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    jp's Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)

    [May 19, 2020 11:37:57 PM]
    I thought I was closer to the end. :-(

    I had forgotten that I needed to go talk to the mages to get them to side with me. Since my character is a recently graduated mage, I figured I'd do this one last because I'd show up as "levelled up" (more impressive?). Anyways, so. I start doing the "go to the mages" and, as expected, something terrible has happened and so on. Interesting/fun story bits but what really knocked my socks off was a completely interesting gameplay twist!

    So, it turns out that demons and blood mages have taken over and a particular demon "traps" you in the fade, which is like another dimension. You wander around and eventually learn to transform into other "characters"! Each character has a bunch of special abilities and a key ability you need to use to solve navigation puzzles (e.g. walk through fire, bash open heavy doors).

    I really enjoyed this part since I had to figure out how to solve the puzzle - e.g. get to the monster in the middle. But, I also appreciated the "refresh" in terms of gameplay - I could play around with some new abilities and was also, at least for the moment, granted a respite from all the inventory management/optimization I'd been getting tired of (picking up treasure, not having enough space, trashing stuff, etc.). The entire "in the fade" portion of the game has no loot/treasure to pick up! (you get get stat boosts).

    So, a nice change of pace that really refreshed the gameplay.

    Ok, so then finished the mages and off to the last task before the final (supposedly). Perhaps one of the more interesting things is realizing that a lot of the story hooks/goals are political in nature. It's not about fight big monster move on to the next one, rather help this leader get this support so that they'll then do something else and so on. Really neat.

    Anyways, I spent some time wandering around the city and then went to rescue the queen(?) but - IT WAS ALL A TRAP!

    Whoah! Another nice surprise - again, with gameplay variations. I didn't play "after the trap", but it looks like I'll have lost my party/companions as well as all my equipment (a common trope), but it's interesting because it's happening so far/late into the game.

    Needless to say, I've been really impressed and enjoying the game!
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    [May 13, 2020 06:59:49 PM]
    Last night I finished the Orzammar/Dwarven part of the game. It was fun, it was interesting, and it also had a lot of unexpected things happen. Story and gameplay wise, which is nice!

    I guess this must have been the standard "dungeon" part of the game? I say that in a good way - Orzammar was interesting from a story perspective and resonates strongly with the "other" Dwarven fantasy place (yes, the Tolkien one). You spend time travelling the remains of a giant Dwarven empire that his since been lost to the darkspawn. You're trying to rescue/find things though long lost (well, and the people that more recently went after them) through giant halls and settlements long lost and abandoned. Pretty cool.

    Why are you doing all this? Because the Dwarves have no king and there's a political deadlock you're trying to resolve. I don't think it matters who you choose (you have to choose one or the other) - and obviously both candidates are problematic.

    In the bigger picture sense, I've enjoyed how the game continuously expands in terms of it's virtual space without getting bigger. So, the map doesn't grow - and the world navigation takes place on a faux-paper looking map - on which icons for new places are added as they become available/you learn about them. So, the game starts out feeling "small" but then gets bigger in terms of depth rather than breadth. Instead of "new continent" and you must now scroll around - you get new icon which you can visit. Oftentimes the new place will itself lead to a new map (smaller in scale). So, the entire Dwarven empire is another faux-paper map that ends up with 5-6 (forget how many exactly) locations on it. I really like it conceptually - even if it might be a LITTLE annoying when I'm trying to get a sense of how much game I have left to play (because it feels like the "you're getting near to the end" is always shifting.

    Weirdly this might be a medium-specific characteristic? So, for books you hold in your hand - you can tell how much more you have left to read. For movies you can rely on the conventions of the medium (3 hr movie is really long! It'll be at least 1hr 20!). For music, there might be technical considerations - an album is (usually?) no longer than the amount of music that fits on a CD, and for songs there are also genre conventions (a few minutes for a song is fine). TV shows are interesting, because you don't really know unless there are season finales and such - but you can probably count on a "season" length you could figure out from how often new episodes appear and the length of the calendar year (as an upper limit). But games? They seem to be all over the place! Even for games with clear levels and such - I always feel like you never really know how much more game there is to play.

    Huh. Perhaps genre conventions are still too wide-ranging? (e.g. RPGs are long, but the limits are really broad). Action games seem to be converging on 10-20 hrs? Hmm....
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    [May 4, 2020 11:46:38 PM]
    I think I'm 20 hours in, still having fun and quite amazed by the different kinds of micro-stories and backstory I'm running into. Nothing seems to be straightforward. I'm also surprised that, at 20 hrs or so in, I feel like I'm less than halfway there - and I haven't been chasing down sidequests either! People who complained this game was too short have no idea what they're talking about.

    So, I THINK I've finally finished what I need to do to complete the 2nd of 4 main missions. The first one I tackled was the one where you have to convince the elves to join you. I don't know if I was lucky or what, but that one was pretty short (at least compared to this one).

