Dragon Age: Twitter Review Pt. 3

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 3, 2009

Filed under: Game Reviews 88 comments

Once again, bold text is from my Twitter feed, and the rest is my elaboration on it. Also note that you’re reading these in chronological order.

Alistair just said “Down you go!” Carth, is that you? #DragonAge

Alistair – despite his occasional tendency to mope – is probably my favorite character. On the right is my Elf mage.  Not pictured: Her silly, silly hat.  (Headwear is removed during the cutscenes.)
Alistair – despite his occasional tendency to mope – is probably my favorite character. On the right is my Elf mage. Not pictured: Her silly, silly hat. (Headwear is removed during the cutscenes.)

Carth from KOTOR had the same combat taunt. I thought it was funny. It’s worth noting that both Carth and Alistair draw from the same BioWare archetype as well. (I have an article about this very thing going up at The Escapist tomorrow.)

Steven Blum has joined the party. #DragonAge

To the right is the Dwarf voiced by Blum.  For some reason, it left our headwear on for this cutscene.
To the right is the Dwarf voiced by Blum. For some reason, it left our headwear on for this cutscene.

He voices your Dwarven companion. Although here he uses his gruff voice, pretty much the same thing he uses for the Wolverine games.

Wow. The start of the game for Dwarven commoners is really dark. #DragonAge

I didn’t go any further than the origin story, but it was short and ugly. Not in a bad way, but it was quite a contrast with the Mage origin.

Wow. There are SIX opening stories? This game wants to eat my LIFE. #DragonAge

Each origin takes an hour or so. Some are class based (mages) and others are race based (Dwarven commoner) but I haven’t figured them all out yet. I’ve only been a mage so far, so I’m not sure how much of an impact your origin has on the rest of the game.

I’m certainly not going to go through six times.

Feels like #DragonAge on Easy is still a little harder than #KOTOR on normal. I guess I need more micro-mgmt.

The difficulty in this game is a mess. Some people are saying it’s too easy even when playing on hard. Some say it’s too hard even when playing on easy. Some say it goes from boring to impossible on a whim. There are two broken things here.

One is that mage powers tend to dominate the game, and not all mage powers are created equal. When I was talking about how hard the game was, people responded with:

Just use [Forcefield, a power I didn’t have] and then follow up with [another power that was way down a skill tree I’d never even looked at] and if you must, then have someone else follow up with [another power I hadn’t acquired]. This game is TOO EASY.

It’s very easy to miss or overlook key game-breaking powers, and there’s no way to respec.

The other problem is that the system of auto-scaling enemies is broken. You’ll get wiped by a room full of common mooks. Then you work past that and end up steamrolling a boss. The difficulty is all over the place.

I’ve been through the bulk of the game twice now, both times as primal mages, both times using the same play styles. And the challenge level of the game feels more or less random. The first time I did the Deep Roads the game was insanely hard, to the point where even regular encounters required multiple attempts.

The second time through the game I did the Deep Roads and it was pretty average. A couple of hard boss fights, but nothing game-ruining.

This takes away all sense of accomplishment for me. When I win handily, I don’t feel like I out-maneuvered a tough opponent, I feel like the game under-estimated me and gave me foes that were too weak. When I lose, I don’t feel like I did something wrong, I feel like the game just murdered me with tough foes.

The obvious answer is, “If it’s too hard, go somewhere else and level, then come back.”

But this is the problem that auto-scaling foes is supposed to fix! People don’t like giving up and going away. The story stops making sense. (We got into the bowels of the earth, changed our minds, went back out, adventured in the city for a few days, and then returned to the center of the earth and fought the Deeplords of Asskicking, even though we’d been in their vestibule weeks earlier.) It’s a time sink and it takes the momentum out of the story.

Usually the problem with auto-scaling foes is that the game feels uniform and bland, and that you’re robbed of any sense of accomplishment. The tradeoff is that you’ll never run into a wall where you can’t progress. But here we have the worst of both worlds. What they’ve done is taken away the ability of the player to decide how much challenge they want, and instead it’s a crapshoot based on whether or not you happen to pick the right powers and what mood the auto-scale-AI is in. And even the difficulty slider itself doesn’t have enough delta to compensate for the massive swing from auto-scaling + mage powers.

I now see all combat in the game as an unwelcome time-sink, since I get no satisfaction from it. I’m leaving the game on easy, and I’ll probably get some cheats to just make all fights a cakewalk. The combat is just pointless and not worth the time.

Broodmother #DragonAge Thorian #MassEffect TheMother #JadeEmpire – I guess someone at BioWare REALLY likes this idea.

Actually, the story with Witherfang and the werewolves is much closer to this BioWare trope. The “go underground and face a creature who has been turning people into monsters, then face a moral quandary.”

Broodmother fight was HARD. I don’t think 100+ hour games need this much trial-and-error. #DragonAge

I was pretty pissed at this point. I’d turned the game down to easy, and I was still getting party-wiped and a regular basis.

And the worst was yet to come.

Unrelated, but, here is a picture of our hats:

I’m wearing a winged helmet. Wynne is wearing a floppy bit of cloth, as if she just decided to put a handkerchief on her head.  The designers realized how stupid the hats look, so they’re generally removed during cutscenes, but we still have to look at them during the other 50 hours of the game.
I’m wearing a winged helmet. Wynne is wearing a floppy bit of cloth, as if she just decided to put a handkerchief on her head. The designers realized how stupid the hats look, so they’re generally removed during cutscenes, but we still have to look at them during the other 50 hours of the game.

I think my #DroganAge review should bee all these tweets with accompanying commentary.

What an idea! You sir, are brilliant!

Wicked hard boss fight + LONG load times = I stopped having fun 20 mins ago. #DragonAge

The fight at the end of the Dwarven Deep Roads. This was the game killer for me. I was trying to fight Branka and she was way, way, waaay too hard. No, don’t tell me about your ‘leet strategies or your awesome character builds. She was clocking people for half their health. There was simply nothing I could do to get through this fight. Through repeated attempts, I never even got her below half health. And I was playing on “easy”. I wasn’t even able to put down her henchmen. (Who would have made for a really tough fight even without the boss.)

The auto-scale system had picked wrong and given me way too much opposition.

My second time through the game – using much the same party and powers except that I’d traded Leleina for Shale – it wasn’t much of a problem. The party was even about the same level. The Boss was doing a fraction of the damage she’d done before. We were hitting much harder, and the mage’s holds were more reliable. Why? The auto-scaling.

It’s all arbitrary.

Sometimes the characters use this really aggressive walk / swagger during cutscenes.  I recognize it from Mass Effect. It’s funny seeing little old lady Wynne (left) use that stride.
Sometimes the characters use this really aggressive walk / swagger during cutscenes. I recognize it from Mass Effect. It’s funny seeing little old lady Wynne (left) use that stride.

“Here is a treasured heirloom for saving our Kingdom” ME: “Here is me taking the heirloom to the pawnshop next door.”#DragonAge

A Dwarf gave me a magic staff that was obviously of great historical significance, but wasn’t very useful compared to what I already had. I hate when games do this. What am I supposed to do? Lug this thing around? You can’t take it to a museum, which is where it belongs.

So you pawn it.

“Oh, thank you for saving America. Here is Lincoln’s top hat. May you treasure it forever.” And then next door to the White House is a pawn shop that:

1) Recognizes the authenticity of the artifact.
2) Is willing to buy it.
3) Has the cash to buy such an item.
4) Isn’t offended that you’re pawning a national treasure.

Oh RPG tropes, you are so silly sometimes.


From The Archives:

88 thoughts on “Dragon Age: Twitter Review Pt. 3

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Ha, yeah, I don’t think there was ever a point in the game where I got some “special artifact” that was actually better than what I was wearing. These people need better artifacts, apparently.

