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There are three games that I credit with having evolved by concept of what an rpg should be, the first being The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind by Bethesda Softworks, the second and third however, both go to Bioware and the Dragon Age series, and for good reason.

Dragon Age I introduced us to a radical, and radically simple concept:  Your choices make a difference.  Sure, there were games before this were your choices influenced the game, but Dragon Age I was unique in that every choice would resound throughout the game.  For example, a relatively minor choice you made in the first thirty minutes, should you have decided to choose the mage background, will become important later in the game and can radically change your playthrough.  I wont give details and spoil it for anyone who as yet to play, but in essence this kind of pattern exists throughout the game, you can decide how you play all the way to the end.

While Dragon Age I was almost purely based on choice, Dragon Age II felt much more linear.  Mostly because it was, it really felt as if it was lacking what made me love Dragon Age in the first place.  However, Dragon Age II stands out for some of its own innovative additions, and it isnt as if choice is wholly absent, it is just that you will never make a decsion that will reverberate in the game quite like the choices in Dragon Age I.

On the topic of its innovations, DA2  had a much more streamlined combat system than its predeccesor, especially for those of us who love magic.  It really reduced the robotic look to using staff magic, and it was a major improvement in how the action played out.  In fact, magic was almost totally overhauled between I & II, and all for the better.  Mages now actually fought, and looked cool doing it, as opposed to sitting back and making vauge motions.

Other outstanding features included a vocal main character, as opposed to the silent one in DA1.  It might seem like a minor thing, but both the male and female voices are well done, and since you can choose Hawkes personality and responses in speech you can look forward to a game filled with dialogue to match the character you have created, and that is a real bonus.  But the real inovation is in the face, you get to model it yourself, of course, in true Dragon Age style, and you can make it into whatever you want.  But no matter what you do, it will still be exspressive.  Imagine, that peoples faces actually reflect their emotions and that the lips synch with what they are saying!  It really raised the bar when it came to character models and character speech.

Of course, the best thing about DA2 is that your choices from the first Dragon Age affect it and are present in it.  Allistair cant appear to talk to you if he dies after all, and you made that choice a while back, and now you get to live with the consequences, awesomely.

But for all of my love for DA and DA2, they both had some problems, and while great games, were just a little shy of amazing.

Dragon Age III, if the hints Bioware has handed to us mean anything, will be taking place in Orlais, but just what the plot and events will be are anyones guess.  Or rather, anyones choice.  In essence, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II have created the world and set the stage, and all your choices could be reflected in the third installment of this series.  Did you side with the elves in Dragon Age: Origins?  Did you duel the Arishok in Dragon Age II?  When you begin Dragon Age 2 you are prompted to choose a save file from Origins to use as history, only there is more data in the save file than is used for the gameplay of Dragon Age II, so it seems likely that information will be passed on to three.  Because of this, Dragon Age III is guranteed to be at least interesting.  But why stop there?

Dragon Age I and II both had problems, in opposite directions.  Origins had less-than-exemplar combat, paired with sometimes a little shody character models, and somewhat suffered for its lack of a linear feeling.  Not that I particularly like linear rpgs, but I remember that if it wasnt for my penchant of checking every door to see if I could enter I might not have discovered the way to continue one part of the main storyline, and nothing is worse than spending hours of your time trying to figure out what the game wants you to do next.

Dragon Age II suffered from other maladies.  The most noticable, and infuriating, was that they reused maps.  Every single dungeon looked precisely like every other one, the only difference being which path was blocked and the occasional mirroring of the place.  It really was painful to be disapointed repeatedly by the lack creativity in that department.  Also, as I metioned before, the game is much more linear.  Little you do has a huge affect on the storyline, just on how you do it.  Hand in hand with this is that persuasion is no longer as important, and that was almost depressing.  Looking back at Origins, my character was practically the definition of sociopath, I manipulated anyone and everyone, wheedled every last coin, bit of information, and service out of every person I came into contact with, and made them love me for it.  I took great pride in betraying people at the last momment, before taking them for everything they had.  It was fascinating, and was a truly important tool in my aresnal, not to mention a fascinating one.  Dragon Age II clipped my wings, so to speak, but there were still some fun oppurtunities so it wasnt a total loss.

So what too look for In Dragon Age III?  Synthesis.  The best of both worlds.  Bioware has a good track record of listening to what their fans are saying, so it is a good bet that words like these ones have made it to their ears. 

On the other hand, my expectaions are higher than my hopes.  I am expecting that this game lands a perfect 10 at IGN, because with two great games under their belt, and the fact that they both excelled in different areas that the other was poor at, the solotion seems obvious.  I am expecting that my choices all the way from the first Dragon Age will help form the world and the ones from the second as well, and I am expecting that this game will be finally introduce the idea that how I build my character will affect how people react.  (It really is funny to watch my character, a blood mage, berate another character for using blood magic or give lectures on how blood mages give mages a bad name after I killed my through tons of people using that same magic.)

