Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

And the More Compelling Role-Playing Game Is…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 6, 2010

Over the last few days, I spent a some time playing a couple of CRPGs. I try and do that kind of thing. I call it “research,” which is my story and I’m sticking to it. It is kind of a tricky thing, these days, with all the work I’m doing on my own project. I have to consciously make an effort to play them, but then – if they are good – it takes a great deal of willpower to stop after only a little while. I don’t always succeed at either.

In both games, I got past the initial hump / prologue. While I enjoyed them both, I spent a good deal more time playing one of the two than I had intended. That whole willpower thing. The other was easy to put down. See if you can figure out which one sucked me into its world the most:

Candidate #1 is Dragon Age: Orgins

Candidate #2 is Might & Magic Book One: Secret of the Inner Sanctum

If you guessed #1, then there wouldn’t be much story here, would there?

Now I’m going to admit to a little bit of negative bias towards Dragon Age, particularly after their embarrassing “This is the New S**t” ads, and my early-adopter friends calling the game “soulless.” However, I was also interested in seeing what they claimed was a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series, and now that a year has passed and the hype has died down (and mainly because I could get it cheap, because… hey, I’m cheap), I gave it a test drive. I enjoyed it for three hours, was suitably impressed by the cinematic experience of the whole thing (and by how much the NPCs had to say), and felt confident that I’d get my money’s worth out of the game. Eventually.

But it didn’t really compel me to keep playing. Not like, say, Fallout 3 did (and I expect Fallout: New Vegas will, when I get around to it…)

It was on a whim that I loaded up Might & Magic 1 after that.  I’d been going over the old manuals for the games (for legitimate research purposes), and while I have enjoyed some of the later games in the series, I’d never put much effort into the first one beyond putting together an initial party and kicking around Scorpigal a little. I’d put in maybe a grand total of two hours into the game, half of it just to create my party.

I figured I’d put another hour into it – totalling as much as I’d put into Dragon Age, and then make some kind of goofy post about how hard it was to recognize that both games were in the same genre.

But then something happened. My little party, it turns out, was on the cusp of being able to level up (and actually able to afford to do so – a big deal in the early stages of  Might & Magic games). I crossed a threshold. My hour was up, and I dutifully quit the game, as I had Dragon Age.

But you know, the game takes only about one second to load up. And I can play it in windowed mode. It’s easily minimized. It is turn-based, so I can just leave it in the background or something while working.  So… I thought that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to  pop it open for a few quick forays deeper into the world.

The forays kept getting longer.  I found myself repeatedly starting up the game  for a “quick fix.”  The world keeps opening up to me, and I started facing new monsters of unknown ability. And they’d drop equipment I’d occasionally have a use for (Cool, a +1 Flamberge!).  And  hey, look, third-level spells!

So three hours into the game, Might & Magic 1 kept sucking me back in for more. Dragon Age didn’t, though it  seems very, uh, “nice.”


I didn’t expect that, honestly.  I mean, okay, I really enjoyed the later Might & Magic titles that I’ve played, but this was the primitive first try.  The gameplay was unrefined, still in a nebulous transition between old borrowed D&D rules and its signature future system. And Dragon Age has all those things that I claim I want in a CRPG – tons of world detail, interesting NPCs, a reasonably deep character system (with more customization than you get in Might & Magic 1, for certain!), a solid story so far, lots of mystery… Seriously, the game (so far) is like a checklist of the things I say I want in an RPG. It even makes a big deal out of its Baldur’s Gate-style “real-time with pause” combat that can kinda-sorta work like turn-based combat.

The only answer I have right now is that with the twenty-four year old Might & Magic, I’m playing a game. One I’m familiar with on some levels, but in a new (to me) and exciting world. In Dragon Age, I’m playing through somebody else’s script. This doesn’t usually bug me very much – after all, I’m a fan of many jRPGs.  And I can’t say it actually bugs me here, either. But when I noticed that all respawns and XP-gaining opportunities were used up about fifteen experience points shy of level three in the backstory sequence, and feeling an incredible sense of deju vu with the core gameplay (I’m not sure why I didn’t get that with Might & Magic – by rights, the mechanics should feel far more tired),  the game just feels like the interactive equivalent of a “popcorn movie.” Enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.

