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What's wrong with activated abilities?

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I've read some vociferous condemnations over this issue.  Some people feel like activated abilities don't belong in a game like P:E, but why?  Is it an aesthetic choice?  I've always felt that it allows for a more tactical approach to combat.  Out of every mechanic that BioWare used in Dragon Age, I liked the proliferation of activated abilities the best. I especially liked how they were used to varying degrees -- Sword and Shield tanks had Shield Wall and other modes as their bread and butter, whereas a good Two Hander basically had to use abilities to be effective.  Taking the hands off approach you could use with a Sword and Shield tank would get you killed with a Two Hander.  

 

So what exactly is wrong with this?  It is one of the innovations in the CRPG field that I actually like.  It requires strategic character building, tactical approaches to combat, and it requires you to pay attention.  Do people not like it because of it cuts too close to WoW?  

 

Anyways I'd like to hear your thoughts. 

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I think on some level it's a degree of being a "grognard."  In that "That's the way it was done in stuff that I really liked, and the best way to capture the stuff I really liked is to not deviate from it."

 

Agreed, although I think it's six of that and half a dozen of desperately deviating from games I disliked.

 

I might well be grognarding, but to my mind one of the symptoms of activated abilities is that it gives the feeling that everyone gets a mana-like substance and starts playing like a mage. That matters less in MMOs because you tend to be playing a single character and there is a need to make that exciting for all classes. It's a bit different in a strategy rpg.

 

I'm not particularly against activated abilities, because I think they're basically included to prevent rest-spam, which was a pretty bad loophole the IE games left open. I only hope that they are well-implemented, leave the classes feeling like they play very differently to each other, and have a recharge rate that is practical for a six-person party game. If all six characters are using powers with a 1 second cooldown, as an extreme example, then combat slows to an unnecessary crawl. In the same way, unless your class has long charge times on their powers, then you need to make their cooldown powers limited and/or not a replacement for normal attacks.

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It basically boils down to "Game I didn't like did X, and game I did like didn't do X, therefore X is universally a bad thing and it should never be in any game ever."

 

To show just how silly this is: "World of Warcraft lets you play as a woman, and Planescape: Torment doesn't. Therefore, RPGs should only allow male protagonists, no exceptions."

 

(Personally, I loved Tome of Battle.)

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If the deviations were things people liked, they wouldn't be hoping for an IE themed game! :)

 

(To be fair, some people do like those deviations and they continued on their merry way).

 

I didn't mind the "stand and attack" at the time, in BG2 (I played a Paladin), probably because I had enough other stuff going on.  By the time NWN came around, however, it definitely came across as quite boring.  Perhaps accented by the fact that I played only one character.

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Nothing. Actions like "smite evil", "called shot", "sunder", and "trip" can make combat much more interesting.

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Nothing. Actions like "smite evil", "called shot", "sunder", and "trip" can make combat much more interesting.

 

Exactly.  I mean, all the IE games had activated abilities, didn't they?  If you played Keldon you activated your True Sight ability at least once a fight. Then you had the HLAs that came later.

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Perhaps some people don't like activated abilities because they are not an accurate representation of reality? For example, in real life one could presumably use a "called shot" whenever one wanted. By giving it a fixed number of uses, it makes the player aware of the designer's manipulation. There's a similar issue with cool downs for repeatable physical actions. I understand why the game designers use these tools, but they do possess a certain element of artificiality.

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Perhaps some people don't like activated abilities because they are not an accurate representation of reality? For example, in real life one could presumably use a "called shot" whenever one wanted. By giving it a fixed number of uses, it makes the player aware of the designer's manipulation. There's a similar issue with cool downs for repeatable physical actions. I understand why the game designers use these tools, but they do possess a certain element of artificiality.

Not if you consider the ability usage as something the player does, not the character: A character can't pull off a "called shot" all the time. Well, you can *attempt* it as much as you want, but you won't always succeed. It's hard enough that you can only succeed at doing it, on average, maybe once per fight. The ability usage isn't the character saying "okay, now I'm going to use my one called shot power for this fight", it's the player saying "Okay, I choose now as the point where my character succeeds." The mechanic isn't a simulation of the character's capabilities but it's not supposed to be one: The mechanic is an interface for how the player controls what the character can do.

