Category: Criticism

Elder Sign: Omens in Review

No High Scores

Arkham Horror, a Call of Cthulhu inspired game, tends to be one of those boardgames you either love or loath. I’m pretty firmly in the former category. Yes, despite being a pure co-op game, having a lot of players involved can leave you with a metric ton of downtime and if you don’t like pinning your fate to die rolls it’s probably not for you. I don’t mind all that. Even with a lot of die-rolling, it’s the good kind, where skillful play and use of items (not to mention a little help from your friends) gives you more opportunities to pass whatever magic criteria impedes your path. Not unlike poker, I consider it a fair marriage of strategy and chance. I also like how you have to adjust your play style for the type of investigator you’ve chosen and how you can play the game a dozen times and never use the same investigator twice. Above all, I just like the environment and the feeling it invokes of moving about a dangerously unstable town, populated with unspeakable horrors, as you try to stop an abomination from devouring the world. It sets a mood.

So it was, with this flavor firmly in mind, that I downloaded the Arkham inspired board game adaptation, Elder Sign: Omens for my iPad. Omens is available as a traditional board game (though it’s just called Elder Sign), but not unlike Ascension, this new iPad version takes a lot of board game ideals and successfully translates them to an experience you really could only have on a mobile device like the iPad. (I have not played the board game version. I have no idea how much is the same or different.)

In this game you are tasked with putting together a team of four investigators (whom Arkham Horror players will remember from that game) to stop the abomination, Azathoth, from devouring the world. This is very much Arkham. In this game, however, your investigative acumen isn’t put to the test exploring an entire town’s mysteries, but rather that of a single museum. There you’ll move, one investigator at a time, through its various rooms, seeking out adventures best-suited to that particular investigator and whatever handy gadgets, weapons, or spells she might have on hand. Fail too often and your investigator loses stamina and sanity, eventually resulting in their removal from the game (death or insanity) as a Doom counter moves inexorably forward towards Azathoth’s emergence and the end of the world. The only way to win is to discover enough Elder Signs (also done by completing adventures) to seal the breach between the realm of Cthulhu and our reality.

My kind of game…

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The RPG

No High Scores

Today, for what will be my final Dissecting DA2 installment, I want to discuss Dragon Age 2 as an RPG. Hypocritically enough, here’s what I don’t want to debate: What’s an RPG? Everyone has their own criteria and nobody’s distinctly right or wrong… unless you think Half-Life is an RPG just because you play a role and it’s a game. No. A definition that makes an RPG out of Pac Man is not valid. So let’s just all agree that they generally involve some combination of characterization and dialog, stories and adventures, numbers, loot, character advancement, and occasionally a miniature giant space hamster. Let’s agree that a game can place more emphasis on some of these elements than others, even stripping a bunch of them completely out of the mix. DA2 is an RPG. It’s just not the same kind of RPG Bioware established with Origins. To you, that either makes it way more awesome and playable or a crushing disappointment.

Let’s establish another ground rule while we’re at it. For the purposes of this post, I am not making value judgments about players here. If you like DA2 more than I did, I’m not assuming it’s because you’re dumb or because you have no appreciation for old school gameplay. Likewise, let’s be clear that although I’m disappointed in the game, it’s not because I can’t understand what Bioware was trying to do with it and it’s not (necessarily) because I’m stuck in a bygone era that deserves to be put out of its misery (although I might be).

Agreed? Cool. Let’s continue…

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The Dialog and Relationships

No High Scores

I’ve found it very difficult to assess the dialog system and character interaction in this game. Unlike say, the combat, it’s highly variable, which makes it all but impossible to pigeonhole. For every sequence I could point to as being trite and cliche, there’s another one I could hold up as insightful and compelling.

The same goes for how the idea of choice and consequence plays into the game. Dialog in a game like this has been and may always be of a circular nature, where no matter what you do or say you come back around to the same general ground. Here, though, it feels like that’s even moreso the case given that, as I noted in my story write-up for the game, Bioware has places it needs this story to go and by-gum it’s gonna make you go there.

First, though, let’s dig into the mechanics of it…

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The Combat

No High Scores

There’s been a lot of discussion about Dragon Age 2’s new combat model both here and elsewhere. There’s no question it’s significantly different than Origins and in a way I don’t like as much. Yes, it’s got the whole pausable real-time thing going on, but where Origins felt a turn-based model that happened to flow in real time, this feels more like a real time model that it just so happens you can pause. A thin distinction? Probably, but an important one I think…

Dissecting Dragon Age 2: The Story

No High Scores

As I went about playing Dragon Age 2, which I finished late last week, I’ve compiled on the order of ten pages worth of notes, thoughts, diatribes, and fan fic (erotic). (I’m lying about one of those items.) Way too much to put into a single post, but all stuff that I think worth discussing about the game, so I’ve been trying to decide on the best way to present it. After a couple days of banging my head on my desk until it suddenly got dark I settled on this Dissecting idea, in which I break up the game into some logical segments and talk in greater detail about them than what a single review or general impressions post would allow. If you all like it enough I’ll look at doing something like this for future games. The goal with this isn’t to lampoon Dragon Age (or any other game) for everything it’s not. The Intertubes are loaded with people ranting and raving over DA2. No, the goal here is to look at where various components of the game succeed and fail. Where did Bioware make interesting choices? Where did those choices fail or not live up to their potential? How could they have been done better?

For this initial post we’ll talk story. I’ve avoided straying into extreme spoiler territory here, but if you absolutely must know nothing about the game, you best skip this post. Some discussion of the story structure and narrative is inevitable. This post also overlaps some with the one I’m writing on dialog in terms of talking about characters and the sense of choice and consequence in the game. With that said, let’s roll…