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by Aaron Poppleton

5 Jul 2011


After talking about the open worlds of L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the subject, which in turn caused me to realize that I had more to say on the topic.  Having just finished a run through of Dragon Age II, it occurred to me that the end was somewhat less indicative of my impact on the city of Kirkwall than I’d thought it would be—but I didn’t care.  Sure, in Dragon Age: Origins I had saved the whole world from a Blight, chosen the next dwarven king, cured a whole society of lycanthropy, and done a bunch of other things that would have never been resolved if not for the timely intervention of me, the Grey Warden.

Alternatively you could keep werewolves around.  It is Your Choice.

Alternatively you could keep werewolves around.  It is Your Choice.

In the world of Dragon Age: Origins, your control extends to the fate of the world.  In Dragon Age II, you are in control of your own fate—but only just.  Both games have stories revolving around choice, yet there’s no “open world” to explore.  Indeed, both games in the series make the decision to cut out all the travel time between locations.  There’s no overworld to explore, just a series of locations that you can jump to by pointing at them on a map. 

Interestingly, the choices in Dragon Age II do not have the large, world altering effects of Dragon Age: Origins (apart from the end of Act II, in which Hawke saves the city).  That is in part because of the differing narrative foci of Dragon Age II, since Hawke is meant to be an individual who is merely caught up in events far beyond his control (evidenced by the indication that really there’s very little difference in the ending depending upon who the player chooses to side with)  Sure, siding with the Templars nets you a cushy viscountship, but there’s still widespread unrest and Circle rebellions all over the damn place.  That said, the player has an awful lot of control over the sort of person that Hawke is, which is thanks largely to the conversation system, a system that allows you to joke with some characters, be nice to others, and be a complete dick to the rest.  My first time through, I played Hawke as utterly devil-may-care, which is largely why he wound up romancing Isabella.

by Kris Ligman

5 Jul 2011


In recent weeks I have been running a little experiment on my personal blog, Dire Critic. Several months ago I was enabled by a group of friends to invest in some classic Bioware CRPGs. I had only ever played the first Baldur’s Gate as an adolescent and it seemed I was long overdue to correct that. Partly inspired by Kirk Hamilton and Leigh Alexander’s FF7 Letters and suggestions from (recent Moving Pixels podcast guest) Eric Swain, the process quickly organized itself into a sort of interactive book club. Consciously patterned after the Vintage Game Club with the AV Club’s Rowan Kaiser as advisor and a smattering of Twitter followers playing along with us, our first game on the agenda was the critically lauded cult favorite Planescape: Torment.

I really had no idea what to expect. I try to keep as blank a slate as possible when going into media, be it a film or a game. I rarely even watch promotional trailers. So with no preconceived notions about Torment at all, apart from knowing it was “writerly” and built with Bioware’s Infinity engine, I downloaded my DRM-free copy from GoG.com, installed it, patched it to the high heaven, and ventured into the land of the dead.

by Nick Dinicola

1 Jul 2011


Nier is not a good game. It tries to be too many different types of games at once, but that’s also what makes it so incessantly interesting. It’s clearly an experimental game and wears that label like a badge of honor. Based on its core mechanics you might describe it as an “action RPG,” but its role-playing elements are so poorly thought out that it’s obvious the developers were bored of RPGs and just wanted to get to the bizarre shoot-‘em-up-puzzle-survival-horror-text-adventuring. Sadly, for as interesting as this genre-bending is, it doesn’t add anything to the overall experience. Save for a couple examples, Nier is just being weird for the sake of weird.

by Scott Juster

30 Jun 2011


After writing about how my lack of preconceived opinions impacted my response to Lugaru HD, I’ve spent some more time thinking about expectations and how they impact players’ experiences and games’ receptions.  All of it leads me to conclude that while the hype cycle keeps the medium’s business side running, it is usually bad for the artistic side.  Realistically, no one can be expected to keep themselves hermetically sealed off from a game, but hasty comparisons and preconceived notions can easily hurt both players and developers.

by G. Christopher Williams

29 Jun 2011


I noticed that the Grasshopper Manufacture logo that appears in the opening screens of Suda51 and Shinji Mikami’s new game, Shadows of the Damned, is not the version that includes the motto, “Punk’s Not Dead.”  While I don’t feel like Suda51 has fully intended to step away from his infamous “punk rock aesthetic,” this latest game does leave me wondering a bit about the viability of that approach in the climate of contemporary gaming culture.

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