Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue Options’

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A Champion Has Risen – Thoughts On Dragon Age II

March 24, 2011

Note: No spoilers, until the last few paragraphs, plenty of warning forthcoming.

Let me just start this post off by saying I was a huge, huge, huge, HUGE, HUGE fan of Dragon Age: Origins, so to say I was excited about Dragon Age II is the understatement of the year.

Of course, there were several things I was mindful of before playing. On top of some major changes to gameplay, I knew that DA2, while set in the same world and time period as its predecessor, will also take place in a different city and center around the life and adventures of a new protagonist, Hawke.

I won’t lie; there was just the teensiest twinge of disappointment when I first heard this news last year. Admittedly, so much of my enjoyment of the first game came out of my emotional investment into my human noble warrior, and the attachment I felt to her companions, the Grey Warden mythos, and Ferelden. Nevertheless, I was open to something new — change can be good, and BioWare has shown with Mass Effect that they are entirely capable of following up a game with a killer sequel.

So go ahead and bring it.

My verdict: mostly good. Make that mostly very, very good. Despite some minor issues I had with the gameplay and story, I can truthfully say without disguise or exaggeration that Dragon Age II is probably one of the best fantasy RPGs I have ever played.

First of all, certain aspects from the first game such as the conversation system and user interface have been improved or modified to be much more functional and enjoyable, which should make even the most casual fans of fantasy RPGs feel at home. Some of the changes and their similarities to Mass Effect were not lost on me, like the addition of the dialogue wheel and the removal of multiple character origins so that the player only has the choice of playing Hawke, though we are still free to choose the gender and class of our character.

Some of these changes may make the game more appealing to a wider audience. I seem to remember reactions and opinions being quite polarized when I think back to Dragon Age: Origins, as in people either loved it or couldn’t stand it at all. As much as I enjoyed the game, even now I’d hesitate to recommend DA:O to just anybody. With DA2, however, I think I’d feel a little more confident about doing so, knowing there might be a better chance it will be well-received.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the thing I liked most about the game is the story, and I think most of us will agree that that’s where the strength lies in any BioWare title. In fact, I think DA2 got the storytelling down so well, that it almost made the other RPG elements like combat feel trivial. I won’t deny that there were many moments of groaning and swearing at the computer screen — mostly times where I found myself being jumped by yet another gang of bandits, when all I could think was Arrgh! Get this stupid fight over with already so I can find out what happens next!

Uhhh...fine day for a bloodbath?

That’s not to say I felt combat was weak. Actually, I thought they’ve made it more fun and flexible than ever. Being tactical or not seems to be more of a choice. I did some micro-managing and issuing commands to my companions, but mostly I just played DA2 like any action game, hacking and slashing away with my warrior Hawke. Still, as much as I enjoyed splitting darkspawn skulls with my huge-ass sword and watching my foes explode before my unstoppable whirlwind ability, the novelty inevitably started to wear off and feel a little repetitive.

Hawke’s activities being restricted to the same city and its surrounding areas for the whole game probably didn’t help that very much. Dungeons all looked the same, and you also returned to some of them again and again. Kirkwall started to feel like a home, but it was still a bit of a downer to realize I wasn’t going to be adventuring anywhere else.

But like I alluded to before, the strength of this game and what makes up for its faults is its story, its elaborate twists and turns and the impact of the decisions you get to make. At first, I was a little skeptical. I was a couple hours in, and still there was no sign of any pressing danger, dire catastrophe, or malignant evil threatening to take over the world. Contrast that to Dragon Age: Origins, where almost immediately you are thrown into the midst of a blight and tasked to stop an archdemon. So, here was Hawke, running around doing quests in Kirkwall. What happened to my epic journey? Where’s the sense of urgency?

Dragon Age 2 turned out not to follow the basic formula, and I think I ended up liking the game better for it. Don’t panic — you still get to kill darkspawn and slay dragons, but for the most part, the story revolves around the politics and socio-cultural conflicts of Kirkwall. We only got a brief glimpse into the tensions between mages, the Templars, and the Chantry in the first game, so it was a pleasant surprise to be given the chance to delve further into these issues in the sequel. The set up made for more complex plotlines and having to make much more difficult decisions, which I can appreciate. I was not prepared for all the crazy surprises and shocking developments, but happy moments, sad moments, outrageous moments — I loved them all.

