Stand aside Evil, I won’t be as gentle! Dragon Age II under (too) close scrutiny.

Just read an article over at IGN360 about Dragon Age II and it’s “improvements” and “updates”. I’m a little dismayed to tell you the honest truth. If you can’t be bothered to read their whole article (I don’t blame you – read mine instead), the gist of it is that the sequel to the acclaimed Role Playing Game (RPG) has been tweaked to look considerably better on consoles “especially”. “Especially” in that context means, ‘but dumbed down for PC’. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

– The necessity and skilled usage of the pause button has diminished it seems, as individual enemies ‘go down fairly easily’.

– Zooming out has been limited (even further) than in the original game. To the extent that you can’t zoom out beyond the ceiling of the room you are in! I think I feel sick.

In fact, this line from the IGN article pretty much sums up the changes to Dragon Age II, and it doesn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons:

It seems as though BioWare is taking Origins, which was super nerdy and very specifically targeted players like me, and giving it a graphical facelift so it can appeal to a wider crowd.

A wider crowd. Ach, what tasteless words. What that means is, they’ve stripped it of all complexity and cult attraction and all but blockbusterised it. I know that’s not a word, but come on! In the immortal words of Ricky Gervais, “Fuck the crowd, most of them are idiots.” He couldn’t be more right. The problem is, most of them are idiots with wallets, and BioWare, like every business since time itself, is all about the money.

Anti-capitalist rant aside, I am absolutely gutted about the lack of zoom out function. The main reason I loved DA: Origins was that it could be played in the style of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. All RPGs these days are way too close up and, for lack of a better word, 3D. (I’ve talked about how much I hate that before…) It was a downhill trend which started (I think) with Neverwinter Nights. Still great, but lacking.

I’m one of those gamers who plays for the compelling storyline, the spectacular magic and mystery, the ludicrously expansive side quests. Nobody cares if there’s a little more glass on the ceiling chandeliers, or if the blood splatter on your character’s face has increased since the last gory battle. Hell, at least give us the option to look on from a distance.

I want sorcery and adventure and a birds eye view. In that order. And while you’re at it BioWare, let us string the commands together like the old days. I want to prove my mastery by casting the perfect killer combo before my enemy has incanted their first spell. Sure, Dragon Age II will do for now, of course, but when you’ve created a game as thorough as Baldur’s Gate again then you’ll really have my attention.

Yup, Minsc and Boo stand ready…

As the soul slides from the Xbox, I examine the alternatives

I’ve been an Xbox fanboy (or fanboi to use the colloquial) for the vast majority of my life. Maybe the marketing campaign Microsoft ran throughout the 90s and 00s got me jumpin’ (the very same campaign that they continue to run – “jump in!”); or maybe the flashing green rings around the on button (I didn’t know the red rings denoted ‘Death’ until recently) drew my attention; or could it have been the giant X that was sprawled boldly across the top of the original console (we all know that X is a key letter used to denote so many exciting things…) More likely my obsession could be summed up much more simply than all of the above: HALO.

Yes, Halo reigned supreme among online multiplayer FPS for a long time (I state “online multiplayer” because nothing has ever come close to the Half Life series as a straight FPS franchise). Halo still does reign on Xbox live, even compared to the likes of CoD, although Reach was a step backwards in many ways from Halo 3. However, now that that fantastic world of Humans, Elites, and Floods worse than Brisbane has drawn to a close, or at least reached an optimum peak of player enjoyment, I find myself looking at the alternative gaming options available.

It should go without saying that little challenges the PC for power, graphics etc. It’s still my platform of choice for RPGs (although I deviate for Mass Effect), and for a long time was almost my sole gaming platform whilst I played WoW. I’m not typing that out in full… Also, recently the iPhone has really come into it’s own as a gaming solution. It provides a quick fix that you can score during a toilet break, or while you’re waiting for a bus/ train or other delayed public transport. Initially I was sceptical of the iPhone has a gaming device, but games such as Osmos, Plants Vs Zombies, GeoDefense and Spirit soon changed my mind. It’s just a different style of gaming, and one to be embraced.

