Tag Archives: good things

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.

 

 

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.

Good Things: The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

IronGhost_v2-jpg-jpg-196x300Here’s a quick relatively spoiler free part review / part enthuse about the Iron Ghost by Jen Williams.

Around this time last year I wrote one of these for The Copper Promise. If you haven’t read that yet, do so immediately.

In short, I loved this book, and I’ve been trying to think about why. There are loads of fun fantasy monsters, fights and all the magical shenanigans that you might expect. The characters are fun and well-drawn and definitely one of the major appeals of the book for me. They’re still human (aside from the ones that aren’t) and they still screw up often. Sometimes they do wonderful and cool things though I did spend much of my time shaking my head at Sebastian, a lesser amount of time shaking my head at Frith and surprisingly little time shaking my head at Wydrin (which is worrying) but only because I’ve grown fond of them.

The villains are great too. In a really, really nasty kind of way. And maybe I’ve just got a poor memory but I don’t recall having so many moments of horror or exclaiming: “Euw!” when I read The Copper Promise.

But the thing about The Iron Ghost, the thing that recommends it most highly for me is that it is just so damn readable. The book is a good size and weight, ideal for blocking draughts or beating zombies to death, but I tore through it as if it were a thing half the size.

It’s fun, compelling, and just a little bit saucy. What’s not to love?

Also: BEST TAG LINE EVER!

Good things: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Royal AssassinHere’s a spoiler free part review, part enthuse about Royal Assassin.

You probably don’t need me to tell you how great this book is but I'm going to have a go anyway just in case. Royal Assassin is the sequel to Assassin’s Apprentice which I also rather liked.

There’s always a fear when reading the next part of a series you love, that the writer has already peaked and that it won’t be quite as good. No worries here though, Royal Assassin is an incredible work, in fact I enjoyed it even more than the previous book.

So why is it so good? It’s not like there are things here that have never been done before. It’s just that they’re rarely done so well. I loved the characters (except for the ones I hated but that was with such a passion it was its own kind of enjoyment). I worried for them (a lot). I delighted in their successes and felt sad for their losses.

The villains in the book are also a standout, terrifying and mysterious in one case and wonderfully despicable in the other.

I admired the rhythm of the book too, the sprinkling of humour and happier moments, both giving relief from the constant threat but also heightening it.

And that’s it really. Brilliant characters, incredible storytelling and a good degree of twists and turns.

Like its predecessor, I didn’t find it an easy read. The book is tense and a lot of bad things happen to good people everybody. I also found that even when I wasn’t reading it, a part of the book refused to let me go until I’d finished it.

If you haven’t read it please do so that the next time I see you we can jump up and down together about how great it is.

Thanks!

Good things: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

18th Feb Assassins Apprentice PB inddHere’s my spoiler-free, part review, part enthuse about Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb:

I’m a little late to this party as the book came out in 1995 but in this case, better late than never is certainly true.

It’s good.  Really good. Imagine your favourite superlatives and ladle them liberally onto this book. Repeat until thoroughly excited.

Assassin’s Apprentice is quite simply one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. It’s beautifully written, accessible, character driven, nuanced, with a world that makes sense, full of twists and turns.

A word of warning: heart strings are pulled without mercy and things are not always easy for our protagonist so don’t pick this up when you want mindless fun or back to back silly fights.

I’ll definitely be reading the sequel(s) but I’m deliberately going to wait before I do to savour the anticipation.

If you haven’t already, read it!

Good things: Minecraft

MinecraftOn the run up to Christmas I was looking for games for my son and kept coming across this game called Minecraft. I’d heard of it and had a vague idea that you mined stuff and built stuff and that there were rpg elements to it. It hadn’t lit my fire and the graphics felt a little too retro for my tastes.

Anyway, I asked online if people had anything to recommend and Minecraft popped up again. I asked if it would be suitable for children and got a resounding yes. So I had another look.

A kind fellow sent me the link for this documentary and I was immediately won over by how down to earth the creator was.

So I’ve picked it up and played it for a few days and now I get the Minecraft thing.

I love it.

Why?

I think because the game gives so much freedom and because it makes me creative. In most games, the thing being tested is reflexes and the ability to push buttons in sequences but here I have to actively engage with the world.

And the world is big. Huge even. On the scale of Skyrim but with so much more depth.

I’m playing with Em at the moment* and so far we’ve built a physics defying house. At first we built it to have a shelter from the monsters but it soon became more than that. Like a virtual joint Lego project.

I didn't build this!

I didn't build this!

It now has three floors and growing out to the roof, my pride and joy, a tower, topped with an observation tower made of glass. It’s mad and it’s brilliant. Em’s been busy with perimeter walls, a chicken coup and wolf taming.

Some cool moments in the game so far:

–          The first night when the monsters come out to get you. We hadn’t made any weapons by that stage and had to listen to a zombie trying to smash down our front door.

–          Realising that with the right objects in your hand, you can get animals to follow you.

–          Watching the Bean become obsessed with building a giant pathway from his front door.

Another thing I like is how you can solve problems in different ways. For example, we’d sometimes go exploring but get caught out after dark. One of us** had a habit of falling down holes and needing to be rescued. So we dealt with this in two ways. First, we fenced off the major holes and second, we built pathways between the islands, with beacon towers along the way to guide us home at night. Alternatively, we could have built tunnels, or filled in the holes with dirt, or laid down track and rode carts from one pace to another.

We found a giant set of catacombs running under one of the islands, where rivers run through the rock in some places, lava in others. If we mine the wrong blocks, or if one of the monsters destroys one, it can alter the course of these rivers, trapping us inside or changing the layout of the caves.

There’s a genuine sense of exploration that I haven’t felt in a game for a long time.

Or this!

I didn't build this either.

When we finish with this current world, I might treat myself to the Mass Effect version of the game, or the Skyrim one. Oh and I’m going to build an epically stupid castle with huge paths going across the sky so that I don’t have to worry about the monsters down below.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’m off to see what I can make with the gold ore I just mined.

 

*This is another reason the game is so fun, I doubt I’d enjoy it as much on my own.

**Em.

Good Things: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

Check out the cover. It's gorgeous.

Check out the cover. It's gorgeous.

Over the last few years there have been loads of great things (books, films, blogs, people) that I have meant to blog about and not got round to. So, in a very relaxed way I’ve decided to start by talking about a book I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams.

So this is part enthuse, part review though it’ll be spoiler free I promise.

First a disclaimer: I have met the author and imbibed alcohol in her presence.

Right, onto the review. The Copper Promise is a fantasy novel and is brilliant. The characters are recognisably fantasy enough to feel immediately comfortable while being different enough to feel fresh. Most importantly I liked them and cared for them, even when they screw up. And they screw up quite often.

There’s magic, gods, monsters, taverns, pirates, knights, epic battles, dungeons, mysterious caves, wise women, mystics, demons, cannibals, dragons, tons of bad guys, an abundance of scars and a mild hint of sauce.*

The writing is pacey and fresh, funny at times but also serious enough to feel tense as well.

Above all, this is fun**. The Copper Promise is not a short book but I tore through it, often muttering to myself things like ‘just one more chapter…’

I’m loath to say more as I hate spoilers*** and you can read blurbs for yourself. But go read it. It’s brilliant.

If you like GIF’s Andrew Reid’s review is also well worth checking out.

 

*Seriously, what’s not to like?

**I almost didn’t write this because the word fun is sometimes used for things that are rough round the edges. This isn’t. In fact the ‘fun’ here is well crafted and probably took a ton of work to achieve.

***Which is why I’m not a pro book reviewer. I’d suck.