Honestly though, I hope Bioware doesnt screw this up.  While it isnt like the gaming giant is prone to that kind of thing, in such a complex game, one that will be affected by choices you made years ago (or days if like me you will be starting both Origins and DA2 over to make the perfect background for DA3.) and just choosing what choices should be important enough to carry and how to build such a multifaceted storyline is a challenge by itself.  Games are often compared to Icarus, and for good reason.  Consider the hype that surrounds it already, can it really live up to the potential we saw in Origins and II?  Rarely have I seen a game series with as much raw potential as this one has, and I expect them to shine.  Realistically, I hope they dont mess it up, but I know it will be a great game no matter what.

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    I must admit, I went into this game with high expectations, and why shouldn’t I have?  Aside from all the hype surrounding the game, it had a star studded cast, including my all time favorite author R. A. Salvatore and the lead designer for the amazing games Morrowind and Oblivion.  It was promised to have found a way to merge action and rpg, fixing the terminal problems of both.  The lack of story, holes in the story, in action style games.  And the weakness of combat in rpg styles (particularly western style rpg’s).

   To say I was disapointed is an understatement.  The story starts interestingly enough, your character, which you construct in a funny maner in the introductory cutscense wakes up on a pile of corpses, the only success in a series of otherwise failed experiments.  The action starts soon after, as your enemies, introudced as the Tuatha, attack for unkown reasons and you are forced to defend the facility with sword and magic.

   Initially, I was impressed by the fighting system.  It lacked the choppy feal of the Elder Scrolls series. and the graphics and actions were beautifuly choreograhphed.  The shift from magic, to sword, to dagger was almost seamless, allowing me to shift my fighting style as soon as the mood hit me, and usually not requiring using the menu.  Even in the  begining, I was never forced to adopt a particular style.  All the usual rpg classes were introduced, daggers and bows for the stealth/ranger, swords and hammers for the warrior, and staves and spells for the mage, and it seemed, for the momment, that this game truly was a synthesis of choice and action.

    That illusion was quickly dispelled as the game went on.  There were almost no improvements or additons to the combat past the intial point, only a few more weapons were introduced, and I soon realized that I had almost no real choice at all.  My standard test for my abillity to choose in a game goes like this:  Can I join my enemies and reak mayhem and destruction?  If yes, than that game is generally one with lots of choices that can affect the outcome in different ways, if no, then it probabbly isnt. 

   That said, I did not enter the game banking on that abillity.  I expected something along the lines of Dragon Age, where my choices would affect actual events, even important ones.  For example, if I have two objectives that can be pursued, but I have to do one before the other, I would want there to be consequences for it.  I would want the abillity to choose to right or wrong, or some stranger gray area that perhaps previous actions unlocked.

   However, I was sorely disapointed.  I realized that almost none of your choices have any affect at all.  If I go wild and kill an entire city of people, I will get a bounty and guards will chase me.  But nothing else will be much affected, if I leave a sick village alone and dont help it, it wont die off.

   My last hope for choice was in how I customised my character.  With the abillity to invest in three branches of skills and never being forced to choose one over the other, I thought I could customize my character into the perfect mage-assassain, but more than that, that there would be choices within each tree that would dictate what kind of magic I would have, and what kind of stealth user I would be.

   Alas, but it was not the case.  You can choose to be whatever you want, but within each tree you are practically required to obtain everything in order to meet the requirements for the next level of skills and improvements.  I could not focus on daggers and sneaking in stealth, or focus on summoing and offensive spells in magic.  I was forced to get a little of everything in order to proceed.

 

   In the end, this game is not as bad as I make it out to be.  It was good, but simply not as great as it could or should have been.  In the end I felt as though I had more choice in Assassain’s Creed and Deus Ex, and better action besides. 

Graphics: 9 

Absolutely stunning too look at, without a single detail overlooked.  With the exception of people, who looked a little stupid in the faces, and after Dragon Age, there is simply no exscuse to have stunning landscapes and ugly people.

Sound: 7

It was okay, but I never really noticed it.

Gameplay: 6

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.  This game promised choice, the abillity to change the games future and how you played it at will and in many different ways.  It promised a fighting system to rival action games.  It promised a good story and an in depth and detailed society.  Thank you R. A. Salvatore for being the one to come up with the story and legends that are found in the game, at least you did your job right.

Overall: 6

When I get the feeling that Assassain’s Creed gives me more choices and action, and mind you that I am talking about Assassains Creed I, than an wrpg touted as giving the best of both, something has gone horribly wrong.  The game is good, but many games are decidedly better.  Beauty and story are not replacements for gameplay, and trust me when I say that I did not even cover the half of my problems with this game.  (Don’t even get me started on the problems with stealth.)



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