Dragon Age 2 is a Better Game than Dragon Age: Origins

After playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, I had the urge to replay through the Dragon Age series. I started with Dragon Age: Origins and I have to admit, it was a little rough going. I think part of the problem was my choice of class. 2H warrior combat consists of pressing an ability button about 3x per minute, it’s really dull. Then I started Dragon Age 2 and I have to say, it’s a much better game.

Oddly, many people don’t agree with this. From a critical perspective (at least a metacritic perspective), DA:O has an average review score that’s a bit higher (8-9% depending on platform) than DA2. As far as user reviews go though, DA2 received a deluge of really bad review scores and has an average score of 44% compared to DA:O’s 86%. Because gamers are spiteful creatures, a little like Hurlocks.

That’s not to say DA:O is bad. It’s a good game and I like it but DA2 does almost everything better. Like…

Dialogue is better

  • Going back to DAO’s voiceless protagonist is very strange. The Warden doesn’t feel like an actual character, she’s an empty vessel. This is a huge downside to DAO.
  • The dialogue wheel is much more interesting and effective than static response options.
  • In DAO the mean/negative/renegade? conversation options just make your character sound like an asshole, while in DA2 the conversation options are more snarky or direct. Playing through the Dwarf Noble origin story, most of the “bad” dialogue options basically amounted to “Get away from me you lowly peasant.”
  • In DAO, despite women being present in all the major battles, and in positions of power and leadership throughout Thedas, female Wardens are still subjected to “What? You’re a woman? How shocking!” reactions all the time.

Relationships with your party members are better

  • No trading random gifts for sex or acceptance.
  • Each of your party members has their own life, it’s not 100% about the player character. You can visit them in their homes, they can visit you at yours. They can have relationships with other party members or NPCs which can grow over time.
  • Other characters can disagree with you, but still stick around.
  • In DAO it’s really easy to miss or even kill possible party members. If you didn’t know Zevran was supposed to be a party member, all you need to do is make one choice and you kill him and miss a lot. Likewise with Wynne – agree with Cullen in the Tower? She attacks you, you kill her, no healer for you this playthrough.

Combat is 700x better (I did the math)

  • From an animation standpoint, everything is faster and slicker.
  • You can move around the battlefield much quicker, rather than feeling like you’re wading through quicksand.
  • Talent trees are bigger, more interesting, and allow you to customize your character much more.
  • By the end of DAO you pretty much have every talent you can use so your choices meant very little.
  • Your companions get enough tactic slots for all of their abilities.
  • You can take your dog into fights with you without having them take a spot in your party.
  • When you tell a character to take a potion, they take the damn potion.

Story is better

  • I enjoyed the story from DAO, especially the first time around, but it’s a fairly generic fantasy.
  • DA2 has a lot more depth. There are more politics, there’s more nuance. Elements from other parts of Thedas get incorporated into quests or character back-stories rather than just referred to in one of the 7 billion codex entries.
  • Since the story takes place over a number of years, you can see how Hawke is making a difference in Kirkwall and in the lives of its people. The scope of the location is small, but the scope of the story and timeline is much bigger.

UI, inventory and controls are better

  • Having your party members have a single set of armor that can be upgraded, makes inventory management much less tedious. You can still customize their weapons and accessories but don’t need to worry about armor, boots, helms, and gloves. It’s also easier to tell when something is an upgrade.
  • Besides gear, there’s less junk to manage. At once point in DAO I had 20 gift items taking up space in my inventory, there’s none of that anymore. Also, quest items you pick up can’t be accidentally junked or sold.
  • Runes are much simpler to manage. Their effectiveness depends on the level of gear you’re adding them to so you don’t have to worry about different rune levels like journeyman, master, etc.
  • It’s much easier to tell your other party members to stay put, or move as a group. They get in your way a lot less often.
  • There’s more useful stuff to find, like items that start side-quests, recipes, or armor upgrades. This makes looting everything much more useful – you have a chance to pick up something other than yet another damn Darkspawn Dagger.

So that’s that. I know the big complaint is that DA2 recycled dungeon areas which, I’ll admit, isn’t good but in the grand scheme of things is rather minor.