  2. Aufero says:

    Yeah, the difficulty can be a bit all over the place. The last above-named fight was a good example – I’d steamrolled pretty much everything up to there, but I had to retry that one eight or ten times until I finally gave up and used Mage Running Laps Around The Party (TM) mode. (It probably would have been easier with two mages, but I had three fighters in the group for plot related reasons.)

  3. Sauron says:

    It truly makes me wonder whether this game was intended to be difficult (in which case the argument arises about whether every game needs to be accessible to everybody, which I still believe is a silly argument) or if it was an accident. Either way, I’m in the “too easy” camp, myself (first run is nightmare, no pause, as a rogue, no healing magic ’till I pick up Wynn, which will be after finishing the other three main quests and there’s only been one real hiccup where I had major trouble, and I got through that).

  4. Magnus says:

    Quest artefacts definitely need boosting.

    Some of the best things in the game are in shops costs 100+ sovereigns, but I never had the cash to spend on those, since I was busy making healing/lyrium potions (why call them poultices when you make them in a flask, and the animation makes them appear to drink them..).

    The broodmother was possibly my hardest fight in the game, and getting locked in for the next section was particularly annoying since I was low on supplies.

  5. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Well, when will the mods of Dragon Age start popping in, to solve the difficulty problem? :)

    I wonder… did the Neverwinter Night ennemies scaled? Did the Baldur`s Gate II nonrandom encounters scaled?

    A way I kinda like is how Dwarf Fortress does its difficulty scaling. It depends on the maximum # of dwarves you have ever reached to decide how dangerous the sieges/ambushes are gonna be. So it’s somewhat linear, but you can see it coming, and at least, it make sense in-game.


  6. Lindsay says:

    My husband quit playing the game (was a sword and board warrior) because he got so frustrated at the difficulty swings and the stupid things you have to do to the AI to beat some fights (bugging it out by kiting, for example). His “gamer pride” wouldn’t let him turn the difficulty down from normal. On the other hand, my best friend is playing as a mage and thinks the game is too easy on normal because mages are broken. I finished the game as a rogue and I just turned the difficulty down to easy for any fight I couldn’t beat in 2-3 tries, but I play games mostly for the story. I still had to do some stupid shenanigans to beat some fights though.

    As an aside, if you think the dwarf commoner story is dark, try the city elf story, especially as a female character. The human noble one was pretty depressing too.

  7. Old_Geek says:

    The fight you mentioned is probably the hardest in the game.

  8. Sean says:

    “Wow. The start of the game for Dwarven commoners is really dark.

    “I didn't go any further than the origin story, but it was short and ugly.”

    I didn’t think physical features would usually be so commonly defined by upbringing… ;)

  9. LegendaryTeeth says:

    I’ve been going through the game as a sword and shield soldier. Minor spoilers: On Normal I did the Arl, then Circle, then Elfs, then Dwarves. It was tough (and really only due to constrained healing resources) but fair up until the circle, where you: a) get Wynn and can run two healers, and b) get a whole bunch of free stat points so the main character becomes a tank. Everything has been relatively easy after that. I think maybe doing the Deep Roads first is probably not the way to go, as you are basically marching into Darkspawn central.

  10. Sekundaari says:

    I recall that in Tribunal you could sell artifacts to a museum. Also, Fallout 3 reversed it: You loot Lincoln’s top hat from a museum and sell/keep it.

  11. Ham08 says:

    (I posted this in the other thread but I don’t think you’ll read the other thread in time.)

    Best order to do things:
    Redcliff, Circle of Magi, back to Redcliff to finish up, Brecillian Forrest, Denerim, and Orzamar last before you continue to end game. You’ll have the skills, levels, and tactics you need to withstand the tougher fights in a more natural progression)

    What works for me:

    The classic party setup for role-playing games is a Warrior, Rogue, Cleric, and Mage although this game combines the cleric and mage into one class which is why you need two since mana spent will be divided amongst them. You don't want either mage to run out of mana at the wrong time and if one is incapacitated, you can still heal, freeze or stun, buff, debuff, and do magical damage. You could make one a damage dealer and one a healer, but you are better served to make both mages take on both responsibilities. Healing and Crowd control are the most important responsibilities for the mages because you need to keep your party alive. Damage dealing is secondary but extremely important as well since a mage can out damage everyone in the party.

    You want your main tank to have mostly defensive abilities and shield skills. The main tank should use a shield and one handed sword. Forget ranged skills, the tank needs to be up close and personal to be effective. The tank is not meant to be the best damage dealer, they are meant to soak up damage and keep aggro off of everyone else. You need threaten and taunt skills to manage aggro. Shield Pummel and Shield Bash are great crowd control but only effects one enemy (great for disabling that pesky high damage enemy mage). Strength (damage, intimidate, physical resistance) and Con (health and physical resistance) are best for a resilient tank, Don't neglect DEX but it is not as important as the others. DEX will help you hit high dex targets, increase damage using “piercing” weapons, and also increase physical resistance. Some weapon talents require a certain DEX stat as a prerequisite. A PC warrior needs high strength and Coercion for intimidate options in dialogue to be successful. Remember the heavier the armor the less stamina the character will have for pulling off skills.

    The Rogue should concentrate on Dexterity and Cunning, but should not neglect strength since that stat will add to the damage dealt. Dexterity and Cunning are most important and strength should be bumped a couple times. The rogue should concentrate on duel weilding and rogue skills and if you want more dialogue options for the PC Rogue that allow persuasion to effect outcomes you should maximize the coercion skill. You shouldn't split melee and ranged with your rogue. I prefer the melee with no ranged skills because it seems to work best (lots of devastating backstab damage), but if you decided on a ranged rogue you should concentrate on that and keep him/her out of harms way. Make sure you take dirty fighting because that will stun the enemy and allow you to maneuver for a few backstabs or temporarily disable an enemy so that you can concentrate on another. Take skills that will allow you to shatter frozen foes. A rogue should use two piercing weapons to take advantage of his/her high Dexterity stat. A Rogue should wear light armor because they need the stamina to pull off all of their moves during tough fights. A PC rogue needs high Cunning and Coercion for persuade options in dialogue to be successful.

    More on mages: You really need two mages especially toward the end game. They should concentrate on Magic (increase spell effect, damage dealt, mental resistance) and Willpower (increase mana, mental resist) stats. A PC mage should also get their cunning up to 16 and maximize coercion if you want to use persuasion, but that is not necessary for Wynn or Morrigan. They both should first concentrate on healing(the heal spell, then spirit healer specialization for mass heal and revive), crowd control (mind blast, cone of cold, debuffs like hexes etc.), and one line of damage spells (at first). I recommend the cold spell line for damage because “cone of cold” will freeze your enemies and disable them for a short time which means you take less damage and the enemy can be instantly shattered in this state if luck is on your side (cone of cold works awesome on bosses. keep them locked down so you don’t have to endure their massive damage). Walking Bomb is great for good damage to many enemies, but it will cause friendly fire on normal difficulty and above just as many other spells do, so be careful. As you level up you can take on more damage dealing spells, like fire and lightening. Your mages should be doing most of the damage, most of the crowd control, and keeping your party alive at the same time. It's a big job, that's why two mages will give you the best chance for survival all the way to the end game.

    One of your party members should know herbalism and keep bumping that skill so that you can make health and mana potions. The higher the skill the better quality potions you can make, but the higher quality potions require more ingredients. Always keep a large supply of ingredients on hand, since you don't want to run out of potions and not be able to make more on the spot.

    INGREDIENT LOCATIONS (unlimited supply):
    Flasks ““ Dwarf Vendor at party Camp; Various
    Distillation Agent ““ Dwarf Vendor at party Camp; Various
    Concentrator Agent ““ Dwarf Vendor at party Camp; Various
    Lyrium Dust ““ Quartermaster at Circle of Magi
    Deep Mushroom ““ Ruck at Ortan Thaig (The Deep Roads)
    Elfroot ““ A vendor in Brecilian Forest / Dalish Elf Camp.

