The Corrente Review of Games: Volume II Number 8 (English Edition)
The Corrente Review Of Games: Volume II, Number 8 (English Edition)
The Corrente Review Of Games is published on the first Saturday of the month.
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Dragon Age:Origins was a solid role-playing game with occasional flashes of brilliance and quite a bit of charm. While it also had its weaknesses, as danps documented, overall I enjoyed the game enough to play it through several times. I have played it at least 100 hours.
RPGs are big games to build, generally, and so it was somewhat surprising that Bioware announced it would be releasing it less than a year and a half after the initial release of Dragon Age:Origins. To compare, us Elder Scrolls junkies have been waiting for a sequel to Oblivion since 2006 and we're not getting it until this November (not that I'm bitter). So at first I was amazed that I'd be getting a second dose of Dragon Age so soon after the first. Having attempted to play it - I say attempted because I gave up on the game about 20 hours in - I now see how they were able to produce it so quickly. They removed all of the good stuff from the first one and replaced it with boring, repetitive crap.
For starters, it's a given that a Bioware game is not going to be a big sandbox, go anywhere you want and do anything you want game like Bethesda's Oblivion. While I prefer the Bethesda style, Dragon Age:Origins still had a fairly large world with lots of different dungeons and well-drawn characters. Dragon Age II does not have a big world. After the intro, you are essentially confined to the city of Kirkwall. Personally, I got pretty damned tired of running around Kirkwall. To make matters worse, in an inexcusable display of cheapness, dungeons repeat maps. So just because you're going to a "new" location doesn't mean it will look at all new when you pull the map up. It'll be the same as the map from another location. For a game that retailed at $59 (even on the PC, which is just robbery since usually the PC prices are $10 cheaper than console because there's no licensing fee to Sony or Microsoft for PC games), that's outrageous.
Another strength of Dragon Age:Origins was the fun you got in building and outfitting your character and the other characters in your party. For reasons that are unclear, much of this flexibility is stripped in Dragon Age II. For starters, your character is limited to male or female human (although you can still be a rogue, mage or warrior). As for your companions, you cannot change their weapons and armor (although you can gain upgrades). So all that cool loot you collect that you'd like to use? Essentially, if your character can't use it, the only thing to do with it is sell it. It also means that the rogue Varric is limited to being an archer. So if you want to be an archer, you're basically going to have 2 archers in your party. No changing around your party's weapons or equipment to see what makes for a stronger party or what might happen to fit your role-playing. You will play the game more or less the way Bioware wants you to, with their vision the only one for your companions.
To make matters worse, the game jumps forward in time at various points, interrupting the story (to the extent there even is a story - it's very weak, at least the part I got through). One of the charms of Origins was that you would meet various members of your party and then travel together. As you traveled, you would have events that created a bond and a shared history. Now you play for a bit and then suddenly you jump ahead a year. You have no idea what's happened in that year beyond the clunky dialogue that tells you ("the last time I saw you ...."). As a result, I had trouble caring for my party members, even my sibling. I'd say the characters aren't as well drawn, but it's kind of hard to be when you only get to see the character for a bit here and there.
One of the complaints/praises for the new game is that it has "dumbed down" combat for the PC in order to make it better on the console. I have to disagree with this - the new combat, while it initially looks cool, also sucks on the console. The console controls on Origins were not great, but it did have kind of an old-school charm. The new game has much more responsive combat controls, but for some reason it doesn't equal more compelling combat. In part that's because enemies spawn constantly and combat quickly gets repetitive as you're trying to kill off your fourth wave of baddies (who simply appear out of thin air). Things like positioning matter much less. I had to pause and think about combat in Origins. I just button-mashed in the new game.
In sum, it's pretty clear that unlike Dragon Age:Origins, which was made with love for the RPG experience whatever its other shortcomings, Dragon Age II was pushed out as quickly as possible to make money for Bioware (a division of EA). Its "improvements" don't improve much and the rest of the experience has been sucked of all of the charm and fun of the original. After my 20 hours, I sold mine on Glyde. It was so boring, I didn't even want it in the house.
Bayonetta: Empowering or Exploitative
Oh, Bayonetta, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Intuitive combat? Check. Awesome fighting abilities? Check. Incredibly well drawn main character? Double check.
As a matter of fact, she may be too well drawn for some people’s tastes. According to an interview with Hideki Kamiya, the part of the character that took the longest to design, was her derriere. And a lovely derriere it is, for an animation. With the hypersexuality her character exudes, you would expect sex to play a larger role in the story, but it doesn’t, outside of a few double entendres, and a quick ass grope committed by a hapless human man who continues to throw himself in Bayonetta’s path of destruction,(a grope that is returned tenfold by Bayonetta in the next scene).