But Knights of the Old Republic felt the same way in the first few hours, but it ended up becoming a favorite (and not just because it was Star Wars and hearkened back to an era when Star Wars was cool). That was the last Bioware game I really loved. So there’s hope…

We’ll see what happens.  Either way, I’m having fun.  Just hopefully not so much fun I have to quit cold-turkey in order get my work done.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 26 Comments to Read

  • Celso Riva said,

    I think is this:
    “But you know, the game takes only about one second to load up. And I can play it in windowed mode. It’s easily minimized. It is turn-based, so I can just leave it in the background or something while working.”
    I find crazy that nowadays most games takes 30s-1min to JUST SHOW THE FUCKING MAIN MENU!!!!!!! several pointless cutscenes, logo, Nvidia, blabla
    I bought a 2nd pc that I use only for gaming, and I leave it on with the game I’m currently playing, because I really have enough of the loading times.

    Of course isn’t just that, but I bet this had a big importance in your choice..

  • Whiner said,

    Dragon Age is weird for me. I *hated* the Ostagar section, and the smack of the annoying DLC promotion in camp did not help. I was so very very bored. But I’d already paid for it. So I kept playing.

    Then it ATE MY BRAIN.

    Not the gameplay. The gameplay tends to be ‘enh’. There’s some fun in it, particularly with the interactions of the magical spells, but the dungeons get really boring.

    It’s the characters. The world. The murky motives and crossed purposes. It’s the first time I hit a meaningful decision and went “… crap, there is no good way out of this…” (It involved Redcliffe, I’ll say no more.)

    I did eventually enable cheats so I could skip the combat which was just getting to be too much. But I have become thoroughly obsessed with the world and the characters. I’m *still* playing it. I’ve played almost every origin (I’ve skipped Human Noble because I already know what happens in it). I read *fanfic* of it (… which is why I’ve skipped Human Noble). I trawl DA looking for fan comics. Alistair talks to me IN MY SLEEP. I _did_ have to quit cold turkey for several months to get anything done, and I’ve fallen off the wagon again, and am now using mods and walkthroughs to manage an evil lesbian love triangle…

    Gameplay wise, I had a lot more fun with Avernum. But I will never see Avernum characters in my dreams.

    But it did take a long time to get to where the game started getting Good (IMO), and I know many other players who gave up before then. Mostly, like me, through being bored silly through Ostagar.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    @Celso Riva

    You just nailed one of my pet peeves in modern gaming. Unskippable (or hell, even if they are skippable) intro logos and movies. I understand that every company that contributed to the game wants credit, but to force me to sit through the parade of self-congratulations everytime I load up the game is damn near unforgivable. One game I played recently had 10 logo movies at the start, all unskippable – Nvidia, Havok, Speedtree, Company A, Company B, Company subsidiary to A or B, etc. etc. And each one of them had to have a cool animation movie to go along with their 10-15 seconds in the spotlight.

    Why don’t they do what they do on the gamebox and have all those logos across the bottom of the start menu? Why not do what movies do and only show the big logos over the opening credits to a New Game and in the end credits?

    ::soapbox dismount::

    Jay, Dragon Age is awesome, like a choose your own adventure novel with a bazillion options and no dead-ends. A lot of the origin stories you can start with are cinematic masterpieces with a lot of choices in them that continue to haunt you or come into play throughout the entire game. Some are particular good, like the Dwarven Noble or Commoner origins, the City Elf origin, or the Human Noble origin. Others are, frankly, kind of boring, like the Mage origin. (I played a Mage my first game and was shocked how much better the other origin stories were when I got around to them.)

    All that said, I agree with your assessment – something is missing. You ARE playing through someone else’s tightly controlled story, no matter how much freedom you have in determining your choices and actions, and how much effect they have on the world and the outcome.

    I’ve recently gone back to playing Arcanum, and I’m struck by just how much more FREE it feels. I think it boils down to this:

    I’m not making choices by choosing from multiple-choice options. I’m making choices by performing actions off the top of my head on my own, with no guidance from the game.