    Lesser Health Poultice: 1 Flask, 1 Elfroot
    Health Poultice: 3 Elfroot, 1 Flask, 1 Distillation Agent
    Greater Health Poultice: 3 Elfroot, 1 Flask, 2 Distillation Agent, 1 Concentrator Agent
    Lesser Lyrium Poultice: 1 Flask, 1 Lyrium Dust
    Lyrium Poultice: 2 Lyrium Dust, 1 Flask, 1 Distillation Agent
    Greater Lyrium Poultice: 3 Lyrium Dust, 1 Flask, 2 Distillation Agent, 1 Concentrator Agent
    Lesser Injury Kit: 2 Elfroot, 2 Deep Mushroom, 1 Distillation Agent
    Mabari Crunch: 1 Elfroot, 1 Deep Mushroom
    Double-baked Mabari Crunch: 2 Elfroot, 2 Deep Mushroom

    P.S. Heal your party at 50% not 10% or 25% otherwise it could and most likely would be too late in the tougher battles toward the end of the game. Bring some extra tank gear to Orzamar and spec the mandatory new guy for a defensive taunting threatening tank. Forget his two handed weapon talents, and instead go with a shield and one-handed sword. Again, tanks aren't meant to deal the most damage they are meant to soak up damage and keep aggro off of everyone else.


    What works for me, tactics:

    Two mages both with the spirit healer specialization works best for the end game(you need heal, mass heal and revive on both). Both have “Cone of Cold” and “Mind Blast” because you need a lot of crowd control on these later fights (these spells are area of effect or aoe for short and affect many enemies at once. Mind Blast has a perimeter effect so you have to move close to as many enemies as you can to get best result, or most enemies). Always have 30 to 40 health AND lesser health potions. Lyrium and lesser lyrium potions too. Of course Greather Health and Lyrium are best if you can afford it. Don't forget lots of injury or lesser injury kits because your performance will suck if any of your party gets knocked out on the way to the big fight.

    You need to constantly have most of the mobs on lockdown with your crowd control spells like “mind blast” and “cone of cold” or you will be overwhelmed, while having your whole party concentrate on taking one enemy down at a time. If you are forced to split your tanks you'll have a harder time because you will have to heal more often. By the time one of your stun/freeze spells wears off you should be able to cast another one immediately because you have two mages with both spell lines or four spells total each on a refresh timer. Don't be afraid to use two crowd controls at the same time if you have to.

    (To survive tough boss fights, keep them frozen or stunned and you won’t get wacked upside the head so hard and so frequently.)

    You can beat the whole game using good crowd control. The higher the difficulty the more necessary the tactic becomes


  12. Jarenth says:

    I recognize a lot of the complaints listed here in my own playthrough. I did manage to get through Nightmare (stupid gamer pride), but I keep feeling that my victories were due to cheap tricks, not my own skill. Ye olde kiting trick, for instance, or the infinite health potion trick mentioned in an earlier post; they were all things that helped me get through some of the more ridiculous fights, but… I don’t know, it felt like I was exploiting silly design decisions instead of just playing.

    Ah well. I did get through Nightmare with just one mage, and now I get to rub that in my friends’ faces forever. So I guess there’s that.

  13. Neil says:

    “Oh, thank you for saving America. Here is Lincoln's top hat. May you treasure it forever.” And then next door to the White House is a pawn shop that:

    1) Recognizes the authenticity of the artifact.
    2) Is willing to buy it.
    3) Has the cash to buy such an item.
    4) Isn't offended that you're pawning a national treasure.

    You forgot 5) “They offer the current going rate for any old top hat.”

    On the topic of difficulty, I started on medium, ran into a wall on one of the early bosses, and turned it down to easy. When I reloaded, I saw essentially no effect. I went and looked at the tactics, and saw that the default selections were terrible. They didn’t incorporate any of the skills that had been learned over the course of leveling up, and most of the tactics sets assumed that the person would be fighting alone. For example, the bow wielding rogue Leliana would use (if i remember correctly) Pinning Shot whenever possible. What is the point of slowing your target if it is being tanked by Allister, and you aren’t going to run away if it does come and hit you? Allister wouldn’t use his “Threaten” sustained power, and Morrigan kept trying to transform into a spider while attacking with magic at range.
    Once I set all the tactics to custom ones myself, the game suddenly became much easier.

  14. AceCalhoon says:

    I’ve found the combat in the game to be really unsatisfying in general, in addition to the huge difficulty spikes. The most reliable tactics I’ve found so far that allow the minimum of baby sitting are as follows:

    1) Firmly tell my idiots to wait behind a convenient corner.

    2) Rearrange said idiots into a formation that makes sense (tank in front, ranged in back).

    3) Open the door, and shoot the closest evil idiot I can find.

    4) Run back to my idiots, usually with only one or two of the evil idiots following me.

    5) Proceed to beat the evil idiots down, then repeat until the room is clear.

    I live in constant fear of villains who wish to TALK before the battle, as dialog teleports all of my idiots into a small, tightly clustered group within sight of the evil idiots negating all of my previous efforts. This is especially annoying when the dialog goes like this:
    Them: “Prepare to die!”
    My Responses: “Okay.”, “Snarky Okay.”

    It is doubly especially annoying when the post-dialog huddle is followed up by a fireball or chain lightning.

  15. Aufero says:

    @ AceCalhoon – Yes, that’s one of my pet peeves about the game. I fight my way through a long dungeon full of baddies to get to the chief villain, and because there’s a dialogue cutscene before I can kill him, everyone has to troop in and stand five feet from him and his collection of demons/golems/whatever before the battle can start.

    Common sense? What’s that?

  16. Ham08 says:

    Oops forgot to mention the urn quest earlier. You’ll be best suited to do that quest right after Orzamar. After the urn quest, head back to Redcliff again to finish up a few plot quests. There’s an optional boss on the urn quest that you should do before the Landsmeet.

  17. Jabor says:

    The boss fights are typically a lot more straightforward with the right tactics. For example, the straightforward one is to Forcefield the boss while you deal with any adds (especially useful if you have two mages and can thus lock them under FF until you’re ready to deal with them). But there are other boss-specific tactics too:

    Broodmother: Stand on the rock so the tentacles can’t reach you, and use ranged attacks.

    Similar strategy can be used for the High Dragon.

    Gaxkang (who’s name is a throwback) (or any other solo boss): Shale with maxed Aura + Healer + melee.

    You can do this with any boss if you can forcefield them and clean up their support first.

  18. Mazinja says:

    Some of the origin stories ARE much darker than others. I went through pretty much all of them. It is, however, interesting that when you play as another origin, you sometimes get to hear snippets of plot that you never see, because -that- plot belongs to an origin story you didn’t go through.

    About bosses… my strategy when in a boss fight is: lock down boss character and/or spellcasters. If you cannot lock down spellcasters, then kill them ASAP. Once those threats are dealt with, kill all the mooks gadding about, and take care of the boss last.

    Spell combos can be pretty powerful, of course… although I’ve only found three :p

    Difficulty in the game can indeed be rather inconsistant, and some fights are just a lot easier when you have a lot of magic at your disposal. I simply couldn’t do the second part of the Redcliffe battle when I went there straight out of Lothering, but when I returned much later… it was cake.

  19. Jeff says:

    Re: Difficulty.
    Be aware of how the dynamic challenge system works – every monster in the game has minimum and maximum levels. Every area also has minimum levels at which it will scale. Circle/Redcliffe is 6+, Elves are 7+, Denerim and dwarves are 10+.