Sure, Bayonetta’s bodily dimensions are ridiculously inappropriate, and no one could run that fast while wearing guns for heels, but she’s a member of a supernatural race of dark witches, tasked with maintaining the balance of the world, who can walk on walls and summon demons. And did I mention she wears GUNS for HEELS??
Yes, the awesomeness of Bayonetta begins with weaponry, and combat. Designed by the makers of the hugely successful Devil May Cry series, it incorporates a similar style of combat. Quick attacks, sustained use of heavy gunfire, incredible acrobatics are just the beginning. Position in relation to the target matters, sustaining combos allows you to move from combatant to combatant in quick moments. New attacks are available for purchase, and 2 simplistic modes, Easy and Easy Automatic, make it accessible to fumble fingered gamers like me. Graduating to Normal only opens up new skills and rewards, not new and interesting plot points, so you don’t have to be supremely skilled to enjoy the game.
Evasion has never been so fun. These types of combat games usually make evasion a must, and my patience with them runs out quickly, as it’s so clunky, it slows the gameplay(Golden Axe: Beast Rider for Xbox 360). With Bayonetta, successful evasion triggers “Witch Time” a period when everything slows down, opening you to deliver devastating attacks, with massive damage. And outside of the standard combat moves, special attacks against bosses and common foes are available when earned, requiring quick actions with the buttons to complete the appropriate combo for maximum damage, like the God of War games. Cut scenes also quickly transition to danger scenes, requiring you to perform actions or die. Plus, once you kill your foes in a spectacular manner, their weapons are available for use, for a limited time.
Even dying isn’t so bad, as it brings you almost right back to where you were, only deducting points from your final score for the level(which are graded in the standard, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Stone). You don’t have to go back to the beginning of the level, and do EVERYTHING all OVER again.
The plot and storyline are one of the few weaknesses of this game. The plot could have been made more coherent, but you can tell that the designers were more interested in having Bayonetta do these awesome things, than explain why she was doing them. But suffice it to say, the story of a patriarchal religion seeking to use Bayonetta to impose it’s God upon the world, is somewhat appealing to people like me, while she is empowered by a secret sisterhood of warrior witches, wiped out generations ago. Her fate as a dark witch should she die, is to be tormented for eternity by the very demons she contracts to for her incredible powers.
The demons require a conduit to use their power in our world, and the common conduit that witches use, is their hair. With the lengths their hair must be, to perform such a service, the witches have devised a clever way to deal with the inconvenience. They wear it. Their hair lies onto their body, and is shaped into a skintight outfit, that allows freedom of movement, and probably a pretty breathable fabric as well, a must for the angel fighting set. Of course, that means when she summons the demons to do her damage for her, she’s naked. Not in actuality, as her hair and magic swirls around her, obscuring anything, but the implication is there. And the demonic attacks are not just for finishing moves, but can appear with the right combos, as a giant boot made of hair, reaching down from the skies to stomp your foes.
All that being said, the game is clearly designed for the male gaze, from the lingering looks as a drop of water flows down her breast, to the stripper “dance off” she engages in against a doppelganger foe. She even proclaims, upon receiving a Platinum award at the end of a level, that she “should have been a pole dancer!”
Still, a lead woman character with amazing abilities and fighting skills is still a rarity in the popular games of today. Her sarcasm and arrogance make her a delight to play, and even though there is the obligatory child to protect, she doesn’t get all maternal, although the little girls insists on calling her, “Mummy!” Her irritation with the child is endearing, when most narratives with women leads, would have her overcome with googliness. Instead, she compares crying children to cockroaches, and tells the kid she better keep up. She grows attached as the story unfolds, not as an immediate bond.
Oh, and the loading scenes let you practice moves. Which is one of the best features of all, especially as a chart on the screen shows you your allowable moves, and keeps track of how many times you succeed in pulling off the complicated combos. You get to try out new moves when they become available for purchase, so you don’t waste precious halos on moves that don’t fit with your playing style. Animal transformations allow your character to travel far of the beaten path of the game, to find bonuses and additional boards.
There is so much to enjoy with the game, that it really outweighs any negatives it might have. The easier levels are mainly button mashing, but the more difficult the level, the more finesse is required with the controls. I can’t recommend the game enough, and I eagerly await the continuation, either as a spin-off or sequel.