this out of the way: I haven't played enough new games from this year. 2011 was the year of 'retro' for me. I bought countless Steam sale and GOG releases from yesteryear. Thus, I cannot make a top 10 list, or even top 5, in good conscientiousness.

A top 3 list, however, I feel totally justified in making. So without further ado, here are my top 3 games of the year, beginning with my overall game of the year for 2011, followed by the runners-up.

Best of 2011

My top 3 games, from those released in 2011.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

This is the game I've been waiting for since Oblivion.

It's the sort of game that appeals to *me*. I can understand why it might not be your game of the year, but I feel like everyone should be able to appreciate why it might be seen as such an amazing accomplishment to others. A n open fantasy world for you to explore, like no other.

Skyrim fixes almost every complaint I've had about the series since it drew my interest with the release of Morrowind. TES III and IV were wondrously fleshed-out open worlds with the underpinnings of a broken character leveling system that ironically punished you for playing in the style you wanted; the opposite intended goal. Playing how you wanted led to you being underpowered, due to the way attribute points would only accrue after you'd used a ton of minor skills that didn't fit the style you wanted to play. It led to me console cheating in those 5 extra attribute points per level in both games, because I just couldn't have fun with the game otherwise.

There remains room for improvement. For instance, I'm having significantly less fun playing as classes other than a straight-up mage. Melee combat versus leveled ('boss') creatures and mages is simply frustrating, and the animation system continues to disappoint, even though it is significantly better than its predecessors. But honestly, I've already had too much fun with the game to let any of these little things bother me.

Skyrim is an imperfect masterpiece. It is the embodiment of why I love video games as a media. With almost 200 hours pumped into it within the last month or so, there's no question that is captured my heart, and my position as my favorite game of the year.

2. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

It's still amazing to me that a game with the Deus Ex namesake could be this good.

This being the year in which I finally finished the titular game in the series, the first Deus Ex, it's amazing to contrast just how much more fun I found this game to be from both a gameplay and story standpoint. While it's unfair to compare a game from 11 years ago to that of today's standards, that I could feel more comfortable with this title over its legendary predecessor still speaks volumes.

With stealth play that feels like the best moments from a Metal Gear Solid game, to shooting reminiscent of Mass Effect 2 (but still not quite as good as your dedicated cover-based shooter), interesting and well-voiced characters (not including the most hilariously racist moment in gaming in 2011, and yes, I think the rest of the cast is great, even Adam and Sarif), and a story that fits in surprisingly well with the original game, Human Revolution did an amazing job of balancing being most things a Deus Ex fan would want from a sequel with a grasp of modern game conventions.

The only problem I had with the game was the ending. Or, I should say, the endings. The choices you face at the end are abrupt, and worse, meaningless, since they all lead to the same outcome. It's the limitation of working with a prequel, but knwoing that doesn't make them feel any less shallow, especially since they all lead to the same after-credits easter egg dialogue.

Though I admit that scene, and the music that plays after, left me fist-pumping with nostalgia, even before I actually finished the first game.

Were it not for Skyrim, Human Revolution would easily have coasted to become my overall game of the year.

3. Portal 2

Steve Merchant.

It's a case of character acting making a video game for me. Not that Portal 2 doesn't stand up on any other level; it's just that the most memorable thing about this game to me was the voice acting from two individuals: Steve Merchant and Ellen McLain, with an emphasis on the fresh now individual introduced in this episode of Portal.

And then there's the rest of the game.

Valve continues to squeeze every ounce of awesomeness that they can from an engine created before the current generation of consoles truly existed. Source still looks amazing. This is evident from the opening of the game, with Portal 2's 'tram ride' moment. And honestly, I figured Portal 2 would just be more of the somewhat brief Portal 1. This wasn't the case. Physics on top of portals on top of the newest mechanic of liquids keeps the gameplay fresh in a way I wasn't expecting.