Likewise, I was dubious when the Wii, The PS Move and the Kinect for 360 tried to put action, I mean literal, physical action, in to gaming. It has always been a passive hobby. RSI was just an occupational hazard, and hardcore gamers were proud to risk it. This motion gaming tech seemed to trivialise gaming, pitched it to the wrong people. Hardcore gaming was for an elite, the part of society that didn’t want to get involved in the social mix, who were often actually outcast from the social mix anyway. To attract the average consumer to consoles seemed like heresy. It’s still seen as such by an obstinate few. I am not one. As with the iPhone, I see that motion gaming has introduced a different way to experience technology. Indeed, I would say that my Kinect isn’t really about gaming at all at the minute, but is instead a personal trainer – a gym that even I will frequent regularly. That can only be a good thing.

If I’m honest, against Microsoft, who had the might of Bungie at their beck and call, Nintendo and Sony had never even received a second glance from me. I’m afraid Nintendo are now definitely out of the competition (although I am almightily intrigued by their specless 3D), but Sony might just be worming their PS3 up alongside the Xbox 360. Nowadays I have to think practically. That means: value for money vs media solutions vs gaming enjoyment. There are several things to note here:

Online. PS3 is free for online gamers whilst Xbox live is extortionately priced and Microsoft seem to be messing with their pricing all too regularly. Online gaming is essential in this day and age where the majority of video games either provide multiplayer or use it as their primary selling point (Halo being a prime example).

Blu-ray. It is a joke that even after a redesign, and re-release, the 360 still lacks this technology that has been available on the competition since the PS3 first hit the shelves. Blu-ray HD technology could do so much for the 360 both in terms of games and films and there is no excuse for it to still lack the facility.

Bluetooth. While we’re on Blu things, yet another lacking feature for the 360 is bluetooth compatibility which has the potential to open up the console to a myriad of new devices and technology.

BBC iPlayer/ ITV Player/ 4oD/ FIVE Demand/ Love Film. Microsoft fairly recently released a statement which used words to the effect that, because iPlayer is free, and the BBC wouldn’t agree to Microsoft only providing access to it to Xbox Live GOLD subscribers, it wouldn’t be available at all. Money-grabbing scum. That alone is enough to make you look elsewhere. The 360 also doesn’t have any of the other TV catchup or rental services mentioned above, aside from Sky on Demand (which costs £10 monthly and sucks. Trust me. Been there, done that, got a big bill).
What should be clear from this post, is that whilst consoles used to be defined as “gaming solutions”, they are now so much more than that. The whole ‘Media Center’ hype that Bill Gates tried to stir up a few years ago has actually taken ahold now, and as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The pudding being that I use my Xbox 360 to watch films and workout as much I watch my blu-ray player, and I would watch it more if it’s media playback was vastly improved. Which is where my sudden interest in the PS3 derives from. The PS3 has Media capabilities that slam the 360 in to the ground. You only need to see a video of each side by side and it’s easy to see which has the slicker interface, and faster, more user friendly compatibility with other home tech devices. If only it was possible to achieve the best of both worlds. Aside from owning both it’s definitely not and won’t be for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, yes, I think I’m adding the PS3 to a very long list of desirable objects that I intend to one day afford and buy, below the iPhone 4, the iPad, some sick Sennheiser Wireless Headphones I’ve been admiring for sometime and a shit load of Blu-ray dvds. Bah, being an attentive consumer is so much effort…

More E3 Rambling

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAw9MrIW7JM[/youtube]

Why don’t game studios choose players who have some skill to showcase their incredible new games? As a friend of mine pointed out, the spokesman who presented Halo: Reach made a phenomenal game sound actually quite bland. Equally, when they played the demo of Reach, whoever was at the controls had terrible aim and terrible tactics, assault rifle from a distance?? Is there a more nub approach? If they really want to reach out to their ‘hardcore’ gaming fans, maybe they should show the games being played at their best.

Other than the incredible technology revealed by Nintendo in their spec-less 3DS and Valve’s Portal 2, I don’t think I was particularly blown away by this years E3. RAGE seems to be totally ribbing on Borderlands, AC: Brotherhood looked like more of the same – Ghost Recon: Future Soldier had some sweet gameplay, but not sure I’d pick it up, and a lot of the other much anticipated titles were less novel than I’d hoped. What we need is a developer to really blow everyone out of the water with a game that’s just totally unlike anything we’ve seen before – I blame sequels.

Too many sequels spoil the broth. Gaming Studios and Hollywood both need to learn that people love originality. The best games throughout history have been original concepts. I wish producers would just quit playing it safe, show us they’ve got some balls and take some exciting risks. I’d have a lot more respect for the industry. Anyone agree?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKPqRcAw7Hg[/youtube]