2 Bioware RPGs in 2 Days

Yep, yesterday I completed my almost tragic play through of Dragon Age: Origins and today I destroyed the Collector base in Mass Effect 2.  Both were great games and I wanted to write about them separately, but since I finished them both so closely to one another I figured now would be the best time to get my thoughts out on both of them at the same time.

There will be some spoilers regarding both games to any who hasn’t played them and are sensitive to such things, you have been warned.

I mentioned my Dragon Age play through was almost tragic, let me explain.  I played through Dragon age slowly and carefully until about 2 weeks ago when I realized that Mass Effect 2 was looming over my head and I knew it would own my life when it was released.  I put my time in Dragon Age into turbo and blasted through recruiting the dwarves and taking care of Loghain making Alistair in line to become the new king after the blight is over.  As the darkspawn began to march to Denerim I readied my army of men, mages, elves, and dwarves for the fight of their lives.  Once inside Denerim I took out both of the Achedemon’s generals and made my way to Fort Drakon.  I did all of this in the span of a Saturday and when I reached this point my eyes were hurting, it was time for a break.  After a few hours of hanging out outside, getting some food and entertaining myself with some fine programming on the History Channel I figured it was time to finish the fight.  I turned on my PS3 and waited for my Dragon Age disc to be recognized and it didn’t take me long to realize you don’t have to wait for the PS3 to recognize discs already in the system when turned on.  What the hell was happening? I ejected and inserted the disc several times to no avail, the game was not being read at all.  I quickly grabbed a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum and inserted it into the system and it read just fine.  I inspected the Dragon Age disc closer to find a small crack the length of my pinky finger nail on the inside of the disc and to this day have no idea how it could have gotten there.

Last weekend I resolved myself to signing up to a free Gamefly account to rent that game and finish it for good. After a quick easy setup and a few days wait, the game was in my PO Box and ready to go.  I was very surprised how sloppy my skills had become in the few weeks.  I was quickly getting destroyed by enemies I would have had zero problem with only a few weeks ago.  It took me a while but I found my combat groove again, knowing what skills to use where and where to position my comrades and myself, eventually making to the Archdemon himself.  I fell only once to him before finding a way to defeat him that I don’t think the games developers intended for me to find.  On top of the fort where you fight the Archdemon there are ballistas that shoot giant flaming stakes at your enemy.  During the fight I summoned the elves to keep the Archdemon busy with long ranged attacks while stood by a ballista just hitting the x button over and over again til the giant dragon fell.  Kinda anti-climatic after all the trouble I had getting up to the roof of that fort.  I think what happened was once the Archdemon reached 50% health he starts summoning dark spawn to help him and they come in waves, once you defeat one wave more will come.  While I was shooting him with the ballista there were still 2 grunts left in the wave I was fighting and they couldn’t hit me with their arrows because I was behind the ballista shooting the dragon like there was no tomorrow.  The next wave never triggered and the Archdemon was busy with the elf archers thus making my final battle experience extremely easy.  That’s my theory , I can’t be exactly sure why that’s the way it played out.

Despite the the ease of the final battle I really did enjoy Dragon Age.  Deep, lore-filled fantasy is something I am a sucker for and Dragon Age has it in spades.  The dark world the Bioware developers created reminds me alot of the Song of Fire and Ice series where bad stuff happens all the time and that kind of stuff catches my attention.  I didn’t have as much fun with the combat as I thought I would before the release.  Before it came out I was on the fence on whether I wanted it or not but when I heard the combat compared to Final Fantasy XII ,which I easily poured over 100 hours into, I was sold.  Building the character tactics to decide their actions in battle didn’t grab me as much as they did in Final Fantasy XII where I sat through many menus to make the perfect party for any situation.  I wasn’t as inclined to do all the personal character quests as I thought I would be, they seemed like they would be too tedious for me to accomplish.

My most driving thought when seeking to complete this game despite the cracked disc was being able to carry over my saved game over into a sequel to Dragon Age.  I haven’t read or seen any confirmation that this will actually happen but I have to assume that it will given some of the decisions you make at the end that go no where.  For instance the decision to have the ritual with Morrigan or sacrifice yourself or Alistair when killing the Archdemon.  I chose to have the ritual and the child with Morrigan so my character wouldn’t die and Alistair could become king.  Why would I be allowed to make this decisions moments before the end of the game if they didn’t have the intentions of letting me include my warrior champion in Dragon Age 2.

