Monday, March 14, 2011

Game Diary: Here be Dragons

Right, so I picked up my copy of Dragon Age II on Friday afternoon and I've pretty much been glued to it ever since. I've put approximately 25 hours into it all told and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself - in fact it's a shame I've had to tear myself away from it so I could go to work. The storyline seems to be much more focused on character this time around and not quite so much on huge world changing events, though things to start to ramp up during the second act and I expect by the end I will be saving the world as usual. I love the fast paced combat, it feels so much more visceral and direct compared to the first game, and much more suited to playing on a console.

While I'm on the subject of a Bioware RPG, I would like to go over a little bit of my gaming history and how these games have managed to replace another genre that until recent years has been on the wane -that of the graphic adventure. If we rewind time to around what is arguably the "golden age" of the point and click adventure game, around the early to mid 90's, most of my playing time was spent on games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and a bit later on the Discworld games. I used to enjoy these game so much that I would follow every single option on each of the dialogue trees to see what they said and what the outcome would be. Of course in these games there was seldom any chance of failing the game from choosing the "wrong" option, so experimenting was encouraged in this respect.

Towards the end of the 90's though, these games began to fall out of favour and I had to start looking somewhere else for my adventure fix. While I had previously dabbled with borderline RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana, I hadn't yet played a turn based RPG. Then in 1997, I first tried Wild Arms (stopping about a third of the way through) and a few months later, Final Fantasy VII. This was the start of my addiction to RPGs, and while many better games than FF VII have come along since, if it hadn't come along and I hadn't been caught up in the hype, I might not be playing these games today (although I expect something else would have been the trigger eventually).

Anyway, fast forward to the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the Xbox - the first game by Bioware that I played. At last, here was a company that had combined the exploration, levelling up and customisation that I loved from RPGs, with the conversation trees from my beloved graphic adventure games. It was a marriage made in heaven, and I also really enjoyed the Light Side/Dark Side dichotomy that was quite new to games at the time (but nowadays is almost a standard feature, especially in a Bioware game). Graphic adventures have of course had something of a resurgence in the meantime thanks to the likes of Telltale, and I do enjoy these games, but RPGs are where the real action is at for me. I always look forward to the next Bioware RPG, safe in the knowledge that it will deliver a high quality experience that is rich in both action and character development, and from my time spent with Dragon Age II that is exactly what they've achieved yet again. In anticipation to the games release, I also started replaying Dragon Age: Origins, and I am going to see this through to the end, before transferring my character to the Awakenings expansion and then importing the data into Dragon Age II.

Importing your Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings save data does have an impact on the game, mainly in the side quests - there are certain quests that will appear based on your decision of the previous game. For example, who you decided to put on the throne, and whether Nathaniel Howe survived the events of Awakenings. By putting these hooks into their games Bioware really enrich the experience for those who have played the previous games, without alienating new players - another genius touch. I can't wait to get home and continue my adventure within Kirkwall and the surrounding areas. I'll be back again with another game diary next Monday, and possibly a Dragon Age II review quite soon, depending on when I finish it.

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