    Past that, certain encounters are denoted easy or difficult, with a -2 to +2 scaling factor. It is not random, as far as I know. Each encounter is placed by hand. If you were “about the same level”, there is a severe difference between level 8 and level 10 in a level 10+ area with a difficult +2 encounter. Level 8 vs level 12, or level 10 vs level 12.

    The patch made Easy easier, though.

    Regarding the origins .

    All in all, very minor variations, though it affects dialog slightly throughout, and the ending. Also if you can become king/queen, which is Human Only.

    @SolkaTruesilver: BG2 doesn’t scale. I could have a level 29 party steamroll through the entire game up to ToB if I wanted to. You earn like 1 or 0 xp per enemy though.

    I also 2nd the comments on tactics – set them up yourself!

  20. AceCalhoon says:

    @Neil When you assign a tactics pre-set to someone, it only uses skills that they actually have. In order to make them use new skills, you have to reapply the preset, and hope that the new abilities make the three to five ability cut. My Alistair uses Threaten on a pretty regular basis.

  21. Macil says:


    Since players cannot seem to discern a pattern to the difficulty, it feels arbitrary (and thus feels random, begging for explanation). Auto-scaling is suppose to allow for player “freedom”, except that in DA (and always) it fails in comparison to game where there are clearly defined boundaries.

    Take for example Fallout 1 (the original), where the game offers a much greater sense of freedom (as well as a tangible sense of character progression) with no level scaling than in DA, which attempts some horrible combination both concepts — and fails at both character progression and sense of freedom.


    Tactics must be set up by the user if you expect the AI to behave with any common sense.

    In addition to the preset options, there are also behavior options, like ‘aggressive’, ‘ranged’, etc. These make a difference — for instance, putting mages on ranged (+normal conditional tactics) will make them shoot with their staff inbetween spells (and keep distance somewhat). Adding a tactic for “drink potion when low on health/mana” is useful for minimizing some micro. And the default “heal” settings suck … set the health thresholds lower, to 25/50%, depending on spell.

  22. jonesy says:

    On the swagger/walk thing: Bioware needs to send their animators back to basic kindergarden animation school. People do NOT walk like that. Nuh uh. NEVER! Especially women. Geeze!

  23. ifriit says:

    Regarding autolevelling, I’ve yet to see this approach make any damned sense at all. Oblivion was terrible for it; by the time my heroic level 25 asskicker was roaming around, I was killing bandits who were carrying around magical weapons of supernatural origin and wearing similar armor. I have no idea who they could have robbed to even make a noticeable impression on their wallets other than my character, yet there seemed to be an awful lot of them who would try and fail to take my stuff. It also ruins any sense of achievement; sure, you just got the Sword of Awesomeness, but in a couple levels you’re going to be picking weapons off the corpses of sewer-dwellers that make it look like a willow switch.

    While autolevelling may fix the flow of the story from one point of view, it absolutely scraps it from another. Having the Deeplords of Asskicking be a squad of hoboes with cardboard swords, simply because I haven’t bothered to level up much, makes no more sense than the scenario you outline.

  24. Phil says:

    I never got Wynne’s tactics down to where I liked them. It would take her about 30 seconds to run out of mana. And, for some reason, it seemed to take forever between her learning Mana Drain, and my being able to set it as an ability in tactics… or, at least, by the time I noticed it, I was fighting the ArchDemon, heh.


    The fight with Branka is tough, and yes, she does do *ridiculous* amounts of damage especially if she can FLANK one of your fighters. If you’re having trouble with her or (later) Ser Cauthrien, I advise using Force Field (or paralyze–the force field is more reliable, though) to take them out of the fight entirely while you mop up the side stuff. If your fighters are flanking HER, it’s not so bad, and you can focus your mage(s) exclusively on monitoring health so they don’t go down.

    The fight with Ser Cauthrien is SUPPOSED to be almost impossibly hard, though, and you don’t DIE if you lose, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you HAVE to do it over and over and over and give yourself an aneurysm, though. You actually get an entertaining bit of side-plot if you DON’T beat her.

  26. chabuhi says:

    In the last screen, is the third char from the left your player char? I must have missed the height slider in the char creator. I’m going to have to start over.

  27. [d20]thegrinner says:

    I found that the first recruitment mission is generally a lesson in TPKs, and they get rapidly easier from there.

    I agree on the wildly vacillating boss/mook difficulties – I had more trouble with the Golems then B-lady who devoured your hp, and the brood mother fight was only an almost wipe because I stopped paying attention.

    I took this approach for allies:
    Elves => Mages => Redcliffe => Dwarves
    And found it radically more difficult at the beginning/ Then the Tower was an adventure in one shotting foes, Redcliffe became a fun continuation of oneshots, and then the dwarves were back to a semidecent challenge (though not anywhere near the early game). In fact, I feel like the autolevelling was linked to just that, levels, and not actual combat capability.

  28. @ ifriit:

    Dragon Age fixes the problem by having the Uber gear not be all that much better than the regular stuff, and most of it you don’t get by killing bandits but by looting it out of boxes or as quest rewards, and it makes sense that if they were going to give you a good item as a quest reward, it’d be the same item regardless of when you do the quest.

    Most of the really good items in the game are placed very specifically, and the random stuff is dreck no matter what level you are–it’s just more expensive dreck.

  29. @chabuhi: There is no height slider or way to adjust anything other than your character’s face. Elven females are just substantially shorter than humans.

  30. @jonesy:

    It’s worse when they’re in combat, ALL the characters do this ridiculous arms-spread waddle when they move around. Not to mention the hilarity of watching Sten swinging his sword like it’s a golf club. Heck, at the end of it, he even does a little off-balance foot shuffle that in real life would be a DEATH SENTENCE in any kind of fighting style.

  31. Stumblebee says:

    So I’m not the only person who felt DA’s difficulty was wildly variable? Thank god I’m not alone… I had this problem with Mass Effect, too. Maybe Knights of the Old Republic, even; seems to be a recurring flaw in Bioware’s design.

    Anyway! Your origin has a relatively small impact on the overarching story; as Yahtzee said in his review, most of it amounts to throwaway dialogue like, “Oh, you are a Dwarf!” or whatever.

    Generally there will be one portion of the game where your origin is revisited in a major way. For example, my first game started with the Dwarf Commoner origin in which your sister shacks up with some unnamed noble. When I returned to Orzammar, it turned out her anonymous love interest was Prince Bhelen, putting my goody-two-shoes character in a moral pickle. The plot, she is twisted!

    Still, not enough differences to play through six whole times. I’ll probably do one more full game as a Mage, then just play out the other three origins by themselves.

    Random aside: Apparently someone on the writing staff loves superheroes. Both my characters incessantly announce that their, “Warden senses are tingling!” And then there was the insane random encounter with the meteor, the baby, and the farmers.

    EDIT: “Morrigan is the Standard-issue BioWare Shrew. Harpy at the start, softens as you go.”

    Man, Morrigan ticked me off. She expected me to show her compassion and understanding and do things for her, but whenever I wanted to lift a finger to help somebody else she gave me her tired out law of the jungle rhetoric and her approval sank like a rock. It reached a point where to keep her happy I had to leave her in camp all the time.

    “OK team, we’re gonna try to save the blacksmith’s daughter, but if Morrigan asks just tell her we slit both their throats.”

    Damned morally complex, three-dimensional characters!

  32. chabuhi says:

    @Jennifer Snow

    Ah! I didn’t think about that. I didn’t look very closely and assumed she was human. Thanks!

  33. Jaedar says:

    It is actually possible to respec, just download this handy mod: http://social.bioware.com/project/469/

  34. Sven says:

    What Jeff said is correct as far as I’ve gathered: the auto-leveling system is not random or arbitrary, there is a defined set of conditions that determines the difficulty levels of encounters.

