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Note: very minor plot spoilers and some gameplay discussion for DAI

Butch:

Ok, played an hour last night. As I said before, I unlocked the “find the source of darkspawn” for five power at the war table. So I went and checked that out, and did the temple bit, and killed a giant (in one go!), and stumbled, potionless and bleeding, into camp (MAN it’s a relief to find camps) and that’s it.

So here’s a game mechanic I like: You needed power to unlock that temple bit. That temple bit had SOME story. Not main story, but certainly more than shard collecting. Now, the power you needed was trivial (you have, what, 9,582 power by now, yes?), but need it you did. It wasn’t an obstacle, but it was the game saying “Hey, look, ok. There’s some story here. Not as much as the main missions, no, but some. Skip it if you like, or not.” It’s like the power needed in the missions that don’t have swirly green clouds over them is proportional to the amount/importance of story therein. It’s like grading sidequests with a wink to the player. While I ordinarily don’t like winks to players, this one works. Make me think that Ventinori mission that costs 20 power is somewhere in between this temple and the main story, so now I know.

Nicely done.

Feminina:

Nice work! It took me two goes to get that giant. Turns out giants are tough. Even now at 19th level. I was fighting one just last night in Emprise du Lion, and it took two goes and some very careful use of “hold position”…run up and attack one of the giant’s human companions…run away…everyone attacks the pursuing human while the giant slowly lumbers up…”disengage” and run away around a corner once the giant gets close, wait until it gives up and wanders back to its starting spot…repeat…repeat…

I swear ambushes were easier in DAO, when I used to use them all the time. Now it seems to be really hard to get enemies to follow you around a corner to where your crew is lying in wait. I’ll wander out there, yell, jump up and down, but they just hang out. (Maybe I need to send a warrior to Taunt them.)

And that’s if you can get your crew to lie in wait anyway, since even when you say “hold position” they seem to teleport in as soon as you get into combat. Or maybe that’s only when I sneak and backstab? Are they particularly concerned with my backstabbing? Must continue to experiment.

Anyway, the addition of a crowd of human companions to the giant made it especially annoying. Look, I want to concentrate on either these sword-and-shield dudes OR this giant, OK? You’d think they were trying to kill us here.

I do like having smaller things to spend power on, and you’re right, they’re generally nice, substantial quests (even if not plot-critical quests). You know there’s something there that you’ll get to really settle in with, not just “collect 10 ram skins” or whatever.

Also, I LOVE when you stumble, potionless and bleeding, into a camp site.

“Yes! Set up camp here! Thank the Maker we’ve got a…whatever the hell those campsite signifiers are!” (What ARE those things? Some sort of geolocation tool, allowing you to plot latitude and longitude so you can summon your followers to the right spot? That’s my best guess, but I could be making things up.)

Thirty seconds later you’re all rested and healed, surrounded by tents and with a helpful Requisitions officer saying “Dispatch for you, Inquisitor” to alert you to an exciting new geological survey. That’s the best.

Butch:

Area effect spells, man. I sent Cassandra in to taunt and draw fire (and chug the TWO potions I had left), then it was static cage, mark of the inquisitor, Dorian’s boom spells (wall of fire, one who’s name I don’t know that should be “blow shit up”), jars of bees. Scorch the earth. STILL almost died. And that giant was alone.

I have exactly the opposite problem from you, though. I can ambush pretty well, as I am a mage, so static cage or chain lightning gets fired before anyone knows I’m there. But DAMN I attract attention like a drag queen at the elk’s club. Yesterday, I was climbing up this ladder/platform thing, trying to get up to the temple, and someone attracted the attention of something, cuz there we were, on a platform, and we all drew weapons. And there was a blip somewhere off the mini map. And we’re on this tiny platform, standing there. I have absolutely no idea what that blip was. So I tried climbing. I found myself standing at an astronarium thingy, weapons drawn, just kind of waiting, cuz you can’t use that thing “in combat,” which is defined as “Standing with your weapon drawn because someone saw something REALLY far out in the distance.” Eventually, whatever it was wandered away. I’ll never know what it was.

