The Fan Avenger: Mark Darrah

Mark Darrah, you are a tease!!  We here at random-encounterz.com understand you can’t reveal anything, but why rub it in?  WHY!!!??

Here is his tweet post, followed by this..

Its like waving a juicy steak in front of a puppy… then laughing at the puppy T_T  SO CRUEEEL

(In all seriousness, keep up the good work man.)

Dragon Age: Inquisition payed DLC? I’m sure BioWare still loves me…

It’s not that they don’t love me, its just that they need money to keep on giving me content.  Surely they would not be taking advantage of me right?  They would not do such a thing.  Not after all the DLC flubs from Mass Effect and earlier Dragon Age games.  They would not do this to me after the abomination that was Dragon Age: II.  They still care.  I’m sure they do.  I payed the money and I got a whole new adventuring area!  Never mind the game was missing an area like this and they probably just did not have time to finish it before the release date of the game.

No… they would never do that to me.  BioWare loves their fans.  Remember?

Romance in Dragon Age: Inquisition is deserving of criticism

WARNING: SPOILERS

(Edit: Made some grammar edits… because no matter how many times I try to edit myself before I publish something, I always catch problems only after I’ve published it.)

One of the reasons I love BioWare games is that they include romance stories.  At first, in Knights of the Old Republic, it was a very lame side quest that took up little time, what you did in the game did not really effect the romance story and visa versa.  It was there to acknowledge your character and the other characters around you had sexual organs that were functioning properly.  In the Mass Effect games and the Dragon Age games, romance became more involved.  Who your character was and the choices that your character made effected who you could romance and how these romance stories played out.  The best example of this is when my human noble married Alistar and became queen of Ferelden.  While there is a lot to praise about Dragon Age: Inquisition in regards to its romance storylines, there is also a lot to be critical of.

First, I feel the need to point out WHY be critical of romance storylines in the first place.  Many people, like my father and brother, discredit romance stories because all too often they are exposed to the vast amounts of horribly written romance stories that are little better than literary porn.  Its easy to assume all romance novels are that kind of drivel.  I admit, there is a lot of drivel but its only because romance stories are probably the hardest kind of story to do WELL.  People who actually write good romance stories are few and far between.  The only author my mother and I regularly return to is Nora Roberts.  Up until a few years ago, Dad and Bear always gave my mother and I shit for religiously reading her books.  ‘Bodice Rippers’ they USED to call them.  That is, until Sir Terry Pratchett set them strait.

Sir Terry Pratchett came to Seattle, Washington several years ago on a book signing tour.  (For those of you who do not know Sir Terry Pratchett’s work… I’m sorry.  You are less of a person.)  My father went to get his copies of ‘Thud’ signed in order to give them to my Mom on Christmas.  When it was Dad’s turn to meet his idol, he asked Sir Terry Pratchett to sign the book ‘I’m better than Nora Roberts – Sir Terry Pratchett’

How did this great man reply to such a request?  ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.  I love Nora Roberts.’

Sir Terry Pratchett signed the copy of ‘Thud’ with ‘I’m as good as Nora Roberts – Sir Terry Pratchett’

My father and brother are too stubborn to admit they might have been wrong.  The prevailing culture discounting romance novels is so powerful that if they admitted they were wrong, somehow, apart of their masculinity might be lost.  My mother and I used to be teased whenever they saw us reading a Nora Roberts book.  He intended to add fuel to that fire but his plan backfired.  He gave US a weapon in this argument no one can beat.  Nobody beats Sir Terry Pratchett.

I admit, there are a lot of books Nora Roberts writes that are based on a formula.  She publishes these books on a regular basis, and while well written, once you read enough of them its hard to discern one story from the other.  While she publishes these formulaic books, she also works on the books she actually cares about.  THESE books, trilogies like the ‘Sign of Seven’ or ‘The Circle’ are fantastic works of fantasy fiction, deserving of far more praise than they receive.  If they were written by any other author, they would probably given a lot more credibility in the geek community.  Another one of my favorites is ‘Tribute.’  In this book, the primary male lead is a comic book artist and an active member in the geek community.  I find to be ‘Tribute’ particularly fascinating because Nora Roberts is not a geek, but like any passionate author she did a lot of research on the geek community.  When I was reading it, I felt like the character she created was apart of my world.   She did a fantastic job, and its very interesting to read about my community by someone who has carefully observed it, but is not actually apart of it.  It is true that these stories make romance a key part of their construction, but I don’t see this as a bad thing.  Romance stories are very entertaining when they are done well.

