Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dragon Age Keep Open Beta Impressions



Dragon Age Inquisition is only weeks away, and Bioware has finally launched the open beta for the Dragon Age Keep. Unlike previous Bioware releases, Dragon Age Inquisition will not feature a save game import feature. At least, not in the traditional way. Instead of porting a save file over from Dragon Age 2 into Dragon Age Inquisition, players will establish their world state via the Keep, an online app that allows you to upload save games from previous Dragon Age releases, and tracks those decisions for later use in Inquisition. For those who may have not played previous entries in the Dragon Age saga, the Keep allows you to make choices and establish your in-universe continuity the way you would like to see it. Once you are satisfied with your world state, whether by uploading or customizing, you will then be able to transfer that data into Inquisition when it is released on November 19th.

The Keep seeks to solve two problems. The first is carrying over save files from one console generation to the next.  The second is to solve several import bugs that occurred throughout the series. This pleases me, as nothing was more frustrating to me as a player than having everyone in Kirkwall tell me that my Grey Warden sacrificed his life to end the Blight, when in fact, he did not.
Yesterday, the open beta for the Keep went live, allowing players to get their hands on the app and test it out. In order to get a full impression of what the Keep’s general capabilities are in terms of customizing the world state, I decided to try and rebuild it from the ground up, as opposed to uploading a save file from a previous play through.

 Overall, the Keep is a very fine tool to use in crafting your own save game. It looks pretty, and has a simple to use interface. Choices can be made quite easily, and the logic of the system is on point. As I tried to recreate my own world state, it would frequently stop and make sure I was making accurate decisions, as some of the choices I was customizing interfered with the default set up. Fortunately, one click is all it takes to fix the problem, and the choices are readjusted accordingly.

One aspect I really liked about the Keep is that when your world state is finalized, you can watch a little “previously on” type video that explains with greater context everything that transpired along your world state, narrated by none other than storyteller supreme, Varric Tethras. Having Varric narrate the video was a nice touch, and made it feel less like an application, and more like a piece of the lore. It’s almost as if Varric is sitting around a fire and telling a story.

I did have a few problems with Keep. When customizing your Grey Warden, it seems odd that you are not allowed to change his/her name. The only way to go into the Keep with a name of your choosing is to upload your save game to Origin, then sync your Origin account with Keep. It’s a massive headache when it should be as simple as “What was the Warden’s name?” Likewise, you are unable to a give a name to your dog. If I start Inquisition and they refer to my dog as Barkspawn instead of Wrex, I’ll be pissed the hell off. Mostly because Barkspawn is a stupid name.

Another oddity in the Keep is that some choices are extremely specific, covering nearly every possible outcome and nuance. For example, did you tell Filda that her son, Ruck was dead despite the fact that he was alive? Did you tell her the truth? Did you kill Ruck and tell her the truth? Did you kill Ruck and lie? Literally every outcome is covered in that option. Meanwhile, the Landsmeet does not cover whether or not you got Anora’s support, or if she betrayed you. It breaks it down to, “Is Alistair king or not?” Okay that is an exaggeration, as it does ask specifically how Loghain died (in a duel with Alistair on mine), but it seems like big details are being left out.

If you played Awakening, you may be surprised to see that there is absolutely no mention of most of your party members or their fates. While Nathaniel and Ohgren are covered in detail, no one else is. We know that Anders and Justice show up again as one being in Dragon Age 2, so covering their fates in the Keep doesn’t matter (well, not until DA2 that is), but what about Sigrun, Velanna, and even Varel? All of these characters can either live or die depending on your choices. Not tracking those choices basically means we will never see or hear from them again. I can understand Varel not being covered somewhat. The chances of seeing him again are extremely low considering his voice actor, Robin Sachs, tragically passed away. Velanna and Sigrun on the other hand were companions. It would nice to meet up with them at some point in the future. If this is the final version of the Keep, we sadly never will.

Overall, the Keep is a very nice tool for building your world state in preparation for Dragon Age Inquisition. While I would certainly like Bioware to tackle my objections, even if they don’t it’s not the end of the world. It should be interesting to see what awaits players in Inquisition, and the Keep offers us a tiny glimpse of what that may be.


Pros:

Simple and Easy to use (for the most part)

Typically very specific with choices and options

Varric narration is a nice touch

Cool artwork

Solves continuity disrupting bugs such as the fate of the Warden in DA2


Cons:

Unable to name the Grey Warden, Hawke, or Dog

Could use some background music

Some decisions seem simplified

No information on the fate of Varel, Velanna, or Sigrun

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