    Dragon Age may present you with 3 options or more to deal with any given situation, but it TELLS you what those options are. Arcanum does no such thing. YOU tell the game what you want to do and it goes, okay, “this happens”.

    I really enjoy games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age for how cinematic they are, but I surely do miss being totally immersed in a world of seemingly endless possibilities.

    As an example: In Arcanum I made a deal with a shady NPC to rob a bank using the safe combination he had acquired. It seems the payroll for the town had come in the day before and another gang was also planning to rob the bank.

    Security was tight with armed guards in the bank. The windows were barred. I couldn’t sneak it at night because by Picklock and Prowl(Sneak) skills were horrendous. What to do? If I waited too long, someone else was going to take all that cash.

    Turns out the town sheriff is looking for help to stave off the gang. I have multiple options at this point.

    1. I can turn in my co-conspirator for a possible reward.

    2.I can help the sheriff and stop the other gang from robbing the bank and get a reward.

    3. I can ACT like I’m helping the sheriff, but do my best to insure he doesn’t survive the gang showdown.

    4. Use the sheriff to help me take out the competition – but not before they have killed all the bank guards and teller. Then, in the confusion, take the vault key from the dead teller and loot the safe with my combination, thus insuring that I get seen as a hero in town, get a reward from the sheriff, and get all the bank money too. “Damn – one of the gang must have gotten away with the cash before we arrived, Sheriff!” 😀

    5. Say “To Hell with it” and use dynamite to blast my way into the bank at night and hope I can get away before the guards come running . . . .

    Of course then you have more options . . . do you split the take honestly with your fellow criminal, or do you run with the money? He might come after you though . . . maybe you should turn him in to the law, or perhaps kill him in the middle of the night . . . .

  • Whiner said,

    But most of those options you’re describing are to some extent scripted as well (that is, you generally can’t turn in a conspirator unless the writers have thought of it and made an option for it), and there are a number of Dragon Age quests that have a large amount of solutions… 🙂 And not all of them are obvious. I’m still wandering through the wiki and discovering all kinds of things it never occurred to me to try. (Those dwarves are tricksy!)

    They do definitely try to guide you towards a few obvious options, though.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That’s somewhat encouraging, at least. And it does seem that they went overboard trying to envision a world for players that was an all-new license. It’s tough, with fantasy… there’s an overwhelming feeling that it’s all been done before (a hundred times over). I definitely can’t fault them for trying too hard to breathe life into their universe.

    But so far, it really is feeling more like a Disneyland ride. Beautiful, but so far kind of passive, with me sleepwalking through the regular RPG activities like combat and searching for anything not nailed down to loot.

  • Basilisk_Games said,

    Jay- I’ve kept nearly all the Might & Magics, Ultimas, Wizardrys and Dungeon Master on my development computer since the day I started developing Eschalon. They are invaluable sources of inspiration to me. I play several of them each year.

    I only played about 2 hours of Dragon Age before getting bored.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    @Rampant Coyote

    Whiner has a great point about combat in Dragon Age that I didn’t mention. The game is much more fun if you set the combat difficulty to Very Easy and just focus on the story and choices you can make within it.

    The world Bioware created is certainly an unusual version of the traditional fantasy world most are used to. Similar to the darker world of the Witcher, Dragon Age’s setting seems fully realized and interwoven, with a real history. Of course, the idea of an elite, independent group made up of members from all kingdoms and nationalities who literally damn themselves to save the world from the periodic rise of dark elder gods like a medieval/fantasy version of Delta Force or Rainbow Six is kind of awesome on its own.

    Definitely keep giving it a chance, Jay. While most origins are exciting, the story does drag a bit in the first two areas afterward. Once the story opens up and lets you travel anywhere you like, the story really picks up and starts to sing.

  • McTeddy said,

    I found Dragon Age to be rather dull, in part because the combat was too balanced. Everything was scripted to ensure that I never found myself in over my head despite being on the hardest level. The actual act of playing through the game became a repetitive pattern of attacks.

    While I haven’t finished the game, I have played through quite a few hours… but I found it too average by bioware standards. The story wasn’t amazing… the characters were Average Bioware… and the setting was Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy.

