I argued with myself, somewhat loudly at times, over whether to pre-order Mass Effect; Andromeda (MEA) and finally succumbed. The decision was spurred somewhat by the overall quality of Dragon Age: Inquisition and the hope that Bioware had learned from its mistakes with ME3. I could not bring myself to pay for Origin Access since I already own the games that interest me and MEA was the only coming release on my radar, so early access was not a cost-effective option. The short version boils down to the fact that I intend to preload it over the coming weekend, but will not be able to play it until it unlocks on Tuesday night.

I am still somewhat leery of issues with MEA, so intend to approach the game in the same way that I did with ME3: a series of first impressions-style posts as I work my way through the game. I do have the capability of recording and posting on YouTube, but probably do not have the time to engage in any extensive editing. We’ll see, but count on posts about MEA appearing starting late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

I finally got around to doing a bit of site maintenance. One of the first items I took care of was cleaning up the user database. There were somewhat over 150 users registered who had never posted anything, so they went to the trashcan. I suspect they were from spambots who managed to get through registration checks, but couldn’t clear the posting checks. All I can say is that if I got you by mistake, email me and we’ll fix it, but otherwise go peddle your stuff elsewhere.

Knew I hadn’t posted anything in a while, but didn’t realize that it had been almost a year. So, OK, ummm. “Fallout 4”. Bought it, played it, finished it, liked it, but it didn’t grab me like Fallout 3 and New Vegas did. Only a couple of playthroughs and I put it aside. Steam picked up the “Automatron” DLC automatically (Seasons Pass), but I haven’t played it. Did another playthrough of Witcher 3 and had a good time with it. Completed my Sims 3 collection (except Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats – let’s not go there) during the Winter Sale and have likely spent more hours doing The Sims 3 than anything else for the past few months. Replayed Mass Effect 3 from an uploaded saved game (mine are still on my old rig, which isn’t starting due to fried RAM and I don’t feel like doing the Frankenstein thing to retrieve them). I was pleasantly surprised at being able to finish it, even with the EC ending. Still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but it didn’t leave me raging. Even went back to fire up the original (with a few tweaks and the MEUITM mod from the Nexus).

Can’t claim massive amounts of time on my games, though, thanks to grad school. Semester will be over in a couple of weeks, so I’ll likely have a bit more free time to do that, but the Summer sessions will be starting up at the beginning of June and that will put another damper on it. Frankly, seminars are turning out to be more fun than the games. Still hate writing papers, though.

Checking to make sure that my blogging app is also working as it should.

Got a borked update to the current version of WordPress, so this is just a test post to make sure that the online editing functionality is back to working again.

As with most games, Dragon Age: Inquisition has its good points and bad points. Clunky inventory and frustrating combat controls probably head the list of bad points. Neither of those is a deal-breaker, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind if you’re considering whether or not to purchase it. Players who use a gamepad may or may not experience some of the same issues.

Taken as a whole, it’s an extremely enjoyable game. The 87/100 it has garnered at Metacritic (PC version) is pretty darned close to where I’d have rated it in a full-blown review. I’m impressed with its adherence to existing lore, happy to see the return of some NPCs from earlier games, and generally having a good time with it. Gameplay is closer to what I recall of DA2 than DAO. This will not sit well with some players (witness the borderline flame-war going on in the user reviews), won’t bother others and will likely not matter one way or the other to players who are new to the franchise.

Whether the game will turn out to be mod-able is an open question. There are a few headaches on the PC version that could be fixed with an appropriate mod and I’m hoping that they will be. Bioware’s track record on fixing gameplay issues isn’t stellar, although they have been good at fixing game-breaking bugs in a timely fashion. The multiplayer aspect of the game (which I have not messed with) may have some bearing on whether it can be modded, but I don’t know enough to comment one way or the other on its likelihood.

Graphically, the game is superb and can strain even a high-end system, so I’m expecting that it will be around for a long while to come. I am still chuckling over a few of the NPC beards and a couple of minor collision mesh issues and doubt that either of these will be repaired by the developers. And once again, I’m back to mod-ability, so let’s move on.

