Good Things – Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon_Age_Inquisition_I love Bioware. They don’t always get it right (who does) but I love what they try to achieve. From Baldur’s Gate, to Knights of the Old Republic, to Mass Effect, they’ve been one of the top names when it comes to story and character driven games.

I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition on and off for about six months now and feel it’s time to write a part-review, part-enthuse about it. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.

For those of you who don’t know, Dragon Age is a roleplaying game series that involves pauseable real time combat, detailed character creation, multiple story and dialogue choices and some of the most nuanced party members you’re likely to find on a computer or console.

This is the third in the series. Dragon Age: Origins came first. It did epic really well, had some fantastic characters (yes, Alistair and Morrigan, I’m looking at you), and did an excellent line in genuinely tough moral dilemmas. The only problem was that the protagonist (you) wasn’t voiced, and sometimes seemed a bit flat compared to the vibrant company you keep over the game.

Then came Dragon Age 2. They tried to fix the problem of the first game by simplifying game mechanics and providing a character for you to play called Hawke, I imagine hoping to replicate the success of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard. Unfortunately, where Shepard seems to be near universally loved*, Hawke was quite divisive, turning away some players immediately. Also, where the first game felt epic, the second game seemed much more narrow in its focus (and the Deep Roads are sooooooo boring visually). However my biggest complaint with it was that the choices that you had were only poor illusions. I often like to play these games more than once to see how things would have been if I’d taken the other path and was sad to discover that even the biggest game choices had very little impact on the story.

That’s not to say that Dragon Age 2 wasn’t fun, it just didn’t work as well as the first game in my opinion. But, while it may not have worked, it was clear that Hawke was an attempt to fix a problem and that the Bioware team were aware of past criticisms.

Dragon Age: Inquisition strikes a much better balance. There’s a really in-depth character creation engine which gives you a great deal of control over how your character looks and you have two voice options per gender. This means that the character feels like yours but also has a presence in the game.

Quick Tip: When creating your character, there’s an option to control how shiny their lips are. I’d suggest turning that down to zero.

In terms of the actual game, it feels a lot like Skyrim but with better story and proper characters. Each of the game’s areas is beautifully designed and feels fully realised, with lots of interesting things to find. You’ll spend a lot of your time running about and fighting things but there’s much more to the game than that, including:

Resource Collecting

This is largely optional but by collecting the various plants and materials across Thedas, you open up all sorts of crafting options. In addition to getting swanky new kit, you can also craft things to help in certain missions or to help the people you’re trying to protect.

Making kit

And naming kit too! If you’ve always wanted your very own helmet of badassitude, your time has come! As in most games, taking the time to make your own stuff tends to mean you’re much stronger than you’d be relying on in-game loot. Also, when you make additions to your kit it’s visually represented (which I love).

The War table

This feature enables you to make bigger decisions for the Inquisition. It allows you to open up new areas of the map, make alterations to existing areas (like building watchtowers or bridges to get to previous unaccessible regions) and deal with other factions. You have three advisors to aid you in this and they will each suggest different solutions to the many problems you face. It’s all too easy to simply look at the time each solution takes and go with the quickest but it’s well worth looking carefully at the text as sometimes your decisions can come back on you and some advisors are more bloodthirsty than others.

Judgment

Sometimes you get to decide the fate of fallen enemies. More often than not, the options all have a little bit of grey mixed in.

Talking to people

This is a Bioware game after all. In terms of tone, you usually have three options: to be earnest and good, to be sarcastic and good, to be blunt or aggressive. It’s rare that the third options feels right, limiting responses somewhat. I still feel like Mass Effect had the right of it when they used the Paragon / Renegade model. Where Renegade options were ruthless rather than evil and felt like a valid approach.

That said, the voice acting is top notch and Bioware have done an excellent job of animating faces to the extent that I grew genuinely fond of the people of Thedas.

Cassandra is the best. Deal. With. It.

Cassandra is the best. Deal. With. It.

Romance

You can fall in love with your companions and try to win them over. Some characters are much harder to please than others. As far as I can tell, Iron Bull is easy and will take pretty much any inquisitor. Cassandra on the other hand is much trickier to impress. Each party member has their own sexual preferences and opinions on things, so if you have your heart set on a particular romance, it might be worth checking before you generate your character.

Collecting things

There are lots of things to find! Magical shards, mosaic pieces, bits of old lore, bottle of wine. They’re all optional but most reward you in some way if you pursue them.

Puzzles

Every so often you are presented with a puzzle. Some are trickier than others but if (like me) your ability to think at the end of the day is limited, don’t worry. Most of them are optional.