    I ended up stopping because nothing about the game stood out. It was neither compelling enough…. challenging enough… nor fun enough to hold my attention

  • Ottomobiehl said,

    Wow, like several others on here I got really bored with Dragon Age too. I think it was because I felt like I was on rails to much of the time.

    Great article btw.

  • Corwin said,

    Add me to the bored list. Those dwarven deep caverns were just way too much. I gave up for good after that.

  • Whiner said,

    Even many the fans would agree that it desperately needs tightening up. Their ultimate edition should have included a SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS mode 🙂

  • CRPGAddict said,

    As I pointed out a long time ago…


    …being surprised that you were more drawn by “Might & Magic” than “Dragon Age” is like being surprised that you preferred “Casablanca” to “Legally Blonde.”

  • Mark said,

    Might & Magic, as a series, seems like something I’d enjoy, but since tutorials were only invented in 1998, the fact that I have no idea how to effectively manage the overwhelming number of options means that I get too stressed out to continue before I’ve been at it for even just an hour.

  • fluffyamoeba said,

    Out of interest, which origin story did you play? Some of them were awesome and some of the others were a bit dull. As the origin story section is quite short, I’d recommend playing the city elf as a female PC, the human noble and the dwarf noble beginnings even if you don’t play any further. Those 3 are by far the best, the other 3 are varying degrees of ok.

    I loved the combat in DA on hard. I think you either need to set it to easy to get it over with quickly and just enjoy the story or set it to hard to make it challenging enough to be interesting. On normal difficulty, you don’t need to really do much beyond clicking on the enemy you want to attack next so the non-boss fights can drag on a bit.

    There were also a few places where people missed the more interesting options(then complained vocally on the forum that they didn’t exist :p). In particular there are a couple of options in the main quest in Redcliffe that tend to get missed.

    Also, the first thing you need to do on installing DA is disable the intro movies in the ini file. It gets rid of all of them and makes starting the game much, much quicker.

  • Stephen R said,

    I’ve put maybe 10 hours into Dragon Age, and I bought it on release day. I will probably make another attempt at it sometime in the future. There is nothing terrible about it and technically it is good. But something is lacking. Maybe lacking soul, like your friends said.

    I dunno, but it seems like at one point, Bioware has settled on a formula for their games. This has been something that seemed to emerge with the release of NWN the first. I’m not gonna go into the details right now, but I always get the feeling I have played this before. And it’s not just engine stuff, there are artifacts of NWN in all Bioware games since. Might even be some Baldur’s Gate stuff in there, but I recently replayed BG1 and didn’t notice much, but I be could be wrong. It’s in game and story structure.

    It must be a good formula, because they sell lotsa games. And I continue to buy most of them. And to clarify, I thought NWN was great. Mostly for the tools, but I’m one who thought the original campaign was not as bad as some people. But, they seem to making the same game over and over again. And well, it is no longer compelling to me.

    So, I can understand why ya might like M&M more, but also, I’m hoping Bioware can once again put out games that I find compelling.


  • skavenhorde said,

    Jay, I’d take those embarrassing “This is the new shite” ads over what they are doing now any day of the week. I miss those ads when they were still trying to appeal to hardcore gamers. Now all we get are getting are console previews and something about a stupid awesome button.

    As for Dragon Age, I liked it a lot. Not as much as the old-school goldbox games, but I don’t expect to play any games like that from a AAA publisher anymore. That’s why I’m eagerly waiting for you indie guys to fill in the gaps that the AAAs overlook. Your game, Din’s Curse expansion, AOD, FRUA modules, Dead State, Driftmoon and a few others are the only games that will come close to the old M&M, Wizardry or gold-box games of old.

  • Noumenon said,

    I just did this kind of comparison between Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age, I had one on Steam and one on X-box, and wow — did Dragon Age ever draw me in. My first play session was ten hours in a row, where I found myself actually procrastinating on getting back to KotOR.

    I guess it’s because I’m into D&D, not CRPGs, so what I see when playing Dragon Age is an incredibly skilled DM making it feel like you can choose anything while subtly playing on your character motivations to keep you headed toward the fun parts.