Portal 2 is magnificently produced and crafted. Valve and their subsidiaries continue to craft some of the best works of art in the video game medium. From the puzzles to the voice acting to the visuals, Portal 2 serves to illustrate why Valve has remained perhaps the only development brand I can trust in the whole of the industry.


I have Dragon Age 2.

So rather than clutter up my status box with a bazillion updates as I play, I figured I'd make a blog post that I'll update with short snippets as I make my journey through the game for the first time.  


 First thing to note is that downloading, installing, and connecting all content to my Bioware account is the worst game install experience I've ever had by a long shot.  
A 6GB + client that's basically a dump of the DVD, in a zip file that takes forever to decompress. An actual step-by-step setup process (okay, Steam has totally spoiled me, I know), followed by a cryptic activation system that actually failed on me for no discernible reason, resulting in an audible moment of anger from me as I thought I wouldn't be able to activate and use the game I just bought. Somehow, just editing and re-entering the key it had automatically entered from the initial install process pushed things through. 
Then I have to manually download and install the one bit of DLC that came with it (The Black Emporium, which I thought was a pre-order bonus? Or is that their "new purchasers thing and Sebastian was the pre-order bonus?).  
Then I try to start the game and am greeted with 4 separate failed disc check errors... every time I try to start up the game. A downloaded copy trying to check for the disc. Of course there's no disc! 
My next stumbling block comes during character creation. Which Hawke do I pick? Lady Hawke rogue, of course! No, the hesitation comes in which save game to import. I have 4 characters who have at least completed the main Origins campaign. I didn't really like my first character and some of the decisions I made, but my favorite character happens to be the one where Alistair bit the bullet.  That's ultimately the one I chose though. My female mage warden. 
So far I'm only through to the first "boss battle," and illusions of my first playthrough being on hard difficulty have been shattered by the way I keep getting my ass handed to me immediately no matter what tactics I use. Infinitely spawning lesser enemies overwhelm me when I start coming close to beating the Ogre. I'll try one more time before dropping the difficulty down to normal. 
And now I get through that fight by the skin of my teeth (and through some absurd enemy kiting tactics), only to be stumped by the next normal combat scenario. Turning it to normal makes the game absurdly easy, while hard is just frustrating. Needs an in-between. 


