Dragon Age: Twitter Review Pt. 1

By Shamus
on Nov 30, 2009
Filed under:
Game Reviews

I’ve been doing a little experiment with Dragon Age. I picked it up last week, and I’ve been posting ephemeral thoughts on the thing into my Twitter as I play. I’ve read back through the feed now and I find it striking how most of these things are annoyances or trivialities that probably wouldn’t make it into one of my long-form reviews. I thought I’d go back through the feed and re-post each of the entries here, along with some additional commentary.

Super-quick overview: Dragon Age is massive – it has a play time nearing 100 hours, or so I’m told. It lets you play the standard fantasy RPG races and classes. It follows the standard BioWare formula of putting you into a two-front war against some world-threatening supernatural Evil and a more mundane political evil. Along the way you meet a smattering of diverse personalities who join your cause. Level up, loot guys, dialog trees, sidequests, pretty graphics, etc.

Stuff in bold is what I typed into Twitter. Keep in mind these are moment-to-moment thoughts, not impressions on the game overall. Also note that I’m playing the PC version, which is reportedly very different from the console versions. Do take this into consideration before correcting me on some aspect of the game, because it’s possible we’re playing very different games.

So begins my review:

I now own Dragon Age.

I got the game Wednesday Nov 25th, the night before (American) Thanksgiving.

Oh, hello Captain Janeway. #DragonAge

Flemeth (the so-called Witch of the Wilds) is voiced by Kate Mulgrew.

Aaaand #dragonage crashes like a chump when I alt-TAB. This could be an ongoing problem.

I’m not sure if it was just a one-time fluke or what, but after this crash I started playing in windowed mode. It wrecks immersion a bit, but it also lets me jump to Twitter and leave updates more easily.

This is how I play MMO games, and Dragon Age feels like a single-player MMO, so this make sense.

I keep expecting Duncan to send me to Jerusalem to knife somebody. #dragonage

The character Duncan is voiced by Peter Renaday, who also voiced head assassin Al Mualim in Assassin’s Creed.

New quest: BUY MOAR CONTENT FROM EA GAMES. Real classy, guys. #dragonage

The designers stuck a quest giver into your camp (a location you’ll visit often throughout the game) and he has the floating “I have a quest for you” icon over his head. So you have to put up with that through the whole game if you don’t want to pay for the premium content. I’m having trouble just getting through the bulk of the game so far, so I’m not really feeling a big urge to place even more detours between me and the endgame.

It’s obviously a dick move on the part of EA in an attempt to make you feel like you’re missing part of the game. Instead of selling you a few bonus pages to their book, they rip a few out of the middle and then let you wonder what you’re missing. Very cynical. It doesn’t ruin the game or anything, but you can see where this is going down the road.

Oh, hello Tuvok. #dragonage

The leader of the Dalish people is played by Tim Russ, who also played Tuvok in Star Trek Voyager.

Playing a Mage. Trying to decide if I should try another class before I go too far. 100 hours is a long time. #dragonage

I eventually did start over. As an Elf. Mage. I’d screwed up this character by mis-spending skill points, and I’d missed out on two possible companions.

Dear NPC: Thanks for the outfit. I’m sure the Darkspawn will be no match for my ass hanging out. #dragonage

People usually prefer a difficulty CURVE to a difficulty SAWTOOTH. #dragonage

Ten fights of more or less effortless combat, and then one fight that results in a TPK Game Over. This game is very strange when it comes to difficulty. I’ll revisit this issue later.

Dear Main Character: Stop talking smack to the containers I tell you to open. Thx. #dragonage

This has been going on since at least the original Neverwinter Nights. In this game they no longer challenge doors and boxes to a duel, but they still say inappropriate things when directed to (say) open a door. Odd.

Mages running laps around the tanks: Comically silly but very effective! #dragonage

I hate, hate, hate the fact that your area-of-effect magic spells do friendly fire damage. The casting range is way inside of the aggro range of most foes, the blast radius is so big, and the casting time is so long, that there is no time you can use the really big hitters without nuking your team. By the time you’re close enough to cast, the bad guys have spotted you and are rushing. And they will close the distance and interrupt your spell before you can activate it. You can fireball distant archers, but they’re always spaced out so you never really get more than a couple.

And if you do manage to get off that perfect shot at the perfect moment with the right timing and actually get to hit a bunch of guys with your nuke, the bad guys are going to head straight for you and chop your mage into little pieces, because for all the hassle they are to use, the big blast spells don’t really do that much damage. They just piss a lot of people off.

So then you have six guys who want to murder you, and one or two melee companions to try and pull them away. It can’t work. Which leads to running laps around the tanks. (Which works.)

They added all this stuff to make combat “realistic” and to keep it “balanced” and instead they traded “stupid but fun” for “stupid and tedious”.

And yes, I know that it doesn’t do this if you play on easy. I think the difficulty slider should modulate the challenge of the game, not the fun.

AoE spells should either be way easier to use or do way more damage. (I’d prefer the former. I wouldn’t mind if the spells didn’t kill everyone in the room, as long as I got the fun of using them on a regular basis.) As it is, they usually just aren’t worth the hassle and risk.

Hardest quest in the game: Locate a single person who isn’t a COMPLETE prick. #dragonage

I wrote this one after I ran into a string of NPC’s who were jerks to me for no good reason. The final straw was a guy running the docks leading to the Mage’s circle, who is a complete ass to you. The dialog tree drags his little patronizing act out for ages before it gets down to letting you persuade or intimidate your way past him. I was playing a neutral any-means-necessary character, and I was about six dialog lines past the point where I’d said, “Okay, I would have stabbed this idiot and dumped him in the lake by now if the game would let me.”

These characters usually frustrate me most when I’m trying to play evil. I’ll do a few quests where I drown some puppies for a handful of copper pieces, kick some beggars, and feed some children to the dragon for no good reason, but then I meet someone who gives my Evil Overlord some sass, and I can’t actually do anything to them.

