Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring break: Kirkwall (Dragon Age 2)

Last year, I spent my entire spring break playing Mass Effect 2. This year, it was Dragon Age 2. Unfortunately, I haven't finish my game as I had last year. The difference is the Housemate didn't go home for spring break this year, so I had to spend time with him and couldn't devote all of my waking hours to gaming. But he was nice and left me alone to play DA2 a lot, and I made it through Act 2 (it's a long game). Here are some random thoughts and notes about the game so far. No real spoilers, but it will make more sense if you're familiar with the game.

-Kirkwall, where most of the story takes place, is a Quite the delightful decor. That first boat ride to the city--the first glimpse of the statues, like the Argonath but instead of imposing kings, emaciated people, chained up, holding their faces in despair. Even knowing that the city had historically been a center for slavery, I still didn't initially understand why anyone would want to decorate with such horrifying statues. Then the game helpfully explained: to break the spirit of the slaves. Ah. Well played. Ugly statues aside, I've become very fond of Kirkwall, in a way that I haven't felt about a game city since Athkatla in Baldur's Gate II. Like Athkatla, Kirkwall feels big enough to be a real city, and it feels lived in. I can imagine that the people I see on the street are part of the population, going about their daily lives even when I'm not there. The fact that the party companions seem to have their own projects going on, and even have their own interactions with each other outside of following you around, also helps with this immersion, allowing me to believe that I am just a part of a busy world.

-My hair sways! I have shoulder-length hair, and I can see it sway a bit when I talk. It's not like individual strands moving, but a general swish is still something new. Finally, longer hair styles look sort of natural. So pretty!

-Wait, the Qunari have horns? Sten didn't have horns in Dragon Age: Origins. OK, I looked it up and it explained that most Qunari have horns, but Sten in DAO was one of the special ones born without horns. That's why he was chosen to be a scout of sorts, since he wouldn't be as scary to the humans and other non-horned beings with whom he'd have to deal. A bit of retconning there, but that's fine.

-Seriously? No one knows I'm an apostate (i.e. illegal mage)? I walk around town in a full-length robe with hood, and a gnarled staff with a skull/stone/scary symbol on the end. I even talk to the templar (whose job it is to keep mages locked up and under control) dressed like this. I summoned a tempest in the frakking Chantry...during the day! With people there! Really? No one? This is probably the biggest hole in the story, that you can cast spells all over Kirkwall and no one will call you out for being an apostate (at least not all the way through Acts 1 and 2). This makes me think back to Athkatla in BG2, a city in which magic was also controlled. There, though, if you cast a spell outdoors in the city, mages would portal in and, if I recall correctly, give you one warning; if you did it again, they'd portal in and attack you. The way around it was to buy them off, buy some sort of license allowing you to practice magic in the city. That made sense. This templar in Kirkwall thing makes somewhat less sense. I guess you're just good at convincing people your gnarled staff is actually a quarterstaff, and my tempest in the chantry was a really quiet one.

-BioWare knows I'm a sucker for the tortured men with good hearts--and now we have two of them?!!! Oh dear, how am I ever supposed to choose?

-Speaking of the romances, I had a funny, could-have-been-awkward moment: The Housemate (aka my boyfriend) was napping on the bed behind me while I "cheated" on him in game--with two different men (not at the same time)! I tried hard to block the screen from his view in case he happened to open his eyes. Luckily he didn't. He doesn't need to know about them.

-Interesting further note about DA2 romances: DA2 is actually an all inclusive game in terms of romances; two men, two women are available to romance (not including DLC), and they swing one way or another depending on your character gender. You could take this to mean that all of those party members are bisexual, or that playing through with the opposite gender just spawns an alternate reality with an alternate orientation, but it doesn't really matter. There was a bit of a fuss about it on the forums, when a straight male player complained about being discriminated against (or really, not being catered to as much as he felt entitled to), with the side of the writers well defended. You can find a fair summary of the issue here, though the title of the article is more provocative than necessary (the two main forum posts were fairly civil).

-Characters from DAO who make an appearance (hopefully there are more to come):
  • Merrill! Keeper Marethari! The Dalish elves in DA2 are not the ones from the main DAO quest, but they are the ones from the Dalish Elf origin story. I didn't make the connection until I went back and played a bit of the Dalish Elf origin story for my Dead Tutorial Buddy post, though I'm sure I would have figured it out by the time Merrill showed me her broken Eluvian mirror. I wonder if your Grey Warden hero of Ferelden was a Dalish Elf whether you get references to that fact when talking with Merrill or Keeper Marethari. That would be cool.
  • Alistair cameo! For me he made a brief appearance, giving my character an amulet he said was from "an old friend". I took the implication to be that it was from the hero of Ferelden, though my hero of Ferelden was a mage and wouldn't have had use for the combat-enhancing amulet. Oh well. But with at least four possible endings for Alistair in DAO, I wonder what happens for the other cases.
  • Oh, Cullen. What happened to that cute shy templar boy who had a crush on my mage in the Circle of Magi? He isn't so bad for a Kirkwall templar (at least not yet...there's still Act 3), but it would have been nice if he'd acknowledged the fact that the hero of Ferelden was one of the mages that the Kirkwall templar are so worried about.
  • Bodahn and Sandal, of course. Enchantment?
  • Isabela, pirate captain who lost her ship and wears a lot of eyeliner. She plays a much larger role here than she did in the first game.
-Joss Whedon reference!!!!!!!1
I wish I remembered the exact exchange, but at one point, Isabela tells Anders how you can always hear abominations (i.e. people possessed by demons in a rather grotesque way) coming, since "Abominations go 'Grr, argh'." Anders informs her that "Abominations do not go 'Grr, argh'." Isabela is disappointed. It's very silly, but delightful.

