Bulletstormin’, Dragon Age 2 Demo and Why Guild Wars 2 Will Save Us All

In Video Games on February 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm

(Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dig the Convergence of Every Event Into a Single Moment in Space-Time)

Sometimes I get very excited about several games at once, and while I could wait and discuss these three varied, altogether dissimilar games at separate times, I figured, why not just talk about them all at once like a crazy person might?  So here we go.

Not sure what this shows in game, but it didn't look like any other Bulletstorm screenshot.

Bulletstorm.  You may have seen this discussed previously here, and now that I’ve finally spent sixty dollars on this game, I’ll now present my vainglorious attempts at rationalizing my investment as “objective” as I “review” this product.

Or not.  Bulletstorm is fun, and just as I thought during the demo, it’s just like playing a bizarre single-player version of Unreal Tournament 12345 where the intelligent enemies have been replaced by hordes of goons from other first-person shooters that like to take cover behind explosives or in front of deadly spikes, gigantic cacti, exposed wiring and that kiosk at the airport where they’re not legally allowed to leave as they attempt to proselytize you but if you venture near you’re left trying to escape with some semblance of social grace and/or dignity but instead tell them you hate god for not remembering your birthday and rush away for your flight.

So environmental hazards certainly factor heavily into gameplay and level design (side note: someone recently told me it was ridiculous that you could use a word like “gameplay” to describe games, as if bookread is used for books, or moviewatch for movies).  The Leash (aka I was bitten by a radioactive Scorpion from Mortal Kombat and have the proportionate strength and powers of an early-nineties fighting game character) was introduced gradually, and the first few obstacles are traversed by flinging people into doors and grates, causing them to open or collapse to form new paths.

Then the game calmly informed me that being a ludicrous, aggrandized violent maniac is somehow a valued currency in this world, and the nuttier I am, the better my gear gets.  I can imagine this being used in the real world some day, because instead of balking at the casual obliteration of suspension of disbelief, I stared at each enemy like a parched man might a sentient glass of water that they want to murder for the slightest positive reinforcement.  Suddenly each enemy was a gateway to untold empowerment and fun as my toys became deadlier and deadlier.  Environments snapped into deadly focus as I searched for unique opportunities to ragdollize my opponents with extreme prejudice.

The game’s “horde” mode takes this idea and runs with it, as you battle through waves of enemies and unlock and upgrade your equipment with your “Skillshot” score, which is also the arbiter of wave progression; fail to score high enough and you have to do it again.  The amount follows a progression, and my brother and I quickly battled up to a frenzied crescendo; the game offers tips and bonus points of doing certain things as well, but due to the attitude that had been cultivated, we see a notation encouraging both of us to kick a given enemy, and we’d rush down and brutally stomp our foe to death.

Singleplayer has entertained me thus far, and it should: it’s composed entirely of set pieces.  I’ve outrun a gigantic gear on a tiny train car with a gatling gun; I’ve leashed gyrocopter pilots out of their craft (bonus points for killing them before they land); I’ve shot my way through building-sized eggs, then ran out of the cavern before the ovipositor capable of laying those eggs destroyed me.  Then I runned and gunned through a miniature city in a theme park and topped that sequence off by using a remote-control godzilla to obliterate a ridiculous number of foes.  I’m leaving out some stuff, but this is just a portion of what happens up to part way through chapter two.

The dialog isn’t as stupid as the demo, thankfully, and the characters even remark on strange turns of phrase.  When a foe threatened them with “killing their dicks,” Greyson and Ishi were like, “What does that even mean?” before pursuing.  I don’t know, it just sounds better than it did in the demo.

Worth the price of admission though?  Probably not just yet.  But we’ll see.

I'm sure some intrepid wallpaper site is unhappy I took this.

Dragon Age 2 is ambitious with its stated plot outline taking you through the better part of a decade as you create a hero’s legend, from the events of the original game through the consequences of whatever happened.  It, like Mass Effect, will import your save data so events and characters properly reference your decisions and the world should be affected by what actually happened in your game.  Only you’re playing as a new pregen character named <firstname> Hawke, who barely escapes one of the first towns destroyed by The Blight in the first game, along with your brother, sister and mother.