Never Enough

This is an odd, rather uncomfortable post to be writing.

It’s caused by Patricia Arquette’s comments during her Oscar acceptance speech last night, where she called for wage equality and equal rights for women in America. I thought it was nice that she advocated for this during her time on stage. However, after reading through my Twitter feed for an hour, the point was driven home that her speech was trite, noninclusive, and shitty for not bringing up the fact that women of colour have it even worse than white women when it comes to wage gaps (and pretty much everything else). Also, I’m shitty for liking that she said something at all.

This also happened after Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. While I did find her talk lacking in an actual call to action, I thought it was a rousing speech that invited people to feminism in a friendly 101-level way. Then the Internet told me all the problems with what she said. It focused too much on men. It didn’t take into account the more serious issues faced by women around the world. It came from a rich white girl.

I’m trying to educate myself more about social issues, but the community is not always a friendly one.

If you’re not in the most oppressed group, you should not complain. Don’t bring up some transgression that’s occurred because of your sex or race or economic status, unless you also bring up the transgressions against the people who have it even worse than you. Maybe I’m misunderstanding tone, but I often feel like the message being sent is “if you can’t advocate for everyone at once, you’re terrible and you should shut up.”

I often feel for others who try to get into social issues, or feminism specifically. I’ve seen a lot of backlash against “daddy feminists,” men who have daughters and realize that women should be treated equally and with respect because that’s what they want for their kid. No, it shouldn’t take having a daughter for men to realize that women are people, but I also wouldn’t tell a man he’s terrible because having a daughter is what made him care about women’s issues. There’s this weird, almost gatekeep-y vibe that if you don’t care about everything, if you don’t have the right reasons for starting to care, if you can’t eloquently show support for every issue at all times, you should just stay quiet.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people care the most about issues which affect them personally. Does this make them terrible? No, I think it just makes them human. There are people out there who have the energy and fortitude to care equally about everything at once but it’s not easy. I try to be aware of social issues but I only have my own experiences to go on so issues that affect me personally are the ones that are at the forefront in my mind.

Intersectionality is the goal, the thing that we should be striving for, but it’s not something everyone can just magically understand and perfectly represent overnight. It’s difficult to continue to try when you’re constantly given the message that you’re not doing enough.

The 10 Best Games Ever (according to me)

Today I stumbled across a post on I Hate Loading Screens about her top 10 games, and thought it was a great idea for a blog post.

So here is my list of the 10 best games I’ve ever played.

Planescape Torment

1. Planescape Torment – I talk about this game a lot. And there’s a reason for that – it’s fucking amazing. I’ve always been a fan of isometric RPGs and Torment is the best of the bunch by far. The story is great. The characters have backstories and personalities and feel as real as video game characters can get. The game is full of lore, every object you pick up can have it’s own story that sends your imagination on a joy ride. It’s text heavy and the text is beautifully written. Gameplay is also strong, and allows you to master different classes and switch between them. It also allows you to choose how to approach situations, with brains, brawn, or subterfuge.

If, by some chance, you like RPGs and have not played this, I can probably hook you up with a GoG code. Comment/message me if you want one.

Pandora Directive box art

2. Pandora Directive – Of all the adventure games I’ve played over the years, this one is the one I’d call the best.  Pandora Directive puts Sam Spade-inspired PI Tex Murphy on a missing person’s case that soon unearths a vast conspiracy. The gameplay combines point and click mechanics with first-person exploration to great effect. During the course of the investigation Tex solves puzzles, makes contacts, and shares wisecracks about everything. Pandora Directive has sharp, funny writing and allows the player to shape Tex’s character through branching dialogue trees (way before Bioware made this popular), which can lead to a number of different endings. All the Tex Murphy games are great, but this one is the best. The combination of noir setting with humour really works for me.

Beyond Good and Evil

3. Beyond Good and Evil – Besides having one of my favourite protagonists of all time, Beyond Good and Evil has an interesting story and really solid, fun gameplay. As Jade, you need to take on the DomZ, aliens who are enslaving humans. The game world of Hillys features a really cool combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements and features stylish visuals and a really cool soundtrack. Gameplay is diverse, featuring action, combat, stealth, platforming, puzzle solving, and hovercraft racing. All of these elements are done really well. It also features a photography mechanic which is used both to gather evidence about the conspiracy going on and to catalogue all the species of Hillys. I’m a sucker for photography in games when it’s well done.