-After seeing a quest titled "Alone", I free associated and started singing the song "No one is alone" from Into the Woods. As I sang, I realized how well that song fits Dragon Age 2--all the way down to the line "Mages can be right. Qunari can be good. You decide what's right. You decide what's good." Okay, okay, it's "witches" and "giants", but those are fair terms for the same things, right? If Dragon Age 2 were a musical (perish the thought), it would definitely have that song in it (not sure who would sing it, though...Fenris?). Seriously, though, if you don't know the song, check it out here (I couldn't find the original Broadway cast, but this is good, too).

Here's a screen shot of my Hawke, planning with Aveline (apologies if the color balance looks weird--it looked great on the computer that I play the game on, but oddly saturated on my other computer):

Whew! That's all for now. The game is really fun so far. I can't wait to see where it goes in Act 3, and I'm already looking forward to my next play through. I'll probably choose a dual-wielding rogue. But tomorrow I'm back in school, and I've been putting off a lot of work I should have done this past week to play DA2, so I have some catching up to do. Hopefully I'll find time to play soon, though, since I don't want to lose my momentum. Even though I didn't get to finish DA2 this week, I still had a fun, exciting spring break in Kirkwall.


cassey said...

It sounds like fun, and your post has moved DA2 up on the list of birthday presents for my husband :)

Soph! said...

I'm loving the game so far! The combat style is so much better/cooler looking in DA2! I am still in Act 1. Doing tons of quests before I head out on my expedition. I'm a mage too. I've been romancing Anders a bit, but he isn't having it!

soft nonsense said...

Isn't real life getting in the way of video gaming the worst?

I remain convinced I could be a fantastic Starcraft player if I could only drop out of school and never see any of my non-Starcraft-playing friends ever again.

Eleni said...

Cassey - It's really fun! Lucky husband :)

Soph - I agree, the combat is faster, more varied, and much more engaging. There are so many quests to do! It's also not clear which quests will give you new party members, which is frustrating, as I left one of them as my last quest before the expedition! I was all ready to go and suddenly had a new person in my party. So, uh, make sure you've done Bait and Switch.

I'm still trying to understand the romances in this game. The people seem harder to get than in any previous games, or at least I'm uncertain whether or not I've screwed up my chance at romance. I thought Anders was the flirtiest of the men...I'm sure he'll come around ;)

Soft Nonsense - Move to South Korea and become a professional StarCraft player! Do they still do that? I remember they did at one point...I guess now that there's StarCraft 2 they may have had a revival. That would be a crazy life.

Real life is such a bother. I have on occasion considered being a computer game programmer. But since I don't know much about programming, and I'm not very creative in terms of design, I always talk myself away from it.

Soph! said...

The romances in this game are a lot different than in Dragon Age. I am finally understanding how they work. And you were right! Ander's did come around! And so did Isabella...not that I was trying for her! Have you finished the game? I'm in Act 2.

Eleni said...

I'm in Act 3 still. I've been romancing Fenris (I'll try Anders in my next playthrough). I've noticed at least one opportunity, though, to switch to romancing Anders after I've already slept with Fenris, but I didn't follow through on it. I wonder how much you can switch back and forth. Since they don't get along well with each other, it would be funny if they got in a fight over you :) But I am trying to keep everyone in the party happy.

Sebastian said...

I've skipped DA2 so far -- have been playing Shogun 2, which is really, really good (we can but hope for a Rome 2 now!)

I was wondering... surely The Housemate knows you blog, right? Has he never asked where you blog? Or is there just some understanding there that he doesn't search out your blog?

Eleni said...

What made you wonder that? Actually, I haven't told him about my blogging, and he hasn't poked around enough yet to find it. He may have caught me once or twice and have his suspicions, but he's never mentioned it or asked about it.

It's a good thing, too, since I wouldn't want him to see some of the things I've written. As it happens, he just got home, so I should be going...

Sebastian said...

The whole bit about you not wanting him to see you 'cheat' on him! Made me wonder how secretive you had been about the blogging.

Probably better that you don't tell him. Suspicion is a strong force!

Eleni said...

Ha, well he knows I have love affairs in game. Doesn't mean he needs to see them.

I'll see how long I can keep the blogging a secret.