The Good, The Bad and The Lampshade

God I’m sick of Dragon Age: Origins, splashed all over every blog, games site and forum like arterial spray, the last thing the world needs is some “first impressions” type rubbish. So… sorry, but I’ve been caught in The Event as well.

The Good
It’s bloody good. Duh, etc. I was trying for feigned indifference for a while, or even deliberate contrariness with the sheer amount of coverage it’s getting, but (from the first few hours, which were going to be a few minutes just creating a quick character), yes, it’s good.

The Bad
I’m sure nobody wants to wade through yet another gushing review, and frankly it’s more fun to rant anyway; none of this stuff is exactly “bad” per se, it doesn’t significantly detract from the good-ness of the game, but it was such an easy post title.

Microtransactions/DLC: without delving into the whole question of whether launch day DLC is a way of draining some extra cash from players for features that should’ve shipped with the game anyway, or a viable, entirely optional, way of companies making more money to plough into game development, I saw The Warden’s Keep involved “extra storage” so had no option but to go and buy it straight away. Which involved having to buy some Bioware Points. Now I can understand Nintendo/Microsoft/Turbine Points when there’s a whole array of stuff to buy (obfuscate actual cash cost of items, allow the company to vary exchange rates and offers, force you to buy odd quantities of points so you have some left over giving an incentive to top up and buy more stuff, etc etc), so I guess this is just the start of a big old Bioware Store that might make more sense, but at the moment, unless I’m more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive, there’s precisely one thing to buy: The Warden’s Keep, for 560 Bioware points (there’s also The Stone Prisoner, but with a code for that in every box it’s really just a way of getting some money out of second hand game sales). So from the game you have to go off into a web browser, and get asked “How many Bioware points would you like?”, and you tick the “For what possible reason would I want any quantity other than 560?” option (at least 560 was an option, rather than them only being sold in multiples of 600 or something), buy the points, go back to the game, refresh your Points Balance, exchange those points for DLC, and then you can download the stuff. Like I say, makes sense as part of a move to a Bioware or EA-wide ecosystem, seems rather pointless at the moment (I thought Steam was a waste of space when it was just a delivery method for Half Life 2, look at it now…)

Blood, blood, glorious blood: if you hadn’t guessed from the blood-splattered logos, splash (in a very literal sense) screens etc., there’s a bit of blood in the game. An attempt to convey the visceral and brutal nature of melee combat in a genre that tends to a romantic and sterilised view of a dagger in the guts? The result of watching Flesh for Frankenstein a bit too much (lord knows what Dragon Age would look like in 3D)? Either way up, combat itself is satisfyingly bloody (I think I saw a beheading at one point, but was zoomed out in a tactical view and going after a caster at the time so I’m not entirely sure), but the game tries to carry this over post-combat, making it very obvious in cut scenes. After the very first fight with some rats in a pantry my character picked one up, rubbed it all over his face, flung its internal organs at his companions, filled a small paddling pool with viscera and rolled around in it, visited The Big Red Ink Factory That Makes Red Ink where an unfortunate incident caused one of the machines to malfunction, spraying all and sundry with red ink, and was on his way back to the adventure when somehow a Karo Syrup tanker driven by Bruce Campbell collided with a Red Food Colouring tanker driven by Sam Raimi, engulfing him in a tide of yet more red gloop. Then he wandered out of the pantry and had a bit of a chat with the cook, who was entirely unperturbed by the blood he was dripping across the floor, and slightly shocked when I revealed there’d been rats in the pantry. Mind you, the shower and dry cleaning facilities in Dragon Age are absolutely top notch, as within the space of a couple of minutes he and the team were absolutely spotless again. I dunno, I mean I’m all for making things a bit more brutal than “oh prithee I am stabbed, farewell cruel world, I die!”, but it’s just trying too hard really. It’s somewhat less jarring when you’ve been involved in a lengthy series of tough battles, but even so the whole “Blood splattered! Clean! Blood splattered! Clean!” switch needs a bit more work. There’s probably a bunch of options to control this stuff, I should go in and check it out, but was too engrossed in the adventure at the time. In fact, if the character creator’s anything to go by, there are probably sliders for “Blood Quantity”, “Spurt Distance” (ooh err missus), “Plasma Viscosity” etc.

The Lampshade
One line of dialogue did stand out just a smidge. After the aforementioned first battle with some rats (possibly ten of them, I wasn’t counting), your companion sticks a lampshade on his head, waves a red flag and shouts “Hey, that was just like the start of some tale of adventure IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN WINK WINK METATEXTUAL IRONY EH EH?”

All right, that’s paraphrasing slightly and on another day I might’ve seen it as a charming knowing wink, but they’d actually woven the “kill ten rats” trope into the introduction quite nicely so I hadn’t even thought of it before Captain Lampshade shone the spotlight. Though maybe that was just me being dense.

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