One of the things I like most about about the game is that it supports different play styles. You can play in normal mode, auto level your party and just run about fighting things in real time, or you can play on a harder difficulty and carefully build your party, micromanaging them through tough fights via tactical menus.

If I was being super picky, I still don’t think that the dilemmas in the side quests are as complex as those in Dragon Age: Origins and the tone is generally lighter (not a criticism). I’d also say that I’d liked to have had more made out of the issue of whether your character is religious icon or not, but that might just be me.

However, what Bioware has pulled off here is excellent. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a vibrant world that changes constantly as you start to take action. They’ve created party members that have relationships that develop both with you and with each other. It looks great too. I’m already on a second play through and really appreciating how much foreshadowing is in the dialogue.

One last thing. They’ve made a genuine attempt to present a broad range of characters. I’m talking here about sexuality, gender, and how they identify themselves. It’s really good to see. So bravo Bioware! I’m looking forward to the DLC hitting the UK soon.

*In my corner of the internet at least.

 

 

Tea and Jeopardy 38 – Patrick Rothfuss, Worldbuilders and t-shirts!

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300In this special extended episode, NYT bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss comes to the Tea Lair to talk roleplaying, how to pacify hungry dragons and about the new Worldbuilders fundraiser running from the 1st to the 8th of June.

You can listen to the episode here.

And we’re delighted to announce that you can now get your very own Tea and Jeopardy t-shirt as part of the fundraiser, allowing you to raise money for Hiefer International and look marvellous at the same time. (See below for details about the campaign and how to get your hands on a t-shirt.)

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

As the irresponsible member of the Tea and Jeopardy team, I’m going to hand over to Emma to explain all the details about Worldbuilders, Heifer International, IndieGoGo and how you get the t-shirt. Over to you Em!

What is Worldbuilders?

Worldbuilders is a nonprofit organization founded by New York Times bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss to raise money for Heifer International. Every year, a small team of Worldbuilders employees and Rothfuss himself gather collectibles and coolness that focus on the “geek community”–fans of fantasy, science fiction, art, and games. They run two fundraisers each year, one in summer and one at the end of the year, presenting their fans with chances to win or buy cool geeky items. Proceeds from the fundraisers are then donated to Heifer International. In the past seven years, Worldbuilders has raised over $3.5 million for Heifer International.

Ours is the one on the right! (And a special thanks to Dom Camus for the marvellous design)

Ours is the one on the right! (And a special thanks to Dom Camus for the marvellous design)

How do I get a Tea and Jeopardy t-shirt?

Go to the fundraiser page on IndieGoGo and scroll down until you see the ‘perk’ at the $25 level which is titled ‘Tea and Jeopardy podcast t-shirt’ and click on it.

What about shipping/ postage and packaging?

If you live in the States, the postage is included in the perk, so you don’t need to worry. If, like me, you live in the UK, or anywhere else in the world, it would be splendid if you added $15 to your contribution when you make your pledge (you get the option to do that on the first page you get after clicking on the perk and it’s called ‘Additional gift’ – click on the far right of that bar on “custom” and enter the amount).

What if I want to order more than one t-shirt?

This is the situation in our household! On IndieGoGo there is no shopping cart system, you have to choose and pay for each order separately – even if you are just getting multiples of the same perk. The way I am handling it is this:

I’ll choose the t-shirt perk and add $20 as an additional gift to comfortably cover postage for two t-shirts. Then I’ll pay.

Then I will go back and choose the same t-shirt perk again and just pay without adding the additional gift.

Is it only available in powder blue?

Yes. It keeps costs down so more money can go to the charity. We chose blue because it looks nice with the logo. It has nothing to do with the fact that blue is my favourite colour. Nothing. At. All. (Well, maybe a tiny bit.)

But what about sizing?!

That freaked me out too, but don’t worry. At this stage it’s all about the pledge. Once the fundraiser is over the lovely Worldbuilders team will email you to get your sizing details, so make sure you use an email address you have easy access to when you make your order.

When the email goes out, I’ll also tweet about it to remind people to check their junk folders.

Please note this from the Worldbuilders team:

“There are a lot of pre-orders involved here, and we’ll be sending things out after the campaign as they come back from production, or arrive in the office from the awesome people who are donating them. If we need to collect information from you (like your t-shirt size), we’ll contact you for it once the campaign has ended. We’ll keep you updated with the progress of things as the fundraiser goes on, and afterward.

We’re confident that all perks will be delivered before our annual fundraiser in November, and definitely in time for the holidays.”

But Em, IndieGoGo only lets you pay by credit card and I don’t have one.