This type of encounter is a staple of BioWare games. I’ll bet this never would have made it into a normal review, because this sort of small detail is usually forgotten a couple of minutes later. This game has hours and hours of dialog, and you usually remember the big discussion with main characters more than the brief exchanges with rude little piss-ants along the way.

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  1. fscan says:

    Concerning AoE, i find it very effective for disabling large groups (sleep, blizzard) or killing ranged ambushers. Also, try to send your tank in, shield him with force field and go crazy with AoE (especially [virolent] walking bomb)

  2. Sheer_FALACY says:

    Well, murdering random Templars right before you walk up and ask them to let you in would probably not go super well for you, so rather than a) ending the game or b) making you kill everyone they just don’t let you do it.

    And generally the AOE spells compensate for archer’s spreads by having HUGE aoes. Blizzard, sleep, fireball – all of those can easily hit most of a room. The tough part is not killing your guys – blizzard actually seems to have a bigger aoe than it says it does. I have Morrigan drop it on the ranged dudes and then I can ignore them (unless one of my meleers decides that the already dead archers are a higher priority than the dudes beating on the squishies).

    And Force Field is obscene. Between not dropping aggro (well, for the 5 seconds it takes the enemy to pick a new random target anyway), being almost unresistable, and lasting almost its cooldown, it’s amazingly versatile.

  3. GABS says:

    Mh.. interesting new way of reviewing(I didn’t read the twitter feeds). Although it does give the impression that the game is nothing but one minor annoyance after the other (of course, if that is correct, I didn’t say anything).

  4. Aquarion says:

    Agreed on the difficulty sawtooth. I misspent skill points on my fighter, and so got into an impossible fight down the line.

    As it happens, the dock asshat can be got around easily with the right people in your party. Fgra oevorf uvz jvgu pbbxvrf.

  5. lebkin says:

    Having AOE not do friendly-fire damage would make them too powerful. The ability to drop one (or two or three) right on top of yourself would just destroy all your foes. You would never have to use any other ability.

    That said, I find AOE are extremely useful when combined with strategic retreats. Move into a room (often only with the mage), drop Blizzard, then retreat backwards into an adjacent space. Deal with the enemies one by one as they slowly escape the effect. Also remember to stack them when possible. Blizzard or Earthquake to slow and stun, followed by Death Cloud to kill is a great combination.

    Interesting enough, I never had a single problem alt-tabbing out of Dragon Age. This with Firefox and iTunes open in the background as well. Maybe my computer is just newer and can handle it better.

  6. Derp says:

    You know, there is a respec mod you can download:

    http://social.bioware.com/project/469/

  7. I’m really enjoying Dragon Age, but boy, is it talky, talky, talky! I think I spend 3 times as long in NPC dialogue than I do in combat.

    Make sure you make multiple selections while you’re at The Pearl. The results are HILARIOUS!

    Leslee

  8. Trianglehead says:

    I think you mean you ‘read’ back through them. Unless you had some really funny colored sunglasses on at the time. Rose-tinted, ftw!

    And immesion should probably be immersion? :) Don’t you love your endless army of proof-readers, Shamus?

  9. Arquinsiel says:

    One of the things I always enjoyed about the Baldur’s Gate/Infinity engine series and missed from the KotOR series was the ability to just vent frustration. Random idiot initiating dialogue? Sworded. Sassy gate-guard? Sworded. Sub-plot-relevant “traitor”-character that seems a bit off when sending you on “harmless” sidequest? Sworded.

    It might not have been the *best* way to resolve an issue, but it was often the most satisfying.

  10. SireCh says:

    It’s kind of buggy, but I love going blizzard, earthquake, tempest on a room full of enemies, before opening the door.

  11. Magnus says:

    I truly could not imagine playing the game with FF on.

    My standard tactic through most of the game was to use Winter’s Grasp, Cone of Cold and latterly Blizzard. Strangely though, fire-based spells felt very weak by about level 15, with Fireball only really useful for knockdown to give me time to buff and such.

    Cone of Cold was by far my most used spell, there were several occasions including a certain one-on-one fight near the endgame where I killed a much better fighter without being hit once.

    The difficulty, even with the patch, was still all over the place. I did feel, by the end, that I was just repeating the same actions over and over to win. It kind of took any fun out of it.

    There also seemed to be very little AI, especially for your own team. Aside from the rather dubious “tactics” (which I found often more of a hindrance than a help), it was endlessly easier (but more tedious) to tell every party member exactly what to do. I hate to say it, but I think the NWN2 AI might have been better, or perhaps that’s just down to NWN2 not having lots of “talents” or whatever they’re called (spells for warriors/rogues, really).

    Didn’t get 100 hours out of it though, more like 50-60 (not that I’m complaining, 50+ hours is plenty, especially since I’ll replay it at some point).

    In summary, there are plenty of little things that annoy me, but the game in general is very well made, and I can see myself playing it a few times more in future.

  12. Adalore says:

    I haven’t played that far, but I have hit the “Curve” my self. The build choices I was taking wasn’t even that bad, and I’ll find a fight where the combat simply jumps…

    Well good choices except how enchantment and mages enchanting weapons don’t seem to stack…

    Bah.

  13. Aufero says:

    AOE damage spells are most effective when you plan them around movement restrictions – either have your melee characters stand at a choke point with the mage(s) behind them, or start off with a movement debuff AOE like Grease or Earthquake. There’s also a knockback glyph that’s useful for placing in doorways when you know everything will come charging as soon as you cast. (I played through the first time with two Mages for most of the game – the main character and Wynn. Double or triple AOEs are fun.)

    Aside from that, I took a ton of AOE crowd control spells. They don’t suffer from friendly fire, so they’re great for when things pop up too close to use area damage spells.

    I’m normally not a fan of friendly fire rules for Mages, but I actually enjoyed the extra tactical challenge of it in Dragon Age.

  14. Rutskarn says:

    I play with FF off, because I play on easy, because I’m a little coward baby who likes to steamroll through fights.

