barrled

The View From Thedas: On Preferring Kirkwall

Okay, so I’ve been replaying Dragon Age 2, and I’ve played Inquisition through a couple of times, and I need to get something off my chest: Dragon Age 2 was more fun than Inquisition.

By most gaming standards, Inquisition is a better game. Its fights are more strategically interesting and its battle system is at least original by Western RPG standards, its world is huge and ambitious, and its characters are quite pretty. Your Keep, Skyhold, is marginally customizable, huge, and changes over time in a way that reflects the story’s progress. Etc, etc– there’s been enormous amounts of e-ink spilled on Inquisition already, and I don’t think I need to beat that dead horse.

Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, repeatedly uses the same dungeon layouts. The manor layouts are so repetitive that one assumes the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild must own Kirkwall’s equivalent of KB Homes. The whole game rarely leaves Kirkwall and the Greater Kirkwall Metropolitan Area, and you could probably fit all of its settings within any of Inquisition’s 10 or so explorable areas 4 or 5 times over.

Dragon Age 2, though, for all of its flaws, told a story that dealt with topics I’m deeply interested in and did it well. Everyone in DA2 had an established relationship with everyone else, and that story was told through cutscenes and banter both. It was likely that a visit to Isabella would show her talking with another party member; they all seemed to drop in on each other fairly regularly. More than that, they all seemed to hang around Hawke for little reason other than friendship after the first act, and because of the 3-year gaps between Acts 1 and 2 and again between 2 and 3, they all have between 6 and 7 years to get to know each other.

In Inquisition, though, most of the conversations between party members seems to just be them feeling each other out, figuring out how to get to know each other. Part of this is because the banter system isn’t very good and doesn’t fire often enough, so players don’t always get all the banter that the game actually provides. But the cutscene part that you get in Dragon Age 2 just isn’t there. Sure, there are a few times where you walk in and the advisers are talking to each other, and there’s that time Dorian plays chess with Cullen, but it’s clear that their relationship is mostly one of coworkers.

I think the most telling place where the differences between the characterization, storytelling and interpersonal relationships in DA2 and Inquisition is shown is with Varric. In DA2, we have Varric as the somewhat unreliable narrator of the whole game, and no matter who you romance, his relationship with the protagonist, Hawke, is the beating heart of the narrative. Varric’s exaggerations, his jokes, and his affection and love for Hawke shows through every time the game breaks away from the main narrative to show him telling the story.

His relationship to the Inquisitor is never really that well-defined, nor is his relationship to the rest of the Inquisition. The main person we see him interacting much with is Cassandra, and generally they just fight; the only relationship that his personality really shows through in is with the human-formed spirit Cole, who he sort of adopts.

The moments we get to see in Inquisition are spaced far apart, because the game is paced so slowly compared to Dragon Age 2, and though many of them are fun, they don’t have the richness that the interpersonal relationships in the previous two games had.

It almost seems like the scope of Inquisition means that there’s less room in it for what really made the Dragon Age series feel, well, like a Bioware game. Maybe there is as much of the interpersonal writing in it as there is in other games, but if there is, it’s stretched thin. A lot of the game content is in the kind of boring sidequests that I expect more of an Elder Scrolls game, and while some of those have the kind of interesting worldbuilding reveals that nerds like me adore, few of them were all that interesting ways to get to know the NPCs better. Even many of the quests done for the party members and advisers were just fetch quests.

I think one of the major problems with Inquisition is that it’s trying to be too many things at once. It adds in a totally new fighting system, horseback riding (and a full mount system that includes a few dozen different critters you can ride), the entire War Table mechanic, the entire system for customizing the base, and a really ambitious set of places to explore. It really feels like it’s trying to be a regular RPG that gets sold to people who like to play regular RPGs and not just the kind of weird character-loving romance-drooling-over fan-nerds who are so into the first two games, and I think maybe they’re trying so hard to figure out how to do all of this new stuff that they’re letting themselves slide on what makes their games so much fun.

Every time I step back into Kirkwall and am greeted by Varric’s sarcasm, Merrill’s wide-eyed amazement and Isabella fighting with Aveline I remember why I love these games: they’re stories about a bunch of dorks who love each other and sometimes help fight evil or whatever. In the end, I’ll take that over customizable castles and dracolisk mounts any day.

The View From Thedas: On Preferring Kirkwall was originally published on barrl

#NewHugoCategories

BIGOTRY UPDATE: noted racist Vox Day and some of his ilk have decided to attempt to ruin the Hugo Awards and harnessed themselves to GamerGate, and many of the genre’s noted shitheels (Will Shetterly, etc) have been jumping in to talk about how terrible “social justice warriors” are. I’m not gonna link to them all, because they are infuriating and because they’re exercising the same tactic that #GamerGate constantly uses where they flail around with terrible opinions and attempt to waste people’s time and act indignant when they are told that they are not entitled to anyone’s time and attention + sic their awful fans on them for more harassment/threats/etc.