A fully-voiced and expressive Hawke.

One major change I loved about DA2 (and likely had a hand in improving the storytelling) was a fully-voiced and expressive Hawke. I can deal with silent, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it was in DA:O to see my Warden stare blankly into space like a storefront mannequin even during the most emotional situations. In DA2 I delighted in having my Hawke wrinkle her nose in disgust, narrow her eyes in annoyance, or raise her eyebrows in a questioning manner. It made my character feel like a more realistic and unique individual, and like in Mass Effect, being able to give responses that reflected different emotions (nice, sarcastic, aggressive, etc.) also allowed for some downright hilarious quest situations.

This also helped me form quick attachments to my Champion and her companions. I liked how there were a lot more ways to involve them in my conversations and interactions with the game environment, and there’s definitely a more authentic edge to the way my party members would act or speak. It made me approach my companions in a different way than in other Bioware games, like caring more about those I liked and treating the ones I disliked more harshly. Involving emotions and other believable elements in the game seemed to have led me to react to them in a more realistic manner as well.

*smooch* *smooch*

My romantic prospects, however, were another matter. In this area, I felt the first game handled things better, and it’s not just my bias for Alistair talking here, I swear! Simply put, in DA:O, romancing a companion felt like an epic tale unto itself; there was courtship, a clash of emotions, the surprises and unpredictability of a relationship, and the whole nine yards. As opposed to the innuendos and the sometimes cringe-worthy one-liners you get to spout in DA2 like a drunken date. Awkwaaaaard. And why is it that we are always stuck with emo guys?

Despite my little nitpicks, Dragon Age 2 is still overall a great game. I really can’t decide if I like it better than Dragon Age: Origins. Probably better, even though they both have their strong and weak points. However, one thing I know that can never be substituted is the warm and fuzzy feeling I first got when I played DA:O, that ineffable sensation that washed over me the moment I discovered I had a very special fantasy RPG on my hands. Like a first love, it’s a feeling that’s difficult to explain, once in a lifetime and unlikely to happen with any other Dragon Age title again. Still, while the first game will always be special to me, Dragon Age 2 is definitely a clear improvement overall. Bioware does it again, delivering a sequel absolutely worthy of its original.

Warning: Spoiler-free zone ends here. Do not read past image if you don’t want spoilers.

Spoilers ahead! Avert thine eyes!

For those curious as to what I did, I played a female warrior Hawke, customizing her to make her look as much as possible like my character from DA:O for old times’ sake. As I said, I tended to treat my companions in a more realistic manner in DA2, and one of the things my character would not tolerate was whenever one of my companions would willfully lie to her or deceive her. For example, when Isabela revealed that she knew more about her lost relic than she let on, I turned my back on her, making her up and leave me, never to return again. Whatever, good riddance, pirate wench.

My sister Bethany the mage also played a huge part in how I approached the Mage-Templar conflict. I played the part of the doting sister, defended good mages everywhere, and defied Templar demands wherever I could. Even my mother’s death did not sway me in thinking that all mages were ultimately dangerous and needed to be locked up. I even romanced Anders (even though out-of-character, I really didn’t want to, ugh!) and as crotchety as he was to all my other companions, I put up with his crap because I figured he and Hawke meant something to each other.

It was probably my character’s romance with Anders that led me to side with the Templars in the end after he went all whackjob on everyone and blew up the Chantry. My poor, disillusioned Hawke just couldn’t continue fighting for the mages when the champion of the cause and the love of her life was responsible for something that heinous. Justice/Vengeance-possessed or not, Hawke couldn’t let Anders get away with it. I was pretty pissed off too, considering how I never really even wanted to be stuck with Anders in the first place. I gave him a chance and he blew it, so he had to die. Obviously.