It is unfortunate that the worst romance storyline in Dragon Age: Inquisition was the one I played first.  Solas’s romance storyline is so poorly executed it reminds me of the ‘romance’ from the Knights of the Old Republic games.  Most games I play don’t include romance, so if the other romances were similar to Solas’s storyline then this conversation would be more along the lines of ‘what they could do better’ rather than ‘wtf were they smoking?’

Real romances in the real world have three different aspects: intimacy, commitment and physical attraction.  Usually to have a good romance story, you need at least two of these three aspects.  (Very rarely have I seen all three brought in, and its even more rare to find a romance story that brings all three aspects in and does a good job.  Props Sid and Izumi from Fullmetal Alchemist.)    Romance requires the writer to get the viewer emotionally invested in the relationship while keeping it entertaining and including at least two of the three aspects of a real life relationship.  From what I have seen thus far, Bioware did a fairly good job.  You eat cookies on the roof with Sera, you drink with Iron Bull after killing a dragon and you get Varric to write the next edition to the trashy romance novel for Cassandra.  You can play chess with Cullen and there is even a scene when you play poker with a group of your friends.  These scenes are crucial for any good story about relationships (romance or otherwise).  The player involves themselves with their lives, their trials, their failures, their worries and the shit they gotta deal with.  Your relationship changes with them based on the actions you take, which is a perfect way of adapting a romance/friendship story to a video game like this.  I particularly enjoyed Iron Bull’s story because it delves into bondage.  You begin your relationship with him by establishing a healthy master slave relationship.    You can keep this casual or you can push the issue and your relationship becomes far more serious.  Love blossoms, intimacy is semi established as you are both friends with him and intimately involved.  I would say the story is weakest in the intimacy department.  Eventually your relationship becomes very committed but in how a Qunari would define the relationship.  For a video game, its the best romance storyline I’ve experienced.

Anything you need to know about the Solas relationship story is expressed in the comic.  There is no other interaction with him aside from discussing a few stories about his journey into the fade.  That’s it.  Maybe it would have been acceptable in Knights of the Old Republic, but putting that ‘romance’ story next to other stories like Iron Bull’s?  They really thought they could get away with that and nobody would say ‘hey um… you guys realize this romance story sucks right?’

Why does it suck?  Well for starters, there is no sexual encounter.  While I could theoretically enjoy a romance story without a sexual component, it would have to be very well done in other areas in order to make up for it.  Lets face it, we are sexual creatures and sex is entertaining.  I’ve read many forums discussing Solas, and lots of people say ‘I don’t need a sexual component for Solas, just a little bit more content!’  I think this is horse shit.  I want to see Solas ass.  In order to remove the component of physical attraction from the story, you would have to include intimacy and commitment.  Commitment can’t be established because Solas must eventually leave the Inquisitor.  If there is any commitment to be had, then it has to come from the Inquisitor.  As the Inquisitor is a player character, you can’t rely on the Inquisitor to provide a key component to anything.  Choice means commitment may or may not be apart of the story.  That leaves you with Intimacy.  In order to properly establish intimacy, you need a lot of entertaining scenes where the characters are interacting, bonding and otherwise doing shit together.  Intimacy is about trust, respect and friendship; all of which Solas could never fully give to the Inquisitor without revealing his true nature.  Intimacy at its core, is the ability to talk to your partner without fear of judgement.  This requires trust, and trust can’t be formed by keeping secrets.  A form of suto intimacy can still be established but, I can’t think of an entertaining way to do it without the sexual component.  There is just too much commitment and intimacy missing to leave out sex and still have the story be entertaining.  Worthwhile? Maybe, but not entertaining.  Not compared to riding the Iron Bull.