    Also, I’m playing a LG type, so it’s really just me that wants to stab annoying NPCs. And Morrigan.

  15. Taellosse says:

    I also had no trouble alt-tabbing. And my rig, while reasonably powerful, is not new (it’s a 1st gen Intel Mac Pro, so almost 3 years old now).

    I found the prospect of friendly fire so irritating that I played the game on easy and have no intention of changing it even when I don’t play a mage (unless I decide to try challenging myself by playing with Wynn as my primary mage or something). What I wish is that the difficulty slider affected things like enemy AI, damage, and hit points, but things like friendly fire were separately toggled settings. I’d play on a harder difficulty with FF turned off, then.

    It should be noted, though, that even on easy, the side-effects of many spells can still affect your party. Such as the freezing effect for the cone of cold spell–they break out of it quicker than the enemy does, but they’re still frozen. And if you set a grease spell on fire and anyone in your group runs through it, they still get burned like normal. And non-party allies take normal damage from any area spells even if you are on easy, so in those places where you’re being aided by other soldiers, or helping villagers or something, you’ve still got to be really careful about things like fireballs.

    I beat the game my first time the day before you bought it (I got it the day after release), Shamus, and I played a mage myself. I sampled all the origins, too, and am trying my human noble warrior now.

  16. radio_babylon says:

    i got dragon age thursday during the steam sale. played it for about 20 hours over the long weekend, and ive decided i dont like the game.

    first, its punishingly difficult. im playing on normal, and every fight goes the same way: everyone dies but morrigan, who proceeds to slaughter all the bad guys. repeat. and im no slouch, ive been playing these kinds of games since the gold box, in 4 color CGA. im not just clicking guys and watching it play out, i pause constantly to position guys, pick targets, and use abilities. doesnt matter. now, i just select everyone but morrigan and click someone. theyre GOING to die anyway, so why bother with the micro? i just want to get them out of the way so morrigan can get to the business of killin. it doesnt help that health potions are such rare resources.

    now, normally when i run into a game like this (a ridiculously hard for no good reason game) i will just lower the difficulty and play on, because what i really care about is getting through the storyline anyhow. which brings me to my second beef: the storyline.

    i know i shouldnt complain, i should be used to this by now, this IS a bioware game after all, but it feels even worse in this game than their others… i realize that theyre trying to present the gamer with difficult moral quandaries, but in DA:O, moreso than any other game ive played to date, the situations feel so contrived and arbitrary. im aware that in life, there is often no single “good” solution to a problem… but there are often better solutions than what i am presented with in-game. i dunno, its hard for me to pin it down exactly, i just feel railroaded into one crappy choice after another, and it got old fast. it let me to not caring about my character, my party, my enemies, or the people im supposed to be protecting. (its also hard to care about any of the characters once they become nothing more than cannon fodder for the meat-grinder game mechanics.)

    so what im left with is a game whose story doesnt compell me to put up with the crap gameplay, and whose gameplay doesnt compell me to suffer through the crap story. which leaves me feeling like i wish i had my money back, more than anything else. the game feeling like little more than a fantasy mass effect with an improved tactical interface doesnt help things either.

    i think i just need to give up on “serious” crpgs. the last really good one i played was planescape:torment, and i now dispair of ever seeing anything even approach that game again in my lifetime. ill stick to p’n’p for my “role playing” and “arpgs” for my computer gaming.

  17. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Been reading Shamus’s twitter review of Dragon Age. Miss his classic reviewing style. When DF? #Twentysided

  18. EmmEnnEff says:

    I found AoE friendly fire to be… A non-factor. Grease is a wonder for keeping enemies still enough to get at least two spells off, and Cone of Cold is easily overpowered in that respect. Even if Alistair gets hit by a stray fireball or two, as long as he isn’t getting chain-frozen, a single healing spell will top him off.

    I’m not too far into the game yet, (Just finished the urn quest), but my two mages are the core of my offense. If I get either the opening Grease, or Cone of Cold off well, their chain-AoEs are often enough to take down large groups on their own.

    Also, indoors, closing the door you just opened makes enemies bunch up nicely.

  19. Rosseloh says:

    Rutskarn, you aren’t the only one. Give me being called a pussy over redoing the same fight 40 times any day. For the same reason, I always kept the “runscript PC_immortal” code handy, even if I rarely/never used it.

    I played through with a mage, trying to get to the end of the story. Had about 45 hours that time. Now I’m running with a dual-wield rogue, and am trying to hit every side quest. So far I think I’m up to the 25 hour mark, and I’ve only gathered half the army. My party is currently: Me (DPS and locks/traps), Alistair (tank), Sten (offtank and DPS), Wynne (healer). We’ve had absolutely no problems so far; in fact, we rarely have any player go below half health with the custom tactics I set up for Wynne.

    And as much as I love the game, and the story in it, they didn’t really live up to their advertising, in my opinion. This isn’t all that much “darker” of a story than the other Bioware games I’ve enjoyed. I may have been looking at it wrong, but when I read the previews, I was expecting it to be like The Witcher, where a lot of times there was NO strict good/evil choice; only what you considered to be the “lesser” evil, and the consequences that came from that decision. And yet, in most of the conversations I’ve seen in DA:O so far, you have three choices: GOOD, EVIL, and LEAVE.
    Doesn’t stop me from loving the game, though. The best dialogue is the party banter while you run around.