Shadow of the Colossus

4. Shadow of the Colossus – There’s a certain beauty to exploring a vast and empty land and having a story that isn’t really spelled out for you. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most moving gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s technically an action game, but the action is confined to one very specific thing – battling colossi. Each battle is a puzzle, where you need to find the beast’s weakness in order to defeat it. As the game progresses these fights become no less exhilarating, but take on an aspect of sadness and you start to wonder why you’re killing these magnificent creatures.

XCOM Enemy Within

5. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within – Set during a global alien invasion, XCOM puts you in the commander’s chair of an elite organization that represents humanity’s last hope against the invaders. It expertly combines tactical turn-based combat with resource management and strategy. Managing your base is a balancing act of researching alien tech so you can adapt it for your own use, building items and facilities which aid in combat, and reducing worldwide panic by deploying satellite coverage and shooting down enemy UFOs. Everything about this game is compelling, and while I generally play through games like this once then declare “I won,” XCOM is a game that I’ve played through multiple times. Just turning on Ironman mode makes this an entirely new experience.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant box art

6. Shadow Hearts: Covenant – The PS2 was an amazing console for JRPGs and of all of them, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the one that won my heart. Set during WW1, Covenant takes an unlikely group of protagonists across the globe in order to stop a group of sorcerers intent on world domination. Admittedly, it’s not the most unique story, but it’s the game’s execution that makes it special. Shadow Hearts introduces some really likable characters and puts them in some seriously goofy situations. It’s the humour that really sets this JRPG apart, and there’s a lot of it. It also gives some unique character abilities, from having a character who uses tarot cards and aromatherapy in combat, to a puppetmaster whose doll gains abilities from new outfits, to a vampire who changes forms from golden bat to muscle-bound pro wrestler. From a gameplay perspective, one of the best things about the game is the Judgement Ring, which turns turn-based combat into something much more active and interesting.

Star_Ocean_Second_Story

7. Star Ocean: Second Story - Another amazing  JRPG. Like many JRPGs, the story is a bit of a save the world cliche (though it does add a lot of sci-fi elements to the usual fantasy tropes), but it’s the details that make this game great. First, you get to pick your main character. You can be the attractive, broody, sword-wielding young man with spike hair OR you can play as the naive young woman with magical abilities. Okay, I’m doing a bad job selling this. Your choice of character makes subtle changes to the story, including which other characters you can recruit, and changes some of the story that you get to see, so that’s cool. Second, crafting. You can write, you can blacksmith, you can cook, or compose music or create art. It’s a really robust crafting system that lets you create a ton of usable and special items. If you get good enough at cooking you can even compete in an Iron Chef-like tournament, which is amazing. I’m not generally a fan of crafting in games, but in Star Ocean it is so much fun. Third, the combat is really interesting. Rather than turn-based, combat is more active with you controlling movement and actions on the battlefield. Also, 4 characters participate in each battle, and 4 is better than 3. There’s also an emphasis on building relationships with the other characters in your party and Private Actions let you talk to each character individually.

Mass Effect - Commander Shepard

8. Mass Effect – I refuse to pick one game, Mass Effect is best looked at as a series. Why is Mass Effect awesome? Well, primarily because of Commander Shepard and Jennifer Hale. Shepard is an amazingly kick-ass space action hero and Mass Effect is one of the few games where I enjoy both the Paragon and Renegade character development track. In a lot of games the renegade/dark/evil options just make your character into an asshole, but Mass Effect gives options that are pragmatic and direct rather than just being jerky. Character development is great, relationships in the game get into your head and never let go, choices are hard. Mass Effect features some really memorable characters and the trilogy as a whole is an experience that covers not only the thrills and dangers of saving the entire galaxy but also has a ton of smaller, quieter moments that make the games special. Also, it’s a very solid 3rd person shooter.

