Sunday, 30 March 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition – more info

As the title cunningly suggests, there's some new information out regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition. There be spoilers below. We learn more about the world, gameplay areas, and companions. Generally the info below is confirmed or probable, and where it's not certain I've tried to make it plain it's unconfirmed speculation. If you're avoiding all spoilers then you should probably stop reading now, and I'll put a picture below so the vile sight of spoilers do not besmirch your innocent eyes.

Some of this information comes from the GameStar April edition. It's a German magazine, and some reports of what it says may be wrong, largely due to dodgy translations. Sadly, my German has been getting rustier by the year, so I doubt mein Abitur will be much use reading it auf Deutsch. Some info comes from a post on the Bioware forums regarding information in an overseas Xbox magazine, and the lack of deletion or denial of the post's contents suggests it's accurate.

Each area has realistic ecosystem with predators, prey, factions and quest/Inquisition expansion opportunities. Animals attack one another, bandits raid towns. Crafting and customising weapons (as mentioned previously) can be done, so hunting for furs and the like may very well help in this area. However, if you hunt a species to extinction then it either won't return to a given area or will take a long time to do so.

Speaking of customisation, it's possible that the Inquisition headquarters, and other keeps, will be customisable (this is beyond the previously mentioned decision of whether a keep focuses on commerce, military prowess or espionage).

I also read somewhere (and I can't find the article/video now, alas, so take this not so much with a pinch as a boulder of salt) that you will have to make special one-off decisions. For example, you might have to choose whether a certain keep researches a special sort of magic, or forging a new type of metal. You would only pick one and cannot change your mind. You'll have to make similar choices when playing the game (the well-known one about defending the village or your keep when both are under attack springs to mind). These choices will, we are told, have lasting consequences and could prevent you from doing a whole slew of quests (if you let loads of people die they won't be asking you to hunt chickens for them later on). I like the sound of it. It adds weight to choices and improves replayability.

New areas will be unlocked when the Inquisitor/Inquisition is strong enough (probably as basic as a certain level unlocking a given area, but it could also refer to keeps controlled, or suchlike). There will be five areas: Ferelden, the Free Marches, Orlais, Nevarra (east of Orlais), and the Dales (which lie to the west of Ferelden and south-east of Orlais).

It's nigh on certain we'll return to the Deep Roads, but can't say if it's Kal Sharok[sp] or Orzammar.

There are definitely giants (or giant bipedal tusked creatures) which look rather good. They appear similar to the cyclopes (plural of cyclops, not a typo) in Dragon's Dogma after a successful diet (or somewhat like Anima from FFX, but without all the bondage gear and bandages).

The Fade looks significantly different to the first two games, which I'm rather glad about. The Fade always made my eyes go a bit weird after a while, and I found it a bit tedious, but (visually at least) it seems to have been dramatically improved.

On that note, the graphics generally are a huge improvement, but we'll have to wait and see just how significant the PS3/PS4 difference is (I'll be buying for the PS3, but might well get an Ultimate edition [or whatever they call it] for the PS4).

It's been suggested that there will be two voice actors/actresses per gender. This has not been confirmed, nor is it known whether (if it's true) we get to pick our voice or if the voices are assigned to races and cannot be changed (except by racial selection). It's possible there will be a feature to alter the pitch of the protagonist's voice, to add a bit more customisation (this appears to be under consideration by Bioware, with no decision yet being made).

The Inquisitor will have a little prologue section, which it seems will deal with character creation. In addition, we'll be able to wear whatever armour we like, regardless of class (so you could have a warrior wearing a mage's robes). There may be penalties for having out-of-class clothing/armour.

We have a new companion confirmation: a bald elven mage called Solace or maybe Solas.

The Iron Bull, the Qunari chap we've seen a few times, has also been confirmed, but that was pretty much an open secret.

Last but not last is the elven archeress, Sera[sp]. That's six in total (as well as the three above we have Vivienne, and returning characters Cassandra and Varric). So far we have 2 each of rogues, mages and warriors, so I'd expect one more of each class.

To my immense surprise, and absolute approval, there will be no DLC companions. Even as someone near certain to preorder (and thus get a code to download said DLC character for free) I despise DLC companions. They're either good, in which case they should be included as standard, or rubbish, and therefore not worth having. So, huzzah for this unexpected decision!

Speaking of companions, Bioware are doing a feature called Followers Friday. Each month they'll reveal or post more information about a companion. The first, an introduction to Vivienne, is here:

There's also a suggestion, entirely unconfirmed, the game could be out in October. That's a shade later than the Q3 area mentioned previously, but it's better to get a game a day late than bang on time and in need of immediate patches to fix constant freezing *cough*Skyrim*cough*.

The Warden and Hawke may well make cameo appearances, but not as companions. Alistair will return. Unless he's dead. Well, maybe he could be a zombie.

