Monday, January 4, 2010

The Pressure of Irreversible Choices

LOTRO's login servers were down during prime time last night, so I decided to finally fire up the new copy of Dragon's Age from my Christmas stash.

(Incidentally, they included a pair of single-use DLC codes in the retail box as a way to deter/charge pirates and used game purchasers. Installing this content on the PS3 is a bit of an ordeal - if, perhaps, less of an ordeal than the LOTRO patcher - as the console won't download while the game is actually running, making the background download feature pretty useless.)

Anyway, the game does seem impressive, but one thing that kind of jarred me out of the box was all the gameplay-affecting choices. My mage got two new spells at level one, with a dozen options (each of which leads to further upgrades down the line). It doesn't matter so much if I take a randomly generated appearance without knowing that there was some "better" option, as long as I can live with it. By contrast, presuming that there is not a respec mechanic in the game, I'm stuck with whatever spells I take. I might not be able to do the things I later discover that I want to do with the character because I lack the appropriate prerequisites and/or don't understand how good certain choices are from reading the tooltips.

Then I got into game and actually hit the trademark dialog trees. Again, the sheer volume of voice acting is impressive, and, again, scary choices. Right off the bat, I was able to talk two NPC's out of fighting me. But would the reward for beating them have been better? Will saying the wrong thing to the wrong NPC cut me off from some cool quest line or reward down the line? I don't have the time to play through this game half a dozen times (perhaps excluding the introduction scenarios) because I missed out on something really interesting by screwing up, so, if I miss it, it's probably gone.

MMORPG's rarely make players actually live with the consequences of such decisions. That can be bad in any number of ways, but the upside is less pressure while you're actually playing the game. Perhaps it's neither good nor bad, but it's certainly different.


Andrew said...

Embrace the choices in Dragon Age, and just play a role. The game doesn't irreversibly screw you for making "bad" decisions with the dialog trees, although certain paths may be more difficult.

Also, here's a tip from one mage to another: pick up a bunch of crowd control - it's awesome. Sleep, Paralyze, Horror, and Cone of Cold are a few of the easy ones too get at.... any two of those should make your experience much smoother.

Crofe said...

Cone of Cold is ridiculously awesome.

I agree with the decision thing as well. And I hate that sometimes the way I read one of the options is not how it is reacted upon (I can't think of any examples of this though).

docholidayj said...

Mages are a blast, CC is a tad ridiculous at times but when swarmed by a ton of mobs and archers you'll really appreciate it.

The only real spec issues to worry about is keeping your characters different from each other. You can get a decent idea of what the other specs people will have by their descriptions, so you might not want to go too far down that path if you'll get it in another toon later on.

And I agree, don't fret over the choices as you'll go crazy if you do ;)

Longasc said...

I got a recommendation to raise cunning to 16 so that I can get persuade/intimidate level IV, but besides that, it seems for my Two-handed warrior I just have to put points into STR and not much else.

And you are right, there is stuff you can miss easily, starting from the Coul... whatever the name of the family is ... family sword&shield to a missed night with Iona.

I heard quite often that playing a Mage is easier, Cone of Cold seems to be even better than in D&D. ;)

But Andrew is right, this is YOUR adventure, and it is your story - may be you miss out on some things, or do some things differently, have a "suboptimal" outcome - but who knows, maybe it opens up new paths, too.

This game seemed to me - I started as human noble a - to be a mix of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time ("Blight") and G.R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones" (games of power and betrayal between noble families) early on. I quite liked that.

I also often had to smile or laugh, at the dog, or the funny son of Fergus.

But please don't be too afraid to do something wrong. :)

mbp said...

I got Dragon Age as a Christmas present and I am loving it. I must admit I find the difficulty level quite challenging even on normal. Levelling is quite slow and you don't get many extra abilities at each new level so you have to live with those choices for quite a while.

I am trying to savour the experience by staying away from help sites as much as possible but I do have one piece of advice - read up how the tactics settings work. It doesn't work they way you might think and they become much more useful when you figure out the mechanics of what tactics get used and when it resets to the start of the list.

Dw-redux said...

I think the point of dragons age (that is at least what i am looking forward to) is that youget much more immersed into a world, where you have to live with the choices you make. Too often in those kinds of games, you save before any conversation and load it up, if you do not get what you had hoped for.
And in mmo's choice is (sadly) never an issue.

Looking very much forward to this game... and looking very much forward to free time to play it aswel

Tim said...

PC version has a respec mod 4tw. Main reason i got the pc version, and it was 33% off at the EA store for the download version. :) And the mods are PC only.

Tesh said...

If a game doesn't allow respecs, I believe that it should be short. Slogging through twenty hours with a gimped character isn't fun. Replaying a short game (4 hours, TOPS) with irreversible choices can make for compelling experimentation.

Andrew said...

The DA:O expansion, announced today, will bring in official respecs (instead of mod-based respecs on the PC today). More here: