Tuesday 15 March 2011

Any clod can have the facts; having opinions is an art

Here at KiaSA towers we’re both in the grip of Dragon Age II. I’m only a few hours in, hardly enough for a full and complete appraisal, but I believe it’s sufficient to allow me to reassure you (in a spoiler free fashion) that no, it’s not the worst game ever released in the entire history of time.

I can see how you might be worried. Critic’s reviews are decent if not spectacular, currently averaging 81 on Metacritic, but we’ve all seen the stories of pressure on reviewers from publishers, reliance on advertising revenue from games companies, how can we trust them? Better to look for honest, unbiased scores and reviews from many contributors, get in on the crowdsourcing action.

At least it would be better, if half the contributors weren’t batshit mental. Even by usual internet standards, where ludicrous hyperbole is a second language (after lolspeak), the Dragon Age II ratings are a bit crazy. After I tweeted about starting to play it, mbp inquired if the terrible user reviews on Metacritic were justified so I had a quick peek and found a mass of 0/10 reviews (“Bad graphics, bad gameplay, bad story”, “This is the worst steaming pile of poop i have ever played”, “A horrible, wretched nightmare without end”; actual quotes, I didn’t even have to bother with comedic Angry Internet Man paraphrasing), with it limping to an overall 4.1 at the time of typing partially thanks to a few equally unhelpful 10/10s (“th1s game is so awsome!”, “I have to say Dragon Age 2 is 1000 times better than Dragon age origins”).

It’s like there’s a bunch of people dying to chip in who have a vague notion that this internet business runs on some sort of computer things, and these computer things use some weird binary stuff with only two states, and thus the only possible ratings available on these computer things on this internet business are “0/10 ZERO PERCENT NO STARS WORST GAME EVER it turned my weak lemon drink to blood and unleashed frogs and lice and gnats and locusts and a disease on my gerbil and unhealable boils and hail and thunder and darkness and it killed my frogspawn” or “FIVE STARS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT 10/10 BEST GAME EVER I was blind but now I can see and I only had a pilchard sandwich for lunch but that was enough to feed the whole school after I bought this game”. Then you get the Forces of Balance, incensed by all the 9s and 10s (or 0s and 1s) who feel compelled to weigh in at the opposite end of the scale to try and even things out. In some cases (via Scopique’s tweet) they might be the ones who made the game… (I doubt there’s a sinister corporate policy of astroturfing, just an overenthusiastic employee, but it doesn’t really help the whole situation)

Personally I’m rather enjoying it so far, but for a less positive piece that takes the unusual approach of using “words” to convey “meaning”, John Walker’s “Wot I Think” on the opening hours is well worth a read. I do think the start of the game feels disjointed, a bit like sitting down to watch a film with someone who says “yeah, yeah, the start’s a bit boring, there’s some running away or something, but there’s this great bit here!”, and they play a few minutes, then “oh, yeah, and then more boring stuff happens, fast forward, someone asks you to do something or whatever, fast forward, ooh, this bit’s good!” As Walker says, some of the side quests turn up and are completed almost randomly, more akin to the “follow the glowing punctuation” of a MMOG, and it has some slightly jarring quirks like only being able to talk to your companions in certain locations where they can express surprise at you being there, despite the fact that you just walked through the door accompanied by them (though at least that avoids the Camp Of Many Elite Warriors Just A Bit Further Down The Path Who Don’t Lift A Finger To Help from the first game).

I don’t entirely agree with him, though; I found Hawke’s initial situation and family relationships to be clear enough, albeit somewhat cursory so early events lacked emotional impact, I think it’s a valid enough in media res beginning. The conversation choices tend to fall into the Mass Effect 2 trap of “The only sensible one to pick”, “Inappropriate attempt at humour” or “Needless antagonism”, but I’m finding my (female) Hawke likeable enough, and I seem to remember the options in Dragon Age: Origins would often be similarly restrictive; perhaps that’s just inverse nostalgia, or perhaps your character having a voice removes some of the nuances that you could read into text choices. I’m certainly finding the combat far more fun as a Rogue than the first game and mostly staying in control of Hawke, rather than kicking off a couple of Super Stabby abilities then taking control of someone else until the stamina bar filled up again.

With all the difficulties presented by a numeric scoring system we’ve decided to instead institute the KiaSA Second Wilson Cabinet Rating Mechanism, wherein games are assigned a member of the cabinet of Harold Wilson’s second prime ministership, so by this system I’m delighted to award the first few hours of Dragon Age II: The Lord Elwyn-Jones

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