Despite its challenges, there is a lot of potential left in the Solas romance.  There is a promise of more story involving him at the end of the Dragon Age: Inquisition primary storyline.  Bioware has also said they are going to continue to add content.

If I were them, this is how I would do it.  Solas is only interested in elven women and the only elves you can play are Dalish.  This offers a way to establish intimacy provided the Inquisitor is open and willing to learn from him.  They could spend more time in the fade together.  Solas could introduce her to his spirit friends, show her his favorite memories and become a teacher if the Inquisitor wants to learn more about her heritage.  This provides ways to bond, without revealing much about the man.  What keeps the inquisitor and Solas from having sex in the fade while dreaming?  Eventually the inquisitor could ask things like ‘why do we never have sex in real life?’ or ‘You show me so much but you never reveal anything about yourself?’  This could, and should, culminate in real life sex between the Inquisitor and Solas.  You could make it hard to achieve, only if Solas has a very high approval rating or if you said the right things in all the scenes with him up until that point.  This would offer the player a reward, offer choice (which is very important in a Bioware game) and it would give Solas a reason to say what he does in the final break up scene.  ‘I’ve been selfish’ means nothing when he and the Inquisitor have done nothing!  There was a theory that poised breaking up with the Inquisitor is also apart of his inherent nature as an Elven god, not to control the lives of mortals.  He could come to this conclusion naturally, realizing how much love the inquisitor has for him during a culminating sexual encounter in real life.  Nothing drives up entertainment in a romance storyline than drama, so lets create some real drama while we are at it.  Lets make him leave his friends in the fade too (He already did so with Cole), leaving the Inquisitor with new friends and all of them are feeling his empty presence.  Upping the stakes further, lets get the Inquisitor pregnant.  Why not?  Other Dragon Age male characters have had the opportunity to reproduce, so Bioware could kill two birds with one stone here.  Getting pregnant ups the drama (which ups the entertainment value) and it allows a female player character to reproduce for the first time in a Dragon Age game.  Enough time can pass between storylines where she can give birth, or you could have a pregnant character adventuring.  BioWare LOVES doing things that have never been done before.  This would be a perfect opportunity.

This is just my idea of how the romance storyline with Solas could go.  So many possibilities are not taken advantage of.  This romance plot line sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other romance and friendship storylines with other characters.   Not only are other storylines more involved and entertaining, they introduce concepts and ideas that are controversial.  To name a few; Iron Bull introduces bondage and the idea someone can be attracted to anyone, Dorian is gay, Sera is a lesbian and Iron Bull’s second in command is a transgender male (born a female, but really a male).  You can’t introduce controversial and diverse stories with other characters and leave it out of another storyline in the same game.

I love the fact that they are adding romance storylines into video games.  After I play through these other romance storylines, I intend to criticize each storyline as compared to other good romance.  I hope that one day, Romance stories will be seen as important and entertaining aspects worthy of attention, praise and criticism.

Fixing up the Castle

The Empress sent us her best masons and a ton of supplies.  I have no idea what happened to them.  They clearly did not go to fixing my castle, or any of the fortresses that I ‘liberated.’

The hallway leading to the council chamber is a disaster that has not been addressed since I arrived.  If you look closely, you’ll see a beautiful rug beneath the broken masonry.  When I arrived, there was no rug.  Someone had to roll out that beautiful rug, then place the broken masonry on top of it.

The rotten fragmented remains of a cart remains in the courtyard.  No one has bothered to clean up the muddy puddles either.  The stable master swears up and down his facilities are world class, but I’m unsure what he’s talking about.  His stable is a disaster.  The wood is clearly raw and splintering and the barns roof needs to be completely replaced in order to protect the mounts from the next drizzle.

I’m questioning Cullen’s sanity.  He moved his office and bedroom into one of the towers.  The rotten wood and debris that was there when we arrived has yet to be cleaned out and the roof has yet to be fixed.  I wonder if my castles current state of disrepair has something to do with the fact that Cullen can’t protect his paperwork from the elements.