Moving on from high fantasy to hard sci-fi, Mass Effect 2 is a game the does realize this dream of bringing over characters from the previous game and realizes it well.

What an epic game.  That’s one thought that stuck with me through the entirety of Mass Effect 2.  From the very beginning when you have to get Joker out of the Normandy while there’s a huge whole in the hull and you can see out into space to the very last image of Harbinger and the other reapers heading towards our galaxy this game is Epic with a capital E from start to finish.

I guess the appropriate place to start would be the importing of my original Shepard from Mass Effect 1 along with all the decisions I made and surviving characters.  This was be far the most enticing  aspect of the Mass Effect series long before I even played the first one.  I even complete a 3rd play through of the original game in December just to get him up to level 50, have Wrex alive, and be able to remember all the details of the decisions I made.  All in all the imported game didn’t have that much bearing over what happened in Mass Effect 2 it just had effects on littles things in the story or peripheral things.  But it’s these little details that make the experience far more personal and why I simply can’t recommend playing the game without having played the 1st, it is simply a must.

I’ve been dreaming of having this kind of interactivity between games for a long time now.  I know there have been games that have done it in the past but not to this degree.  It’s a very futuristic thing to me especially when I think back to reading old game magazines about the Dreamcast launch and how the modem would change the way we play games.  One of the things that intrigued me the most was the possibility of a game being able to check the local weather and changing  the weather in the game to match.  It’s that kind of futuristic tingle this game scratched for me when I imported my paragon Shepard into Mass Effect 2.

One of the most common complaints I’ve seen on Mass Effect 2 since it’s been out has been the lack of RPG aspects in the game and Bioware’s decision to make it more action focused.  My first thought to any of those complaints is the defining RPG aspect from the 1st game and perhaps the best I’ve played in any game period is still there, the dialog system.  I couldn’t care less about getting loot or grinding for levels in the original Mass Effect, the main draw for me was talking to people, getting bits of the story through conversation, and choosing the dialog options.  They managed to make an already great system for conversing with people even better with the interupt feature which allows to butt into someone else speaking with some action.  Shooting enemies is also more fun this time around. While I could actively perceive the dice rolls happening behind the scenes, I knew that they were there and fighting was a bit clunky.  This time around there are no dice rolls just you and your skill as a shooter which I’ve been over that I’m not so hot at but I can get by in this game.  I have to say I like this way better than the original, it doesn’t make the shooting crazy fun like in Uncharted 2 but it’s still pretty decent.

I only just finished the game a few hours ago and one of the big catches that Bioware has made public about the game is that in the end your Shepard can die as can any of your crew.  I found that out first hand. After killing the giant human-reaper I had 4 fallen comrades: Legion took a rocket in the face, Samara was shoot leading the fire team, Thane was taken by the Collector swarm and Jack was just laid out on the floor after the battle was over.  Not to mention the entire Normandy secondary crew died en route back to the ship after I decided to not send them an escort.  After I watched the ending I immediately went to all the websites and forum threads I had avoided before to not see any spoilers and after reading that you can have everyone survive if you have their loyalty.  I had everyone’s loyalty, so I popped the disc back in and went for another run.  My second attempt was more fruitful than my 1st, all of the secondary Normandy crew made it back alive but Legion still took a rocket in the face. I fully intend to rectify this with one more try before I start up my second play through.

Like Dragon Age I found Mass Effect’s final boss to be a bit underwhelming.  Not in design, the human-reaper looked crazy (if a big terminator-ish) but in difficulty.  It was a really easy boss fight, unlike Dragon Age where I think I just got lucky with a little glitch, it felt more designed to be easy.  But it’s a small complaint, the ending was still amazing.  One thing I’d like to point out is the music during the final run it’s call “Suicide Mission” and I think everyone should Youtube it. That single song made me buy the whole soundtrack off itunes and I’m listening to it as I write this.

I had high hopes for Mass Effect 2 and all of them were met easily.  This makes my hopes for Mass Effect 3 exponentially larger, I just hope the developers at Bioware are up to meeting those hopes.  The task of bring all the different decisions that could be made from Mass Effect 2 and 3 must be an awfully daunting one.  I guess we’ll find out in another couple of years and if my hopes are met again it will be a truly amazing game.

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