From the official Clock Tower 2016 calendar. Though we might not all be able to gather with those we love this season, here's hoping you enjoy your Christmas...crow.

Or "Milan, Felix, Noah," if we're going by the order in the pic up there. Under the Special section of the Angelique Luminarise website, Koei's posted links to sets of Twitter Q&A with the new Guardians - two sets for each, save for Kanata, who I suppose hasn't yet been made a Guardian at this "time frame," however you want to air-quote that. I'm not translating all the questions & answers - just the ones that serve to flesh out the character a little or yield insights on where they might be going. This will be a very under-construction page for today; if this sentence is still up when you access this blog, the content might be not yet completely posted or in disarray due to experimentation with BLOCKQUOTE OK, done.

Armed with an education in WASD from the hilarious High Hell, I have, at long last, begun Dragon Age II in earnest. I'll be chronicling my playthrough much as with FF7, but to avoid the delays that waylaid that project, I'm going to do very quick updates here, written after each play session and posted in groups of three. The posts will be assuming that the reader is familiar with the story; I'll just be recapping highlights and points of note in my experience of the game's events and not the events themselves. (For the record, I am going in aware of certain aspects of the story: Anders in Act 3, etc.)

Day 1: Beginning to the arrival at Kirkwall

  • Varric's voice seems excessively "normal guy" to me. I expected him to be more gregarious, more savvy, more world-weary, more storyteller-at-a-bar.
  • The staging and cinematography are there for Carver's death, but the voice acting, particularly on the part of the grieving mother, is not where it needs to be for that scene, particularly given its prominent placement.
  • I love Flemeth. She has the awesome voice acting and the entrance and the confidence and the look. When I first played the intro part of Dragon Age II a couple years ago but found I didn't have the WASD chops, I promptly answered "sure, I'll take your thing!" to her surely Faustian bargain to escape certain death in the wastelands - because I loved Flemeth, without considering that the love might not be reciprocated. So this time, I tried to be a bit smarter and answered "We cannot guarantee delivery," which led to me taking the Package to Mist unquestioningly anyhow. (I'm noticing that the short previews of your answers in the choice wheel often do not match up with what you actually say.)
  • What is with that entrance to Kirkwall? Why would either its previous incarnation of a proud slaver city or its current incarnation as a free state line the walls of its canyon with Argonath-sized statues of cringing, skeletal slaves hiding their heads in shame?
  • I am struggling with the controls. I had no idea how to give anyone a potion. I'm pretty much just pounding on the Attack key.

Day 2: Getting into Kirkwall, completing tasks

  • As illustrated by Varric's good-but-should-have-been-great entrance into Hawke's story, the cinematography and shot composition remain strong, but the character models and voice acting are still lacking.
  • The conversation wheel options continue to be unhelpfully unrelated to what Hawke actually says. The most salient example I can recall is when you're to the guard captain at the gates before he's ambushed. During the "no refugees allowed" conversation, I was thinking, "why don't you just tell him your family owns an estate here?", but it never came up. Fairly far into the conversation, I asked, "there must be someone else to speak to" - or something; that might not be it, but it was completely unrelated - and THIS is what will prompt Hawke to mention the very important fact that you have family and property here.
  • Man, they love that slave motif in Kirkwall. I maintain it makes no sense for the town as either a slave or free state. The devs are trying to represent this part of the city's history without considering how it would actually be represented in-game.
  • This update seems to be a recap so far of previous gripes. Here's something I haven't mentioned: my new laptop still hoovers like a harrier jet playing this. It's a fairly new and high-end machine, but it's built for lightness and speed, not gaming, like my previous machine. It hasn't run into any problems on Steam, so I'm wondering if Origin is pulling stuff.
  • I had Hawke join up with the smuggler, by the way, instead of the sellsword. I don't usually go for the thief option, but the smuggler seemed more upfront, particularly after the illustration of the sellsword's services as hired muscle for the scammer merchant, and I get the impression that justice isn't really served through the official channels in Kirkwall.

Very early overall impressions are that this seems like a rather run-of-the-mill, brownish computer RPG - competent, but nothing exceptional. I got into this for stuff I'd seen about side characters like Varric and Aveline, and they do have some spark, though aspects of the production wear that down. I'm getting used to the controls for combat; they're not as insurmountable for me as I feared. I still can't quite hand anyone a potion in the heat of battle, though.

I do like that, during the conversation with the scamming merchant to pay up his kickback, Aveline just takes care of it single-handedly if you call her up. I thought the option was just to ask for her imput, but no; she just went ahead and handled it herself. I like a woman with initiative. That guard we saved on rounds during the whole "crooked guard captain" quest seems quite taken with her; I hope that works out for her.

Day 3: Finishing Aveline's first quest, doing the family heritage & Flemeth's amulet quests, wrestling with getting Origin to activate fullscreen mode for some reason

  • Flemeth remains the best character in terms of the whole voice acting/looks/dialogue/drama package. I was expecting delivery of the amulet to doom someone to unjust death, or at least bring up a Tough Choiceâ„¢ between keeping our bargain and staying on a powerful witch's good side vs. refusing to get an innocent's blood on our hands, but it didn't at all. For us, anyhow. At the moment.
  • Aveline's getting up there in the character stakes, though. I had intended to romance Anders given the plot developments on that path, but the male Paragon Hawke and Aveline do seem to suit each other very well and would make a handsome couple. I kind of regretted not picking the opportunity to flirt with her, but I didn't want to spoil things with that guardsman that likes her or make a commitment before I'd seen most of the supporting cast, and it seemed unseemly to hit on her while she was sadly remembering her deceased husband.
  • I appreciated the small moment of Hawke's mother lamenting the loss of her son Carver - how she took care of and cherished this life for eighteen years, and it was snuffed out in a moment, and her looking back bittersweetly at tending his skinned knees and protecting him as a parent only for that all to have been for naught. It underlines how the events we would take for granted - losing party members for drama; boss monsters killing what we would dismiss as "mooks" to make an entrance - have human costs for someone in this world, and it's a touch that a lesser studio would overlook.
  • Though I'm mostly opting for Paragon dialogue options, if I pick Renegade, it usually sounds legitimately like my Hawke is angry, but if I pick the Rogue (I guess?)/comedy option, it sounds like the actor is voicing a completely different version of Hawke. Also, Hawke's sarcastic responses are usually ill-considered and more insulting, or more broadly insulting, than I'd intended. I wish I could throw in a light-hearted response or sarcastic turn of phrase that wasn't largely stupid or didn't sound in character.
  • Varric is not warming up to me. He regards Hawke as slightly more of a rival than friend. I don't know what my Hawke's done in this regard other than be largely upstanding in front of a not-so-upstanding character, but I haven't done Varric's sidequest yet.
  • I know they're attempting to draw from Irish folklore with the Dalish elves, but all the green *and* the accents *and* the marshmallow-pastel lighting on their skin make the vibe way more "they're after me Lucky Charms." These are some of the least-appealing fantasy elves I've encountered thus far without getting into Keebler territory.
    (Why *is* Merrill dabbling in demon-summoning, anyhow? She's characterized as naive, yes, but also a goody-two-shoes. For that matter, why does she want to go to Kirkwall at all?)
  • I've gotten halfway competent at combat. I'm to the point where it's a degree of fun now, and I can execute rudimentary special moves with a degree of timing almost equivalent to what one would expect from a controller-based video game. Little steps.