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I assume we're all talking about passive-effect activated abilities, here? The OP referenced DA:O, but then it sounds like some people are just talking about "active abilities," as in abilities that you must manually activate, even if those are simply spells/attacks.

 

I really like the concept of -- I'll just call them "modal abilities," as I think that's what they were called in one of the P:E updates. Like the P:E Fighter's "Defender" ability. I think in its case, the cost is a constant, passive tradeoff (decreased offensive output for increased engage-a-bility, if I'm not mistaken?). And in DA:O's case, it was a reduction in mana/stamina regeneration (both total and rate of regen).

 

I have to say that while I prefer the DA:O style to the "This just costs mana/stamina-over-time" method, I further prefer the P:E Fighter Defender mode method to the DA:O method. Especially since the pseudo-Vancian (ability "ammo" per day/encounter) system sort of replaces a mana/stamina (stamina that functions like mana, not to be confused with P:E's health-resembling stamina) system.

 

But, it's nice to be able to shift your capabilities to a degree like that.

 

One thing I will say is that, to take some additional value from DA:O's design, with these types of abilities in a control-a-whole-party game, it's QUITE nice to be able to specify behaviors for activating/deactivating these. Especially with things like Berzerk (the "you deal more damage, but also take more damage" type of ability, whatever it may be called). If you were just controlling the one person, I'd say it's fine to leave it to the player to make sure he doesn't accidentally leave Berzerk on. But, in the case of an entire party, it's VERY nice to at least be able to specify when to turn it off.

 

 

Oh, and if I'm on the wrong page here, I apologize. It sounds to me like we're talking about toggled, constantly-effective-when-turned-on abilities.

Edited by Lephys
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Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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I didn't mind the "stand and attack" at the time, in BG2 (I played a Paladin), probably because I had enough other stuff going on.  By the time NWN came around, however, it definitely came across as quite boring.  Perhaps accented by the fact that I played only one character.

 

I'm going to go out there and suggest it has more to do with the fact that both Neverwinter Nights games are quite boring generally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:cat:

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I really like the concept of -- I'll just call them "modal abilities," as I think that's what they were called in one of the P:E updates. Like the P:E Fighter's "Defender" ability. I think in its case, the cost is a constant, passive tradeoff (decreased offensive output for increased engage-a-bility, if I'm not mistaken?). And in DA:O's case, it was a reduction in mana/stamina regeneration (both total and rate of regen).

 

Yeah, we call them modal abilities internally.  The idea is that you're turning modes on and off rather than gaining a passive benefit or activating a single-use ability.  If a class has more modal abilities, we're designing them to be more low-maintenance.  Fighters fall into this category.  That said, you can buy Talents that make fighters more active if you want to, but their core design leans more heavily toward passive and modal abilities.

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I really like the concept of -- I'll just call them "modal abilities," as I think that's what they were called in one of the P:E updates. Like the P:E Fighter's "Defender" ability. I think in its case, the cost is a constant, passive tradeoff (decreased offensive output for increased engage-a-bility, if I'm not mistaken?). And in DA:O's case, it was a reduction in mana/stamina regeneration (both total and rate of regen).

 

Yeah, we call them modal abilities internally.  The idea is that you're turning modes on and off rather than gaining a passive benefit or activating a single-use ability.  If a class has more modal abilities, we're designing them to be more low-maintenance.  Fighters fall into this category.  That said, you can buy Talents that make fighters more active if you want to, but their core design leans more heavily toward passive and modal abilities.

 

 

I sincerely hope that you can buy Talents making one's fighter very active. The lack of active fighters in RPGs is one of my biggest gripes. I'm not particularly worried though as all I've seen so far regarding class design in general and fighter design in particular gives me hope that I'll be able to play a fighter to my liking. 