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

9. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – Set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, VtMB and is an atmospheric and immersive RPG. As a freshly sired vampire you need to navigate through an eternally dark Los Angeles, making friends and enemies, feeding on mortals, fighting foes, and surviving vampire politics. The game is not without flaws, there are some pretty nasty bugs, but the story and interactions in the game more than make up for them. The lore of the game is deep, each vampire clan has its own strengths and motivations. You can choose whether to abide by the rules of the Masquerade and what clans to align yourself with. The writing and voice acting in the game is top notch, and there are some truly creepy moments.

Final Fantasy x-2

10. Final Fantasy x-2 – Final Fantasy X was a great game, and X-2 leveraged the great world and characters it had set up and added some amazingly fun new gameplay. Yuna becomes the heroine and teams up with Rikku and new character Paine to spread girl power throughout the land (and save the world, obviously). Though there are some cringey bits (I find serious musical numbers in games to be immensely uncomfortable), the sheer amount of fun this game offers more than makes up for it. Combat has evolved past that of FFX. It’s faster, it’s slicker. Characters can use numerous different dresspheres which offer completely different sets of abilities and a snazzy new outfits. The mini-games like Sphere Break and Gunner’s Gauntlet are amusing diversions and the quest-focused story works really well.

Well, that’s my 10 (right now). I seem to have a thing for RPGs. And here’s a video where I share some more thoughts on what makes a game good enough to be called favourite.

What are your top 10 games?

The Fall (Review)

As The Fall begins, we see an astronaut free falling through space, crash-landing on a seemingly abandoned planet. The astronaut is rendered unconscious, so the combat suit’s artificial intelligence, ARID, takes over. ARID’s prime operating parameter is that she must protect her active pilot, so she sets out on a strange and dangerous journey to find medical attention.

The Fall - mission parameters not found

The Fall is the first effort by Over The Moon Games, and what a game it is. It deftly combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create one of the best games I’ve played lately. Gameplay combines point-and-click adventure puzzles with side-scrolling shooting action. The combination felt a little odd at first but once I got the hang of it, it worked really well. The amount of combat isn’t excessive, but it helps keep the pace of the game on track, breaking up exploration and inventory puzzles with cover and timing-based action.

The controls are a bit unintuitive at first, but didn’t take too long to get used to. Items are examined by pointing the flashlight on your gun at them using the mouse, while actions are taken using the keyboard. The puzzles can be challenging, though the solutions make sense. If you find yourself stuck, you’ve likely missed an object – exploration is important.

The Fall shooting at a robot

Story is where The Fall really shines. Damage has rendered a number of ARID’s functions inoperable and a big part of the game involves regaining access to those abilities. However, getting past obstacles often requires going against her other operating parameters. This raises a number of questions about artificial intelligence. Is this AI just a computational series of rules and protocols or can a machine display general intelligence? Can it have free will? What happens when a machine acts contrary to its programming?

One of the most clever parts of the game had ARID undergoing tests in order to prove her worth as a domestic robot so she could continue on her journey. These tests involved seemingly simple things – setting the table, calming a crying baby – but all involved some very creative problem solving as ARID is not programmed to be a domestic robot. The way the “humans” in the test treat her also raises concerns about roboethics.

The Fall operating parameters

The dialogue in The Fall is well-written and fully voice-acted. There aren’t too many characters in the game but each is voiced perfectly, especially The administrator, and AI who alternates between robotic precision and human inflection. The sound is also well done, and adds to the general atmosphere.

The Fall is similar to The Swapper in a number of ways – it has a similar aesthetic and setting. Since The Swapper is a game I rated 10/10, this is not a bad thing. The story and gameplay are different enough that The Fall does not seem derivative.

It took me about 3 hours to finish the game, which is the first of three planned episodes. It’s available on PC and Wii U, and is well worth the $10 the price tag. I’m really looking forward to episode 2, which will hopefully be out later in 2015.

Verdict – Highly recommended. The Fall combines great dialogue, eerie atmosphere, and intelligent story-telling to create a unique and thought-provoking game experience. Though the controls are not the most intuitive, once you’ve gotten used to them the gameplay provides very satisfying puzzle solving and combat.