    I get very little excitement out of “yay, third level spells”, and a whole bunch out of “My character’s a noble, she’s not going to sympathize with this slave — hey, there’s a dialog option for that and then I get in good with her master!”

  • x said,

    First thing of order before the second launch of a game is renaming the .bik files. byebye intros.

  • Aelfric said,

    If you liked 1, get Might and Magic 2: Gates to Another World (I’m assuming you’ve played it, but perhaps not a lot). It is still one of my all-time favorite role playing experiences, even if getting your photon blades and defense rings to +255 is a bit tedious.

  • Vibalist said,

    I’ve never played Might and Magic 1, but to draw from something I know, what makes a game like Arcanum more awesome than Dragon Age is the freedom. After completing Ostagar in DA you’re forced to go to Lothering, and in general all of DA is, as someone pointed out earlier, a choose-your-own-adventure more than anything else. In Arcanum you have basic objectives you need to follow like in any other story driven game, but you can always choose to travel somewhere else than where you’re supposed to go, even from the very beginning. And you can skip many of the main quest objectives if you tread off the beaten path. It makes a world of difference regarding how free the game feels. Don’t feel like to the first village to search for Elder Joachim? Fine, go in the opposite direction and see what happens. You might even pick up some clues relating to the main quest in the process.

    Bioware are decent enough as a company, but they have long abandoned what I would call RPGs and are now making interactive movies. Fair play to them if it sells, but it’s beginning to feel old when the structure of all their games is the same.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I played Dragon Age for a few hours, and hated every one of them. I play RPGs for the combat and character development, not for the story. If there is an interesting story to back up the solid gameplay then that is a bonus, but it can’t be the main focus of the game. And Dragon Age doesn’t have a great story, not even a good one. Combat is terrible, it mostly consists of trying to stop your party members from doing incredibly stupid things.

    I found the same thing with Mass Effect, the gameplay is horrible, and the story isn’t much better. The quests incredibily simplistic fetch quests. And the interface is terrible. I also bought ME2, but I’m having a hard time getting started with it.

    What I find interesting is that when I read player (not paid) reviews of most Bioware games, most people agree with my opinion that the game mechanics are poor. They just find the story more interesting than I do. I would suggest to these people that they buy some books, they are a lot cheaper, and the writting in much better.

    Back to indie games for me. Indie developers, and smaller development houses like 1C games, can’t afford the eye candy, voice acting etc., so they have to focus on gameplay.

  • Greg Tedder said,

    It’s not really fair to compare a modern RPG to any of the Might and Magics. There are way too many issues such as graphics and politics for these modern game companies to get mired down with the tedious details of simple fun.

    Worlds of Xeen was my introduction to the series and still my favorite to this date. And I am pretty sure Might and Magic is considered an addictive controlled substance in some countries, though that might just be one of my wild day dream rants. 🙂

  • Charles said,

    Hey Jay, glad to see you came around to it! Now you know why 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – it’s YOUR FAULT, Charles. Playing Underworld was part of what inspired me to give M&M1 a chance in the first place.

    The trick with getting into these older games is really that you HAVE to RTFM. That bit me a couple of times. Once you get that basic understanding of what to do and what things mean, they are pretty straightforward. They just lack the kind of in-game tutorials and info that we’re used to having today.

    Anyway – don’t get me wrong, I don’t generally DISLIKE modern RPGs. I think they do some things really well, and I have fun playing them. But in the march towards modernity, things sometimes get lost.

    I think I’ve got a really weird theory about another layer of why this works… that little “special sauce” that got lost somewhere along the way… which I’ll save for another post.

  • A More Compelling RPG: More Thoughts on Might & Magic 1. And X-Com. said,

    […] post Monday about the old-and-creaky Might & Magic 1 somehow being more compelling (and, let’s face it, more fun) to me to play after three hours in than Bioware’s recent […]

  • Ed Maurina said,

    I’m glad this game sucked you in. It is still my all time favorite CRPG. I sometime think maybe this is because it was my first, but it good to hear others like you and The CRPG Addict (http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2010/07/might-magic-final-ranking.html) agree with me. This game has a lot of things going for it, even it it was primitive by today’s standards.