After a couple of days of being cut off from the internet, I return! Though probably not with the best of news. 
Before I really lay into the game, and tell you that I'm probably going to end this short-lived idea abruptly with probably some closing words on the games ending (which I've already seen anyway), let me at least get some praise in here, because there's a great idea beneath Dragon Age 2 that got buggered down by *something* rotten over at Bioware. 
The best praise I can give to the game is about its characters. I'm not amazingly far into the game yet (thanks to the endless supply of mundane side quests, which were also in Origins), so I haven't spent a whole lot of time with most of the party members. Therefore, I'll speak mostly of two characters in particular. 
 I think Aveline is easily the most interesting side character. Funnily enough, she's a million times more interesting than the protagonist, Hawke. The death of her husband early on sort of reminds me of the stinging death of Jaheira's Khalid from Baldur's Gate 2. She even has the same kind of manly mannerisms as Jaheira. It sets and interesting tone for the character. You can sympathize with her, and you get to see her harden over the first year jump-cut as she joins the guard.  
Then there's Anders. I hear he becomes a big dick later on, and yes, I already know the big plot twist associated with him. Still, it's a far cry from the character-less side companion from Awakening. I guess it's because he's another character you can sympathize with. He's also had to toughen up over the years and become more serious. Seems like a theme with Dragon Age 2. 
I haven't spent too much time with her, but the character of Merill, but I'm sort of at odds with the whole innocent and polite thing. Another mirror of Baldur's Gate 2; the character of Aerie. I'm at odds because it's often pretty annoying, but I'm somewhat attracted to that endearing characteristic in people, so I found the early dialogue with her to be sort of cute. 
I'm not looking forward to meeting Isabela. Didn't like her in Origins, certainly don't like the even more hyper-sexualized version of her that I've seen in footage of Dragon Age 2. 
Now to the unavoidable stinging part, and why I intend to go silent until I've finished the game. 
Dragon Age 2 is... bad. No, it's really bad. The important distinction to make here is that it's bad as a *game*, as in the actual playing it part. It's all about the combat.  
Every side mission is another excuse to fight another small horde of random street thugs. At least in Origins, there was the blight, and the grand enemy of the mindless Orcs... errr, I mean Darkspawn. Sure they were cliche, but certainly better than the army of thugs that exist in Kirkwall, whose numbers could probably have wiped out the blight on their own if they were working together. 
The real offense here, however, is this: simply stated, the combat in Dragon Age 2 is just... dumb. The way I put it is this: every fight, even on normal difficulty, is about endurance over tactics, as countless enemies spawn right before your eyes and you've no idea when it will end. Every combat sequence, I've literally shouted aloud "holy crap, this is stupid!" because I've spent everything I had taking out the first wave of enemies, only to have a second spawn right in behind my vulnerable mages without me noticing. It took me a few hours of desperation to decide that I could live with myself for playing on normal. Though as I said, even then, it's a far cry from the fun, tactical combat in Origins, because of the random spawn enemies and because there's no tactical view. 
Ah yes, the tactical view. I knew that would be a stickler for me, but it really has diminished my fun. Besides the fact that Origins looked simply amazing from a graphical standpoint when in the overhead view (and often looked like ass when not), it also made keeping track of and controlling a party of 4 characters an option. Dragon Age 2 looks less like ass from a zoomed in perspective (also runs terribly at times without significant improvements, though), the lack of a tactical perspective exacerbates the aforementioned trouble of randomly spawning enemies. I often have no idea where my mages are because I'm a rogue, too busy running up behind people in the middle of the fray to see off into the distance.  Having to constantly switch characters just to keep track of where they are on the battlefield is a bummer, especially when I know that the engine is certainly capable of pulling back just a little bit further. The other problem this creates is with area effect spells, where often I won't be able to line up properly on a target in the distance, or even a close-range group of enemies because of how the cursor locks onto targets when you mouse over one. 
The game feels broken to me. Absolutely broken. Like one of those gems you see from a lesser known 3rd party talent that's trying their best, but just doesn't have the resources. Like something that a dedicated mod community takes control of and fixes up. But this fucking Bioware we're talking about here. Fucking Bioware. I feel so strongly about this as a misstep from the company that I've removed Bioware from my short list entitled "Game Development Umbrellas that are 'doing it right'" because either Bioware allowed themselves to be rushed so hard that they put out a bad title, or they just put out a bad title. Either way doesn't matter. The final product is the final product. I like to think I'd have the integrity to walk away from a company working for a publisher pushing so hard for a quick turnaround to make me push out an incomplete and substandard product. 
And yes, the limited area of Kirwall, Kirkwall at night, and a few set-piece locations outside of Kirkwall do indeed allow for things to get boring real quickly. 
I most certainly bought Dragon Age 2 knowing it was a flawed title, and I definitely feel like I bought it just so I could properly berate the next step in a series I had high hopes for, coming from a game I had so much fun with that it rivaled and perhaps exceeded my enjoyment with one of my favorite games of all time - the whole of the Baldur's Gate series (to pick one, Baldur's Gate 2). Well, I've berated it. Now that I have that out of my system, I'm going to continue the slow grind to finishing it and then moving on and never speaking of it again.  
If you've been following me and my Dragon Age fanaticism here on Giant Bomb, I apologize for the crazy amounts of spam. It's a series I have a lot of passion for, representing the last of a dying (now dead) breed of role-playing games. 
-Also, that disc check thing is totally just fucked DRM mumbo-jumbo, because I totally didn't get any errors when I was offline for 2 days. Go EA!

Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions.