I’ve noticed hold position doesn’t do a whole lot of anything. Odd. That was key in DAO.

I can see how annoying that would be as a rogue, as area effects are rare (except exploding arrow, which is great. Love that one). Even warriors get that “earth shattering strike fire wall thing” that, when you have that with two warriors in stereo is awesome. I’m all about crowd control. Static cage, man. Cuz it draws them to the middle of the circle. Evelyn pulls ’em all in, Dorian blows shit up. Problem solved.

This quest was a nice thing. Especially as I had limited time, as Mrs. McP was coming home and I had to make dinner. A perfect size for when you can’t really get into something major, but want to do more than close rifts. Good to know those are there.

God only knows what those things are at campsites. And why is it always Dorian who says “this looks like a good place to make camp?” What does he know? And, you know, usually it’s NOT a good place to make camp. “Hey, look! A place in a ruin by a pit that a giant dug that’s letting out darkspawn! Here!” That dude on Survivorman would not approve.

But it is nice that they make the camps mean something. Pretty much every time I’ve found one, I’ve been messed up. Finding one a) is a relief in game and b) is a relief OUT of game cuz you don’t have to go back and stock up and redo. Finding a campsite SHOULD feel good, and like it matters. Nicely done.

And there IS a fadeout when you set up camp, so maybe it’s a matter of time. Fadeouts. Making time pass since 1893.

Feminina:

That’s happened to me! Everyone freaks out about something we can’t even see, and it’s too far away for me to feel like chasing it, so we just stand around, weapons at the ready, until finally it wanders off. I suppose “disengage” might be handy here. I should try it next time. I don’t give them a lot of commands from that wheel, since I never summon horses and “hold person” is only mildly effective.

Area effects…they are the best. And limited, for me. I don’t use a bow, so I don’t even have exploding arrow. I could use grenades, but I usually carry tonics or Healing Mist (figured out I did have that recipe after all) instead. I have my life-sucking focus power, which is awesome, but it takes a LOOOONG time to recharge (I kind of suck at combos, which is what recharges it most efficiently), so most of the time I don’t actually have it.

Ha–true, sometimes you do have to question the declaration of “this looks like a good spot to set up camp!” Um…compared to what? A seething pit of vipers? I suppose you’re right about that…and the undead-filled marsh water lapping against the shores 10 feet from our tents IS rather soothing.

Butch:

I didn’t even know there WAS a disengage! I’ll try it.

Oh man, I do not GET the horse. I tried the horse. It is not any faster than running. And the distances aren’t that big. Takes more time to get on the horse and off of it.

Mist is key. I gotta give that to someone other than Bull.

Hey, man, the whole state of Florida used to be undead filled marsh water (well, maybe not undead filled) and now vast swaths of it are multimillion dollar resorts. Dorian has foresight. When his grandkids buy skyhold and kick your grandkids out, you’ll know why.

Feminina:

I vaguely knew disengage was there, but had never really used it, until I was fighting that giant last night. It will actually make your people stop attacking and follow you away! What a concept!

I’ve always just kind of rolled my eyes and dived in when they went all bloodthirsty on some random wandering monster that I wasn’t that interested in fighting, but…I could actually have told them to stop! Next time I will. The things you learn when you bother to glance at your controls.

But the thing is, you get by OK without ever learning all these nuances, and so there’s rarely a point where it’s crucial. I’m sure there are still about 300 things about the game play that I’m totally unaware of, and that would be useful to know, but…unless I stumble across them, I just can’t be bothered to look everything up, because I’m too busy actually playing, you know?

Sure, I think “I’ll experiment with thus-and-such next fight” but when you get into the next fight it’s so easy to just fall back on what’s worked in the past. “I’ve done OK so far, why mess with success?”