Yeah, that’s something beyond anyone’s control here. If you are in this situation and really want a Tea and Jeopardy t-shirt, drop me a line to that fact in the comments below, including your country of residence. I can’t promise anything, but if there are lots of you, I may be able to work something out with the Worldbuilders team.

Any other questions?

There’s an FAQ on the Worldbuilders website. You can also follow Worldbuilders on Twitter (@worldbuilders_)as they may well tweet updates. It’s best to get in touch with either them or IndieGoGo if you have any issues other than the lack of credit card one, as I am very unlikely to be able to solve it myself.

Now go! Go and get a Tea and Jeopardy t-shirt and raise money for charity and be splendid! You’ve only got until June 8th 2015 to do it!

Tea and Jeopardy 37 – A chat with Kameron Hurley

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300In this episode Kameron Hurley comes to the tea lair to talk blogging, South African resistance movements, strong female protagonists, and Emma reveals what it was about me that first attracted her.

You can listen to the episode here.

 

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

 

Good Things – Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Quest coverI’m not even going to pretend that this is anything other than a love letter to the glory of Robin Hobb’s writing.

Having read Assassin’s Apprentice and loved it, and then having read Royal Assassin and loved it even more, I was fairly confident coming to Assassin’s Quest.

It had me by the unmentionables from pretty much the first page.

So, all the things I loved in the previous books are present here. Fantastic writing, good twists and an ever-present sense of tension that you occasionally get spared from but are never allowed to completely forget.

But above all else, it’s the characters. Robin Hobb’s characters are things of beauty. Nuanced, flawed, and so utterly believable. She made me love them all, except for the ones I was supposed to hate, and even then, they were painted as real, three dimensional things.

Even Robin Hobb’s animals have more personality than most other Fantasy protagonists.

*takes a moment to quietly contemplate Nighteyes*

It’s also epic in length, about twice the size of the book 1 and I never once felt like things were dragging. There’s also a real sense that things are earned in this series. Wounds persist, psychological scars become permanent character features and things lost are rarely recovered. In fact, far more often than not, terrible things happen but when there is a victory for the Fitz or his allies it is all the sweeter for it.

Robin Hobb is now, without doubt, my favourite fantasy writer. The writing is so good and the characters so compelling that they could be washing the dishes and I’d still be glued to the page.

Next stop: Liveship Traders.

Tea and Jeopardy 36 – A chat with Peter Newman

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300In this episode, our guest is… me! After escaping from the basement, I chat with Em about waiting, Spartacus, a very profound question relating to the chickens, and why Latimer hates me so much.

You can listen to the episode here.

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

Post-launch feels and The Vagrant's first fan art!

And I loved signing them all.

And I loved signing them all. (Photo by Juliet Mushens)

The last few weeks have been pretty great. The Vagrant is now out in the world and entirely out of my hands! This is both amazing and terrifying. It feels a bit like the book is crowdsurfing. It may sail majestically across a sea of supportive hands into a glorious sunset, or it may be dropped and left to languish on the floor, out of sight, trampled by a thousand feet.

Either way I have no control of it anymore.

And while this has scared the pants off me, I’ve been blown away by the general warmth and loveliness of friends, family and the internet in general.

My first cocktail of the night and I'm already leaning. (Photo by Jim Purbrick)

My first cocktail of the night and I'm already leaning.
(Photo by Jim Purbrick)

 

The London launch at Forbidden Planet went well*. Highlights included: lots of smiley people, some incredible cocktails (Apple Pies and Fallen Angels FTW!) and a ridiculously beautiful barman. And, thanks to magic beyond my comprehension**, I awoke the next day without hangover!

 

 

Since then, the warm and fuzzy feelings have been kept alive by various people checking in. It’s hard to describe what it’s like when someone else reads your book and then gets in touch to say nice things about it. But it’s a real gift.

I love the goat here too.

I love the goat here too.

 

 

 

And I’ve had my first piece of fan art! 'The Hammer that Walks.' Drawn by the wonderful Kareem Mahfouz***.

 

 

So, now that the launch is over and I’ve (mostly) recovered, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate all of the people now taking The Vagrant out into the wider world. Massive thanks to everyone who went and bought a copy. And to all who tweet about it, post about it, email, message, shout, sing, review or otherwise help spread the word:

YOU ARE AWESOME!

 

*As far as I can remember.

**I’m pretty sure some dirty chicken was involved.

***AKA the other guy that doesn't like Tasslehoff Burrfoot.

Tea and Jeopardy 35 – A chat with Sarah McIntyre

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300In this episode, the awesome hat wearing super-being that is Sarah McIntyre* comes to the tea lair and she is not alone…

You can listen to the episode here.

