Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dragon Age: Legends: My Friends Aren't Good Enough

For people who do not yet know, Dragon Age: Legends is the Facebook installment of the Dragon Age franchise. What self-respecting game doesn't have a Facebook counterpart these days? BioWare and EA2D like to brag about how DA:L is the "first real game on Facebook". I don't necessarily agree with this statement but more on that later. Perhaps a bit of insight on the game is in order.

I'm not really sure where DA:L sits in the DA timeline. I don't think it matters. As per my understanding, the basic story is that you were a kid that unwittingly helped destroy a great evil in the past. You made friends with a Viscount and off you go exploring. You are presented with a map where you can have encounters. These encounters are either battles or loot (at least so far). Interacting with these encounters costs energy. If you ever played a Farmville style game on Facebook you will be familiar with this concept. Energy is regenerated over time (about 1 energy every five real-time minutes) and encounters cost an average of 5 energy. Pretty soon you are also granted a small keep to act as your base. The mechanics of this castle are pretty simple, though. You build worker rooms and crafting rooms. Workers are used to craft potions and bombs. You can also build taverns to keep your workers happy (because booze makes everything better) and expansions to... build more worker rooms and crafting rooms.

So where is the social factor of this social network game? According to the devs themselves: 
Our core social feature in Legends is borrowing friends’ characters to fight alongside one’s own character in combat. As one’s friends level up their own characters, they make the game more fun by providing new skills and stronger characters to use. Unlike most RPGs, players of Legends will be able to try out the entire skill tree depending on how their friends upgrade their characters. Borrowing a friend’s character also provides that friend with a small gold bonus, which creates some interesting dynamics - encouraging players to have the most appealing characters (to earn more gold) while also giving veterans a charitable reason to bring along low-level friends they want to help.
What was the predictable outcome? Posts on the app page being flooded with comments of people saying simply "add me". We all know that "Facebook friends are not necessarily one’s actual friends". Just look at anyone with a friend count higher than 50. There aren't enough hours in the day for you to be an honest-to-God friend to over 50 people. In DA:L, like in other Facebook games, the more friends you have playing it the better items you are able to puchase and the faster you advance.

So how is that different from any other Facebook game? What makes it a real game? Does it have a compelling story? I haven't noticed. The afore mentioned Viscount sends you strolling around the countryside killing darkspawn to find his friends. Is it the gameplay? Well, there's not much more to it than a turn-based battle system with a small base with limited upgrading capabilities. It's a bit more envolving than bursting clusters of same-colored bubbles or stroking and selling farm animals but it is not so revolutionary that it can claim the title of real where others supposedly cannot. What do they claim, exactly?
Legends, on the other hand, was always built like a traditional game in which the player is presented with a series of interesting decisions, many of which might close off other options. Furthermore, your choices greatly affect your performance. A poor player can easily die many times in combat. A good player will do better, level up faster, and be rewarded accordingly.
No, but seriously, I have made no decisions whatsoever. Unless you're counting deciding where to place that furnace. It might be that I'm too low-level and am yet to reach a critical plot crossroads but if you're showcasing this game as being real for the fact that your decisions matter, give us the chance to make said decisions early on, no?

The developers apparently forgot to factor in the known ingenuity of Facebook players and watched in disbelief as players started befriending strangers to advance quickly in their playground, completely trouncing over their "balanced" system. So they came up with a Guild system. In short:
To fix this issue, we are creating a new system - Guilds. A Guild is a select group of 16 friends who are playing Legends. The player can only borrow characters for combat from this group of 16. (...)
(...). This feature creates some interesting social pressure, forcing players to choose between using their friends with the best characters and using their actual best friends.

A lot of players rose up against this but not in defense of their false-friends. It so happens that, like any other non-real game, DA:L has a store where you can exchange crowns for better items. Crowns, obviously, are that special currency that appears in the game once in a blue moon but is available to be purchased with real money. Apparently (and I have no proof of this because I'm only level 7) the game reaches a point where it is extremely hard to advance without having enough crowns to buy decent equipment or being able to recruit crown-geared "friends". If they limit your friend pool to 16 people and you like to play this game enough that you actually want to advance in it, who do you think you'll keep?

And what if you're like me and have no friends that actually play "the only real game on Facebook"? The only reason I even created a Facebook account was out of peer pressure. A few girls I ended up spending my days with desperately needed more people to feed their pigs and chop down their trees. They're FrontierVille die-hard loyalists. They have no idea what half the game's missions ask them to do, they just click the Publish button and enjoy the bouncy sparkling experience stars. They don't know what Dragon Age is. The friends I do have that know and like Dragon Age don't have a Facebook account.
Moreover, we want players to be interacting as much as possible with their real friends, as these are the most important social bonds tying the player to the game.

So where does that leave me? With two Facebook accounts, playing with myself. I'm bored enough that I have resorted to this kind of masturbatory gameplay to pass the time. One account is named "The Imaginary Friend" and the other "Brave Gonad". I will hop from one to the other, thinking how sad it is that I'm my only real Facebook friend. I'm too shy to ask random people to be my "friend". And all my other friends are


1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't be disappointed over not having any facebook friends. Those aren't worth much anyway. As for the game, from what I gather from your post and a review thingy on RPS, it's a cheap cash-in. It's EA rushing to take in a slice of that big Farmville money pie. And naturally that they'll be claiming it's a proper game, since as we all know, FB is the new booming gaming market, it's where it's all at.