Of course, right after sticking that dagger in him I realized I just killed off my one and only healer. Yes, it made the fight after that and the final battle with the First Enchanter such a pain in the ass, but damn it all, I wasn’t about to go and revert back to a previous save just to spare Anders, so I stuck it out. The First Enchanter, who had resorted to blood magic to become an abomination in the end (even though I offered him a way out for the sake of my sister and everyone in Kirkwall) pretty much just me think I made the right choice as well. Mages becoming dangerous when cornered was the major argument from Templar supporters, and the actions of the First Enchanter just proved them right, if you asked me.

Two great things happened after the fight — 1) I still got to kill Knight-Commander Meredith, who was much too batty to be allowed to live, really, and 2) Bethany rejoined my party so I got my healer back! So even though the final fight against Meredith was way more complex, I also had a much, much easier time.

I was ambivalent about the concluding narrative. Even though I sided with the Templars, my ending wasn’t so very different from those who I saw sided with the mages — mages everywhere still took a stand, finding hope in the events of Kirkwall. And all the companions dispersed, except for the Champion’s love interest, of course. In my case, that was Anders…and I still got the “stayed by my side” line even though I killed him. Well, I guess they meant it in a figurative, haunt-me-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of way…

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The Dialogue Wheel – Pros, Cons and the Falcon Punch

February 3, 2010

Playing Mass Effect 2 has led me to think about the dialogue wheel, the nifty little system that allows the player to choose conversation options when interacting with NPCs in the game. This isn’t my first exposure to it; I was familiar with the dialogue wheel from the original Mass Effect, and it has already been confirmed that Star Wars: The Old Republic will feature a similar if not identical system.

The idea behind it is pretty simple: the dialogue wheel comes up whenever you encounter an NPC you can speak with. Your dialogue choices are arranged around the wheel, and usually just a short snippet of a summary of what you want to say is shown. In Mass Effect, there’s even a pattern as to how these dialogue options are placed. Often, you’ll find the “paragon” or the goody-two-shoes option on the upper right, the “renegade” or the badass option on the bottom, and a more neutral option sandwiched between the two.

Given that the company behind the Mass Effect games is also the one behind SW:TOR, it’s pretty safe to assume that this pattern may be utilized in the upcoming MMORPG as well. Frankly, I’m pretty happy about this because I’m quite a fan of the dialogue wheel, though I do have some concerns. But first, let me go through the pros of this system:

1. It’s clean and tidy. A lot of UIs for MMOs are already way too cluttered, but the dialogue wheel is compact while still managing to serve its purpose.

2. It’s easy for the player to learn where everything is on the wheel. For example, in Mass Effect, whenever you wanted to learn more about something, the “Investigate” option will always appear on the left, and the “Charm” and “Intimidate” options are always going to be on the upper and lower left, respectively.

3. In my opinion, the most important advantage of the dialogue wheel is that for full voice-over games like Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic, you really don’t need anything more than the brief summaries that are shown. After all, what’s the point of displaying the full dialogue option when it’s just going to be read back to you seconds later?

And now for the cons. For the most part, the summaries on the dialogue wheel correspond well to what actually comes out of your character’s mouth…but sometimes you might just be surprised. The dialogue wheel leaves opportunities for players to select a response with the intent for their character to behave or say something in a certain way, only to have them end up doing something totally unexpected. For example, I doubt many people saw the following coming when they chose the dialogue option innocently labeled “I’ll shut you up!”

Sure, you can point out that any result would have been a renegade response based on the fact that the option was on the lower right portion of the wheel, but the last time I checked, sucker-punching someone in the face isn’t the only way to shut them up.

The fact that the summaries might not accurately reflect the full response is the biggest disadvantage of the dialogue wheel and my main concern regarding its implementation in SW:TOR. It’s all fine and good when something like this happens in a single player game like Mass Effect. Really hate the outcome of your choice? No problem, just reload and try again. But MMO players don’t often have that kind of luxury. While I have faith that Bioware will figure out a way to ensure their players won’t accidentally commit some major action without getting plenty of warning, not ever knowing for certain what your character might say or do will make many think twice before locking in on a dialogue option, thus making this system a possible impediment to the immersive experience and to a player’s overall sense of control.