Kinzie Kensington and the Insufferable Genius

This post is actually the basis of my latest video, but if you’re someone who would rather read than watch, here you go!


Sherlock Holmes, Cloud Strife, Tony Stark, Dr. Manhattan, Rust Cohle, Gregory House, Franics York Morgan, The Doctor, Will Graham, Geralt of Rivia.

Robert Downey Jr.  as Tony Stark (Ironman)

All very popular fictional characters. All prodigies in their own right. And all, to put it bluntly, assholes.

The trope of the insufferable genius is a fairly common one in fiction. These characters don’t conform to social conventions, they’re misanthropic, and are often outright insulting to the people around them. They’re also all gifted in some manner. Whether it’s brilliant powers of deduction, supernatural ability, or amazing physical prowess, something makes these characters special and better than others. This lets them get away with being arrogant jerks. They don’t get kicked to the curb by their fictional counterparts, and the audience tends to outright adore them.

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, they’re all men. (Also, white and straight but that’s a whole other discussion).

Insufferable genius is not a role that women get to play very often. While being antisocial and unconforming is often seen as charmingly roguish for men, it’s not something women can get away with so easily. Female characters can be brilliant or powerful but can’t be too arrogant about it or be too unfriendly lest they get labelled an unlikable bitch.

Gillian Anderson in The Fall

Gillian Anderson’s character in The Fall is a female character who comes close to fulfilling this trope. She’s a brilliant detective who’s not afraid to break a few rules or call out others on their bullshit. While she’s still generally respected, she does get more flack for it than a male would, as she’s always quick to point out. Kara Thrace is another character who could fall into the Insufferable Genius category. She’s a brilliant pilot who doesn’t like to play by the rules and doesn’t care what people think of her. However, to be fair Starbuck was originally written as a man. These aren’t the characters I want to talk about right now.

Kinzie Kensington from Saints Row 4

The character I do want to talk about is from a video game series. Saint’s Row. It might be hard to imagine a great, stereotype-breaking female character coming from a game series that started as a Grand Theft Auto knockoff, but hear me out. It’s true that Saint’s Row scores a solid “needs improvement” when it comes to background female characters, but with major female characters, they do a surprisingly good job. First, the game features enough female characters that giving them some negative traits doesn’t have the side effect of painting all females with the same brush. One of these characters is the brilliant hacker, Kinzie Kensington.

Kinzie’s a hacking genius who knows more than most people and isn’t afraid to say so. She’s a self-confessed misanthrope who doesn’t go out of her way to endear herself to people. She doesn’t care that people don’t understand her technical jargon, just that the job gets done.

Now, Kinzie isn’t the main protagonist, you could argue that she was in Gat out of Hell, but honestly that was a bit phoned in. However, she does play a major part in both Saints Row 3 and 4. In Saints Row 4 she’s the voice you’re always hearing, leading you through the story, telling you what to do every step of the way because the protagonist doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

I really like Kinzie because she’s smart and she doesn’t care what other people think. She just wants to do what she needs to do, she’s not particularly concerned with being nice. She does fit the Insufferable Genius role, which really, women don’t get to play too often. So I just wanted to give a little bit of love to Kinzie Kensington, along with Volition for developing her.

If you’ve got any feedback, or suggestions for future videos, I’d love to hear them.

Fun or Addicting?

I’ve never been big on mobile gaming. When it comes to games, I always prefer to play on a big screen over a small one. This is also why I don’t enjoy handhelds. Even in situations where big screens are not available – say, while commuting to work – I prefer to read a book, listen to a podcast, or just look out the window and give my eyes a break from screens altogether. This isn’t to say that I never play mobile games. There are a few that got me quite hooked for a while. The problem is, they hooked me for the wrong reasons.

