Too many late nights, Dragon Age
Well i've been losing the plot a bit lately - staying up till 5:30 playing games, watching tv, commenting on blogs I should probably not be commenting on. Had a strange episode last night too - possums were running across my roof about 3am making a terrible racket - well that happens almost every night. I went to go outside to shoo them away but caught sight of some guy on the road with what looked like a golf club. I snuck back inside and went back to what I was doing. There was quite a bit of screeching going on before everything went quiet. Must say i've thought of doing the same myself (or what I imagine he did, I didn't look), but they are a protected species. Yard has gone no-where all week, although i've been keeping the plants alive and eating lots of button squash. I did a couple of hours of work this `morning' but tired out pretty fast (should've had breakfast first). I was contemplating doing a bit more this afternoon but after I had some lunch and sat back down on the computer I might just give it a rest for another day.
The 5:30 sessions have been for Dragon Age. It's a strange game, i'm still not sure if I really enjoy it yet, or if it's more like work and I think i've spent more time talking than fighting so far. I guess that's ok in and of itself, and it is mostly done pretty well (it's ALL spoken - most of the voice acting is good too), but it's a bit of a change from other RPG's i've played where the dialogue is just a plot device and not a past-time in itself. Although there's been a couple of times - like when the busty wild mage starts going off about turning into a spider - that were quite confusing, since there didn't seem to be any reason they were talking about it at the time. Also feels a bit funny when, after chatting with some NPC cordially for 5 minutes, you accidentally do one wrong thing and they wont talk to you ever again.
It's big and open and non-linear, although that usually means you don't know where you're going at some points. There also seems to be long-term consequences to how you treat allies and alternative ways to solving things - which is a nice change from 'it doesn't matter what you do/the order you do it in, it always goes through the same steps' (well it seems that way, who knows in the end). Which party members you have active at a given time seems to affect conversations too - but that might've been a coincidence. One problem is that you're often not in the possession of enough information to know if you're doing 'the right thing', and sometimes the decisions are made unknowingly - like turning the wrong corner and getting stuck in a fight you didn't intend. I need to save more often - but why does it take so long to save! It takes about 30 seconds, 10 of which you're paralysed cold and the rest runs mostly in the background. And there's a lot of reading - all the writing (and there's a LOT of it to read if you want to) is too small too for a TV game, and light-on-black which is difficult to read.
The combat system isn't too bad, although a bit clumsy at times - being real-time makes it hard to keep track of all 4 characters and I keep losing them since they don't drug themselves up with health `potions' automatically - I guess I have to investigate the `gambit' system further. Final Fantasy 12 did a nicer job of introduction this programming system I think, made it more accessible, even if it took a lot longer to become useful. For potions, you have to change your current character to the one you want to take the drugs - which is clumsy in the heat of battle. Often when you do, the guy you were playing decides to rush in with his sword when he was quite safely firing arrows - or he just wanders off and forgets to fight! Also I don't know why (nor do I like it) how the current character keeps saying 'yes i will do it', 'as you wish' and crap like that every time you hit X to swing their axe or pick a lock! It completely removes the third-wall for no apparent reason. Isn't this meant to be 'role playing', not 'god playing'?
Early on I didn't get a back-pack at one of the shops (and they're very rare) and now i'm permanently down 10 'weight points' of carrying capacity since that shop has vanished (unless I go back 10 hours of playing) - and it's a constant pain. Mechanics like that are just frustrating and pointless. It adds an unnecessary level of micro-management whereas this is the sort of knowledge you'd expect the players to just know and take care of themselves. Be better if it was just experience and/or strength based. The inventory/status screen seems to overlay on the the live image (whilst pausing it). This seems like a really odd decision, and all it means is sometimes the menu system runs somewhat slower than it should, and uncomfortably so. It is mapped to the controller quite well though, making good use of all of the buttons and sticks - not just a PC port where they map a pointer to one of the sticks, and X to the left mouse button.
Technically it is no Uncharted 2 by any stretch. The stills may look ok (and some look fantastic) but there's a fair amount of popin and the framerate is very unsteady which detracts significantly from how it feels when wandering around. Add some very lo-res textures for things like the ground or tables which are part of canned cut-scenes and conversations which you are guaranteed to look at closely, and it looks more dated than it should. There are very long (10-20s) loading pauses between areas or if you die, even with a big (and painfully slow) copy-to-hdd bit when you first run it. Naughty Dog shows it can be done without the pauses, so it's a pity most developers are too lazy to do it and stick to the crappy 'pc way' of stop, load everything (again), continue, which doesn't translate well to optical storage. Traditionally I put this down to two things - 1, it's easier, a lot easier - and it's not just code, it involves art assets too, and 2, PC hardware can't do two things at once, like loading off a slow disk and keeping number crunching going, but there's no excuse in this day and age and hardware and gigantic budgets for such a naive implementation.
Well over-all it's a pretty decent and involving game so far, even with those criticisms. And it's nice to have a half-decent RPG on my PS3.