    Each ‘zone’ has a range of levels it can be – say for example Redcliff might be 6-10 (I don’t know the exact numbers). When you enter Recliff and proceed to a certain point (called ‘gatekeeper’ encounters), it sets the difficulty of the zone based on your current level. If your level is within the range, it matches it. If your level is below the range, it sets it to the lowest it can go. This will still be above your level, however, and if you continue in that zone you will always be behind the curve. Likewise if your level is above the range the game will set the difficulty to it’s maximum but you will still dominate the whole area.

    You’re supposed to judge whether or not you should be somewhere by the ‘gatekeeper’ encounter. They are not clearly defined nor do they stand out – unless you suddenly get TPK’d, then you know you’ve just encountered it. It’s supposed to be your clue to go elsewhere and come back later, but unfortunately this system is new and us old-school RPGamers aren’t used to it, so we think we need to throw ourselves against the wall time and time again until we find the silly strategy that lets us move past it.

    Now that I understand the system, I love it. But before I did I was just as confounded as a majority of the players seem to be. And seeing as how the zones have different difficulty ranges, it would have been nice to get a clue at some point as to what order they should be tackled in. Alastair tries to get you to go to Redcliff first, which is the ‘correct’ order, but who listens to Alastair?

  35. Someboringguy says:

    Your rant about auto-scaling is interesting.I didn’t know that it was so broken.I assumed that it simply upgraded the level of your enemies according to the level of your main character, but from what you’re seeing the difficulty of the same combat varies wildly from a game to another :(.
    Anyway, maybe allying yourself with Branka would work…I did, and the fight was medium as difficulty.
    Hehe, I can barely wait for you to fight…a certain gangleader mistress, no she really does an obscene amount of damage, even to tanks!But the trick of killing her is obvious if you know the battle area.
    Anyway, will we see Dragon Age dissected?A rant about the characters, another about the story, etc?End do you like the codex?
    Sven, your point of view is interesting and I know this kind of system…But the problem is that when you face a gatekeeper and it proves to be too much, than you need to go back through loooooong loading times.And DA is horrible at loading.There are simply to long.Even ME doesn’t seem that bad.

  36. Sven says:

    Well I’m playing it on the PS3 where the load times seem very reasonable.

  37. MuonDecay says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels really awkward about selling off those important historical items.

    At least in the dwarven ones it would have made sense to be able to turn them into the dwarven scholars for safekeeping instead of the merchants. It would have felt more appropriate.


    Thankfully both of the heirloom shields I received so far were actually pretty good and I’m still using them (me with the Aeducan shield and Allistair with the Redcliffe one).

    My HUGEST gripe with the game so far is the entire Redcliffe sequence. I hit a huge brick wall trying to defend the town at night and decided to leave town and just try to buy some nicer gear elsewhere, and everyone was slaughtered while I was gone. I felt so bloody cheated that the game threw me against enemies I was no match for, and refused to allow me to leave the area and prepare myself better. It’s either face insurmountable odds, or condemn the whole town to death.

    I condemned them to death without realizing I’d be doing it, and it still makes me mad.

  38. ifriit says:

    @ Jennifer Snow: Making all the dropped items crap just seems like it’s paring down the problem, though; my intention was really to be more exemplary of the issues than laying everything out. It’s possible that DA is doing things better than Oblivion, but I suspect that a lot of my gripes would go unadressed, or I’d find new ones.

    The problem as I see it is that levelling in RPGs serves a few purposes. Generally, as characters in RPGs level, they can shift how their characters play, their available options increase and their ability to move through the story is improved. Autolevelling removes that third element from the functions of levelling, but without it some of the common mechanics of levelling become pointless or even harmful to the player’s experience and expectations. From Shamus’s descriptions it sounds like DA suffers at least a bit from this–it resulted in needless complexity which apparently baffled him, the devs, or possibly both in how to build and play the game.

  39. Robyrt says:

    It sounds like they have a reasonable system without enough player feedback to tell you, “This content is way above your level” when you enter a zone and the difficulty gets auto-adjusted. Being forced to turn around and leave is no fun, but it beats getting all the way to Super Nether Emperor II Turbo and finding your party has no way to win.

  40. Mark says:

    I didn't go any further than the origin story, but it was short and ugly.

    Come now, they’re not that ugly. What are you, fantasy racist?

  41. Doug O. says:

    [Continuing spoiler discussion on Redcliffe]

    @37 — MuonDecay, when I tried to leave Redcliffe before Ye Nighttime Zombie Invasion, I had Tomas [guy at the initial bridge] run up begging me not to leave, that they’d be wiped out if I did. You must have somehow skipped it.

    …much like one of my attempts to DEAL with said zombie invasion didn’t light off the oil, making the party just that little bit more beaten down before going down the hill for yet another TPK.

    Is there any way to save the mayor, or is he already dead by the time you get down there?

    1. Shamus says:

      Doug: You CAN save the mayor, but it’s HARD. He’s fragile and loves to run out into the open and gather up all the aggro.

      Also, I think that even on easy your AoE spells hurt NPC’s, so I couldn’t just spam my nuke powers to get through. I did manage to micro my way through, though. Wynne just cast heal on Thomas and the Mayor over and over again while the rest of us stuck to health potions and tried to gather all the aggro we could.

  42. Sean Riley says:


    As an aside, my favorite moment playing as a female city elf? When I met the King.

    King: “Oh, you’re from one of the Alienages! What are they like?”
    Me: “I murdered an arl’s son after he raped my best friend and murdered my fiance.”
    King: [stammers].

    That not only works as really plausible dialogue (it sounded dead right to my character concept) but it says so much about how sheltered and naive the King really is.

  43. IgnusDei says:

    oh man, the difficulty scaling. I didn’t suspect anything was wrong until my second playthrough. In my first, the difficulty on easy was consistently tense, with me needing to drip feed poultices to my tanks. On my second playthrough, the difficulty on easy was…well, ridiculously easy until it spiked WAY up when you decide to fight Ser Cauthrien the first time you encounter her. I swear her Greatsword had a bonus damage of +20, and I’m pretty certain the mage backing her up had Mana Clash with Spell Might on, which CAN one-shot kill you.

  44. One thing I found about this game was that it was bloody great at demonstrating how morals erode in times of great need, as I watched my goody-two-shoes Neutral Good Dwarf turn more and more Sarcastic Annoyed. The turning point being in Orzammar, when I always ended up picking the “we need that army NOW!” option, and ended up picking the opposite guy as the one I worked for all along as king, simply out of annoyance at the hoops he had had me jump through.

    The alignment change stuck, and my Knight in Shining Armor actually turned into a full-time Knight in Sour Armor.


    And then Alistair insisted upon sacrificing himself at the end, almost literally wrenching the sword out of my hand, which finally broke the camel’s back and led me to choose to leave these people my character despised and had just saved behind to walk the earth. I liked the ending very much.


  45. Mark Schaal says:

    In _theory_ I think I like the fact that people have significantly different experiences of the game based on how they play it. In practice I think the result is that a lot of people have inferior experiences. Obviously there is some tension between having truly different options and having consistently balanced play (i.e. combat). It’s unclear to me how much of the problem is caused by Dragon Age design choices, and how much is inherently hard to do.

    I don’t understand why there aren’t more auto-pause options like Baldur’s Gate had. In particular, a “pause when target dead” option would have kept me playing at normal difficulty for a while longer.

  46. Mengtzu says:

    The autoscaling serves just fine for its limited ambition (letting Bioware do their traditional less-linear midgame).

    The difficulty problems are actually quite familiar from a tabletop P.O.V:

    – You have a wide range of powers to choose from, and little guidance as to which to take. Synergies between powers privilige optimised builds over naive ones to an even greater extent than the power-by-power imbalance.

    – Mages are too good, especially if you correctly identify their better powers (see above).