Anyway, the good news is that this has led to hashtag fun over on Twitter. We’ve been coming up with ideas for new Hugo award categories. A bit of them are riffing on the current ridiculous awfulness, but mostly we’re just all making sci-fi jokes. Here are mine!

#NewHugoCategories was originally published on barrl

Monday Recs
  • My priestess gave me a baggie of lavender for my birthday to help me sleep, and I stuck it next to my CPAP’s intake filter. I highly recommend the “put something that smells good and calming next to your intake” method of making sleep better with a CPAP. I’m guessing the thing I did where I tape it on there might be a bad idea if you’re at one of the higher pressures, since it might make it unable to get enough air, but since I’m only at a 7, it works well for me.
  • Kiva Bay draws pictures of feminists and they are wonderful. She’s working on a feminist magic deck. Her work is really sweet and fun and it’s really nice to see someone making something lovely and encouraging and energizing while all the #GamerGate shit seems to show little sign of ever stopping. I follow her on Twitter and she brings me joy.
  • Spellcaster by Claudia Gray is a really fun little YA Urban Fantasy series. It focuses really heavily on friendship and family and one of the protagonists has two dads, which is a nice alternative to the standard Gay-Best-Friend-Who-Angsts trope that so many novels seem to have picked up recently. It’s got a nice small town feel, sort of Sunnydale meets Star’s Hollow. It’s not something I’d recommend to people who don’t devour lots of YA Urban Fantasy stuff anyway, but if that genre’s your cup of tea, it’s fun. Kristine Hvam, narrator of one of my all-time favorites (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), does this trilogy and her voice is beautiful, soothing, and engaging; she really pulls you into the world.
  • Claudia Gray’s dimension-hopping A Thousand Pieces Of You is also a fun read with some really rich and beautiful worldbuilding.
  • I’ve been using Scribd to listen to audiobooks and it’s pretty good. The app doesn’t always work well– it’s not nearly as good as Audible’s– but the selection for both audiobooks and book-books is pretty good; it’s far superior to Amazon Unlimited, where I went through pretty much everything I was interested in listening to in the free trial month. (I get free membership if you sign up using my link, but so do you, and it helps get me access to the giant pile of books I talk about here, so it’s a good deal on all sides.)

In my own news, I made a single-serve website to show what #GamerGate is ruining at any given moment. (If they’re ruining something new and I haven’t noticed, message me on Twitter so I can update it.) I also set up a Patreon in case any of you want to help me figure out how to get paid for this kind of writing, which would be aces; I also have a tip jar.

Monday Recs was originally published on barrl

What is #GamerGate Currently Ruining

So I did an overhaul on whatisgamergatecurrentlyruining and threw a blog on there to keep track of past ruinings. I’m gonna try to keep the summaries of what’s going on to a paragraph or so in length, because there are a ton of people doing long-ass writeups on GG and their tantrums, and sometimes you don’t want to bury yourself in all that shit, you know? But since I’m reading it anyway, I’ll summarize it and give you some more links, if you want ‘em. So far I’ve done Calgary Expo and the Hugo Awards, but let me know (here or on Twitter, I turned off comments there because of reasons) if there are other things you want quick summaries of and I’ll throw some more entries together.

What is #GamerGate Currently Ruining was originally published on barrl

Monday Recs

I have decided to try to do a thing where every Monday I recommend a handful of things to you, my readers. What kinds of things? WHO KNOWS! Maybe it’ll be STUFF! Maybe BOOKS! Maybe LINKS!

  1. This Logitech Trackball Mouse: You button with your fingers and scroll with your thumb and I am so spoiled because I have used this for a few years and it’s really nice. I like it a lot for gaming in particular, but I find it a lot more pleasant and less painful on my hands, especially since I can just put it up and use it anywhere without worrying about it being a good surface for mousing on. It goes through batteries really slow, too, which I am amazed by.
  2. Cheat Engine for Dragon Age: Inquisition: If you’re playing DA:I, this gives you a button that triggers banter and a button that lets you wear your armor in Skyhold so you aren’t wearing those hideous beige pajamas in half the game’s dramatic cutscenes. Thank Andraste.
  3. Seraphina and Shadow Scale: I’ve talked a bit about these here before, but I really, really love these books. They’re really well-written, funny, and sweet, with great characters, good social justice themes, some major gay characters and one minor trans character, and incredibly rich worldbuilding. I really like the non-action-hero protagonist and general lack of violence as a default-problem-solving-mechanic, because I’m pretty bored with that in SFF, so it’s a nice change.
  4. poop.bike: it’s a website called poop.bike, what can I say about that really

Monday Recs was originally published on barrl