Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gameplay as the anti-story

This is a little of a story-related rant, but mostly an emergent-player-narrative rant.

I like playing rogues.  I find them interesting.  One exception: WoW.  I don't make any friends as a rogue, so it's out.  But single-player, it's my preferred option.  I like loot, I like sneaking, and I like not being the one to get stabbed all the time.  Everybody's happy!

That is, until Dragon Age decides to force me into a situation where, on my own, I'm expected to battle odds of 3-to-1.  I don't know if you've ever tried to backstab someone when they're facing you, let alone 3 enemies at once, but I'll give you a little hint, just in case : it doesn't work.

And, with that, my main advantage is lost.  I can still sneaky-sneaky, but I can no longer stabby-stabby.  Couple that with a templar who guzzles Health Poultices like he's Mitch Hedberg's wino in a grape juice store, admittedly at my behest due to his tactics settings, and I'm left without my healers, without my tank, and without any hope of success.  Bollocks.

So what's an elfin rogue to do?  Die, apparently.  To this stage, after 31 hours of play time, I had died only once.  Now, in the course of half an hour, I've died more than 15 times.  I stopped counting when I managed to form a 30-second sentence that was composed entirely of cusswords.  My cat was not impressed.

I understand a main quest line.  I understand a common story is far easier to program and fulfil, and even more interesting to replay as a different character class, especially since, in the case of Dragon Age, you would have different companions depending on what class you were.  I know all of this.  And yet there should then be no area where one class type is so eminently unsuited to the task at hand, let alone on the main quest line, that it takes supreme patience and a ridiculous amount of luck to succeed.

Worst of all, I feel like the game is punishing me.  What did I do wrong, Dragon Age?  Did I choose the wrong class?  Did I go somewhere before I was supposed to?  Did I trip the random keep-killing-me-I-enjoy-it variable?  Why is this so hard?

To give an example : there's a room with two mages in it.  So far, I've been able to use stealth to walk past most anything, but anywhere worth going has a portal or object that's only usable once out of combat and, even in stealth, once you sight an enemy, you're in combat.  Okay, whatever.  Take away another one of my strengths.  So I go to walk past these two mages which - and this is important - are behind a closed door.  One of them complains about the noise (I'm a stealth character, don't look at me) and you know what?  BAM! Fireball.  To the face.  Reload.

Let's try that again, staying on the opposite side of the corridor.  No, still too noisy.  Reload.  Let's try it as a rat, in stealth mode.  No, still too noisy.  Reload.  Oddly enough, if I use the mouse hole to get into the room they're standing in, I can run circles around them and they don't notice.  Okay, let's try to get off a backstab on at least one of the mages.  Shock, fireball, frost and oh, yes, reload.  And, of course, my favourite: try to escape the mages who are chasing me by turning into a rat and running through the mouse hole into the room they've recently vacated...  Only to have them cast fireball, which follows me through the wall and kills me.  Reload.

You can see why I'm a little frustrated.  My character is my character; I base my conversation choices on the person I perceive her to be.  That perception doesn't include 'bloody hopeless at near about everything.'  It also doesn't include 'disinclined to attack from behind while in stealth mode', as seems to be another glitch.  It does include 'getting the heck out of here while fighting as few things as possible', which doesn't seem to be an option and, failing that 'die'.

She has a specific skillset.  She's thin, lithe, quick on her feet, and prone to confusing her opponents.  She works best when coup de grace is a definite option.  She does not do so well against 3 burning templars at the same time.  Nor should she have to.

Am I missing something?  Is there a magic win button that I'm somehow failing to see?  But, alas, all I'm seeing instead is a game that, instead of being relaxing escapism at the end of a long day has turned into my worst enemy for no apparent reason.  And it's all the more frustrating because I was having so much fun.  It's like finding out your jumping castle is made from the skin of dead babies.

I just want to feel in control of my world, Dragon Age.  Is that so wrong?

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