Someone please help me.  The Empress came to visit our camp in the forest.  She was wearing the same dress she wore to the ball.  These people be crazy.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Adding game features and content in patches!? WTF

WARNING: SOME SPOILERS (But hopefully nothing that will ruin the good moments 🙂 )

I would like to begin by saying I love Dragon Age: Inquisition.  The only Bioware game I did not fully explore was Dragon Age II (but really, what was there to explore?).  To say I’m an addict would be entirely accurate.  It is because I am a BioWare addict that I feel more than a bit betrayed by recent information that has come to my attention.

There are many reasons to love Dragon Age: Inquisition.  The story is great, the game mechanics are solid and the diversity of its characters is superb.  They have a good equipment/crafting system, multiple difficulty levels and engaging interactions.  This is the first video game RPG I have played where I have asked myself ‘what would my character do?’ rather than ‘what answer do I need to give to get the outcome I want?’  Like any good RPG, this game includes a ton of side quests and collecting quests and places to explore.  To fully complete the game would take hours of dedicated hardcore gaming…

Its a good thing I’m a dedicated hardcore gamer.

I always begin a game like this blind.  I never read up on the upcoming content, I never watch the trailers and I never go to the website.  This means I experience the story as it was intended to be experienced.  I made sure to update my universe in Dragon Age Keep and I began the game with my usual choice: female elven mage.  At the beginning, I felt like I was sliding into a hot bath after walking for hours in the snow.  Dragon Age: Inquisition was everything I had been wishing for.  (Aside from the crappy PC controls)

I chose my romantic partner based on who my character would be interested in.  In this case, my intended romantic partner was Solas.  I fully completed the first three explorable locations before closing the rift in the sky.  I made sure to upgrade the castle and fully explore some of the newer landscapes (and completing all character quests) before finishing the Grey Wardens Storyline.  An equal amount of game play happened before I decided to get around to saving the Empress.  Throughout this lovely exploration, I figured out all of the details about equipping items, the crafting system, the combat system and how each characters abilities effected the other so I could maximize my effectiveness.  At this point, I was 150+ hours into the game.

Alarm bells began to ring fairly early on.  Nothing was obviously buggy, but I have played every other BioWare game.  Its almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Dragon Age: Inquisition and previously released BioWare titles.  I found myself comparing Dragon Age: Inquisition to the Mass Effect trilogy more than I was comparing it to the previous Dragon Age games.

Here is what I noticed:

> The controls and game mechanics are very similar to Mass Effect 2 and 3.  This is most obvious when playing the Multiplayer part of Dragon Age: Inquisition. (no, seriously.  It really is Mass Effect 3 multiplayer with new skins.  If they tell you any different they LIE.)

> The loot and item system is very similar to Mass Effect

> The crafting system is similar to any MMO, but the customization for armor and weapons is right out of the Mass Effect trilogy.

> The mechanics for the castle is almost exactly like upgrading the Normandy in Mass Effect 2 and 3

>The Romance aspect of the game is far more like the Mass Effect games than the previous Dragon Age games.

> They re-use sound effects from the Mass Effect games.  Terror demons use the same sound as the Banshee from Mass Effect 3.  The sound effect for finding a hidden object in Dragon Age: Inquisition is the same sound effect for completing a minor quest/finding a quest item in Mass Effect.

I think that a company that builds off of its previous successes is a good company.  Unfortunately, Dragon Age: Inquisition fails to live up to its predecessors when it comes to implementing these game mechanics.  It did such a bad job in some cases, that I was positive my game was bugged.

The character of Solas was the starting point of my tragic journey.  Every other primary character in BioWare has a ton of dialogue and side quests.  This lack of content when it came to my romance with Solas made me do something I had never done before: I checked the forums.  Would you know it? I was not the only person to notice this problem.  I discovered Solas has notably less content and the content he does have is so buggy that most people can’t access it.  (In case you were wondering, I’m one of those people.)