    – Consumeables break the difficulty entirely (the more specifically videogame problem here being the different levels on different cooldowns).

    The autoscaling is OK because going out to get more levels gets you more character choices, giving you have a chance to have a better character build relative to the difficulty curve (D&D 3.5 and 4 work similarly). However if you compound your problems by choosing poorly, it gets relatively harder and makes it look broken.

    The underlying problem is the distance between naive and optimised builds and the number of crappy choices you can make. You can see much worse in tabletop, of course (my beloved Exalted comes to mind), it’s just Dragon Age isn’t as given to charity as your GM might be ;)

  47. Joel says:

    I found that a lot of early fights were very difficult simply because no one had a lot of talents for dealing with the challenges the game throws out. For example, Alistair isn’t really that great of a tank at first, but investing into the shield tree makes him a freakin’ rock. Scaling up the templar tree proved very useful for when the enemy casters start getting some nasty debuffs to throw at you. Once you start getting a variety of talents, you have a lot more flexibility. By level 15 or so I could just let Alistair get assaulted by the boss while the rest of the team cleaned up the adds.

    I’m sure the auto-leveling has something to do with this, but once I had, for example, filled out the dual-wielding tree, my damage output only increased linearly instead of those big jumps after picking up, say, Flurry or Punisher. In any case, it isn’t nearly as broke as in Oblivion. There was a great amount of satisfaction the first time the Warden solo’d an Ogre while the rest of the party was dealing with the second one.

    I’ve enjoyed the game a lot so far, and only have two grievances that frustrate me to no end. The first is that rogues are the only class that can deal with locks, which can really hamstring your group if you’re, say, playing as a DPS warrior. You need a tank, and you’ll want a mage, and a second mage would be much more optimal than that rogue, but then all of those chests are going to taunt you. No knock spells? Or options to assault the chest? It really diminishes the appeal of a DPS warrior because you don’t have that utility. A dual-wielding rogue is going to kick out the jams just as hard, is just as survivable (thanks, Dexterity), and can pick locks. If the PC is a mage, well, then it is easy to do tank/rogue/mage/mage.

    The other is that the Two-Handed tree is broken. It is simple math. Warrior A dual-wields silverite longswords doing 10.5 damage each with a strength modifier of 1.00. So, assuming both hit, 21 damage a round. Warrior B has a silverite greatsword that clocks in at 15.0 damage and a strength modifier of 1.1. The dual-wielder will always outdamage the two-hander. Either two-handed weapons need more damage or a better modifier, or there is no reason to go down that tree aside from aesthetics. I’m not sure if my character concept is so robust that I’d take a damage reduction of what, ~30%? Yeah…

    Also, where the hell is the autorun button?

  48. LintMan says:

    Shamus: The Branka battle was TOO EASY. All you needed to do was use that one skill with… Sorry, J/K.

    I barely squeaked by the Redcliffe town battle the first time and then was disappointed to realize the Mayor and Thomas were dead. So I reloaded and filled the town square with traps all around the edges, think I’d clverly found a great use for the trap skill and that they’d slow and soften all the incoming opposition.

    Then the battle starts and the traps are all gone. Then, once the battle is done, the traps are back again. Thanks Bioware for making traps useless the one time they would have been great!

    Also: I had the same thought about the heirloom staff that the Dwarf king gave me… “It’s useless, but should I save it? But I don’t have any room in my stash for it! Pawn shop ho!”

    Overall, DA is pretty lacking on the “loot” front. There’s not nearly enough variation, much of the “reward” stuff was wimpy, and it never felt very powerful.

    Also, if you thought the dwarf commoner backstory was dark, wait till you try the human noble one.

  49. Audacity says:

    Why does that “old lady” look like a sixteen year old super model?

  50. Mengtzu says:

    @49: “Then the battle starts and the traps are all gone. Then, once the battle is done, the traps are back again. Thanks Bioware for making traps useless the one time they would have been great!”

    The battle is a different area that shares the same layout. After the battle you go back to the original area…which is why your traps are still there. Bioware weren’t trying to screw you (that trick does work, and is a cheap way to kill dragons, for instance). Maybe you could argue they should have found a way to stage the battle in the original area. *shrug*

  51. JKjoker says:

    Morrigan gave me this ring when i reached 90% “friendship”, told me to keep it always with me so she can find me and all the romantic crap, 2 seconds later it was in the hands of the dwarf merchant, i think he gave me 20 silver for it, bleh

    in BG2 when you got your chars to like you and did their quests they got really nice upgrades, in Dragon Age its harder and grindier and they hardly get anything worth your time

    i also remember way better rewards in BG2

    and btw, Dragon Age is FILLED with “get me 10 of that stuff” quests where the reward is worth LESS than the cost of the 10 things… W T F

  52. @ Joel: Autorun is NUMPAD /, whereas KEYBOARD / switches weapons. Why they did it this way when you use not one single other button on the NUMPAD is beyond me. I don’t even know why they have a toggle for autorun any more. You’re not going to walk anywhere. It’s not like the games where you can fall off shit and die if you run about too rambunctiously. :P

    @JKjoker: the “reward” for the “get me 10 X” quests is . . . another quest. So eventually you can get the big quest and get a unique item from the Big Obnoxious Dude you have to kill.

    Btw, most obnoxious quest in the game is the one where you have to find 10 garnets. If you don’t start saving those suckers from the very beginning, you will NEVER find enough. So, if you want to do those quests, save your garnets.

  53. Jabor says:

    I don't even know why they have a toggle for autorun any more.

    Keep in mind that the defualt is “run”. Thus, if you are going to have a toggle to please the tiny fraction of people who’d use it, it makes sense to stick it on the numpad where everyone else is unlikely to accidentally touch it.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m sure by “autorun” people mean “automatic movement”, so you can keep going without having to hold down any key at all.

      I’m in some coverns and I think I’ve been holding down the W key for about an hour while wandering around.

  54. ehlijen says:

    And to top it all off, after defeating Branka, your character picks up a hammer…And breaks an anvil by hitting it with said hammer!

    I don’t know what they use to make dwarven anvils, but where I’m from that idea is the most ludicrous thing about the entirety of the ozzamar quest.

  55. B.J. says:

    Huh, I did not know you could lose the fight against Ser Cautherin and continue the game. I just used misdirection hex + death hex on her, she goes down pretty fast.

    I think Bioware deserves some kudos there for making the fight winnable instead of the more typical “you are all captured and thrown in jail” railroad plot.

  56. Ranneko says:

    It looks like I’m one of the few people that kept 2 rogues around at almost all times, I had Alistair as a tank (occasionally swapped for Shale), Morrigan as controller, and myself and Leliana as damage, I was almost pure rogue, I got every single rogue skill, all assassin and duelist skills and 5 dual weapons skills. Morrigan was there for blizzard, cone of cold, forcefield and crushing prison, Leliana was there for ranged damage and singing, and occasionally to be just around the corner with her song that stuns enemies.

    Wynne was nice to have around, especially if I accidentally let someone fall down, but I’m really not following this “You need 2 mages” thing, healing potions were easily plentiful enough to not need a dedicated healer. In my last fight Wynne went down like a sack of rocks and the rest of the party pulled through and took down the boss.

  57. Nickless says:

    IIRC, the autoscaling is limited to a specific band for each area. It’s not like Oblivion where creatures are always at your level. The question is, how far do those bands vary between? Not by much that it could even be considered autoscaling, by the sound of your comments.

  58. Brandon says:

    Shouldn’t a game this (purportedly) flexible with character choices allow you to play in a style that suits you, rather than having to follow a specific formula or path to avoid getting your ass handed to you at random intervals on EASY? Easy should be the sightseer’s version, where you can play any crazy combination you want, because frankly, you’re playing easy so you can see the pretty graphics and experience the story without stressing out.