I try. I try to remember to use the secondary ability wheel, and to sometimes think about what’s on my peoples’ wheels in case maybe something else might be handier to have right there for the button press, but…there’s so much to do. So much to learn. I sort of know how to play a mage (from previous DAs) and I’m playing a rogue now, but whenever everyone else dies and I’m stuck as a warrior I’m kind of lost. What do you folks even do? What’s this power? What the hell is that? (Although the “hit someone with a chain and drag them back to you so you can bash them” is AWESOME. I would do that all day long as a warrior.)

And honestly, I don’t really WANT to micromanage all my companions’ play–I want to play ME, and I want my companions to do their own thing and be their own people…that contributes to my sense of them as characters I interact with, rather than pieces I move around a board.

A related confession (this is going to go kind of off topic): I don’t like the tactical camera.

It breaks immersion for me to have this sky-eye view of everything and to shuffle everyone around the field like an all-seeing director. I get that it’s useful to do this, sometimes probably crucial, and I totally get that some people must love it and use it all the time–but I personally ignore it whenever I can because I’d rather just play my own character and let the other characters (I pretend) play themselves.

I made very little use of the incredibly extensive options for setting tactics in DAO, and I’ve barely touched them here. My overall approach is always “give people the best equipment you can find and the most useful-looking abilities they have access to and leave them alone.” I’m a hands-off kind of boss. I mean, why am I even traveling with these people if they’re so helpless I have to hold their hands every second of every fight? I want to play MY CHARACTER, not a whole war party. That’s why I’m roleplaying, not sticking to Risk.

Again, not to diss anyone who loves tactical view and likes to direct everyone’s every action. If that’s what you enjoy, enjoy the hell out of it. Just not my thing in a game like this.

And so far that’s worked pretty well for me in DAI, which I’m quite pleased about. I very rarely look at the tactical camera or specifically direct the other characters’ actions (unless it’s like “take a potion RIGHT NOW” or “back the hell away from combat, you ninny!–archery is better from a distance!”). I appreciate that the game allows me to play this way, and hasn’t so far seemed to penalize me for it, even while making all these sophisticated tools available for players who really want to get into careful strategy. Am I missing out on some cool stuff? No doubt. Some people would probably say ignoring all the director/strategy/tactics bits is just as limiting an approach as ignoring all the conversations. But this is what I enjoy, so I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

In summary: play how you want, and isn’t it cool to find a game that gives you so much flexibility to do that? The more I play, the more I really quite like DAI.

Butch:

Oh yeah. The distant sounds of fighting while you walk slowly yet menacingly away, only to stop when an XP bar pops up and they teleport to you. Nice.

Yup to not looking things up. Which will annoy the Buttonses of the world, but I don’t care. Fun’s fun.

That chain grab and MIGHTY BLOW! Ever since Ogrehn used mighty blow to finish off the brood mother, it’s held a place in my heart. But I’m no good at warrior. I charged as Cassandra towards the giant, didn’t get anywhere NEAR close enough, and started hacking away at….well….air….going “am I hitting it? Am I?”

Yeah, I gotta say that, as a PCer who used tactical cam ALL the time in DAO (even had the autopause when attacked thing on), I was pumped to have it back….then I didn’t use it. I mostly use it as a glorified pause button when I really, really do not know what the fuck is going on, which does occasionally happen, or I’m fighting a new monster and I need to know what it’s vulnerable to (I do this as I figure my guys would know, and not get confused as easily as I do. They are professionals. Who swing at air).

See, though, it would be an absolute pain in the ass to play this game as fast action (ie, without the tactical camera, the way we’re playing it) on PC, or, I should say, without a controller. The wide open style NEEDS a controller. Skyrim was ok, cuz really you needed right and left click to whack or not, but there’s just no way you could coordinate eight skills/spells, attack, potion, etc. without your hands falling off but for the tactical camera. I think that’s why I was so attached to the tactical camera in DAO: I played that key/mouse. I mean, I was nervous about this shift to controller. I’m glad I played a bunch of games that I hadn’t played other iterations of on PC first, so I could adjust, but it’s REALLY evident here how different styles mesh with different methods of input. Had I tried THIS game as a first go with a controller, I would be living in the tactical cam, because that’s how I interacted with games.