Here's a list of things I don't like about the Dragon Age 2 demo: 


The art style: 

I've noticed a lot of people saying that the first game lacked a unique visual style. I wouldn't agree. I think the old-timey realism of the graphics, akin somewhat to the fantasy role-playing games of olde such as Baldur's Gate,  is exactly the kind of style I'm looking for in a fantasy role-playing game. 
Two things were particularly grating on me. One was the Darkspawn design. Again, something I heard a lot of complaints about from the first, people were annoyed by how generic the Darkspawn looked. They were pretty much Orcs. Especially weird considering they're supposed to be corrupted versions of the other races (humans, elves, and dwarves; though if that's true, then where do the even more out-of-place ogres fit into things?). All I can say to that is look where that complaint got us. The new skeletal Darkspawn look pathetically weak, and resemble Putties from the Power Rangers in both appearance and animation. 
Oh, and there's still way too much gore. 
Oh, and there's still way too much gore. 

 It's nothing personal... I still love you, Hawke.
 It's nothing personal... I still love you, Hawke.

Also a weird pet-peeve of mine is male Hawke's chin. The default appearance has a style that seems like it was ripped from the Star Wars 3D animated series (also seen in the Quick Look for the Tron Wii game). That makes it feel more like the designers were trying too hard to come up with a "style" for Dragon Age 2 and ended up cribbing from other intellectual properties.       

The UI: 

The UI in Origins was amazing. For everything else that supposedly lacked an art style (see above for my reaction to that), the UI was certainly mesmerizingly beautiful. From the loading screen to the menus. Just why is kind of tough for me to articulate. Instead of plain rough edges, everything looks trilled. It resembles delicately curved calligraphy from an ancient text.  

There are some rough spots, but I like the style. 
There are some rough spots, but I like the style. 

  I feel that the UI for Dragon Age 2, while remaining in its own way beautiful in its simplicity, is a major step backwards on the PC, with menus obviously cribbed from Mass Effect and console-focused. Everything feels a little plain and square-y.

The combat: 

Specifically, the way it "feels." The animations are overly exaggerated. I guess this was a response to how slow things probably felt to the action oriented gamer who played the original game, to which I say that while some of them are rather cool looking, they should really be reserved for either an occasional flourish or higher levelled characters, because the whole thing makes it look and feel too cartoony to me. The animations in Origins make every fight seem like a desperate struggle. Sure, people slide into position to match up properly with the character they're engaging, but at least it allows it to look like the two people are engaged in combat. From what I've seen in Dragon Age 2, it's like all the characters are sometimes just madly swinging weapons in every direction hoping they'll hit something.  

No tactical view: 

What's worst about the combat is that it would feel every bit as fun as the combat in Origins if I could just zoom the camera out and more easily issue orders and assess the situation. Without that one simple thing, I find myself selecting each character individually so often, circling the battlefield over and over with the camera. Then there's the simple fact that the engine that Dragon Age uses (or maybe it's just the art assets themselves?) simply doesn't look very good unless viewed from an isometric view at a distance. Some parts of Origins look astounding when viewed from the tactical camera. Dragon Age 2 can look quite a bit better from down low, but still feels a generation behind in technology. Then again, I've seen very few environment types, and more importantly, graphics that come second to story and gameplay are just fine with me. 

Technical issues:

 This is something that's hopefully linked to the demo and not the final version of the game, but I had an issue with the game stuttering and sometimes locking up completely. It runs fairly buttery, then chokes up at random intervals both in and out of combat and cutscenes. My two initial attempts through the demo ended in stutters followed by hard freezes, then I managed to slog through it a third time. I'm not sure if it's a memory leak, early unoptimized engine build, or something to do with my system in particular. I'll admit, I never checked the system requirements, but considering how it doesn't look all that much better than the first game, I assumed it would run about the same or perhaps better given the time they've had to tweak the engine. And I don't even have everything maxed out like I did in Origins...