  59. Martin Annadale says:

    And here I was, avoiding Cone of Cold on purpose because its too imba. Now it seems I’m going to need it just to be able to finish the game.

  60. Zaxares says:

    I have a confession to make. In many of the single-player RPGs I play these days, I cheat a LUDICROUS amount of gold into existence for my character. Whenever I reach a new area, I instantly buy up all the best, deadliest, swankiest gear I can afford. I rationalise this by telling myself that if I hadn’t cheated myself all that gold, I’d have just run around aimlessly killing random monsters and collecting loot until I DID have enough gold to buy that stuff, so I’m just saving myself time.

    As such, I’m usually never in a position to really worry about money, and I end up keeping a Bag of Holding (or simply using a chest/locker in my base of operations) to hold all story items or quest rewards that have personal significance, even if I could get a good bit of gold by selling them. I escape the dilemma of choosing whether to sell plot rewards that way!

    I REALLY shouldn’t be reading these threads, since I haven’t started Dragon Age yet (although I will be), but it sounds as if the classic Fighter, Cleric, Mage, Thief party works best for overcoming encounters. And if one sticks to the ‘recommended’ progression of quest areas.

    EDIT: Oh, and I STILL hate auto-scaling enemies. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a firm believer in the ‘if you get your ass handed to you in this area, gain a few levels and come back’ style of RPGs.

    SECOND EDIT: Maybe Wynne uses magic in more… cosmetic ways as well? ;)

  61. Smirker says:

    @50 – Audacity

    “Why does that “old lady” look like a sixteen year old super model?”

    Actually there’s quite a bit of discussion about that in in-party chatter. I know the dorf NPC chats up about it a lot.. and I think Zevran does too.

    It amused me to no end – but I LOVE the in-party banter.

    BTW – Shamus — What robe are you using on your main? It actually looks pretty decent.

    I’ve played through as a human warrior and workin on a run with a dwarf commoner rogue now. Very different and loving the rogue a lot more — of course it helps not to have to worry about having Leilana around for lockpick/ranged duty. Two mages seem to work a lot better for ranged damage than one mage/rogue.

    This game really needs Red Bull (stamina potions) since the magi already get Mana potions. Besides, didn’t they have teh stamina potions in the DA Journeys game? The small flash game they put out shortly before DA:O came out.

    I think a lot of the ‘mages are overpowered” issues would not be present if warrior and rogues could replenish their stamina like the magi and their mana.

  62. Mephane says:

    Bioware is a real mystery to me.

    Compare the loading times across different not-so-old games, in chronological order:

    – Absolutely awful in NWN2 (with a loading screen constantly mocking you with messages like “loading done… now wait until I apply all these updates”)
    – Absolute smooth and short in Mass Effect (I know the elevators usually act instead of loading screens, but at least they sometimes provide funny or interesting commentary by the radio news or your companions)
    – Awful again in Dragon Age, according to Shamus (I haven’t played the game).

    Sheesh. Can’t you decide what you want? ;)

  63. CatPerson says:

    @5 – SolkaTruesilver
    “I wonder… did the Neverwinter Night ennemies scaled? Did the Baldur`s Gate II nonrandom encounters scaled?”

    No, and no, as far as I can tell. Random city encounters in the 6th chapter of BG II were harder than the ones in the 2nd chapter, but that’s about it.

    Original Baldur’s Gate random encounters did scale, though. Where first-level party encountered one ankheg, ninth-level party could meet four.

  64. Girlysprite says:

    Oh I so feel this. Yeah, maybe 2 mages is better but…I am actually the type of person that keeps certain party members around for their personalities. I am a mage, and have the rogue girl, Alestair and the dog in my party. I’m sure that I could trade the dog for another mage to get stronger but…I just love the dog so much!
    *Argumentive bark*
    I play on normal…didn’t get very far into the game yet (did redcliffe, the mage circle, doing ashes now), and didn’t wander into anything that I couldn’t overcome…so far.

    If it really frustrates me, I’ll put aside my gamer pride and…get a cheat.

    Luckily I sort of picked the right skills for my mage, as I quickly learnt that crowd control is the key…so got sleep and cone of cold, plus horror (which works together with sleep), and some stones spell to work with my cone of cold spell.
    I have taken the healer branch to keep my party alive a bit.

    Finger crossed, and hope it keeps working.

    Btw; it’s great to see a list of where I can buy an unlimited supply of herbalism supplies; that is what I needed, because I keep running out of mana!

  65. GTB says:

    @63 – Mephane:

    NWN2 wasn’t bioware. You could tell as soon as you opened the creator software, which was horrible buggy crap. It was made by Obsidian, who also made the amazingly disappointing Kotor2.

    I don’t have much of a problem with the loading in dragon age, but the bizarre seemingly random difficulty saps my will to continue to play the game. Every battle seems to be an epic struggle, and after a while I just turn it off in disgust and play something else. The sense of accomplishment from beating a particularly hard boss fight isn’t very strong when random enemies are just as hard if not harder.

    I’m currently playing a rogue, and maybe that’s the problem, or maybe I’m using the wrong people in my party (shale, wryn, Alistair) but it’s just been ridiculous.

  66. John Lopez says:

    After “When I was talking about how hard the game was, people responded with: Just use [Forcefield, a power I didn’t have] …” and the rest about how you could miss the “correct path of skills(tm)” I had to wonder if all the comments here saying “just use forcefield” were ironic or earnest. Strangely, many of them seem quite earnest.

  67. neolith says:

    Thanks for mentioning the auto-leveling, Shamus – I wasn’t aware that such mechanism was in the game. Good thing I found out before buying, I don’t want to play another failure like Oblivion.

  68. Michael says:

    @ Catperson

    NWN’s encounteres definatly scaled. There was a major bug after Hordes of the Underdark came out where an epic level character would get encounteres that were 20 levels below their current level.

    NWN’s scaling was designed so that as you got to higher levels the encounters got easier, they tended to spawn in more cannon fodder mooks. For a level 20 character in the campaign’s opening areas this meant mobs of enemies that would die after a single hit. Honestly it created a very epic feel for the game at higher levels.

    As far as I can tell NWN2’s do not scale, but because the story is so much more linear it’s kinda hard to judge. Additionally the tool set still has scaling encounter options, but without tearing up the toolset I can’t tell you if the campaign uses them.

    Mask of the Betrayers non-random encounters don’t scale AT ALL, the entire expansion is balanced for a party at level 25.

    As for BG, I never played it much with a standard playthrough, I used the trillogy engine upgrade, so I’ve no idea, but that gives the difficulty a pretty solid kick in the neathers at least at low levels. It’s still pretty managable though.

  69. acabaca says:

    Baldur’s Gate 2 encounters do have some amount of primitive scaling. I saw this by reading Dan Simpson’s walkthrough and noticing that I got entirely different enemies in certain spots. It doesn’t seem to be an overall mechanic though, rather in some spots the game will just spawn a mob and pick between an easier and a harder mob depending on your level. I would guess 80% of the enemies are always locked at a certain level, including everything that has a name. The only things that displayed this behavior are the nameless time-waster enemies you meet in dungeons.

    I absolutely loathe level-scaling myself. Taken to an extreme (see: Oblivion) it defeats the entire point of having a level-up system in the first place, takes away the sense of accomplishment, and ruins the illusion that the game world doesn’t revolve entirely around you and your character. In its milder forms it just unnecessarily blurs the gameplay, helping the player when he’s playing badly and hindering him when he’s doing well. It’s like if we’re playing a soccer match, and every time either side scored, the goalposts would be moved so that the winning team has a larger goal. Who would tolerate that?

    I greatly prefer the old school way to handle these things – let the player pick his preferred challenge level by moving in the game world. Allow him to go everywhere right from the start. If he sticks his nose someplace he’s not ready to go, just bite it off. We’re all big boys and girls here, we can deal with the occasional horrible failure if – IF – it’s the result of our own actions and not the invisible hand of the level-scaling arbitrarily deciding it’s about time for us to bite it.