  20. mark says:

    pissant > piss-ant

    just FYI, in case you were unaware of the former…

    edit: changed != to >, as apparently they mean the same thing. pissant looks/sounds better though. :P

  21. GoodApprentice says:

    I’m playing the game and enjoying it, but I have a few issues with it as well. My main beef has to do with the dialogues that force place your entire team into horrible tactical positions. Enemies are sometimes invulnerable until you initiate conversation, at which point your team is moronically placed in the middle of large groups of tough baddies. The game does this over and over.
    I also hated being pulled from the rest of my group to enter the fade. I designed my first character to be a support mage, a team healer and buffer with very little offensive punch. On his own in the fade, he was a demon sex toy for the longest time. When I started with him, I honestly didn’t think he’d be on his own after the tutorial.
    It also bugs me that the corpse of a heavily armed and armoured opponent will only give up a worthless item (such as a mushroom) if it gives up loot at all after waiting 5 seconds before turning twinkly.
    I also spend way too much time pixel hunting with the cursor trying to find the activation location of books, statues, scrolls, and pieces of paper while at the same time trying not to accidently activate dialogue with team members who seem to love jumping onto my cursor right before I click my mouse button.
    I’d also like to be able to sell equipped items while in the merchant screen like every other rpg allows. Am I missing out on how to do this?

  22. Single-player MMO? Please simplify that statement.

  23. Legal Tender says:

    I am actually more interested in reading your take on the game economics, Shamus.

    Not that I don’t find your commentary interesting so far, mind. Maybe it’s just my playing style but the economy didn’t feel broken at all during my playthrough and I am curious to see if you had it something similar.

    I got to make ONE major equipment purchase during the entire game but what surprised me the most was that I wasn’t making like a bandit by end-game. Sovereigns were scarce throughout and I only managed to buy another item of adequate quality before the end.

  24. Atle says:

    Just started playing the game, as mage, and I find the MMO-like cool down period very very annoying.

    When I am in a fight, I want to select the most appropriate spell(s), not sit and wait for the next spell that has cooled down, pressing the appropriate numbered button, wait for next to cool down, and so forth.

    Also this is very illogical. When done casting a spell, and ready to cast another, there is no reason some spells should not be ready, while the rest of them are.

    Cool down is very annoying, and a completely arbitrary way to make the game harder.

  25. Mindstar says:

    oh, there is a pretty good ambiguous choice at the end in my opinion… but I won’t post spoilers :-)

    one play-through for me was 66 hours according to the save-game timer… not counting re-loads to see other dialog options and stuff. I did that first play as a dual-wield warrior and my party was almost always the same: alistair, leliana and morrigan (leliana only because I wanted a lock-picker). Sometimes I would replace leliana with morrigan or shale. The other chars would just stay at camp cooking or whatever.

    I managed to pick up almost every quest in the game, I think… I got past the 75% mark because I got the achievement, and finished with 3 o4 4 I didn’t manage to complete.

    Now I am doing a rogue and a mage just to see what they’re like… and will likely still do the rest of the origin stories. So far my favorite is the human noble (also saw mage and dalish elf)

    I really liked the game a lot, the voice acting is quite good for the main characters and that made it all the better for it.

  26. JKjoker says:

    making your first character a mage is tempting, but a recipe for frustration, spells do not work as expected, many spells outright SUCK but descriptions make them sound awesome, the ones tied to spellpower (attack spells) tend to suck since you need to raise willpower and ignore magic if you want to actually cast spells without drinking 5 lyrium potions per battle
    (i should probably warn players using mages and rangers that eventually youll have to survive on your own and that during that part summoning spells will be banned, keep that in mind when making your char )

    after trying 3 different mage builds i gave up for a rogue, btw, the game is very biased in favor of rogues, my rogue outputs 5 times more damage than my warriors, weapons are not that different at first sight but the faster attack speed of dual welding + higher armor penetration + higher crit chance + backstab ends up owning warriors, they are the only class with useful summoning skills, the world is filled with rogue-only chests (that tend to have better stuff than regular containers) and pickpocket can get you a lot of money if you use it on everyone

    dont fear the mods, they are your best friends against the bizarre/evil design flaws like the lack of a storage box in camp

  27. Dane says:

    Like most BioWare games, Dragon Age was fun but very badly flawed.

  28. Old_Geek says:

    The game does hae a rather steep dificulty curve, probably made even steeper because only about one in five battles require you to use tactics. But there are tricks/ strategies you can use to defeat even the nastiest battle without too much difficulty. The key is knowing how to use your mages. AoE spells are devistating when you get the hang of them. And don’t dismiss just neutralizing their archers. Those guys can chew you to pieces if you let them.

  29. FistOFun says:

    Concerning AoE. There are a number of different types of AoE, not all of them are line of sight. What this means is spells such as inferno, you can open a door so you can see within the room, then go to a different part of the room you are in and cast through the walls.
    Also spells like Blood Wound do not affect your party. Blood Wound + Inferno + Fireball was one of my favourite combinations.
    On the topic of friendly fire later in the game I grew tired of the agro take from AoE spells and so tended to use a couple first level spells (cone of fire, cold shock [a must have IMO] and arcane missile), though concerning friendly fire I normally didnt mind hitting my team mates too much in short combats. I did however get generally annoyed at how many of my spells I could not use in the more difficult combats due to FF.

    The game took me 64ish hours to complete (including all but 2-3 sidequests) though I’m now starting again as a Rouge (skipping the dialogue) and using the Respec mod to fix my NPCs and to allow me to experiment with character creation more.

    The difficulty curve is truely surreal to be honest.

  30. Mark says:

    You can screw yourself easily in character development? That doesn’t sound good.

  31. Avatar says:

    Playing as a dual-wielding warrior here. Frankly, I haven’t been playing with a rogue at all – PC, either Alistair or Shale, and both casters. (Abso-frickin’-lutely worth putting a point in healing for Morrigan!)

    There are a few fights that are just ugly-hard, but keep in mind… you have access to a LOT of tools. Consumables take a lot of micromanagement, but a big stack of potions will carry you through anything. (Gives you something to spend that gold on, too…)

    I purchased very few AOE spells for Morrigan… Cone of Cold for manual application only, really. There’s a lot of nasty stuff along the Entropy line; Sleep is a fantastic AOE for managing a big group of enemies, so long as you don’t follow it up with another AOE.

    Not totally displeased with the story so far. There’s a lot of places where you can say “lol I will just stompy stomp this guy” and take a shortcut, or dig down the conversation tree to the option that, despite not making EVERYONE happy, is the best “good guy” resolution to the situation. (Nor am I terribly worried about the occasional bit of disapproval from party members. It’s easy to keep Morrigan happy with gifts.)