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Perhaps some people don't like activated abilities because they are not an accurate representation of reality? For example, in real life one could presumably use a "called shot" whenever one wanted. By giving it a fixed number of uses, it makes the player aware of the designer's manipulation. There's a similar issue with cool downs for repeatable physical actions. I understand why the game designers use these tools, but they do possess a certain element of artificiality.

I can see both sides of this.  But consider that a guy trying for a shield bash is going to to do exactly that: try for one. I understand what you mean about the cool down being an artificial limitation on how often a guy can do a shield bash, but consider the alternative: you can shield bash at any time, but the odds for success would go way down (as they would realistically) since using a shield bash -- to knock someone over, move their shield aside, push them back, etc -- would only work if it were timed perfectly.  And, yes, doing it too much could be exhausting.

 

So cool downs act as approximations of these two limitations: stamina and timing.  Instead, the chance for success is driven way up, but the ability's usefulness is now regulated by scarcity (instead of just stamina, or just timing, or both).

Edited by decado
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Yeah, we call them modal abilities internally.  The idea is that you're turning modes on and off rather than gaining a passive benefit or activating a single-use ability.  If a class has more modal abilities, we're designing them to be more low-maintenance.  Fighters fall into this category.  That said, you can buy Talents that make fighters more active if you want to, but their core design leans more heavily toward passive and modal abilities.

The name definitely fits. When that update including Defender Mode used the term, I immediately knew what kind of abilities it was referring to. I was just a little confused about what some were referring to in this thread, as people started mentioning cooldowns, something modal abilities usually don't have (although they could...).

 

I sincerely hope that you can buy Talents making one's fighter very active. The lack of active fighters in RPGs is one of my biggest gripes. I'm not particularly worried though as all I've seen so far regarding class design in general and fighter design in particular gives me hope that I'll be able to play a fighter to my liking.

I think the strong benefit of these abilities Josh is referring to is the allowance for much more passive characters. You can, if you so choose, set your Fighter to Defender mode, and any number of other toggles, and leave him be. Boom. He's your Foe-Wrangler, for all of time. Or, you can toggle him very little and still be effective. Lots of enemies? Defender mode, ENGAGE! (pun totally intended). A handful of tougher enemies? Maybe you see this, turn off Defender, and turn on something that sacrifices engagement/defensive capabilities to boost specific offensive capabilities (critical strikes, accuracy, armor-rending, etc.).

 

But, on the other hand, even passive-friendly modal toggling allows for extremely active modal toggling. You could have him engage a few foes at once over here in a battle, with Defender, until 2 of those targets are slain (by collective party shenanigans), then toggle defender off to take out the remaining foe with greater offensive efficiency. THEN move him to some big target and toggle something else.

 

Then, of course, you'll have (I'm sure) a nice buffet of active, non-modal abilities at your disposal, and the option of focusing much more on those throughout progression, or much less on those (and more on modals). But, my main point is that, even if your character is knee-deep in modal abilities, that doesn't restrict him to playing the role of Passive Pete.


Should we not start with some Ipelagos, or at least some Greater Ipelagos, before tackling a named Arch Ipelago? 6_u

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Yeah, we call them modal abilities internally.  The idea is that you're turning modes on and off rather than gaining a passive benefit or activating a single-use ability.  If a class has more modal abilities, we're designing them to be more low-maintenance.  Fighters fall into this category.  That said, you can buy Talents that make fighters more active if you want to, but their core design leans more heavily toward passive and modal abilities.

The name definitely fits. When that update including Defender Mode used the term, I immediately knew what kind of abilities it was referring to. I was just a little confused about what some were referring to in this thread, as people started mentioning cooldowns, something modal abilities usually don't have (although they could...).

 

I sincerely hope that you can buy Talents making one's fighter very active. The lack of active fighters in RPGs is one of my biggest gripes. I'm not particularly worried though as all I've seen so far regarding class design in general and fighter design in particular gives me hope that I'll be able to play a fighter to my liking.