  70. Michael says:

    Oblivion is far and away the worst example of level scaling I’ve ever seen in a game. It can be remedied in the construction set, but, as it was released the game is horrifically broken.

    Fallout 3’s is almost as bad, though at least in that case, because of the way the game is structured, it’s possible (and usally fairly easy) to get ahead of the curve.

  71. Blackbird71 says:

    @GTB (67)
    True, NWN2 was not Bioware, but Obsidian. However, it used the NWN1 engine which definitely was Bioware.

    Specifically, it used the version of the engine that existed after Shadows of Undrentide but before Hordes of the Underdark. This particular version had many bugs and problems which were addressed during the HotU expansion. As such, much of the “buginess” of NWN2 comes from Obsidian trying to patch in fixes to the problems of the NWN1 engine without having access to the official work that Bioware did to address the same problems.

    On an unrelated note, I hereby defer and surrender any meager recognition or reputation I may have earned for “wall of text” abilities to Ham08 (post 11), for not only creating an immensely massive impregnable fortress of text, but also for managing to post the same wall in two threads at once! All hail the Textmaster!

  72. Enjolras says:

    Re: Oblivion auto-leveling. I just typed and erased my long-winded explanation; instead let me simply quote from the Oblivion Wiki. Emphasis added in ALL CAPS.

    “Most creatures that you encounter during the game are generated from leveled lists. This means that the game DOES NOT usually specify the EXACT creature that you will encounter at a given location; instead the game specifies that the creature at that location will be PICKED FROM A LIST of possible creatures, based upon the level of your character when you enter the area.”

    The reason I posted this is that I think Oblivion’s auto-leveling gets beat up more than it deserves. When you are level 26, you are not fighting level 26 Skeletons that are 26 times more powerful than the level 1 Skeletons you fought at level 1; you are fighting level 26 Lichs, or possibly level 23 Gloom Wraiths, etc.

    Yet, it “auto-levels”, but not merely by having you fight the same enemy you fought 25 levels ago. You’re fighting different enemies selected from a tougher list.

    However, the bad thing is that the cave you entered 25 levels ago that held Skeletons now holds Lichs. So in that sense, yes, the auto-leveling is wonky.

    Now back to DA:O….

  73. @John Lopez: Are you suggesting that Force Field is not an uber power?

    Tank gets all aggro. Tank gets beating. Tank gets Force Field. Drop AoEs.

    Boss comes in. Force Field. Kill all others. Kill boss.

    Those are really the two tactics, but they’re highly effective.

    I also haven’t really had the problems with difficulty. When I get a TPK, it’s typically because I stop playing tactically and just run after people. Suddenly I notice I’m the only one alive, then I’m not.

    The only really nasty encounters I’ve had were the Revenants, which are entirely optional, and the Succubus, because I did Honneleath first.

  74. someboringguy says:

    I remember now from the DA guide a tip that said that if you go into an area with too powerful enemies, you could go away and return after a few levels and they would stay the same level.

  75. Ham08 says:


    I never played on easy, so I do not know about that. I assume you can do whatever you want and not worry about losing a single character let alone a party wipe.

    My advice was merely what works best for me, there are plenty of other methods that work. Logically speaking, the easiest path is to have two mages, but they are not absolutely necessary to win. There are plenty of folks that testify to soloing the entire game on nightmare. It depends on character development, your general gaming skill, tactics, and foresight enough to come properly prepared.

  76. Ham08 says:

    There is a mod available that will allow you to make stamina potions for rogues and warriors.

  77. Michael says:

    @Ham08. Even on easy TPKs happen with disturbing frequency. The balance system is so shot to hell at times that even introducing damage scaling can’t save you.

  78. Avilan the Grey says:

    The one thing that irritates me a little bit is the Enemy AI trying to be flexible; which means that different reloads on the same spot (with the same difficulty) can vary a lot, especially if we talk about groups of enemies.

    An example: (any place inside or outside)… On one reload, only 3 undead / darkspawn aggros on you. Next reload all of them, including some that are in a different room, comes running at once. A third reload might cause you to have to go and wave your hands in front of them to make them attack you at all.

  79. someboringguy says:

    Am I crazy, or there was a dragon age twitter review part 4 yesterday?

    1. Shamus says:

      someboringguy: I was working on this week’s posts, and I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save”. It was only up for a minute or two. The real thing goes up in a couple of hours.

  80. Ham08 says:

    I submit to you, that your difficulties with some battles will decrease as your ability to use “crowd control spells and skills” increase. I expect that you will feel a great sense of accomplishment once you are able to overcome the challenge with tactics and preparedness.

  81. Nixorbo says:

    I just created a black dwarf. How exactly does that work with a race who spends 99% of their time below ground?

  82. Bernard says:

    Pretty much agree with the write-up. Game is great but difficulty and spell/talent powers are all over the place. Two-handed style is a joke, I actually think it’s broken since Sten does basically as much damage with a longsword (despite much lower base damage and strength modifier compared to the maul) which has a faster attack rate than 2H weapons – ended up using cheats to make him a two-weapon dervish and he was just so much more powerful (momentum is insanely good).
    Broodmother was definitely the toughest fight for me. Gaxgang can also be very hard as his spells recharge super quick (PROTIP: Mana Drain is awesome against spellcasters, couple this with magebane coating and Gaxgang a piece of cake) but is an optional fight. Ser Cauthrien was ridiculously hard, one hit on Morrigan and she went down! If I didn’t have his lackeys tied up with blizzards et al (repulsion glyph on the door) while we all fought outside the room I would have been toast (got me down to one party member as is).

    Mind Blast+Forcefield (rest of this line is good too, plus FF combos nicely with Crushing Prison)
    Entire line of hexes
    Entire line with horror, sleep etc
    Entire ‘cold’ line (or at least up to Cone Of Cold)
    Fireball (for the knockdown more than the damage)
    Group Heal+Revival (requires Spirit Healer spec)

    Most spells have some use, but these are real staples in my opinion. The continuous AoE spells are good if you can keep your enemies in the area (Glyph Of Repulsion works wonders), especially Blizzard (not much investment required as it follows Cone Of Cold).

    Don’t waste points on Shapeshifting – it is absolute rubbish.

    Do yourself a favour and get the Stamina Potion mod as well – these really should have been in the game (it’s not as if it doesn’t favour mages enough already).

    Don’t waste money on the greater/potent potions – they cost a lot more to buy/create but are only mildly more effective. Base power of potent is only twice as effective as a normal one (a lot more than twice as expensive), and since the stat bonus modifier is fixed they become comparably less effective as the game progresses.

  83. Bleys says:

    I beat up on the Broodmother near end game. Orzimmar was the last area/treaty to get for me so as far as scaling goes she was pretty jam packed powerful. That being said, I replayed the battle maybe 4 or 5 times until I worked out an effective strategy. For those who got frustrated or gave up and switched to easy mode… shame on you. There is this gray mushy thing inside your skull called a brain, use it.

    1. Shamus says:

      Bleys: You’re telling everyone ELSE to use their brain?

      I’m not the one who played the same stupid broken battle FIVE TIMES. Don’t you have better things to do? Isn’t this supposed to be entertainment?

  84. Falco Rusticula says:

    I never had too much trouble in fights, but then, I was playing on easy with a primal mage. Admittedly, my main tactic involved waiting for the tank to taunt all the enemies over and then freezing everything solid so I could AoE with impunity…

    One thing on the final battle, though. My first playthrough, I killed the Archdemon on the first try. The second time through, with the same MC class, similar spell choice, and almost identical party (Leliana instead of Sten), it took me three tries and we were nearly all dead at the end. Confusing…

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