There are a reported 40 endings. Now, given all the above info it's possible to see lots of variance (military, commercial and espionage approaches to the Inquisition, being brutal or merciful, siding with mages or Templars, being for or against Morrigan and so on) but 40 is a bloody huge number. I suspect much of that will be done the way Origins ended, with a few pictures stating that Bhelen was competent but an arse or Harrowmont was nice but useless.

I really like Dragon Age, and I've been looking forward to Inquisition for a while. Just about every bit of info released seems positive, and much has been in direct reaction to fan feedback after DA2. Hopefully it can come out more or less on schedule, because, if they deliver on the promise, it could be a fantastic RPG.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Review: A Game of Battleships, by Toby Frost

A Game of Battleships is the fourth Space Captain Smith adventure, and sees the eponymous hero once again accompanied by his lunatic friend Suruk the Slayer, cowardly alcohol-enthusiast pilot Polly Carveth and love interest space hippy Rhianna.

The British Space Empire is seeking to sign a treaty so that the civilised races of the galaxy can stand together against the deranged forces of Ghast, New Edenites and Lemming-men. Unfortunately, the enemy has a seemingly unstoppable new battleship and are rather keen to use it...

The style of comedy is, as you would expect, in line with the first three books, and has many nods to the past and British stereotypes. My favourite new addition was undoubtedly the fairly brief appearance of a Hellfire space fighter's autopilot, who has all the restraint and serenity of a Klingon on crack.

There are occasional formatting issues (new paragraphs not indented) but these are minor and infrequent.

Although the enemies are not new, there is some new mockery of the EU and French, which (as one might expect) I rather liked. The spawn of Suruk (check the cover's lower left corner) are also a nice little addition.

It's an enjoyable read, and if you liked the earlier instalments (reviews/interviews here) then you'll like this. There will be at least one more Space Captain Smith book.


Friday, 21 March 2014

Review: Keepers of Arden (The Brothers volume 1), by LK Evans

I finished this a little while ago, but lacking a computer at the time couldn't write the review.

The Keepers of Arden tells the tale of two brothers, Wilhelm (the elder) and Salvarias. Wilhelm's a good egg through and through, whereas his brother is a much more mixed bag (were it not for his elder brother's unconditional love one suspects Salvarias would be rather evil). Evil seeks to claim Salvarias, and sometimes uses his affection for Wilhelm against him.

The first half of the book focuses almost entirely on the two brothers, and adopts an episodic approach to their early lives. It works very well, helping to establish the relationship they have between themselves and with others. I shan't spoil it, but the way the story goes you can see why Salvarias in particular relies upon his elder brother, and how the return of that esteem affects him.

In the second half more secondary characters are introduced and the stage starts to shift from their home city to various locations. I feel a few more shades of grey or weak spots would have helped to flesh out the new characters (reminds me a bit of how I felt about the first Mistborn book's secondary cast, actually). There's some nice character progression for Salvarias, who becomes more independent.

There's an old school feel to the story. I'm not sure why, but it slightly reminds me of things like Outlaws of the Marsh, or even the more recent The Masterof Izindi. Anyway, old school is a good thing, in my (well LK Evan's) book.

There are no elves or dwarves, but instead a range of different, original creatures, and a mythology based around long-dead gods. The lore isn't thrust under your nose and slapped in your face, and is gradually revealed in a way that feels natural.

I felt that greater moral ambiguity would have helped things. Salvarias has a good dose and Wilhelm none (which is fine, that's Wilhelm's way), but more elsewhere would have been an improvement (this was a conscious choice by the author, I think, rather than cocking up an effort at more moral greyness).

Salvarias was clearly the best character. He got more little eccentricities (counting to himself, the puzzle box, lavender etc) and the most moral ambiguity of anyone. There's also an air that he might turn into a complete psychopath if Wilhelm got killed, or that he could drift inexorably towards evildoing. It's a good element of uncertainty.

Overall, I enjoyed The Keepers of Arden, and those who enjoy old school fantasy should give it a look.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

Review: The Ace of Skulls, by Chris Wooding

The Ace of Skulls is the fourth and final book in The Tales of the Ketty Jay.

Every time I buy a new Ketty Jay story it’s an enjoyable read. After the first they’ve been a cross between the comfortable familiarity of old slippers and a surprise as I remember just how entertaining they are.

The Ace of Skulls continues and concludes the adventures of Captain Darian Frey and his crew of assorted misfits and oddities. Civil war has gripped Vardia as religious fanatics fight the old order for dominance. Frey is determined to keep out of the war, but the war is determined to make him and his crew part of it.

He finds himself hopelessly entangled in the struggle for Vardia’s destiny, whilst conflicting loyalties and misfortune threaten to tear apart his crew. Patriotism versus pragmatism and loves lost and found weigh in the scales and the ultimate result of the war depends on Frey and his crew.