The sound is excellent, the music fits and is not overbearing. Voice acting is superb. Players may choose from two voices for their character, one with a British accent and one American. My character is using the British voice and she is absolutely marvelous. Ambient sound adds real atmosphere to the world. Major kudos to the sound team.

The storyline is interesting, if not exceptionally engaging. It’s typical heroic fantasy fare: the world as we know it will end if the player doesn’t jump in and do something about it. Side quests, though, are a mixed bag. Lots of little human touches, like stumbling over an undelivered letter and then needing to find its intended recipient, make the experience more personal for the player. Then there are the usual fetch-and-carry kinds of stuff that tend to be the meat and potatoes of most adventure games. Each of your party members also has a personal quest of some sort. Varric would like to destroy all of the Red Lyrium that you come across, for example. Fulfilling those requests will improve your relationship with that character. Failing to complete those quests will likely have a negative impact somewhere down the road. This is really nothing new; Bioware did the same with Mass Effect 2 and 3, for example, as well as similar missions in Origins.

The writing is done well. Missions won’t stick in your memory for very long once they are completed (most are rather generic), but NPCs are believable and mostly sympathetic, so your interactions with them likely will be memorable. I haven’t kicked off any major romances options yet, since I’m still with the original three party members. But I’ve discovered that Leliana is still in love with my original Warden (who is still out there somewhere according to my imported world state) and plans to join her as soon as the immediate crisis is resolved. That was a very touching conversation, at least from my end. Leaving aside the ME3 ending, Bioware knows how to tell a story well and Inquisition seems to be no exception in this regard.

I purchased the Digital Deluxe Edition (about $70) rather than just the basic game. As far as I can tell, the extras amount to some weapons and armor and a copy of the soundtrack. I’m not certain that it was worth the extra or not, but since that difference is only $10, I’m not going to gripe much or very loudly. I do, however, expect to be nickel-and-dimed to death on additional content somewhere down the line (we’re talking Bioware and EA here). As far as I am concerned, it has been and likely will continue to be worth the pricetag (I’m noting that there have been no “Black Friday” discounts on it). If you’re into Dragon Age, you’ve likely already purchased it. If you’re not, but are on the fence about whether to get it or not, I’d recommend the basic game ($60 at this time) and then decide whether or not you want any additional content once you’ve had a chance to experience it for yourself. If you’re into Fantasy RPGs, you could do a lot worse for your money.

Happy Gaming!

I’m guessing that this one should pretty much wrap things up. Having sunk a bit over 20 hours into the game, anything beyond this would need to turn into a full-blown review, which would necessitate finishing the game. Even the major reviewers noted that it took close to 80 hours to do that, and it included leaving a boatload of side missions and quests uncompleted. Since I’m being fairly completionist about it and most of those side missions and quests involve a lot of running around (time), I really don’t feel like waiting until after the beginning of the year to do it. But I’ll do a short wrap after this, just to hit the high points.

The controls lag is still an annoyance. It seems to take about a half-second or so after exiting inventory, or the character screen, or a cutscene or just about anything other than the main game screen before you regain control. And it’s consistent. I’ve don’t recall ever having immediate control after the game does something on its own.

There is a big “dead zone” at the bottom of the screen (right about at the hotkey toolbar) where the mouse-controlled camera stops working until you release your RMB, get the cursor back up off of the toolbar, and then reengage. This will likely not be a major issue for players using controllers, but it’s certainly an annoyance for those of us who use keyboard and mouse and is particularly problematic during combat. I don’t think the entire party has died from it, but we’ve come awfully close a few times.

As far as encounters (both set-piece and random), the game doesn’t do much hand-holding. Enemies do not appear to scale to the character/party. Instead, areas seem to be clustered around a particular level with a higher-level boss (or bosses) within those areas. So it is entirely possible to find your party completely overmatched in some places. For those cases, “run away!” appears to be a workable strategy as you can come back at a later point to clean up the few odd pieces that you weren’t powerful enough to handle on the initial encounter.

