Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dragon Age, Kae, and Single-Player RPGs

Note: I will avoid exact spoilers in this post

Kae and RPGs

I have a love/hate relationship with single-player RPGs. I absolutely love the stories, the character interactions, exploring the new fantasy worlds, and the comic relief often thrown in (GO FOR THE EYES, BOO!)... but I have a dirty secret:

I rarely finish those games.

Three major things meld together to eventually cause me to loose interest in a single-player RPG:
  • Bad camera/control system
  • Forced use of party-wide tactics and constant pausing to do so
  • Lack of real person-to-person interaction
I understand some people like those sorts of tactics games. They like looking at their collected party as a little army unit they have god-like control over, like 4 (or more) little marionettes they're pulling the strings of, telling them all what to do as a 20-second combat in real-time drags out to 5-minutes or more through constant use of pausing the game to tell each person where to go.

Me, I'd rather have my one character, do what I will with her, and let the others figure things out for themselves. If they do something stupid, I'll yell at them (briefly take control) for a few seconds, then continue on my merry way.

Some games I never finished include:
  • Neverwinter Nights (and expansions). I absolutely loved the story, but the camera controls were very unweildy, and constant pausing was forced to survive. Playing the game eventually became too much of a hassle to complete the story.
  • Baldur's Gate: same issue.
  • Morrowind: this one just became too repetitive in the grinding of skills, and the lack of having "friends" in the game eventually got to me. I didn't have anyone but myself and a bunch of strangers to care about.
  • Disgaea: as a tactical puzzle game, having to control all of the characters is a MUST. As the maps got longer and longer, I just lost interest.
  • Kingdom Hearts: the grind and the gummi-ship racing got to me. The pressure of finding everything as maps got longer and more complex, tied to a weak camera system and a ever-shifting party of buddies just made me bored with it.
I "finished" the stories by watching my husband play the final levels and cinematics. Some games I DID finish on my own include:
  • The .Hack// series of the first 4 games, but it was close: the grind got to me, and I put the last game on hold for a year before I picked it up and finished it again. The grinding of dungeon mobs just got too dull.
  • Star Wars: Rebellion. Shocking, isn't it? A tactics game that I not only finished, but played through again a few times. Difference being, it wasn't so much an RPG as just a straight tactics game, my "character" being just the pointer of my mouse as I clicked around maps and issued commands across a galaxy.
  • Star Wars: Jedi Knight. Unlike Morrowind, I had "friends" in other Jedi who kept me interested and feeling like I was a part of something fighting for a cause, rather than the "outlander" who is completely out of place and unwanted in the world. Plus, I had a lightsaber and thermal detonators, and a lack of stable internet at the time.

Dragon Age

Knowing how I never finished the games it was built off of (Neverwinter and BG), I was reasonably certain that Dragon Age would be the same way: something I'd enjoy the story of, but grow bored with and/or frustrated with the camera system, and never finish.

My current save-game is heading up the stairs to what is likely the final confrontation/battle.

Dragon Age has, honestly, surprised me. It has kept me going and interested, because it gave me the option of not HAVING to take control of the other characters by putting it on easy-mode. Easy mode has given me a chance to just fight things out without the constant pausing and party-takeover tactics that the other games required. The camera system is also able to be viewed "classically" or from a more WoW-style camera, which makes the camera more fluid and controllable. I like. I have the PC version, by the way; I've heard the console version is not as easy to navigate.

I wish my tree-form looked that cool.

The only time I really felt "the grind" was when going through the mines, but then mines just bore me. If it had been in a forest, I probably would've felt differently, and that's just a personal preference of space and greenery (are you surprised? This *is* a druid blog!). The pacing of the story is slow enough to let me explore side-quests, but not so slow that I feel lost about what I need to do or grow bored.

I do have one big complaint about the game, though: the races and their backgrounds are "standard fantasy." This bugs me, because as fantasy, having a "standard" just seems wrong and pretty cheap. Having ale-drinking, stout dwarves living in the mines and loving the stone while elves (who were once a more populous race but are on decline) wander the forests communing with nature while all the humans go about their farming/city-filth lives swarming over the rest of the world feels like a cop-out. It's become the "standard" thanks to D&D and, before it, Tolkien. While the story is fresh and it's a new world, the races in it are "familiar" and what you'd see stepping into the majority of other fantasy settings as they have become the norm. I would like to see a game of this caliber that offers more fresh, new fantasy ideas. I can understand wanting to have some of the textbook-fantasy anchors simply for marketing and making it familiar enough of a story to make it appeal to a wide audience, but too much of the race/society felt copy-pasted with some place renaming.

There is one single race/class combo starting story that felt at all new and "different," breaking the mold, and it is the one I chose: the city elf, living in the slums of the human cities and treated as 2nd-class citizens. The ones who whisper of the wild-living forest elves as though they're myths, legends, and extinct. The ones who see and feel the worst aspects of humanity, the former slaves, yet the ones who can still find joy. They feel real and new and different compared to the other selections. They don't feel textbook.

Overall, I applaud Bioware for creating such an amazing game and offering the option of difficulty levels to tailor the tactics/pause usage vs. letting the AI handle things. The story is engaging, the character interactions keep me feeling like I'm a part of the world, the camera system is familiar and fluid, the world is open enough that I don't feel claustrophobic in spite of the lack of a jump button, the graphics are beautiful (if a bit blood-splattered, ha), and there are puppies.

I like puppies.

Good game. I highly recommend this game to others, if they are mature enough to handle it :)


Anonymous said...

Brade has been playing this game and seems to be enjoying it. I, like you, however am intimidated/dislike the constant pausing. But...Brade *never* starts anything in "easy" and is probably playing the game in it's more challenging iteration at the moment. He was also a very big fan of NWN, and actually had a regular LAN meeting where they had people that designed boards and ran it on a private server. So I supposed I'm not too surprised that he enjoys the constant stopping mid battle interface.

Now that I know that perhaps I could play without all that, maybe I'll install it and give it a go on my machiene =)

Kae said...

Yeah, I don't have to pause very often in comparison to Neverwinter. It's pretty rare that I have to pause at all! Easy mode rocks, heh.

I played multi-player NWN networked with some friends, couldn't pause that, and it was fun as long as the server was stable. We didn't do it very often though.

Partshark said...

I have the same issue with rpgs as you, but I HATE this game. I honestly, have never played it, but this damn game is apparently so good it keeps taking our main raid force away from the game >.<

Games I look forward to:

Star Trek online
Knights of the Republic
Diablo 3

Kae said...

Ahh see, now the raiders are *supposed* to play stuff like DA:O during their *downtime* when they *aren't* supposed to be raiding ;)

I refuse to miss a raid just because of DA:O or any other single-player video game!