Monday, January 11, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins PS3 still going

I'm up to about 23 hours in Dragon Age which should give some indication of how much I'm enjoying it, but still there are niggles.

Firstly the auto-save system. I've mentioned this before, but damn it's a pain. You either don't get one or you get two next to each other. For example you don't get one when you 'world travel' that is travel from one area to another, except sometimes you do it seems that if the area you're travelling to may contain danger you get a save regardless if you've already cleared that area out or not. Another time I had an autosave moving up to the Harrowing Chamber in the Circle Tower, followed by an instant cutscene/conversation choice followed by another save and a fight. So screw up the fight and think you might need to come back later? Tough! Should have saved manually.

Next is the notes and quests section. These are categorised into Songs, Notes etc. you open the category and scroll down to the item you want to read. If there are unread items in a category it features a grey background, unread items within the category also display this grey background. So you can easily see what you hav and haven't read yet? Well no. You can only see around a half dozen items on the screen at the time so if the unread item is #7 you scroll through 1-6 then #1 pops off the top and #7 appears at the bottom. Great except you've selected it and the selected bar appears over it hiding the grey background. Scroll down to #8 and #7 is unmarked because you've just 'read' it. Obviously designed with a PC in mind so that you can scroll down using the bar and click on items, but who let this method onto a console?

Quests themselves are also problematic. You pick up a stone tablet depicting a sequence of events and this creates a quest. So you continue with what you're doing and reviewing your list spot it later. Now unfinished quests appear in the quest list and quest items appear in the notes list (under Quest items) so which quest item matches to which quest? I had one "Places of Power" that had me engrave four symbols onto various places. One in the forest, one at the tower and two elsewhere. I found the one in the forest (with no help from the map) but couldn't find the one in the tower. Browsing through my inventory I find I had only two symbols left. Yep I'd found the point and applied the mark without realising it. The quest doesn't update with the ones you've already done, like scratch them out from a shopping list.

Saves again. As mentioned the auto-save is a pain so you want to save manually. This is as easy as most games nowadays. However rather than keep you at a saving screen it takes you back into the action. You get a slight pause as the "Saving" bar appears across the middle of the screen, but then it shrinks and retreats to the top third so you can move while it continues to save; except you don't want to. From the camera angle imagine you're walking up a hill while keeping your head parallel to the level (not the road) now stick a baseball cap on your head. This restricted view is what you get from the save bar across the top of the screen. Even better if you try to use the Radial menu to restart some sustained spells (because some 'wear off' if you travel between areas) you can't see they top third of the menu because the bar's in the way.

Sustained spells. As mentioned above you need to recast some spells that 'wear off', personal spells stay, area effect vanish. So Arcane Shield that protects you stays present even travelling between cities, as does Ice Weapons; yet Miasma will vanish if you climb a set of stairs to a different area. As Miasma is a spell that affects enemies within a set radius of the caster it's nice to have around. Except if you've cast it just before moving to another area you have a cooldown meaning you can't, and if you haven't you still can't easily cast it because it's in the top third of the Radial menu and the Save bar is covering it up.

Inventory. Oh this is a pain. You have a backpack that holds a number of items each item counts as one. So a small vase is 1 point as is that halberd. It does make life easier and cut out the inventory fiddling and you can buy extra backpacks to increase your load. The problem is when you come to pick up items, not from a dispatched enemy, but from a chest. Three items in the chest and I have 89/90 inventory. I can pick which item I want to take at least, or I can move to my inventory and see what's in there. Go to the inventory and you can "Junk" items; except that doesn't remove their encumbrance you then have to go to the Junk section and destroy them. Um there's a chest here. Can't I dump some of my stuff here? No you can't in fact so far I've only found one place to drop stuff and that's in the Soldier's Keep add-on that you have to buy.

Now in some cases I can leave, find a merchant sell stuff and return, except in others you can't leave the area until the quest is done. Sure trying to keep stuff in chests that you don't own should be a problem indeed Fallout3 and Oblivion will wipe contents out if left too long; but let me leave something there just long enough to return in a bit to sell.

Levelling up. This is split between adding points to attributes, skills then talents. Some skills or talents have a base minimum requirement of attribute or level to select. Except during the levelling up procedure you can't switch between each section to see what they are. So increase a couple of attributes, move on and find you can't pick that skill. Undo to get back, alter, pick the skill and find a talent requires a certain minimum. Undo, undo. Okay you can look at the skills and talents in the main menu and see what the requirements are, but you then need to switch back to the character sheet to find out your current levels.

Okay one nice thing is that experience is treated as a group thing everyone gets those 12XP points regardless of the fact they've just been sitting in camp.

However experience seems to be of a mixed bag of availability. In the forest everytime I returned I was attacked by bears or sylvans until I completed a certain quest and gained the trust of the forest. Now there are no enemies. Trouble is having done that I can't return it and everywhere else seems fixed. There's no respawning enemies, no wilderness to hone your skills with. As a result returning to an area (if you can) with a Rogue in tow to open those pesky chests is seriously dull. Sure re-spawning enemies are a pain if you're forced to retrace your steps, but this is voluntary.

Onto party tactics. Despite having a crew of eight plus it's deemed unsporting to take more than three companions with you. You can select a party when you leave camp or in certain other 'safe' areas at any time via the radial menu. Dangerous areas you're stuck with whom you've picked. Combined with forgetting to save and if you find you've the wrong party you're stuffed. I can understand not wanting the party being able to shift at any time - you bring in the rogue to open the chest then switch them back out for the warrior; but it does mean you tend to rely on certain characters leaving others behind. The dog I've not used since he joined, nor Shale. As a mage character I had Morrigan (mage), Alistar (Templar) and Sten (Warrior). To allow me to pick locks and heal my fixed line-up is now Wynne (mage healer), Sten, and Leilanna (Rogue) which is fine as currently I've contributed 48% of party damage by myself so I just let the other two keep enemies off my back while Wynne (or I) heals them between my offensive spells.

And finally my still present bugbear, moving characters during cutscenes. I've disturbed the wards on a grave and summoned a Revenant (nasty swine) nearby. Beat him up and nicked the armour he was protecting. Onto the next grave. Forewarned I have the rest of my party hold back out of range of nastiness and trigger the wards. Oh look all my party have disobeyed my orders and are all standing next to me. Tactically this is a problem even out of such scenes, positioning characters is a pain. Stop, tell the party to hold, then switch to another character, position them, then switch until everyone's in position. Do your thing and lead the enemies back into the trap and don't forget to allow free movement of the party otherwise they'll all stand there gormlessly.

Speaking of traps, has anyone used one? How? You rarely see the enemies in the distance as they're behind a door and as soon as you open it they tumble out. The only way I can see it working is to spy one of the rare enemies in the distance, set a trap where you're standing, then run at them and then run back.

It's still a fun game, just needed some tweaking.