Hot new game: Dragon Age: Origins

The announcement that a third Dragon Age game will be upon us come Fall got me feeling bad about never finishing the first game even though I was super excited about it. (I wrote quite a few posts about the game back in 2009.) That’s me, though. Get uber-hyped about something then enjoy it for 2 weeks before moving on.

This time out I decided to play on the PS3. I can say with confidence that there is no good technical reason for doing this. The PS3 version is inferior to the PC version in pretty much every way but one. The game is more expensive on the PS3 (the base game was $20 digitally, though it was on sale for under $10 a few weeks before I bought it. On Steam the “Ultimate Edition” is regularly on sale for less than $10 and it includes all the DLC and the Awakenings expansion), the graphics are much worse and the controls have been stripped down to make playing ‘tactically’ a chore.

The one thing I prefer is that I don’t have to jump through hoops to get it running. As I recall the last time I tried to play DA:O on the PC I really struggled to get DLC unlocked and in the end I think I had to download and run some kind of authentication service, which really bothered me.

But that’s not why I’m playing on the PS3. I’m playing on PS3 because where I am right now in my life, I greatly prefer console games. It’s summer and the office where my PC is gets warm in the afternoon and evenings. Plus after sitting there for 10 hours working (I work from the same office I game in) I just want to get away and be somewhere else.

So even with all the shortcomings of playing on PS3 (and back in 2009 the PS3 was the red-headed stepchild of console-gaming and frequently got shoddy ports; DA:O is one of them, done by Edge of Reality) I’m preferring the experience of playing from the couch. Relaxed (often actually laying down while playing). Under an A/C vent. 🙂

And I’m loving it! It’s been so long that I don’t remember much more than a vague ‘feeling’ of the game, at least until things happen then I’m like “Oh yeah! I remember this!” Since I’m so comfortable while playing I’ve been taking the time to read every Codex entry and talk to my party members frequently. My mind isn’t in that “Get things done” state that it tends to be when I’m sitting at a computer.

It’s a good thing too, because I’d forgotten how slowly DA:O plays out. I’m maybe 10 hours in and still just getting started, mucking about in Lothering. Already I’m conflicted about who I want in my party since they’re all so interesting.

Hopefully the combat won’t get too bad. My recollection from playing on the PC is that when things got tough you could pause the game, zoom out to survey the battlefield and then give each character specific orders. Go stand here, go do that. You can’t really do that in the PS3 version. You can pause but you have a big menu-wheel on screen when you do. You can’t zoom out. You can give each character ‘attack that mob’ orders but you can’t order them to move. If you take control of one of them and move him, the others follow along (though I may be able to disable that via Tactics/AI). So there’s no positional combat, really. We’ll see how it goes.

I didn’t spring for any of the DLC since it would’ve significantly added to the cost of the game: via the in-game store the DLC would cost me a total of $36 without Awakenings, which is an additional $40. Luckily The Stone Prisoner (which adds the golem Shae) was included. Amazon has Awakenings on disk for $22 and if I’m really hungry for more at the end of Origins maybe I’ll pick that up, but I already own DA II for PS3 and would in theory like to get through that too, before DA 3 comes out.

Actually if I’m hungry for more maybe I’ll just play it through a second time on PC for no additional cost.

I almost never finish Bioware games. (Knights of the Old Republic was the one exception and, pardon the heresy but I didn’t love it.) I’ve tried to get through Mass Effect 1 three times but always drifted away. And the old titles, like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape? Barely scratched the surface. This is my 2nd serious attempt at Dragon Age: Origins. So far it’s holding my attention, but I’m still just getting started. We’ll see if I can make it through this time.

Dragon Age DLC Pricing

Over the weekend I went through the two current DLC packs for Dragon Age: Origins. I didn’t really plan it, it just happened that I liberated the Warden’s Keep on Saturday and got Shale into my party on Sunday. It got me thinking about the cost of DLC.

The Stone Prisoner (which adds potential party member Shale) costs $15 while Warden’s Keep costs $7. The upcoming Return to Ostagar will cost $5.

Some folks think these prices are too high, while others consider them fair. I can kind of see both sides of the argument. When I’m determining value in a game, I basically break it down into a cost/hour number.

So in support of the pricing, if I spend $5-$7 for a piece of DLC and it entertains me for an evening, that seems ok. Going to a movie is going to cost me a lot more than that. Going to a meal still more. I could get a Starbuck’s Latte for $5, or I could spend an evening going through this content.