  32. Yeah, IMO the best spells in the game are, in order:
    Force Field, Crushing Prison, Cone of Cold, Blizzard, Petrify, Stonefist

  33. pinchy says:

    Have to agree on the difficulty curve it was just incredibly annoying, normal was fine for most of an area until you suddenly hit one fight that was absolutely rediculous and died repeatedly, whereas easy difficulty was a complete joke (and apparently patched to be even easier). I don’t care if the game has hard modes etc… the problem I had was the massive jump between difficulty levels and between individual fights, especially when they seemed completely arbitary (i.e- a random room of guys being superhard, the boss character of the area being meh).

    I went to Redcliffe first (as my party members seemed to be encouraging me to do) and got a complete lesson in dying inside the castle. I think half the problem was that I wasn’t playing with a mage as my main character, I’d given Morrigan a few healing spells out of necessity but that wasn’t really enough, it was only when I found Wynne that things were easier (or you find a vendor who’ll sell you enough mats to create an obscene amount of healing potions which of course you’d not know about when chossing the first area to visit). Another healing NPC that you could get to join your party early on would have been really nice, especially for those who didn’t read ahead or spoil the game in any way to find out where you find a companion in advance.

    The biggest problem for me though was the chronic memeoty leaks in the game, I haven’t played in a few weeks now (I was obsessed and played through in like 10 days and kinda killed any desire to play through again for a while) so they may have fixed it but if I didn’t exit and restart the game every hour or so it would just get so slow and the longer you played the worse it got. This mainly applied to the loading times for a new zone but they went from about 30 seconds or so when I hadn’t been playing long to up to ten minutes one time when I’d been playing all day, this also affected things like quest credit and loot drops which also began to take ages. From what I read online at the time this seemed to be affecting a lot of people and really broke immersion, annoyed me and caused me to refuse to enter small zones like individual houses (and I still can’t understand why they need a loading screen to enter a small house anyway).

    It was still a fun game despite this but could have been much better, but in my opinion not the 9/10 quality that most the reviews I’ve read seem to have given it though.

  34. Danath says:

    What you do is you give your tank the Indomitable spell or whatever that makes them immune to knock down, drink a lesser fire resist potion (which you can make easily with herb), and throw those fireballs with wild abandon while he gathers everything.

    It’s what I do on Nightmare at this point, rather than actually deal with it, assuming I can survive long enough anyways.

    I’m surprised you havn’t bitched out the AI for standing in fires yet, they do that surprisingly often. Thus my earlier ranting on the AI and tactics slots… although maybe your having a better time of it than I was.

    And I agree with the difficulty wall, while travelling between locations at the beginning of the game, if I got ambushed by 1 emissary, 4 huskar,s and 2-4 archers, I was guarenteed dead, so I had to travel over and over until they didn’t attack me. Now I could win, but early on, it was impossible, no healer and too much damage.

  35. chiefnewo says:

    GoodApprentice: Try holding down the Tab key (assuming you’re playing the PC version), it will highlight everything you can click on, making it a lot easier to find things. You can also rebind it if you check in your control options. I bound mine to a spare mouse button and hold it down when I run around.

    Personally I’m finding the game quite enjoyable. I agree with Shamus that it is a single player MMO, but you get to control the whole group. The similarities are obvious such as Rogue = DPS, Warrior = Tank and Mage = Crowd Control/Healing.

    Regarding health poultice shortages, make sure you have a character in your group with herbalism and hunt down every elfroot you can find. Also try and have a mage with healing in your party and set their first tactic to heal allies with <50% health. I also set all my characters first tactic to use their most powerful healing poultice if they drop below 25% health. This way I don't have to constantly keep an eye on their health bars. Personally I think tactics is awesome as long as you know how it works. Basically the AI runs down its list of tactics from the top and as soon as it finds an item where the condition is true, it runs the associated action and then starts back at the top of the list. Therefore any action you consider highest priority (like making sure they heal themselves) should be at the top. Also make sure their tactics aren't set up in such a way as to waste their efforts. If you tell your rogue to attack the enemy with the highest health, they're going to be bouncing all over the place taking one swipe at each enemy. Personally I use tactics to help reduce how much micro I have to perform, but you still need to jump between characters every now and then to make sure their abilities get used to the fullest. One last thing before I shut up, for any characters you want to stay out of melee range, go in to their tactics screen and change the behaviour (found on the right of the tactics screen) to Ranged rather than Default. That way they'll make an effort not to get too close to the fighting, which usually gives you time to react if they pull too much aggro.

  36. Macil says:

    Meh, I hated Dragon Age. If you want *fun* combat, with real tactics and strategy, pick up King’s Bounty: The Legend. The sequel, Armored Princess, also just came out. Having a blast finishing the first so I can play the latter. :)

  37. John says:

    I have been mostly enjoying the game, but can’t understand all the 90-100% ratings. Yes we’ve been starved for good CRPGs lately but come on….

    Been playing as a (primal) mage (now at about level 13, I think). Not too worried about the AOEs and party members but I have to question the LOS/targetting. Standard tactic: leave party down the hall, open door, fireball, run back to party. The number of times I’m shot through the wall…

    I find progress rather grindy and dull. Enter area, pull with a fireball/inferno/tempest, Cone of cold the melee folks, Stone-fist, lightening, oh! CofCold again, drink lyrium potion… repeat.

    Don’t really like the auto-leveling enemies. I think it makes things far too monotonous. Give me rails any day.

