Not a decision to take lightly, it seems

Does whatever a Fire Pig can

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 03:29 AM | by

In light of my adventure into Pokemon, I've been receiving some very helpful emails from readers (thanks everyone!) with a "noob's guide" to some of the more basic gameplay elements I will (apparently) need to be aware of. I admit, I'm intrigued by the idea that there is a somewhat deep and complex strategy element beneath the surface in this game.

These emails also talk about "HM's" and "TM's", "EV's" and "IV's" and elemental monkeys (what?) and a bunch of other stuff that's still a foreign concept to me at the moment. I'm in that phase where I've wandered into an existing franchise, and everyone knows the secret language but me.

I'm taking it slow. Right now I'm simply trying to focus on choosing my starter Pokeman, a decision which I've been told can effect my entire game plan and how I build and train my team.

I've also been told "just choose the one looks the coolest." Now that's a strategy I can wrap my head around.

Between you and me, right now Fire Pig has my vote. The green lizard looks at you in a way that suggests you have no right telling him what to do, and I wouldn't argue. He's going to do what the fuck he wants, when the fuck he wants. Pig seems more laid back. And if he gets wrecked, hey, bacon.

I had to nix the Water... thing from the running based on looks. Normally I love the water element... when I was a kid and collected Battle Beasts, the water guys were always my favorite. But I'm pretty sure if I'd gotten a Battle Beast that looked like the Water Starter, I'd have cooked it under a magnifying glass.

Later on this week I hope to have some time to really get into it, and see what happens. You know, later this week when I need a break from Dragon Age 2.

I ended up buying DA2 for my Xbox. I know it would look better on my PC, but whatever. I'm comfortable. I've quickly adapted to the console's control wheel, and it's pretty smooth sailing now.

I'm playing the game on Nightmare, the hardest difficulty available, and lemme tell you, it's no joke. A few minutes into the game, right after the Dwarf starts telling the tale "for reals", I ran into the first group of Darkspawn all "lolhacknslash" and promptly had my party shredded before my eyes. Some of the tougher fights in the game so far have taken me upwards of 5-6 attempts and a ton of micromanaging to scrape past. If you're at all worried about the game not requiring enough pause-screen strategy, or you're just looking for a challenge... Nightmare mode has it for you.

Overall I'm very pleased with the game.The graphics and combat are great, the story is fun, I love that my guy has a voice this time... however there are certain long-time Bioware issues that pop up, as they have in past games.

First of all, things are very linear. Most of the outdoor areas are pretty straight paths, with corridors conveniently formed out of rocks and cliffs. Certain passageways that perhaps you can't access until later are lazily blocked off with an unexplained cart, that my adventurers are clearly too stupid to climb over. At one point I came across a magical barrier door on top of a mountain, which required blood magic to dispel. Nevermind that any normal person could have walked up the rocks on either side... oh no, that's "impassable terrain". It's not a huge deal, but mostly only because we're so used to this sort of level design in games. I tend to prefer my RPGs on the more open, "don't tell me where I can and can't go" side of things.

You also spend a fair amount of effort trying to get into the main city of Kirkwall, being turned away because the "city is full". And of course, once you get inside, the place is fucking deserted. There are very few people walking around, and those that are wander aimlessly on short, looping paths. Nothing about it feels organic of fluid... it feels like a video game set piece, and that's a bit of a disappointment. We know that games are capable of running large numbers of NPCs on screen at a time... just look at any Assassin's Creed game for a great example of a city that feels active. It'd be nice to see that represented in an RPG action game like this as well. They go to such length to immerse you in this world they've made, but then lose you to minor atmospheric issues.

With all that said, for what it is, Dragon Age 2 is great so far. I wouldn't say it's an RPG revolution... you aren't going to get the sort of free-reign RPG experience you get from Oblivion, or Fallout (and hopefully Skyrim). However, the story is great, and I think it's definitely a solid improvement over Dragon Age: Origins. If you loved DA:O, or Mass Effect, DA2 is right up your alley.

As a side tip, I'd recommend checking out the game manual for the conversation icon list. It will tell you what sort of response to expect from the variety of different icons that show up next to difference conversation options. This list is shown nowhere in the game itself, as far as I can tell.