Looking at it another way, though, how does that $5 compare to the entire game? Dragon Age (PC) lists for $50 and has what? 60 hours of gameplay? (I’m guessing..I haven’t finished yet.) For ease of use let’s assume it’s a 50 hour game. So that’s $1/hour. Does the Warden’s Keep contain the 7 hours of content it would need to match the value of the main game? No, it doesn’t. Of course there’s more than just the adventure of recovering the Keep from the forces of evil. You also get some unique items and some storage space. Putting a dollar value on that is tough.

The Stone Prisoner is even harder to gauge. From Bioware’s point of view I can see why they’d price it so high. It’s another NPC in the game, with new art assets and animations, new (and considerable) voice talent, and both the quest to free Shale and his NPC quest. Plus potentially more voice acting from the other actors to react to Shale (guessing here too…I don’t use him).

So I can understand how this content was costly to produce. But I’m not sure that’s going to matter to most gamers. Will they get 15 hours out of Shale? Rescuing him is pretty fast (maybe an hour). I don’t know how elaborate his personal quest is, but neither does the potential buyer.

Bioware has promised 2 years worth of DLC for Dragon Age: Origins but (as far as I know) they haven’t really gone into detail about what that DLC will be. Will the story be extended or will it all be “side story” stuff? Will we see more NPC companions?

If the Stone Prisoner costs $15, how much would a short add-on campaign that’ll last you a few evenings cost? Twice as much? $30? Over half the price of the game? That seems crazy.

Maybe Shale was priced high just to drive customers to one of CE or Deluxe versions? The Collector’s Edition is $60, so it costs less than buying the standard edition + the Stone Prisoner DLC.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what we get with Return to Ostagar. $5 seems like a good price for a chunk of DLC. If I spending an evening having fun playing through Ostagar, I’ll feel like I got my money’s worth.

How about you? Where’s your comfort zone when it comes to paying for DLC? I’ve used Dragon Age: Origins to illustrate this post, but feel free to comment on DLC costs in general.

Bioware announces Return to Ostagar DLC for Dragon Age: Origins

So it seems someone else may have survived the Battle of Ostagar, but this person was captured by the Darkspawn (rare, but it does happen. Bregan was captured, after all). Now this individual has escaped and he or she is looking for help from the Grey Wardens.

Yeah, that’s pretty sketchy, but thus far Bioware has revealed only a few details. We do know the just-announced Return to Ostagar DLC for Dragon Age: Origins will cost $5 and should be out ‘this holiday season.’ In it, you’ll head back to Ostagar for some payback, the chance to find the king’s arms and armor, and get another chance to recruit BarkSpawn into your party (actually my dog is named Milo but so many people seem to name theirs BarkSpawn, I coudn’t resist).

Hopefully we’ll get more details soon. Stay tuned!

Payback time!

News alert! Dragon Age is big!

A busy weekend kept me from playing as much Dragon Age as I suspected I would, and it came after me not touching the game in any significant way in the last few days of last week (due to other commitments, not lack of desire).

Tonight I finished one… ‘chunk’ of the storyline. Trying to avoid spoilers but if you’re playing you know what I mean. You’ve got a bunch of X items you have to take to various places to do some things. 🙂 Anyway, I finally finished 1 of them. My save game is at 20 hours. There are 4 (or 5?) of these chunks, plus side quests, DLC quests… there’s a LOT to do here.

What’s amazing is how it feels like they’ve tucked games within games. A section I just finished had gameplay quite different from anything I’d done up to then. And when I say “section” I don’t mean 10-15 minutes. It took me a few nights of playing to get through it. Wonderful stuff.

I had hoped by now to be covering the modding scene and things of that nature, but it looks like it’ll be a while before I get to that.

On the bright side, the modding community isn’t going as crazy as I thought it would. I installed the tools and took a quick look at them and they were somewhat daunting, so I’m sure modders are still getting comfortable with them. With luck by the time I finish plodding through the game, there’ll be some quality modules available.

One thing I’m not going to do, is rush through the game. I’m enjoying myself far too much to cut corners; I’m going to savor every minute.

In the meanwhile, it never hurts to check out the list that Bioware maintains.

I hope everyone is enjoying the game as much as I am!

Dragon Age is not perfect!