For those overhead Fade Rifts where I just can’t manage to get to a position where I can disrupt them, the only strategy that works consistently is to simply kill everything that it spawns. This eventually reduces the Rift’s health to the point where it will stop spawning stuff (until the area reloads, anyway) and then I can find the one tiny spot where “Close Rift” is accessible. This is extremely costly in terms of health potion usage and highly frustrating when your party is close to being overmatched, but it does work. Of course you do get experience for killing all of those extra spawns, but I’m not sure that the trade-off is worth it. I’m hoping that this is something that will get fixed in a patch,  sooner rather than later.

Potion usage seems to be a bit glitched in a couple of areas. First, you can expand the number of potions you can carry by spending Influence points at the War Room. But those extra potions don’t seem to get added to your inventory, either manually or automatically. For example, I expended a point for extra potions and should have 12 available rather than the base 8. But I’m still at 8 potions. This is apparently also an issue in the PS4 version of the game (I don’t know about the XBox version), so it’s likely something that will get patched eventually.

Along those same lines, you can add a second batch of potions (Health Regeneration, Lyrium, Grenades and probably other stuff that I haven’t researched yet) to each character’s belt. The default is five of these. However, party members will not automatically use these. Over five or ten hours of playing, all of my party members are still toting the original five potions that I gave them. Also, now that I’ve managed to research and upgrade a grenade, I can’t seem to remove the Health Regeneration potions that are already in their belts. I haven’t yet tried manually using them to empty the slot. Might work, might not.

OK, let’s deal with dying. When party members die, you will either need to send another character to revive them or finish the battle without them. Reviving requires pulling a character out of the fight, moving them to the fallen character, and then holding the appropriate key/button until the revival finishes. After the fight is over, the fallen will automatically revive with a couple of health bars. However, there is a “Revive” spell in the Spirit perk tree that will accomplish the same thing without the need to pull a character out of the fight. You’ll need to expend several points in the tree before you can get to it (four or five, I think), but it can be well worth the expenditure since it lets everyone keep slugging.

Unless there is something at the end of the game (like the Warden making the ultimate sacrifice in DAO), there does not appear to be any perma-death in the game. The closest the game seems to get to this is that if the entire party dies, you’ll need to reload your last save.

On the topic of saves, the game is pretty good about autosaving before combat, especially at major points like Fade Rifts. If you find yourself overmatched, you can always turn back after reloading. However, if you already have enemies on the screen, you will not be able to save or quicksave until you either finish the combat or back away. Kind of makes sense in a way. You probably don’t want to be stuck with a saved game where the party is doomed regardless of any actions that you take and your only other option is to lose several hours of play because you forgot to save. In this area, the game does some reasonable hand-holding. Saves are pretty dinky (about a quarter of a MB), so don’t worry about accumulating a ton of them (we’re not going to discuss the couple of GBs or so of saved games from my last Skyrim playthrough).

One last chuckle before closing. I’m noticing that Bioware is still having serious issues with NPC facial hair (well, hair in general). Head hair is somewhat better than earlier games, but still looks like a rubber wig a lot of the time. But a lot of beards are just flat-out funny. Some NPCs honestly look like they’re wearing fake beards, kind of like the strap-on Santa beards that go with cheap costumes. You can see gaps between the cheek and beard while you’re talking to them. Almost makes me wish there were some dialogue topic I could select to point it out to the NPC and then see them hastily try to adjust it.

And on that note, I think I’ll say, “that’s a wrap”. A very good game so far. It has a few glitches and failings, but most fall into the “mildly annoying” category with only one or two “seriously annoying” ones and nothing completely game-breaking. Happy gaming.

Back into the wilds of Thedas we go.

One of the first things that I’m noticing on this session is that loading times when traveling between areas are exceptionally long. Considering that the complete game was something on the order of 23GB or 24GB, long loads shouldn’t be horribly surprising, but when those load times run to several minutes, it’s excessive. I’m doubtful that this is my system, even though I am using HDDs rather than SSDs. Instead, the world map seems to have problems loading properly when I want to transition from one world area to another. Bioware’s record on fixing these kinds of things through patches is close to abysmal, but one can always hope, I suppose.