The game is already more cohesive due to its framing device, that of a “Seeker,” some years in the future, interrogating a dwarvin historian about “The Champion,” desiring the truth behind the legend so she can “seek” them out for some vital task.  So you’re basically treated to the last page in the book before being tasked with the journey to build your legend.  Nice.

The graphics show subtle improvement, which I mainly noticed in the ever-present blood splatter looking less ridiculous than before.

Mass Effect 2 shows its influence here, with the conversation wheel making a prominent introduction for this series.  Different than Mass Effect is that each option also has an icon that shows the general tone behind the response; wings and a halo accompany virtuous, self-sacrificing comments, while the laughing mask from the theatre personae shows mirthful, smirking or sarcastic responses.  Mean choices show up in red with your typical evil tokens and iconography.

Mages have a default ranged attack that they use rather than beating enemies with a staff, and abilities and talents now reside in trees that one must specialize in, offering much more depth than the four-deep “trees” from the previous title.

Overall, I’m happy to see Dragon Age growing up into the game I’d like it to be.  Some are very unhappy with this, as this series was allegedly promised as the successor to Baldur’s Gate that everyone had been waiting for.  While the first game certainly qualifies, especially with its interface, the gameplay changes and preset character in the second seem offensive to them, believing they were owed some lasting, ongoing series that never evolved or changed.

Dragon Age was a step backwards from the evolution that Bioware itself wrought.  I’m not sure what else needs to be said for people to understand that.  It isn’t iniquity that people move on from tired conventions that served only to limit the genre to those nostalgic players with the patience to slog through vital gameplay flaws.

As for Guild Wars 2…well, I’ll save that for later.  That’s going to be hefty, covering the brilliant design philosophy powering the game, to the deft watercolor-esque style behind the game’s art.


  1. I’ve read a couple of reviews of the demo for Dragon Age 2 and they pique my interest. Mostly because the original game also piqued my interest except for that whole thing about how it played stupid.

    I need to download the demo and give it a go I suppose, or not since I have no time to do anything or money anymore.

    I will say that I like the idea of a visual clue as to what you are saying being presented, it could help with the non-chastisement of beloved comrades when you actually thought you were making a joke. AKA I insulted Mordin by accident once.

    I am a bit annoyed as using a predetermined character, but oh well. I would have been human anyways.

  2. The thing with the original Dragon Age is that the human origin path — the Human Noble — is the most fleshed out in terms of story. It makes sense when your newly-orphaned noble attempts to petition the king for aid against the recent attack against their house. You can also swing it into a spot on the throne during the endgame through marrying one of the two potential heirs. The rest don’t seem to compare.

    So I’m in no way broken up about getting a “pregenerated” character, especially as you still get to customize their class and choose how to sculpt their personality as the game goes on.

    Gameplaywise, it’s more action-oriented than the original. You tap (A) for each attack, and the special moves are either deployed instantly without bothering you, or using a targeting system that’s very explicit in who will be affected by your attack.

    All in all, it’s probably less “transparent” than the original Dragon Age, but that just means you feel like you’re kicking your enemies butts, rather than defeating the menu system or just felling generic ragdolls.

    That said, you might still offend people if you’re not sure how they might react. You encounter Flemeth — the fabled Witch of the Wilds, voiced by Admiral Janeway — and while you speak with her in obsequious awe and beseech her for help, she actually much prefers being insulted or made the butt of a pithy comment (“You’re a clever one” and all that).

    Lastly, this does seem like it’s going the Mass Effect route of having large, impactful events befall your character; your choice of class, somehow, determines which of your initial allies will die in the demo, married by convenience (martial classes keep magic-using allies, and so on); I was shocked when I found this out, and while it has nothing to do with an actual in-game character choice, I find myself preferring a martial role just to keep the mage alive.

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