So I’m about 16 hours into my current game, with enough in other characters that I can probably safely say I’ve put 20 hours into Dragon Age: Origins so far. I’m growing ever more sure that this is my personal Game of The Year, which frankly surprises me given how much I enjoyed Infamous and Uncharted 2.

But no game can stand up to 20 hours scrutiny without revealing some imperfections and Dragon Age is no exception. Of course, no game is perfect. The title of this post is intended to provoke.

Anyway, here’re two things I’d like to see changed/added to Dragon Age: Origins.

First up, inventory. We’ve got a fairly limited amount of inventory space, and I’m not 100% sure why that is. Plus, there’s no way to put something down (unless I’m missing something); if your pack is full and you want to pick something up, you need to destroy something you’re carrying. When I’m in a large area with no vendors and no way out and my inventory fills up, it can be a little annoying. Granted there have to be some limits. But I hate that I’ll have to throw away, for example, a kite shield in order to make room for a silver ring.

Why not let us pile up extra gear somewhere in the corner of an area, so we can come back for it later (there could even be a chance that by the time we get back, someone or something will have rummaged through our loot).

As a sort of corollary to this issue, here’s a more controversial issue. I’d like to have a different inventory system. The way things are now, you get X inventory slots and every item (or stack of items) takes one 1 slot.

I get why they did this: to keep things simple. But Dragon Age isn’t a simple game. Now don’t be alarmed, I’m not calling for a “Tetris” inventory system. Rather, I’d assign a number of “burden points” to every carryable item, and then I’d give the party a set capacity for burden.

An example might make this more clear. Currently you start the game with 70 inventory slots. Instead of 70 slots, give the party the capacity to handle 700 encumbrance points worth of stuff. A ring would have an encumbrance value of 1. A shield would have an encumbrance value of 10. A plate chestpiece might have an encumbrance value of 20.

So now when you’re at capacity and want to pick up a ring, you can throw away a shield and get the ring and have some extra room to spare. Or you could throw away a salve and swap in the ring and still be capped. On the other hand if you find some plate armor you want to lug around, you’re going to have to make a number of sacrifices to fit that in.

Honestly that’s a “thinking out loud” idea. But I do think it’d be nice if we could drop items. This isn’t an MMO where we have to worry about lag from items being dropped by hundreds of parties, after all.

Until we get changes to the inventory system, you can head to Spinksville where Spinks talks about a mod that gives you some storage space in camp. That’ll at least help you squirrel away all those rings, statuettes, bottles of wine and other giftable finery you’ll pick up in your travels (but that each take up the same space as a piece of platemail).

Second, I have a feature request. I want a combat review camera. I love the combat system and I love the spectacle of combat. But I feel like I miss a lot of cool stuff because my back is turned, so to speak. This is particularly true while playing as a rogue, since you’re in the middle of battle and constantly moving to get in some back stabs. It may not be as bad for mages or other ‘back line’ characters.

Too frequently something will happen in a battle when I’m not looking. Suddenly two of my party will fall and I’m not sure what caused it. Or a Tactic condition will be met causing a mage to cast a spell that levels half our enemies and I’m not really positive which spell it was.

Enter the review camera. This gizmo lets you rewind time to the start of a battle and then gives you a free floating camera that lets you observe (passively…I’m not talking about a retry) the combat from whatever angle you feel is best. You can watch from the position of that enemy mage who lurked in the shadows until we sent our hound after him, for instance. Or you could just fly around the battle, watching it from all angles; maybe even add a feature so you could save “films” of epic battles in this way? Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to edit ‘combat films’ and then save them in an online album to show off to friends?

Anyway, that’s enough for today. Can’t wait for the weekend to arrive so I can put in more serious Dragon Age hours. Sneaking in 30-45 minutes on a week night is almost worse than not playing at all!

The return of the weekly Dragon Age video!

I guess the Bioware/EA press juggernaut took a week off to catch their breath. But they’re back and this time a decent video of the combat system in Dragon Age. Clearly the people being filmed expect you to be watching this before you play, so there’s a bit of redundancy (assuming you’re playing DA:O right now, and if you aren’t…why not!?) but they also talk about where they drew inspiration from and what they were ‘going for.’ (You can decide if they hit their target.)

A short epilogue talks about how many more stories there are to tell in this universe. Whether that’s a tease for DLC, an expansion pack, or a sequel, I don’t know. I’d be happy with all three, myself.