Loading screens have some nice game tips (three, typically). My only gripe is that they are a timed display (x-seconds or somesuch), after which they go to a black screen until the area finishes loading. I think I’d have left them up until the new area was completely loaded, especially since some are a bit longer than can be read in the time allotted. Much better than the single tip that a lot of games do, but not well implemented in this case. Maybe it will get picked up in a patch or something, but we’ll just have to see.

The world seems huge in comparison to Skyrim. In fact, the Hinterlands area by itself seems to be close to the same size as Skyrim. And no matter where you want to go, you can’t get there from here directly because there is a mountain or something in the way. So lots of running around, oftentimes in circles, it seems. But it’s all good and I’m enjoying it.

The creature spawning system strikes me as a bit borked. Most of the time it works the way it was intended, but occasionally it spawns something in the most illogical way. For example, we played smack-down on a few bandits and killed everything in the immediate area. AoE spells caused collateral damage on some wildlife that wasn’t particularly threatening, but still clear all around by the time we were done. After the fight, I’m looking for loot, find one, start to loot, and a bear spawned right next to me. Just POOF! And yes, I got mauled. And no, I was not a happy camper about it. That was the worst instance of the issue, but it’s not unusual for encounters to just pop in from nowhere. I seem to recall a similar issue with the “Honest Hearts” DLC for Fallout New Vegas and I don’t remember it getting fixed/patched. I guess that as long as they don’t spawn in my face very often, it’s something that I can live with, but it’s certainly an oddity.

The game controls seem a bit laggy at times. This is one that I’m not sure can be completely blamed on the game. My system is just borderline on the recommended specs, so it’s not like I can claim that I wasn’t warned ahead of time. I’m a bit better on RAM, VRAM and GPU than recommended, but am only running a quad-core rather than the recommended six-core for AMD, though my CPU clock speed is significantly better.  Nevertheless, there are occasional delays in command execution. Nothing critical up to this point, but still noticeable. And not noticeable in the sense of being annoying; just noticeable.

I’m catching several little collection/completion-type quests. These are ones where you’re supposed to find 20-odd bits of something that are scattered around the map or multiple locations of some type (camps and landmarks, for example). They’ve been running pretty smoothly, though they don’t seem to be adding much to the plot or story line. Since I’ve yet to complete any of them, I’m not sure whether they are there just for grinding or whether they serve some bigger purpose. I don’t suppose it’s any big deal either way; just a point of curiosity on my end. I’m not a big fan of that kind of stuff when it doesn’t serve any real purpose other than giving the player something else to do. As if my journal wasn’t already chock full of things that need doing.

Inquisition seems to have a system somewhat like Galactic Readiness in Mass Effect 3. Completion of quests, closing Fade Rifts, gathering supplies and that kind of thing generate support for the Inquisition in the form of Power points and Influence. These points can be expended in the Inquisition War Room to open new areas for play. Gathering influence also unlocks perks that can be applied to your character (perhaps “party” – I’m still unclear on that point). On the whole, it seems a more practical approach than ME3’s Galactic Readiness (which basically dictated how many side quests you could skip and still have some choices in the end game). In theory, the idea sounds decent. I’m just not in a position to be able to report on how well it was implemented, so we’ll just have to see.

As far as leveling goes, your party does not necessarily mirror your character’s level. At my last level-up (Level 6), I hit the new level a few hundred XPs before the rest of the party did. Each level gets you one perk point, which can be applied to any one of about four perk trees for each archetype (warrior, rogue, mage, etc.). The perk trees require some serious consideration on how you want to develop your character. But there is a “ring of respec” (for lack of a better name) that you can purchase in Haven. The vendor shows an infinite supply of these single-use thingies, so I’m guessing that the dev team decided that many players were going to want to say “oops! can I have a do-over on those perk choices?” at some point. I don’t know whether I’ll use it or not, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if I decide to.