The possible suggestions for how to avoid these bugs required me to restart my game.  I deleted my previous game without finishing it and I began again.  THIS IS HOW IMPORTANT it is for me to go through my first play through without a hitch!  I willingly lost 150+ hours of gameplay!  I would not do this for any game.  I would only do this for a game where everything that your character does determines everything your character can do.

After speeding through the beginning of the game while avoiding completing some quests and lower level areas just to avoid certain bugs, I find I’m stuck with the same bugs I was experiencing during my first play through.  I’m frazzled and all of my effort needs to be redone…  (All the shards need to be re collected…)

After delving into the forums SOME MORE, and reading MORE spoilers, I find a little article on Game Informer’s website.

I felt like I was one of those characters who looses their glasses.  After spending time searching for their glasses, the character manages to get them back on their face with enough time to see some horrific danger coming at them but without enough time to do anything about it.

In some ways I felt vindicated.  Things were missing!  Before the release of the game, BioWare pulled out content because it was not completed.  They did not appear to have time to figure out what pulling this content would do to the rest of the game.  This is a game where every choice you makes effects everything else.  The code must be like a spiders web.  I would venture a guess that pulling some content and game mechanics out is the cause for many of the character and quest bugs reported by most players.

It is only because I am a lifelong fan that I feel comfortable venturing a guess as to WHAT is missing:

> Solas is missing entire scenes and sequences because he is too buggy or content for him has not been released.  I would be shocked if he is not the focus of a major patch.  As it stands now he’s a piss poor excuse for a BioWare primary character.  T3-M4 had more content than Solas does!

> The castle upgrades and customization options should get a serious upgrade.  Everyone who has finished the game reported the upgrades to your castle do not effect the outcome at all.  In Mass Effect, if you did not upgrade your ship people died and your ship was ripped apart.  Upgrades were also minor mini quests with your crew.  Garrus would upgrade your weapons systems, for example.  This allowed for more character interaction.  I would be very surprised if the Castle upgrades, resource management system and management of the fortresses you capture don’t receive upgrades of their own.  This was another part of the game where I felt things were missing.  They could have improved upon the Normandy upgrade system, made the main characters more involved in the fixing/upgrading of the castle.  As it stands, I prefer the Normandy.

> I would not be surprised if the crafting system expands more weapons, armor and customization options.  In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the material your upgrades are made out of effects the appearance and functionality of the item.  This is very similar to Mass Effect, except the materials your armor was made out of only effected the texture of your armor, not the color.  You could make your armor any color you wanted.  I felt this was brilliant, and its really disappointing to see Dragon Age: Inquisition did not improve or even include this brilliance.  They could have included dyes (they have a potion and elixir game mechanic set up already) or SOMETHING so your armor could be as customizable as Mass Effects.  It also would not have been hard to include Mass Effects ability to choose what clothing your character wears when they are on their downtime.  When you were Shepard in the Normandy, you could choose from several outfits that your Shepard could wear when they were not in their armor.  In Dragon Age: Inquisition you have two situations where you could include this ability: The outfit you wear around the castle and the formal outfit you wear to the Orlais Royal Court.  They could have improved upon what Mass Effect began by allowing you to create and customize these outfits.  There are many examples of different kinds of clothing worn by NPCS.  The clothing already exists in the game!  They could have at least included the ability to change your haircut and your makeup.  Its sad when Commander Shepard has a better fashion sense than my Inquisitor (who has diplomatic and social duties to attend to).

> In Mass Effect 3 the multiplayer and single player were linked.  In single player, Commander Shepard would go to the places you go to to in multiplayer.  The idea was, Shepard would unlock these areas and the people you played in multiplayer would be holding these areas.  It helped to see galactic readiness rise as you played the multiplayer, which would effect the single player game.  This story link is much less apparent in Dragon Age: inquisition.  You could at least see the multiplayer characters walking around the castle.  So sad to see these story opportunities missing.  They could have really improved upon what Mass Effect 3 began.

Now I have a choice to make: Continue playing and accept what happens, or wait and see if they fix what I’m hoping they will fix.  I remember a time when games were released they were finished.  I think everyone needs to look at Blizzard and Valve’s giant piles of money and realize release dates are not as important as customer satisfaction.