The first was Spirit Stones, a dungeon-crawly puzzler with colour-matching gameplay similar to Candy Crush and an added card evolution mechanic. The gameplay wasn’t particularly interesting, and any challenge seemed to be there to make you buy gems, but I really wanted to evolve all the cards to collect them all. I even spent a few bucks to buy gold so I could evolve more cards. It took me a while, a couple of months maybe, before I realized – Spirit Stones is not a fun game. It is an addicting game. All the dungeon levels are basically the same. 99% of the card evolutions give you trash that isn’t an upgrade over what you’re already using. It has the time (or money) based component that limits your play which is common among Free To Play games. Looking back, I’m a bit embarrassed of all the time I spent playing this game on my phone while watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix. A terrible game and a repugnant tv show, there must have been some self-loathing going on there. Eventually I stopped, deleted it from my phone, and never played again. Nothing about the game was fun, it just had constantly moving goalposts that kept me playing.

Spirit Stones

Yeah, don’t even get me started on the artwork.

Next came Cook, Serve, Delicious, a restaurant sim. While I’d rate this game 100x higher than Spirit Stones and it lacked insidious micro-transactions, it was still more addicting than fun. In game I’d do day after day of food service, trying to get my restaurant up to 5 stars (by now I had moved on to Gilmore Girls for my fix of TV I didn’t really need to pay attention to). The time management component of the game was challenging, and at first I actually was having fun. But once I was familiar with everything, I had my staple foods I’d rotate on the menu every day that I could prepare the fastest, and it became rather mechanical. What was interesting on day 6 was really just a chore on day 62 but I wanted that 5-star ranking. Eventually I got it, only to find out the game wasn’t done with me. More challenges lay in wait! By this time I had figured that the game was more addicting than fun though, so I took my 5 stars as an indication that I had beaten the game, deleted from my phone, and never played again.

The last game that got me in its clutches was Trivia Crack, and I think that name speaks for itself. While I’m actually a big fan of trivia, playing against strangers on my phone isn’t really comparable to trivia nights at a bar, or Trivial Pursuit in my living room with friends. Again, it was fun at first, but 2 weeks later when I had 10 different games on the go (or how ever many the time/money limit would allow me to have) and was checking to see if it was my turn every 10 minutes, I realized the compulsion to constantly check the game status was much stronger than the reward of getting to answer one or two questions (and then waiting for my turn again). So it too got deleted.

Now, I’m not saying that all mobile games are like this, or that only mobile games fall can into the addicting not fun category. I do think mobile caters to this type of game more than other platforms, but they can be found anywhere. In my 8 years of playing World of Warcraft I know at least a quarter of my time (more than that in the lulls before expansions) was spent doing things I found the opposite of fun just to get some dumb achievement. My blood still boils when I think about the 6 hours I spent collecting Noblegarden eggs to get some stupid fucking mount or something I probably never looked at again once I got it. This wasn’t fun at all, I was just addicted to collecting.

There are too many good games out there to spend time on ones that hook you with collecting or variable-interval incremental reinforcement rather than fun gameplay or story. I’m trying to make an effort to spend time on games I actually find fun, or meaningful, or thought-provoking because with such a huge selection of games available, why waste time on the junk?

Branching Out

I’ve been pretty happy with my transition from WoW blogger to gaming blogger last year. It’s given me a lot more to talk about and time to play a lot more different games. However, over the past couple months, I’ve been wanting to branch out some more from just blogging. I’ve dabbled in streaming and Let’s Play-like videos, but discovered I’m really not exuberant enough to pull those off. Honestly, the videos I made were pretty boring. I don’t have the type of personality where I can just talk to fill space while I play a game. I have lots of opinions, but I need focus and topics to sink my teeth into, rather than just directionless musings to people who may or may not be watching me play.

So I have some news.

My first piece of exciting news is that I will be joining the Contains Moderate Peril podcast. The show had a brief hiatus in the last couple months, but hosts Roger, Brian, and Sean decided they wanted to start it back up as a monthly podcast as well as add some new perspectives to the mix. So, they invited Jaedia and myself to join as co-hosts. We record our first episode later this week. I hope you’ll give it a listen when it’s released.

Second, I’ve decided to give videos another go, but in a much different format. I put up my first one last week, on the Shadowrun games and how I think they do characters well from a feminist perspective. I plan to continue this “doing it right” series on other positive games I’d like to highlight, as well as some spotlights, best ofs, and maybe a rant or two. If you have any suggestions for videos, I’d love to hear them. Here’s my first video if you want to check it out.