    One other annoyance. In the early part of the game I was swimming in health/lyrium pots, injury kits and raw materials for same (either from drops, raw materials, or merchants). Now I’m constantly running out. I don’t know if this has to do with my quest order (Redcliff, mage tower, ozrammar), or whether I’m just not being as careful in combat. “Hold on folks, I know your city is in chaos, but I need to run across the country and pick up a sandwich…”

  38. JKjoker says:

    i think the easier way to steamroll though the game is having 3 dual wielding rogues (2 ranger-assasins, 1 bard-ranger) with coup de grace and a mage with heal, fire/ice sword and mass paralyze

  39. GoodApprentice says:

    The AI often does what it wants, ignoring assigned commands and tactics. My fighters could be set to aggressive but will periodically just stand still until an enemy starts wacking away at them. They also seem to be in love with my inferno spell. Once the spell lands, they all start sprinting like mad to get into it. I’m often double checking my command button settings and wondering why my party is ignoring me. I’d also like a funtioning melee behaviour option that’s somewhere between “suicidal” and “store mannequin”.

  40. Eruanno says:

    I haven’t played a lot of Dragon Age yet (I just finished the part where everyone dies horribly at a battle that looks an awful lot like that LotR: Two Towers-battle. Except no Gandalf.

    BUT! I do love some of the conversation options so far. First thing after that battle, I end up at a village (after getting my ass kicked like ten times by an ogre), and what do I find?
    Ah, a merchant being a dick and taking ridiculous prices for his goods to refugees. And next to him is a nun (…or something similar…) that is telling him to stop (and of course asks me to help her with this).
    What do I do? I first tell the nun to bugger off, and then I stab the merchant. Hilarious! Double evil-points!
    …I’m not sure I got a reward, though. But who cares!
    Also, Morrigan is awesome.

  41. Shrike says:

    I just finished Mass Effect, which was mindblowingly amazing all the way, and the Steam sale for DA:O lured me into buying.

    So off I go, the standard sneaky human archer template in mind I created my char – a rogue in this case, with talents in archery. BIG mistake. I wondered why I was getting my ass handed to me and not doing any damage with my fancy bow and all points in archery.

    So I fire up Google and find out that DA has a big-ass bug with everything having to do with dexterity. Bow damage is calculated from strength, as is dagger damage… And my rogue has amazing dexterity and exactly diddly squat in strength.

    I can also confirm the weird fluctuations in combat difficulty. The mage tower final boss was a breeze, finished him off in one go. BUT the measly blood mage side quest in town got me killed even on easy! WTF BioWare?

    It seems that “moral ambiguity” is just a fancy way of saying “no f’n way to see if an option is good or bad” in conversation. Having to kill your own party member because of a stupid hissy-fit without any warning beforehand, wtf? Persuade and Intimidate don’t do anything either.

    Also if you try the same conversation multiple times, youll see that NPC answers don’t really change no matter what you say. You get 5 different options, and all of them get the same response.

    With Mass Effect in fresh memory, this seems like a ripoff. In ME persuade and intimidate worked, the options were clearly marked (top option = good, bottom option = evil, middle = neutral) and responses changed and were drastically different. Evil characters had multiple options jsut to shoot the bad guy in the face instead of negotiating. Not “start a combat with bad strategic positioning”, just grab your gun and shoot the guy in the face.

    (For a mod fix for the dex bug see: http://dragonage.gulbsoft.org/doku.php/hotfix/dexterity_hotfix_101 – but be aware that it also boosts enemy archers)

  42. General Karthos says:

    Okay, I bought the console version, and the colors are kinda washed out, (though not on my television here at college) plus I’m a Bioware fan boy (shamelessly… I’ve loved everything I’ve played that they’ve brought out) but I feel like I’m the only person here who didn’t manage to break his first build. I think you just have to plan it all out up through level 20 or so from the get go. You can read about talents/spells you don’t have access to initially.

    I haven’t played it through a second time, and yes, there were some incredibly difficult boss fights. (And some really difficult non-boss fights. One dungeon in particular.) But by the end of the game, I had seemingly mastered the ability of getting through the fights by having Wynne standing back and constantly healing my characters (drinking Lirium potions when she ran low on magic points), and carrying three front-line combat people keeping her from drawing aggro on the rare occasions where she got a shot off. Going for the weaker enemies first, because their attack power VASTLY outweighs their hit point total whereas the tougher enemies’ hit points VASTLY outweigh their damage output total (though it is higher than the regular version of them).

    And yeah, I got killed once or twice. There was one combat that got me killed a dozen times before I got it through my head to open up with ranged attacks. But they were the exception as opposed to the rule.

    Finally, bit of advice… “Hold Position” under the advanced tab on the radial menu. Allows you to open up with one or two AoE attacks. And if you position your front line fighters in a choke point….

    Or you can do what I did and position my friends just around corners, attract a few of the enemies in a room, then run like hell, and when they come around the corner chasing me, all my characters open up on them. That got me through one of the more difficult room-based dungeons in the game. Rinse and repeat. Yeah, it was kinda cheap, but this was before I really got everything down, and I got tired of feeling like I was hurling myself against a brick wall.

    There were frustrations, I won’t spoil them for people, but I loved the game. (Remember, BioWare fan boy.) The combat had some problems, but I loved talking to people, and I loved the gradual erosion of my morality as the game wore on. I started as a generally “good” person. But towards the end that started kinda falling away, just as a natural sort of thing.

    I guess what I’m saying is don’t give up on the game. It’s worth it in the end.

    Edit: Dexterity is useful for dodging enemy attacks. That was how I tended to win. I could dodge most of the enemy attacks. But yeah, bows and all other weapons are strength based in terms of damage. And Persuade and Intimidate ABSOLUTELY do work. I Intimidated bandits into: first not demanding money from me. Second, paying -me- to not kill -them-. And finally, leaving. This was with level ONE of the “coercion” talent. You need Strength for Intimidate to work (I had a decent, but not very high strength) and cunning for Persuasion to work. (I had a pretty good cunning.)

  43. Steven says:

    On the console version, AoE does no friendly-fire damage on normal and easy difficulties, and only half damage on hard. I bumped my difficulty up to hard because I wanted there to be some consequence for dumping an AoE spell on top of my team. I would rather play on normal difficulty with full friendly fire, but that is not an option.

