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Why I Don't Like BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins

First off, I just realized it's been months since I posted anything here. It's not that hasn't been anything to blog about. I blame Valve and Steam. They had a huge sale of really good games the week between Christmas and New Years, and I went crazy. Between that sale and a couple others before and after it, I got Grand Theft Auto IV, Crysis (including Crysis, Crysis Warhead, Crysis Wars), Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, Mirror's Edge, Psychonauts, Red Faction: Guerrilla, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Torchlight. Every one of them was on sale. How was I to know that GTA IV alone would take hours and hours to play? I also managed to squeeze in Batman: Arkham Asylum that came free with a new video card. I've been busy.

I played a lot of those games to "clear the calendar" for playing Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O), which I also picked up on sale. I had read the glowing reviews. I knew it was long and involved, and I wanted to have the time to devote to it because I'd read it was worth it. I really expected to get sucked in and get lost. I just started it a few weeks ago, and I have to say ... I really don't like it. That really, really bothered me. Everyone likes this game. Everyone. Well, everyone minus one I guess. It's not that I hate the game, either. It's not buggy. It looks fine. Not great, but not bad. The dialog between the characters is amusing, and the story is decent. I just couldn't seem to make myself play the game more than a couple hours at a time before I wanted to do something else.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. I mean, look at the scores at MetaCritic. The game has got many perfect 100s. A number of the gaming/PC podcasts I listen to have hosts that have played through the game 2, 3 or even 4 times. I love RPGs and love action games. I went through Fallout 3 four full times (plus most of the DLC) just to try the different karmas and sexes of the characters. More recently, I had no problem getting through Batman: Arkham Asylum. So what the heck is wrong with me and this game? It took me a while before I could put my finger on the cause.

I simply find the game too tedious to enjoy. I don't like micromanagement-centric games. I avoid most RTS games for that reason. The last RTS game I finished is Warcraft II. (Not even Warcraft III.) I've never played a single game of Starcraft nor am I likely to buy Starcraft II. (Diablo III is another story. I played through Diablo and Diablo II plus expansions more times than I can remember.) Turned-based strategy games are even lower on my like list. I'll never play Civ <any number> even if I could get it for free. The thing is, I didn't realize that DA:O was a nearly turn-based, micromanagement style game for a while. It doesn't look like one for sure. What I came to realize is that if I didn't take control of the various characters during anything more than a brief battle, they would die. That in turn would get me killed.

That's because my party members are apparently partially brain-damaged. I expect my party members to do a better job at managing themselves than they seem to be able to do. Hey warrior, dude! You're almost dead! Maybe you ought to try one of the 31 different health potions we're lugging around! Quite often, I have to move them out of harms way. Hey, healer-person! You don't need to stand right next to the warrior-person; you're getting hit, too! Move, you idiot! Hang on, I'll move you. Hey rogue-like, bard, chick! You've got 18 vials of various poisons! Why don't you use them once in a while? Nope. I gotta do that manually, too. It's a wonder these people remembered to get dressed. Having to keep after them so much made it hard for me to feel a connection to any of them. I really didn't care if they lived or died or stayed with me or not.

Yes, I know that I can set up multiple strategies for each character and then switch between them for different battles if I want to. I don't want to. Their default strategies apparently aren't extensive enough. I figured out how to set up a rule for taking health potions, but it takes up one of the precious few slots for strategies. Yes, I found out that I can add more slots to some members, but I'd rather add skills. So, instead, I have to watch each party member and either heal them (I played a mage) or take control and swallow down a vial of something. There's probably a way to set up a rule for having the rogue apply poison, too, but I don't care. I don't want to spend all my time coercing the other members do what they should just do automatically. I just want to play my character and get on with it.

That brings me to the next thing I don't like. I really just want to get good at my class. The problem is, I have to manage all the other classes, too. I barely have time to figure out the best use of my main character's skills as it was. I certainly don't have time (or inclination) to learn the skill tree for every one of the potential members of my party. This gets untenable after five or six members (from which I pick a working party of four). I played through Mass Effect and had no problem with that party system. That said, those party members seemed to have sense enough to know when to attack, when to defend and even when take cover. In short, they weren't annoying like the ones in DA:O

I suppose it's possible I just picked a bad starting class by picking the mage. The beginning story isn't bad, but I've heard that the elves and both dwarven character types have better stories. Since I found myself having to take over the warrior so much to try to get aggro off the other characters, maybe I should have just had a warrior as my main character. At times, I got the feeling that's what BioWare expected me to do. Instead of doing that, I think I'll just try a different game.