I think the strong benefit of these abilities Josh is referring to is the allowance for much more passive characters. You can, if you so choose, set your Fighter to Defender mode, and any number of other toggles, and leave him be. Boom. He's your Foe-Wrangler, for all of time. Or, you can toggle him very little and still be effective. Lots of enemies? Defender mode, ENGAGE! (pun totally intended). A handful of tougher enemies? Maybe you see this, turn off Defender, and turn on something that sacrifices engagement/defensive capabilities to boost specific offensive capabilities (critical strikes, accuracy, armor-rending, etc.).

 

But, on the other hand, even passive-friendly modal toggling allows for extremely active modal toggling. You could have him engage a few foes at once over here in a battle, with Defender, until 2 of those targets are slain (by collective party shenanigans), then toggle defender off to take out the remaining foe with greater offensive efficiency. THEN move him to some big target and toggle something else.

 

Then, of course, you'll have (I'm sure) a nice buffet of active, non-modal abilities at your disposal, and the option of focusing much more on those throughout progression, or much less on those (and more on modals). But, my main point is that, even if your character is knee-deep in modal abilities, that doesn't restrict him to playing the role of Passive Pete.

 

 

Oh, I agree completely. I think modal abilities are great and should be encouraged in RPGs, generally. I was speaking more outside of modals, about the fighter class more specifically and their capacity to be an active class. Nothing on modals. 

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I really like the concept of -- I'll just call them "modal abilities," as I think that's what they were called in one of the P:E updates. Like the P:E Fighter's "Defender" ability. I think in its case, the cost is a constant, passive tradeoff (decreased offensive output for increased engage-a-bility, if I'm not mistaken?). And in DA:O's case, it was a reduction in mana/stamina regeneration (both total and rate of regen).

 

Yeah, we call them modal abilities internally.  The idea is that you're turning modes on and off rather than gaining a passive benefit or activating a single-use ability.  If a class has more modal abilities, we're designing them to be more low-maintenance.  Fighters fall into this category.  That said, you can buy Talents that make fighters more active if you want to, but their core design leans more heavily toward passive and modal abilities.

 

 

Do you anticipate allowing several different types of modals?

 

Often modals are exclusive with some other type of modal, but not necessarily all of them.  EG: You can't have "berserker stance" and "Defender stance" active at the same time, but while in one of those stances you could still have a different, unrelated modal active.  Just curious what your plans are with this.  It sounds like this, but I may be reading too much into it.

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I think on some level it's a degree of being a "grognard."  In that "That's the way it was done in stuff that I really liked, and the best way to capture the stuff I really liked is to not deviate from it."

 

Agreed, although I think it's six of that and half a dozen of desperately deviating from games I disliked.

 

I might well be grognarding, but to my mind one of the symptoms of activated abilities is that it gives the feeling that everyone gets a mana-like substance and starts playing like a mage. That matters less in MMOs because you tend to be playing a single character and there is a need to make that exciting for all classes. It's a bit different in a strategy rpg.

 

I'm not particularly against activated abilities, because I think they're basically included to prevent rest-spam, which was a pretty bad loophole the IE games left open. I only hope that they are well-implemented, leave the classes feeling like they play very differently to each other, and have a recharge rate that is practical for a six-person party game. If all six characters are using powers with a 1 second cooldown, as an extreme example, then combat slows to an unnecessary crawl. In the same way, unless your class has long charge times on their powers, then you need to make their cooldown powers limited and/or not a replacement for normal attacks.

 

 

Yeah I hope they prevent the rest spam somehow in P:E, one good way to do that would be to decrease the individual encounter difficulty and making it more a ''Dungeon'' difficulty. Ressources are drained, fighter are hurt but you still menage to win that battle. Having to fight every battles in top condition is a bit anticlimatic. 

 

A short in between fight rest could be a good solution, this ''short-rest'' might bring you back to maybe 75 % of your resources, so you don't have to make a dozen trip to town to finish a given dungeon. In reality, it represent the usual post fight med.

Edited by J. Trudel

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I didn't like modal ability spam in DAO/DA2, mostly because it felt like you had to use them and that it was pretty arbitrary (You often couldn't have 2 similar modal abliities active at once). It didn't help that 4 characters in a game meant one of them was going to play itself if you focused entirely on modal abilities of that class.