  44. Daemian Lucifer says:

    There are ways around AoE damaging your party.Either use magic that stuns as well as hurts,so you can rush your mage,freeze anyone,and then waltz back while the fighters rush in.Or,use this pro-tip:

    http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0653.html

    If its tedious,then dont use it.AoE spells are hard to master,so using them without much preparation is a bad thing.

  45. nilus says:

    I’ve been playing it on my 360 so its a bit different but I can’t say the curve has been that bad. There have been fights I could not win, but luckily they were in places I could leave, level and come back(like the High Dragon). I am played a Tank the first time through so I was always aware of where I was at and making sure I drew all the threat. I think playing a Mage might be the reason its harder for some.

  46. Sean Riley says:

    I’m up to the ending of the Dalish Elves bit. Without spoiling too much, I’m seriously disappointed I can’t solve this with talking. It feels like that should be an option.

    Oh, as for the AoE thing? Here’s how I use it: Rogue sneaks out, finds a bottleneck. Throws down grease trap. Unstealth, run back. Enemies pour into bottleneck, slip and slow. Mages unleash AOE on area, then bolt.

    Sadly, while this strategy DOES avoid friendly fire, it still didn’t work. While getting Sten, Alistair, and Shale and just bum-rushing them did. I can’t help but feel the game is balanced toward Warriors.

  47. VorpalHerring says:

    I’m surprised to hear you had trouble with the dock guy, within 30 seconds I had managed to convince him he was a loony and a woman.

    With AOE my favorite combo is to gather a big group of guys in melee range and cast Mass Paralyze, pull all but my tank out of range and cast Inferno. Cooks em good.

  48. SoldierHawk says:

    I just bought Dragon Age myself (playing a Dalish Ranger, so I don’t have the AoE issue, at least not yet), but I have yet to go past the prologue because I just can’t get my character to look right. I know that’s lame and vain, but I want my character to look good dammit and I just can’t design it to my satisfaction. And then there’s the issue that I’m a female (irl), who would LIKE to play a female character in-game, but I just can’t get past how insanely stupid all the light female armor looks. I know if I was a tough as nails elven ranger, I’d want armor that completely exposed my stomach and most of my breasts to easy attack. God.

    I know its fan service for the guys, but it would be nice to have some decent leather armor that actually LOOKS like armor for those of us (female and male) who don’t buy these games to stare at virtual T&A. Ugh. I am hoping that once the mod community is up and running strongly, I’ll be able to get some new armor sets that will solve this problem.

  49. Spider Dave says:

    KOTOR 2 managed to subvert the last point in one of my favorite evil character exchanges; a jerk thug tries to mug you, and you have the option of using a mind trick to make him jump off the stardock and fall to his death. There should be more of this in games. This was also my main gripe with Overlord.

  50. Rosseloh says:

    @Shrike (#39)
    You said,
    “Also if you try the same conversation multiple times, youll see that NPC answers don’t really change no matter what you say. You get 5 different options, and all of them get the same response.”

    That’s a staple of nearly every RPG I’ve played. It’s designed to make you feel like you’re more in control of a situation, but the developers don’t have to write as much dialog and code.

    However, I have noticed it more in this game than in, say, NWN2. So perhaps it is used more often here.

    @Soldierhawk
    There is a mod out there that puts a “forge” in your party camp, so you can make custom armour pieces that look how you want, with the stats you want. So you could copy low level light armour stats, and put them on sweet looking plate (or so I believe). But that’s in the party camp, so you’d need to get past the intro, Ostagar, and Lothering before you could take advantage.

  51. Ranneko says:

    Later on in the game I used my rogue (who was my main character) as a scout, sneaking through, emptying chests, disabling traps through most of the area before my party arrived.

    I then flagrantly abused the way that crushing prison, forcefield and blizzard all do not require line of sight from the mage.

    So you can sneak your rogue in so you can see and target the area, blizzard it from a room or two away, and then kill the weakened survivors.

    It just occurred to me that I could have first killed a mage with my rogue, drawing aggro, forcefielded him, and then blizzarded the area. I’m certainly going to have to try that out sometime.

  52. Greg says:

    I don’t have that annoying guy show up in my camp, so I suspect he’s from one of the files my copy keeps failing during the download of. I also don’t have any DLC show up in the “Available” column, so I couldn’t buy his quest if I wanted to.
    And yes, I too discovered the hard way that “no FF” in easy mode isn’t entirely true. Accidentally slaughtering the whole village defense party with a single firebreath caused me to reload right quick.

  53. Zel says:

    The game is not so much difficult as it is unbalanced. Trying to survive past normal difficulty without abusing Force Field + Taunt is suicide, and it gets pretty hard even on normal difficulty near the end of the game (one particular two handed swordswoman was doing well over 200 damage per hit, one shotting mages and rogues and two shotting the tank, and she had 20 soldiers with mass stun arrows to assist her…).

    Force field makes the target immune to all damage, and it has a downtime of 1 or 2 seconds. It doesn’t reset aggro. Taunt adds a huge amount of aggro on all nearby targets (at least enough for them not to switch targets until they die). Combine the two, and you break the game : two mages can easily let loose the ultimate storm centered on the protected tank (Grease, Inferno, Tempest, Blizzard, Earthquake, and a few Walking Bombs here and there) and laugh as these stupid NPCs keep going back in, until they die.

    Overall, I’m disappointed that battles are more about reacting to surprise attacks than about preparing tactics. I hated when my party, lead by my mage, strolled about between dozens of soon-to-be enemies, just to taunt the leader and be completely surrounded afterwards. And it happened every boss fight.

    I’d say 100 hours for the game is a very generous estimate. It took me 50 hours or so to finish, with all the secondary quests completed – DLC excluded – and a good chunk of “tertiary” quests (boards) done as well. The “percentage completed” figure you see on the stats page is actually directly linked to the percentage of achievements unlocked and not at all related to the story progress, don’t be fooled by it.