Enough for another session. On the whole, I’m enjoying the game. There are several niggling little things that I’m noticing, but the only major one is the long loading times. Crashes have not repeated themselves, so perhaps that was a one-time issue that got resolved through a system restart. Restarting is a good idea after installing any new software and I just didn’t do it this time, so I’m going to give the devs a pass on that one. Not so much on the loading times, though.

Happy gaming.

Continuing on with my adventures in Thedas, I’m still reasonably impressed with the game’s quality and adherence to Dragon Age lore. I’m assuming that a Dalish Mage is now irrelevant as a sizeable chunk of Templars now view any mage as being an apostate (which is what a Dalish Mage would have been in DAO and DA2), so they tend to attack on sight.

Similar problems as before continue, although no crashes, thankfully. Camera controls in combat are a bit of a problem, especially when trying to close Fade Rifts that are above the player. It’s very difficult to see when and whether it’s possible to disrupt or close them, even in Tactical view. At one point, I ended up with three out of four party members dead simply because I couldn’t see the status of the rift without moving away from the encounter zone. Nor sure whether this is intentional or simply a design oversight, but it’s certainly a pain in the ass.

Questing around in the Hinterlands gave me a chance to extensively check out the map functions. On the whole, it’s pretty straightforward. It seems that only one quest at a time can be active (unlike Skyrim,where all quest locations can be showing on the map at the same time). It keeps things a bit neater, but also requires frequently checking back in the journal to keep track of where you’re going and why you’re going there.

The automap is pretty standard fare. Fog-of-war blanks most of the parts of the map until you have physically traveled to those areas. I have not found any way to turn map icons off and, upon consideration, am not certain that doing so would be a good idea. Since the game doesn’t tell you where you need to go (it’s just out there somewhere), you’d just be stumbling around blindly in the hope finding the correct location to do whatever it is that you need to do. Icons for quests that have not been encountered do appear and a lot of them are just a lone person standing in the wilderness; something you’d never notice unless you happened to be near them. I can think of slicker ways to do the same thing, but it’s an improvement over earlier games, so I’m not griping about it.

Fast-travel within major areas seems to be pretty much limited to getting back to or between camps. On the whole, I find it a good compromise. Since you’re only allowed to carry 8 healing potions for the whole party and your potions can only be restocked at a camp, it’s a practical approach to the problem. There is enough hoofing around that everyone will have ample opportunity to enjoy the scenery.

Inventory management isn’t much improved over DAO. Barring expending a perk point to increase carry weight, the whole party will be covered by a single allowance. For my character, that’s a flat 80. But like DAO, that’s not 80 pounds. It seems to be 80 items (stacks seem to count as a single item and ingredients don’t seem to count at all). Since I’m a mage, I don’t have perks that increase my carrying capacity, so that appears to be my limit for the rest of the game.

Gold seems to be somewhat plentiful, but not enough so that I can buy everything that I want. Cashing in loot is just about the same as for DAO: schlep it back to some merchant and unload what you don’t want to keep. I don’t know if Inqusition will turn out to be modable in the same way that DAO And DA2 were. If it turns out to be, I’m expecting to see something along the lines of the Utility Sack appear on the Nexus fairly quickly (because inventory is really clunky).

I’ve reached a point where party members have begun to banter with each other (I’m still with the three you start with). Voicing is very well done. Each NPC has a distinct personality and Varric is pretty much the same as from DA2, still a bit of a cynic, and will likely become just as annoying as he did in DA2. On the whole, though, I like him. Major kudos to the devs for lightening the atmosphere.

Crafting is a fairly simple activity. Most weapons and armor can be improved through the addition of bits and pieces that you can find or purchase here and there. They must be taken to a crafting station to be added to the item and there is only one such station at this point in my game. I suspect that others will appear as I expand accessible areas, so it’s not going to be too much of a hassle. Potions are craftable at any Inquisition camp, though. At least that’s what I’m seeing, but take that with a grain of salt as it’s still very early in the game (I’m currently Level 5 and am still working through the first area that I could access).