Dragon Age: Hoisted on my own petard

So after promoting Dragon Age heavily for the weeks leading up to the game, I’m happy to say that it is everything I hoped it would be, and I’m very much enjoying my time in the game. I spend much too much time reading and re-reading the codex and chatting up every NPC I can find who has a conversation tree (including my own party members).

Because of this, and a slow start, I assume I’m far behind other folks who are just jamming through this like they would any other game while I savor each moment. According to Raptr I have 15 hours into it, and probably another 5 when I wasn’t running the Raptr client. And yet I feel like my journey is just beginning.

The downside is, I don’t have anything to post about the game. I hate spoilers and I don’t want to spoil anything for others. I’m burning to talk about the choices I made but can’t really do that without spoiling things for myself and other people. Heck I’ve started unfollowing (temporarily) people on Twitter who’re talking specifics about the game.

I’m finding I’ve really missed this sense of “What happens next?” in my gaming. I’m usually playing MMOs months after thousands of people have hit cap and are talking nonchalantly about so-and-so actually being a dragon and the instance that exposes her and so on… you can’t really prevent spoilers in an MMO unless you’re one of the obsessed individuals who stays up for 72 hours straight to be the first to hit cap. The first time you do a group-based quest someone (who has done the quest 4 times on different alts) explains exactly what is going to happen when. Just the nature of that kind of game when you’re a slow leveler like me.

I had no idea how much I’d missed rich western-style single player RPG gaming until I started playing Dragon Age: Origins. I’m already thinking of the different choices I’ll make the next time I play. And I’m wondering what sorts of side stories we’ll see both from Bioware and from talented amateur game designers.

I see this one having a pretty long reign on my hard drive, even if it may mean some quiet days here at Dragonchasers.

Dragon Age backstory – If only I had known

If I’d known then what I know now…

I’m not going to go into spoilers, but some events that happen in the Dragon Age storyline are going to hit people who read the prequel novels a lot harder than those who didn’t. If I’d known ahead of time what was going to happen in the story, I would’ve urged folks to read The Stolen Throne and even The Calling (though it wasn’t that great a novel it did contain a goodly amount of backstory) before playing.

And yes, with the weekend here I’m finally done waffling and creating ‘alts’ and am actually moving forward in the story!

Dragon Age: Origins — Learn2Play!!!

If you bought your version of DA:O digitally, or if you bought the console version, you might be interested in downloading the manual for the game (I haven’t seen the console manual but I’m told it’s pretty thin). I just had a read through it and learned some nuances I wasn’t aware of. Plus it gives some info that might help you in picking a race/class combination.

If that isn’t enough, there’s a fan-led project called Dragon Age: Origins – The Missing Manual (at least, that’s what it is called until O’Reilly, who publishes “The Missing Manual” series, hears about it). It’s very much a work-in-progress but already does a good job of making existing information easier to parse. For example, this chart on what each character behavior setting does is, to me at least, easier to grok then looking at the tool tips in-game.

DA:O Toolset Installation problems for Steam/Impulse users

If you bought Dragon Age: Origins digitally you may encounter problems installing the Toolset. Bioware is working the problem, but in the meanwhile here’s what I did to get it installed.

Run the installer. The problem happens while installing MS SQL Server, and specifically while configuring it. You’ll encounter an error with an ignore/retry prompt. Leave that floating on screen.

C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\toolssql\MSSQL.1\MSSQL\Install\sysdbupg.sql
(substituting paths as required; I did this on Windows 7 Home 64-bit)

Search for:

SELECT @certificate_name = QUOTENAME(@certificate_name, ””)

and replace the line with:

SELECT @certificate_name = ”” + REPLACE(@certificate_name, ””, ”””) + ”’

Now hit Retry. You will probably get a new error along the lines of “Unable to Create database.”

Now open:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\toolssql\MSSQL.1\MSSQL\Data

and delete these files:
if they exist.

Finally go back to your installer and click on Retry again.

The installation *should* proceed smoothly. If it doesn’t, check the error logs in:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\dragon age origins\tools\toolssql\MSSQL.1\MSSQL\LOG
to see if you can tell what’s tripping things up.

There’s also a problem where the installer tries to write the uninstall.exe file to the wrong directory. Haven’t found a fix for that yet, but hitting Ignore lets you finish the installation and run the tools. Might mean some manual registry cleaning some day when you uninstall the tools though.

More details can be found here:

and here:

I tested this on my Steam install but forum denizens say it works for Impulse as well.

[Updated the steps to take out a shortcut that may have been causing problems (see comments.)]