  54. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Its funny how voice acting is killing dialogue trees.In baldurs gate and planescape torment,you really had different responses for different lines you said.And not just cosmetically different responses.Even in neverwinter nights there were pretty extensive dialogue trees.But the more voice acting is used,the less varied dialogue options there are.

  55. Hawk says:

    Finally picked up the console version (having finally resolved not to buy a new video card for the PC). I know I’m missing out on the more tactical combat I’d prefer (which is sad) but I’m learning to approximate it slowly with the console interface.

    Haven’t seen the AoE problem so much myself, but then my primary character is a rogue.

    Lots of dialogue; I could do with just a tad less. Apparently I need to be a bigger asshat, though, because I see to lose favor with Morrigan way too easily.

    Oh, and what’s with the zillions (well, maybe 6) of splash screens on loading? I got it the first time, but how many times do I need to see BIOWARE, EA, Etc, etc?

  56. Danath says:

    @SoldierHawk

    Actually thats why I didn’t make a female character (most of my games have at least 1), I find it rather distasteful considering the direction the game went. Sometimes I don’t want fanservice, I want my female character to look awsome and badass, not stripperific, where armor is directly proportional to how much skin shes showing.

    To clarify: Direction the game went means that they went for a more realistic low fantasy vibe… then stuck in stripperific armor, or made it really terrible looking. Not to say this is the only option, but it can be annoying, helmets especially for terribad looks…

  57. acronix says:

    @ 53 Damian Lucifer:
    That´s something that bothered me since I saw dialogues in Mass Effect. I can see why they need to make just cosmetic differences, though. Sound files take a lot of space, and the developers seem to think that reading dialogue without sound is exclusive territory of books. Also, the cinematic feeling that they´re putting on the dialogues would make dialogues a lot less immersive. I´ve seen that problem on som NWN2 mods that used the “cinematic dialogue” mode (or however it was called) but lacked any voice. It´s like watching a subtitled movie without sound. Not bad, but it takes away immersion.

    I blame the developers (and gamers) growing movie-philia.

    On a side note: someone else feel that Morrigan is a Mary sue?

    On another side note: someone else feels like Bioware needs a new plot writer?

  58. BlackBloc says:

    Hey Shamus, that review was pretty spot on and useful to people.

    * Morrigan disapproves (-5) *

  59. Pocket Nerd says:

    Instead of selling you a few bonus pages to their book, they rip a few out of the middle and then let you wonder what you’re missing.

    Just so you know, NONE of the premium content consists of material cut from the core game, except for “The Stone Prisoner,” and you get that free with a new copy. “Warden’s Keep” had a separate development team, as will the upcoming “Return to Ostagar.”

  60. Cragfire says:

    I alt-tab pretty regularly and I only think I’ve crashed the game that way once or twice. Needless to say I’ve learned to hit the quick save button before trying it, but so far it has not been so bad.

  61. ehlijen says:

    The best way to beat some of the fights is to rush in, note what actions trigger what responses, reload and only commit those actions that trigger responses you can deal with.

    There’s one fight in particular (not saying where, to not spoil) where running in and trying to whack the caster is a bad idea as he’s scripted to teleport away a short distance and summon an army to help him. If, however, you stay at range and just pester him with arrows, he uses no spells or abilities or scripts (as some bad guy ‘moves’ aren’t abilities at all, they’re hardcoded scripts) and only retaliates with a poor to moderate basic range attack.

    In other words, the game is trying to tell us that abusing the AI’s obvious flaws counts as ‘tactics’. Not that I mind, the story and character interaction is what keeps me playing. I know they’re not the best, but they’re entertaining enough for me.

    Watching the Dog ‘inconspicuously’ relieve himself in front of the altar in a chantry in full view of the congregation and revered mother is worth a botched boss fight or two :p

    On play lenght: I think it greatly depends on whether you have subtitles switched on or not. If you don’t, you actually have to sit through every line of dialogue whereas if you have subtitles (which were off by default for me) you tend to read ahead and then skip halfway through the voiced delivery, unless you really like the voice actor. That can shave several hours off the play time.

  62. Phil says:

    I played an Elf Mage on my first palythrough (about 60 hours, with the DLC I got for free with the codes that came with my copy, failing to finish a few quests, but meh). Also cheaped out and went the no FF route.

    Favorite cheap AoE tactic was to fire a tempest or Inferno into a room through a wall or two… Survival is a useful skill for that. Was amusing when some enemies would not even move, let alone rush through the door to attack.

    Spent most of the later part of the game with Wynne, Lelianna, and then Sten, Allistair, or Shale. Took Wynne, Allistair, and Sten into the final bit of the game, and regretted not bringing Lelianna for the final fight – stupid jamming!

    Next playthrough, think I’ll be more ‘evil’, and work more on coercion… didn’t have enough to get a certain two characters married.

    Also, I’m rather amused that one character will disapprove of you making use of the Pearl, but after you’ve bedded her won’t bat an eyelash at you then proceeding to bed the other two options in a row.

  63. MelTorefas says:

    I REALLY like the comment about voice acting killing dialogue. The ‘multiple choices deliver same result’ thing really kills the dialogue trees for me. I personally prefer the Baldur’s Gate method: party members and major NPCs are voiced, everyone else is silent. Though I also agree with the comment that you’d have to use less cinematic mode… which I kind of think would be another benefit myself.

  64. JKjoker says:

    the influence system is pretty stupid, there is this particular “choice” where Shale acts like it likes one option but when you take it Shale just… leaves your party and tries to kill you, so you kill it, bam! character gone forever… WTF?!, you dont even get an option to try to persuade it to change its mind or anything, you are forced to either reload 30 minutes back and kick it out of the party for a while or take the other “choice”

    then there are the many times when a character hates you for stupid things while im sure they would agree with the bigger picture if you had the choice to tell them about it, but you dont, i felt like they are pulling me by the hair all the time, luckily (or unluckily?) Bioware got lazy and they stop reacting to what you do pretty fast, you can even slaughter innocents in Denerim and Leliana looks the other way

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