I also think that’s a PC/console difference. (No, this isn’t a master race/peasant thing) PC also tends to have sorts of games that aren’t on console: dense strategy games. Civilization, Starcraft, etc. So PCers are more used to going into games in a more strategic way just cuz we’ve played the fuck out of so many games that are like that. (EVERYONE has played the hell out of Civ and Starcraft who has a PC) Hell, I cut my teeth playing computer RPGs WAY back in the day playing games like Fallout, which had a turn based combat system. So, this shift, for me, has been more than just a switch to sticks and triggers (though I still steer by mashing left up and twitching the right), it’s a shift on how my brain wraps itself around games, thinks about games.

But let’s keep this PC/console difference in our heads in a while. DAO was more a PC game, DA2 was more a console game (and took shit for it, unfairly). DAI seems to be splitting the difference nicely. It’ll be VERY interesting to see where TW3 goes. Believe me when I say: TW2 was a PC gamers game. That game was made to play Key/Mouse, on a PC, by people who thought like PC gamers, and fuck everyone else. We shall see if CDPR a) adjusts, b) adjusts well, c) if they catch shit for it, d) that shit is fair.

Feminina:

Ha! Yes! So many times I have gone stalking away, weapons drawn, thinking “Not going to get involved, not going to get involved” while everyone yells at a wolf behind me, and then, Poof! They show up, all proud, like “we killed the fearsome beast, Inquisitor!”

Nice work, people. Good to have the world rid of that terrible scourge. Now can we continue on to the point of interest I was trying to reach just now, so we can maybe get some loot and learn some stuff?

I spend way too much time viciously attacking the air. “I hate you, air! I hate you so much! DIE!” But I’m right to be cautious, because the air does often tend to be full of ghosts and evil spirits. I’m just being careful.

I like your point re: PC/console physical playing mechanics, and how that works with the types of games that are good for those platforms.

I mean, my computer gaming history is basically Tetris…but even just with that, I can kind of see what you’re saying. Tetris works great with keys, but a controller would be ridiculously over-buttoned for it. Whereas if you’re going to be doing a lot of stuff in real time, all those triggers to pull up x, y or z menus become useful…and if you need to pull up x, y and z menus using just keys, then it makes all kinds of sense to pause instead of trying to jump your hand all over the keyboard while also keeping your eyes on the screen.

I played DAO on console, and never used the tactical view there either, because…controller, everything’s on triggers, real-time isn’t totally ridiculous. So, again, little strategy except with the giant opponents that you HAD to plan out attacks for.

Of course you realize your thoughtful argument is just fuel in the PC/console wars, since PCers can say it proves that console players don’t have the smarts to handle tactics, while console players can say PCers just can’t handle the quick thinking needed for real-time play. Could be a good chance for you to bridge two worlds, though, on account of having played both.

Meanwhile, I’ll be all diplomatic in the middle saying “play what you like the way you like to play it and the way it works best on your machine of choice! We can all be friends! Also, shut up, I’m in the middle of an important battle here. This air must die.”

Butch:

Agreed. Fucking air. Good point. Bad air in Thedas.

Re: different play styles on PC/console: Indeed. In fact, the one bit I don’t like is having to hit options to call up the menu. I’m SURE that’s Q on a keyboard, which, if you have your fingers on WASD anyway, is right there. Options is such a wee button, and hard to get to. Not used to it yet.

It makes sense to go real time when you can. Indeed, real time makes more sense. I mean, even the times I have done the tactical camera, it’s SO much clunkier trying to deal with it with a controller than it would be if you could point and click with a mouse, which is what one did. It’s obviously designed for that, i.e., for a PC.

But meh. I make no value judgments in the platform wars. Different be different.

And let’s face it: Consoles drive the business. Far more games get sold on consoles than PC. So games are going to go that way. And, really, a game like Tomb Raider would be fucking impossible on key mouse (here’s where someone like Buttons says “Then get a controller for the PC,” and I go pfft.)

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