I read this much more quickly than expected, and really enjoyed it. The story’s packed with twists and turns, the character development of the crew continues (I’d strongly advise getting Retribution Falls, the first book, and then The Black Lung Captain and The Iron Jackal before this).

As usual, the writing style’s lively, engaging and fast-paced. The crew enables a large number of POVs, and it’s particularly good to see how they’ve changed (or not) over the course of the four books.

Although I’d love to read more Tales of the Ketty Jay, I agree with Chris Wooding’s reasoning (click here to read it). It’s easy for a series to just go on for too long. As it stands, I recommend each of the four books and the series as a whole. I love grimdark as much as the next man, but sometimes it’s nice to have a light-hearted rollicking adventure, particularly one with such an interesting world and collection of characters as the Tales of the Ketty Jay.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Early Thoughts on Kingdom Come: Deliverance

There’s only one dead cert videogame for me this year: Dragon Age Inquisition. But, there’s another which has caught my eye (pencilled in for 2015).

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an RPG billed as “Dungeons and no dragons”. It aims to be a highly realistic game set in medieval Europe, with landscapes and castles based heavily on reality. Similarly, the clothing and combat is designed to be as accurate as possible.

The game’s development has been backed by a private investor, but when no major publisher would back it the makers went to Kickstarter. Thankfully, their target was reached and the game is planned to be released for PC and the most recent consoles in 2015.

The initial dialogue is fairly Shakespearean. It’s not impenetrable, and I rather like it, but it seems they’re likely to modernise it a bit. If you want to hear what it’s like, the dialogue’s part of the hour or so streamed here:

Clothing seems highly customisable, with 16 slots for various bits and pieces (including neckwear and rings). It’s reminiscent of Dragon’s Dogma, which had some good layering and armour that looked good right from the start. Unlike Dragon’s Dogma, I don’t think silk underwear will be available.

Combat involves six areas to be targeted (body, head and the limbs) with timing being useful for parrying (opens the enemy up to attack). It sounds like fights will be less common than in many RPGs, and more serious.

As well as fighting, cooking, alchemy (not in the magical Skyrim way, but in the way people actually tried to use it), fishing and forging/improving your weapons and armour will all be possible.

The world will be open, and you can ride horses. It sounds like they’re going for a first person version of what Red Dead Redemption did (ie making the horse control like a horse rather than a four-legged car). It’ll also have some limited intelligence, so you won’t be able to make it charge off a cliff.

I really like the look of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and it’s slightly surprising and depressing no major publisher would back it. If it can live up to expectations it will sell by the cartload. I hope it does, and that way we might end up with more such games.


Saturday, 1 March 2014


The blurb is the description of a book you see on retail websites (and sometimes on the back of the book or, if it’s hardback, the inside of the dust jacket). They’re often fairly short (200-400 words or so), and they’re also something of a bugger to write.

A blurb should aim to set out the premise of a story and make the prospective reader interested in how it gets resolved. Personally, I consider (roughly) the first three chapters to not count as far as spoilers go (if it’s in the sample zone then it’s hardly giving away the ending).

Readers need to get a feel for the story, but if you give away too much then you risk spoiling it, or just making the reader feel as though they don’t need to read it because they know how it’ll go (in the same way someone who knows how a film ends may be less inclined to watch it than someone who does not).

From a writing perspective, it varies a bit according to whether the story is about a protagonist, or whether it’s about a world with a fairly large cast (Game of Thrones being a prime example). If you tried to write a blurb for Game of Thrones focusing on a protagonist you’d either pick one and give a misleading picture (because Ned Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and so on could all claim that role) or end up with a mega-blurb of a dozen characters.

So, if it’s about a wide-scale/global issue (sticking with Game of Thrones, this would be the war) then write about that: who will prevail in the Seven Kingdoms? If it’s about a single character’s struggle (in Bane of Souls this would be Horst, a young man who gets effectively conscripted by mages in a foreign city just as the city is being terrorised by a serial killer who likes knocking off mages) then focus on that.

Sometimes a three paragraph approach can work well. The first paragraph has a hook (I remember Better Than Life [a Red Dwarf book] having “Rimmer has a problem. He’s dead. But that’s not the problem.”), the second fleshes out the premise, and the third leaves a dangling question, possibly with an ellipsis…

As well as the description, blurbs sometimes include quotes from authors and reviewers of the book, or possibly previous books. If you happen to get George RR Martin saying your book’s brilliant, it’s not a bad idea to let other people know this.

If the book’s part of a series it’s also a good idea to let people know in the blurb. That way they won’t accidentally buy part 2 first and struggle to get into it.

It’s a good idea to read the blurbs of other books in your genre and see how they do things. See what you like, what you don’t, and the sort of approach that would work for your book.

I find blurbs pretty tricky to get right. Perhaps this is because, when searching for books to read, I pay minimal attention to them. But some people do consider the blurb and weigh it heavily when deciding whether to try a book or not, so it’s important to try and get it right.