Here's some of the things I liked: 


The conversation wheel: 

While the whole wheel part of it doesn't make much of a difference with keyboard-mouse controls (it was designed for Mass Effect, which was, at the time, an Xbox 360 exclusive, and thus designed to be efficient for a gamepad thumbstick), the visual cues as to the tone of your response are welcome. Separating out investigation options from lines that will move the conversation forward is also a welcome change. Overall, it just works a lot better than the old PC RPG "big text-heavy list" approach to a dialogue system. 

Hawke speaks: 

The part of the game most obviously a direct result of feedback from Mass Effect and its sequel, having Hawke speak is favorable to the awkward pauses on your blank-faced protagonist from the first game. While it comes at the expense of one of my favorite things about the first game, the option to make a character from srcratch and give him/her a background, having Hawke be a more rounded character with the ability to show some emotion goes a long way towards allowing you to feel some emotion towards him/her

Rogues feel awesome: 

Rogues have probably the most overexaggerated animations of all, but they look totally badass during combat, and play like a more tactical version of a fighter, which is exactly the way it should be. The sort of minigame of flanking enemies and avoiding their attention still feels just as good as it did in Origins.  

The combat: 

Even if it feels like they're trying to make it more button-mashy and faster, the combat in Dragon Age 2 remains tactical. It's still all about crowd control and keeping fire focused on the ones who can take the damage. On the downside, it's still frustrating when everyone decides to focus fire and gang-murder your spellcaster even after you've tried everything you can to keep them away.

The world of Dragon Age: 

Some people say that Dragon Age feels like generic low fantasy, but I've fallen in love with the world and its fiction. Bioware crafted a world, and for as much as they crib from Lord of Rings-esque settings with the feel of the world and the races, you'll notice theres a lot of unique stuff in there, especially if you're willing to read codex information and some of the expanded fiction (I'm a little bit into the first book now, and it gives you a whole different perspective on the character of Loghain). One of the biggest reasons I'm even considering picking up Dragon Age 2 is for the continuation of the story. 

PS -- got lazy with adding the images in. Will update it later. For now... wall of text!


Naked Loghain ends your muthafuckin' blight.

Archdemon aint got shit on naked Loghain.
Archdemon aint got shit on naked Loghain.
Plus some bonus footage. 

 Still amazed by how amazing the game can look at times.
 Still amazed by how amazing the game can look at times.


 Dwarves kick ass.
 Dwarves kick ass.
I said I was done with this game, but even though the last act of it seemed more like a chore to me at this point, I'm still interested in one more playthrough. I don't think that will happen for quite some time, though, because I got a hankering to pre-order Dragon Age 2 that I might just give in to.

Because I can't get enough of Dragon Age...

Something I can't stress enough to people who haven't played Dragon Age or didn't give it a try on the 360 because they were put off by the graphics and controls is this: play it on the PC. Seriously. You can't tell me this doesn't look fantastic. 


No Caption Provided

No Caption Provided

No Caption Provided

No Caption Provided

It makes me sad that Bioware took criticism of the game's graphics to mean they should completely change the art style, but I still hope the new style they've chosen turns out to be great. There are very few screenshots out at the time of this writing, so I can't really give a solid opinion on what I think of it.