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

 

*For those of you who don't know, Sarah is an award winning illustrator and writer. She also runs the Pictures Mean Business campaign.

Tea and Jeopardy 34 – Blooper Reel of Gratitude +5

teaandjeopardy_geekplanet-300x300Because Em has to go in for surgery last month we had to pause Tea and Jeopardy. Although it wasn’t the best time, we had an incredible amount of kind words, gestures of support, gifts and general all round loveliness from all of you. I can’t begin to tell you how overwhelming (in the best way) it was for us.

So, as a way of saying thanks, here’s a quick message from Em and a Blooper Reel of Gratitude +5.

Enjoy!

More Tea and Jeopardy coming soon…

If you’re interested in supporting Tea and Jeopardy and would like to join the Order of the Sacred Teacup, our Patreon page is here.

If you’d like to catch up on old episodes, there’s a full index here.

The Grim Gathering 2015

I wasn’t planning on writing any more posts until after the launch but the Grim Gathering was so fantastic I couldn’t resist.

For those of you that don’t know, the Grim Gathering is an annual event organised by Fantasy Faction, supported this year by Harper Voyager and hosted at Waterstones. It’s a chance for people who normally chat on the forums to meet each other. There are also books and authors!

Here’s a list of some of my favourite bits:

GG Signing Tables

OMG! (Photo by Agnes Meszaros)

 

 

Coming inside to see copies of The Vagrant set out and my own signing table.

Suddenly feels very real...

Suddenly feels very real…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The crowd arriving.

GG Crowd pic

I think this was the point I started to feel nervous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The panel. I was quite nervous about it to be honest but the audience were warm and the other authors very supportive and it soon flew by.

Photo by Agnes Meszaros

Photo by Agnes Meszaros

I even managed to make Lord Grimdark laugh. (Photo by Agnes Meszaros)

I even managed to make Lord Grimdark laugh. (Photo by Agnes Meszaros)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The signing.

I still can't quite believe this happened.

I still can't quite believe this happened. (Photo by Agnes Meszaros)

I honestly didn't expect to get many people in my line. After all, my book doesn’t officially launch till the 23rd so I was beyond delighted with all the people that came and bought a copy. Thanks to everyone for making my first signing line so much fun!

 

 

The pub.

(Photo by Emma Varney)

Photo by Emma Varney

 

 

 

It was so good I stayed to the bitter end!

 

 

 

Photo by Jonathan Ashman

Photo by Jonathan Ashman

 

Big thanks to Marc Aplin (and the FF team), Harper Voyager, Waterstones, Peter V Brett, Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie and everyone who came and made it such a special night.

SRFC, Dysprosium, Grim Gathering, The Vagrant Launch and some unexpected art

Thanks to Pen Astridge for this Nendo version of The Vagrant

Thanks to Pen Astridge for this Nendo version of The Vagrant

The Vagrant is coming out very soon now! This means I’ll be all over the place both physically and mentally. If you’re about for any of the following events I’d love to see you.

 

Tuesday 31st March: Super Relaxed Fantasy Club

I’ll be doing a reading with the splendid Francesca Haig, answering questions and being generally sociable*. Details for the event here.

 

Thursday 2nd April – Monday 6th April: Dysprosium

I’m doing a panel on Friday at 15.00 called How to Find an Agent (with the excellent Aliette de Bodard, Gareth Powell and Gillian Redfearn) in the Endeavour room.

Unfortunately they weren’t able to find space on the programme for my workshop but if anyone who is attending the convention would like me to run it unofficially in the bar for them, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch with you to arrange a meeting. It works as a one to one or as a group session so it’s cool to sign up in pairs, groups or to go Lone Wolf. Description below.

Getting Unstuck workshop with Peter Newman

A workshop for any writers who are stuck with a project. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or established, at chapter 1 or 100: so long as you have a project you can bring to the group and a problem I’ll try to help you move forward with it.

If this sounds like something useful to you and you’re going to Dysprosium, get in touch!

Friday 10th April: Grim Gathering

I’ll be at Waterstones Bristol with Joe Abercrombie, Peter V Brett, Mark Lawrence and the fabulous Fantasy Faction crew. There’s a panel, signing and social afterwards. Details for the event here.

Thursday 23rd April: The Vagrant launch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This will be at Forbidden Planet in London at 6.30. There will be books, cake, and optional hugs. Details here.

Thursday 30th April: Signing with Emma Newman at Forbidden Planet Bristol.

More hugs! More books! And Emma! What more could you ask for?** Details here.

*drunk

**Don’t answer that