Quest grinding is going to be a major activity for most players. Lots of short quests involving a lot of running around looking for stuff. And there are plenty of them to do, so don’t be expecting a short game. I’m still on the fence on whether most of these are necessary or not, but they certainly add to the play time and completionists will be at this for a long, long, long time.

Remembering that last time that I purchased a newly released Bioware game and the botched abortion of an ending experience that it provided, I’m going to take the same “First Impressions” approach to Dragon Age: Inquisition and just reel it off as I get to it. Don’t be expecting finely crafted wordsmithing. But I’ll try to be as thorough and open about it as I can be. After all, I’m still of the opinion that Mass Effect 3 was (is?) an excellent game. Just whack off the last 10 or 15 minutes, boil them in acid, bury them in the jungle for a few centuries, then dig ‘em up and shoot whatever survived into the sun. Maybe in a different solar system, though. Wouldn’t want to wipe out life on Earth in an accidental case of solar indigestion.

Prior to playing, I took advantage of the World State generator at Dragon Age Keep. Since I did not save any of my DAO, Awakening or DA2 characters and did not feel like doing a complete playthrough prior to launching Inquisition, I went through each panel of the tapestry and set each story point as best as I could remember them. Short version is that my first playthrough on all three games was a “bunnies and rainbows” kind where I tried to give everyone a happy ending, or as happy as possible given the choices. About the only oddity was that my first DAO character was female and I wanted to import her into Awakening, so I let Alistair make the ultimate sacrifice. In keeping with that, my Inquisition character is a female Dalish mage (which was not an option in the earlier games).


Since I’m talking about a game as I go through it, there will undoubtedly be some story points included. I am not trying to do anything remotely resembling a walkthrough, so I will try to leave plot events and decisions off of the page, but something might slip through. Be warned.


From the get-go, I am not getting great framerates out of Inquisition. Low 40s is about average and it drops into the low 30s when there are lots of NPCs in the area. I suspect that it’s time to rebuild this creaking rig. Perhaps Santa will be nice, but I’m not holding my breath on it, so I’ll make do with what I have.

Graphically, I’m reasonably impressed. At 1920 x 1080 and a mix of High and Ultra settings (full-blown Ultra would undoubtedly drop my framerates down into the 20s and 30s), the game is gorgeous. Textures are crisp and sharp. Underlying meshes are very clean. I noted that my character changed costumes three or four times in the space of a few seconds worth of cut-scenes, so there’s some sloppy CGI going on in there somewhere. I also note that once I was able to access inventory, what my character was wearing on the inventory screen bore little resemblance to what she was wearing in-game.

The game threw a couple of DirectX errors and crashed shortly after the first boss battle and again shortly after regaining control of my character after the forming of the Inquisition. Both happened during conversations. I don’t know if they are related, but my initial impression is that they are. Thanks, Bioware.

Camera controls are very similar to DAO, so not a huge learning curve on that end. Wearing a smooth spot on my RMB, though. Combat controls are definitely different from DAO (haven’t messed with DA2 in a long time, so won’t trust my memory on this one). On the whole, I’m finding them to be a mixed bag. Some parts are a bit smoother, but the party micromanagement end of things is exceptionally clunky. Clunky to the point of dying several times during the first boss battle (on Normal difficulty yet). Lost control of the camera a few times at critical points during the battle, so people who needed aid weren’t able to get it in time.

Controls function somewhat differently. For those who are used to the DAO keymappings, I’d recommend immediately remapping Pause to the spacebar and jump to the CTRL key. Object activation happens with the F key rather than the normal LMB, so several instances of trying to help someone or open a container ended up firing off attacks instead. Not pretty.

Character animations are much nicer than DAO (and DA2, if memory serves). More lifelike and smooth. Facial expressions are also much better. Had a few instances of Varric’s right foot dropping through the ground during conversations, so he was constantly straightening himself back out again, but it’s all pretty minor stuff thus far.

On the whole, it’s pretty decent and I’m not feeling like I wasted the $70 (Digital Deluxe Edition). More to come as I get to it. Happy gaming.