Hunting a Witch

Now, the sad part of this blog. This will be regarding the newest and last piece of DLC for Origins: "Witch Hunt." If you haven't played it yet and want to avoid spoilers, well, my reaction would be to tell you to not bother playing it at all and to just look up a plot synopsis and a youtube video of the last 5 minutes and imagine your grey warden in their place. But if you don't want to heed my warning, then at least you've been warned. 
I expect a lot from Bioware. Perhaps I expect too much. I've been outspoken about the quality of much of their Dragon Age DLC, and was put off by it enough to skip the two latter packs they released: Lelianna's Song and Darkspawn Chronicles. Against my best judgement, I slapped down the $7 for Witch Hunt on the promise that it would bring some conclusion to the most interesting plot point left open at the end of Origins: the fate of Morrigan and your character's child, were you to have gone down that path in the multiple-choice ending to Origins. Yes, it definitely delivers some closure to that plot line, while also leaving it wide open still with its own multiple choices and endings we can only hope are leading somewhere (more on that later). My problem with the DLC comes from how shallow the rest of it feels. 
 Revisiting old locations can make you feel nostalgic...
 Revisiting old locations can make you feel nostalgic...
  Let's not beat around the bush. The number one reason I'm disappointed with Witch Hunt is that every single area is recycled in an obvious fashion. Not only will you be revisiting areas you've already been through in the main game (with a fresh batch of monsters which have mysteriously cropped back up), but areas that are supposed to be new are very obviously recycled level geometry and art assets from other bits of the game, and worse yet, they feel completely out of place. It screams "hey, I'm DLC built on-the-cheap to sucker you out of one last bit of cash before the next game" and embodies why I hate the DLC model compared to the more lengthy and meaningful expansion pack of olde or, better still, next full game. Because honestly, I'd much rather have had those extra hands working on the development of Dragon Age 2 to get it out sooner than to play much of the Dragon Age DLC released to date.
 Until it devolves into clearing out old dungeons you've already emptied...
 Until it devolves into clearing out old dungeons you've already emptied...
And then there's the combat. Oh, the combat. This is where I'm not exactly sure how much of a personal issue this is, because I admit to rushing through the DLC to get to the story bits. But that's the thing: after all this time, the combat feels like merely an obstacle in between different cutscenes. After hundreds of hours with the game, its expansion, and all the DLC packs I've purchased and played, I find the actual game part of Dragon Age tiring. Besides that, every encounter seems so contrived in that video-gamey way. For example, you'll return to the Tower of Magi for a stint in the library, eventually being tasked with entering the creepy tower basement. It's a place you already cleared out in the mage origin story (come to think of it, all the DLC locations are specifically recycled from other origin stories you may or may not have seen depending on how many characters you created). But of course, the story here is that the lower guardians have been angered by something and you have to clear them out before you can continue, so down you go for some tedious combat to prolong the hour count. Even then, 90% of the combat feels like a cakewalk for a character fresh from the main campaign; not including Awakening and the increased level cap, and on normal difficulty. Yes, I could have bumped up the difficulty, and should have, but that doesn't change the fact that the combat situations felt obviously less balanced than in the retail product.  
And nostalgia is replaced with a bitter sense of deja-vu. 
And nostalgia is replaced with a bitter sense of deja-vu. 
Despite all of this, I couldn't help but smile and feel relieved seeing Morrigan and hearing her voice again. For a brief moment there at the end of the DLC, I felt satisfied. This is what I'm here for. Some closure. I half expect to have to battle Morrigan, but after interrogating her and hearing many elusive answers, I get a nice warm fuzzy feeling when my character proclaims his love and insists on joining her through that magical mirror/portal, without a clue as to where it leads nor what might become of them, and that final warm embrace between the two and fade-to-black that draws the curtain down on Dragon Age in a fitting way. Sure, there are many questions left either partially answered or  still up in the air, but what you get is fulfilling enough while leaving you wanting more in the fashion of any good storytelling. 
And yet, it leaves me wondering something it probably shouldn't; because with oh-so-many decisions (the multiple choice path being very popular at Bioware these days), I really worry that most of it will be meaningless. After all, Bioware didn't do the greatest of jobs integrating some key plot branches into DLC packs and Awakening. Awakening ignores that your warden might have died in the final battle of Origins in favor of actually letting you play the game, but I argue that choices like that should have a lasting impact, and you can still create a new character and have him bumped up to the appropriate level. Yeah, there's a lot to keep track of, and so many variables to program, but if you're going to give the illusion of choice and make it a big talking point of your game and perhaps even company philosophy, those are things you can't just write off. Not every choice has to have some ridiculous impact on the game world, but I certainly expect the major ones to. I just hope that Dragon Age 2 allows for a meaningful import of your Origins character with all the many choices being brought along with you. Especially the ones you're given at the end of Origins and the Witch Hunt DLC.