    The summary of the 2nd quest:
    a. Get to the location of the arl. (earl?)
    b. Oh no, there's monsters coming out at night - set up a defence and fight them off!
    c. Oh no, the castle is swarming with monsters - fight them off, learn that the kings son has been possessed by a demon, sort that out. But the king (I mean, arl?) is still in a coma!
    d. Surely this legend of an urn with sacred healing ashes will help!
    e. Go to city to track down dude who may know where the urn is.
    f. He's left, go to village where he might be.
    g. This village is weird, it's like there's a cult!
    h. There is a cult. Fight around, rescue the academic dude.
    i. Lets go to the ruined castle - that's where the urn is, surely!
    j. Fight all the cultists!
    k. The urn must be over there. Oh no! There's a dragon, kill it.
    l. Ok, finally the urn? No! There's a ghost guarding it, you must pass the gauntlet.
    m. Pass the gauntlet - more fights and riddles!
    n. Now I have the ashes...

    I'm ready to head back, but also - WHOA, that was a lot of steps! Many of these are multi-hour dungeons and such. I wonder if this was the longest quest? I mean, I'm not done yet, for all I know the ashes won't even work..and then what?

    Now, I have been enjoying it - especially because I really get the feeling that pretty much everything I've done might have gone differently. Perhaps I didn't need to ring that gong that summoned the dragon? Perhaps I could have joined the cultists instead of killing them? (my party members seemed really against that idea) And so on.

    I'm still ignoring a lot of the systems (creating potions? nah. traps? nah.), but that's on purpose - I just want to enjoy the dialogue and the environments. They're simple (PS3 era, not flashy even then I don't think), but really well-realized.
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    [April 21, 2020 07:06:58 PM]
    I've decided to start to work my way through my PS3 backlog (since PS5 is coming out at the end of the year and I'll need to make space for it next to the TV).

    So, I've never played a Dragon Age game and, AFAIK, it's one of those RPG series that I really should play. Weirdly, I've already read a lot about the game - especially in academic papers talking about virtual crushes and other stuff. So, it's a game that is completely unfamiliar to me, but as I play and things happen - I remember stuff. Like Morrigan. When she appeared, I was like - oh! this is the character so many people have written about!

    Oh, there was also a chapter in the book about terrible stories of game development (crunch, etc.) whose title I'm blanking on (Blood Sweat and Pixels?) which was a fun read - and again, I'm getting "flashbacks" to stuff I read that is now become "real" or at least grounded in direct personal play experience.

    My experience so far has been quite positive, I've enjoyed how the game slowly unwraps it's core systems and story - and I was super surprised (impressed!) at how it immediately starts with a huge branch - pick your character and you get (I think!) a completely different intro section. I guess this makes sense for class-related stuff (the mage tutorial might need to be different from the warrior one), but in this game AFAIK it's mostly a backstory-character development move. Which is pretty interesting.

    While I'm looking forward to the knowledge that this isn't a massive sprawling RPG (it got a bad rep for being "too short"), I'm genuinely surprised by how much stuff there is in the game. A lot of it is stuff that I'm thankfully able to "ignore and move on", but only because I turned down the difficulty level. So, there's an entire range of tactical options and "AI programming" you can do for your party to be more efficient in combat, use the right abilities and so on. My issue is that I don't want to handle all that stuff in real-time (rather than in a turn-based setting), and so I know I'll go "all thumbs" if I need to quickly switch between characters to fire off the right abilities because the combat situation has evolved rapidly into..blabalbla. I'd much rather "hey other party members, you do your thing!" and I'll just control my single character (elven mage in case people are wondering).

    But, I appreciate the depth of stuff that is there. Wow. (I still think the realtime comabat is a bit wonky in terms of timing your abilities right and so on, but I guess this is how MMO combat works too?)

    I've also enjoyed the freedom of options and how it's clear that I need to do X things (the major story points, as in "get these 4 factions to help you") and how the world evolves between them. I'm about 10 hours in, I've finished with the Dalish elves and, as I traveled to the next place (the Arl? Arli?), the first village I had wandered into was no longer available as a location on the map - it had been destroyed by the darkspawn! Woah!

    The environments tend to be both bigger and smaller than what I expected, and I've enjoyed doing little sidequests - and enjoyed that the sidequests haven't been (so far) these long-term sprawling epic things you need to remember. They've mostly been assigned/solved within the same general area space, which is nice.

    I think this is a genuine game design snack - but the loading screens are customized - they give tips and backstory (good design, but not novel to me). BUT, they also give you a brief summary of where you are in the game (what you did last) which is SUPER cool. It helps me a lot to remember and see how my "achievements" are articulated by the game - and I'm sure if I was playing less frequently it would be a huge boon to getting back in to the game. I'm surprised that I haven't seen something like this in other games - but then again, I don't usually play RPGs?
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    Status

    jp's Dragon Age: Origins (PS3)

    Current Status: Playing

    GameLog started on: Saturday 11 April, 2020

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