 

I hope obsidian will avoid the trap of, "Oh, I have one modal ability and since I can't stack them all there's no reason to invest in the rest of them available to this class."

 

In an IE-game, where 6+ characters are used, it's fine if 1-2 play passively. That's the thing I think - it's not that active abilities are bad - it's just active abilities are symptomatic of developers copying WoW and reducing max party size, which in turn is much less interesting of a game overall.

 

I think it's fine if classes are designed around active abiltiies -------- BUT. BUT. These active abiltiies should not be something you SPAM like in WoW. <Active Ability X, Y, Z> are not your substitute for an autoattack. They don't exist to make you feel more engaged in the game. They exist as STRATEGIC ELEMENTS. Your choice to use ability X is a choice. Sometimes, it's better not to use them. I think this needs to be emphasized as a design goal.

 

Mages and other spellcasters are maybe the exception to this 'rule', since they can only do damage through abilities.

Edited by anubite

I made a 2 hour rant video about dragon age 2. It's not the greatest... but if you want to watch it, here ya go:

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 BUT. BUT. These active abiltiies should not be something you SPAM like in WoW.

 

Excactly. To avoid this abilities should never be a nobrainer to activate. It must depend on situation whether it is advantageous to activate an ability, otherwise you will activate it whenever the cooldown is finished.

 

Bad examples for active abilities:

* "bonus to damage or hit unconditionally"

* "bonus to damage or hit if enemy is dazed" + "attack with chance to daze ability". The first ability seems to depend on situation, but if the combined effect of both abilities is positive, they just become a nobrainer in two steps.

 

Good examples:

* "bonus to hit in exchange for doing nothing this round". Only if you have difficulty to hit someone you will use this and thereby half your attacks

* "shield bash weak enemies". Depends on the enemy having low strength

 

Both examples still have the disadvantage that when they are good to be used against an opponent they are good *ALL* the time against that opponent. Decado's idea that a second shield bash against the same enemy would not work (or even enable a counterattack) because he isn't surprised by it anymore is fantastic though, much better than a cooldown.

 

Excellent examples:

* "push sticking arrow" which only works immediatly after someone was actually hit *and* damaged by an arrow and before he can snap it off. Depends on timing and armour of the enemy you are standing next to. Even has the advantage that two characters of the party are involved as you can't use this ability with a bow in hand, you need a shield.

* "clash heads" which only works if two enemies are side by side and you are not in front of them.

* "wall of arrows" works only against enemies standing together without being engaged. Great for surprise attacks but enemies will/should be intelligent enough to distribute before you can do this again.

Edited by jethro

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Do you anticipate allowing several different types of modals?

 

Often modals are exclusive with some other type of modal, but not necessarily all of them.  EG: You can't have "berserker stance" and "Defender stance" active at the same time, but while in one of those stances you could still have a different, unrelated modal active.  Just curious what your plans are with this.  It sounds like this, but I may be reading too much into it.

 

 

Yes.  Modes all have an assigned "channel" and you can only have one mode active in a given channel at a time.  E.g., the paladin's Zealous auras are all on one channel.  In the UI, we would like to visually group all same-channel modal abilities together so it's very clear to the player.

 

I hope obsidian will avoid the trap of, "Oh, I have one modal ability and since I can't stack them all there's no reason to invest in the rest of them available to this class."

...

 

I think it's fine if classes are designed around active abiltiies -------- BUT. BUT. These active abiltiies should not be something you SPAM like in WoW. are not your substitute for an autoattack. They don't exist to make you feel more engaged in the game. They exist as STRATEGIC ELEMENTS. Your choice to use ability X is a choice. Sometimes, it's better not to use them. I think this needs to be emphasized as a design goal.

 

A wizard can't cast more than one spell at a time and a monk can't perform more than one special attack at a time.  The use of modal abilities, like active abilities, is typically a tactical decision based on the current circumstances of combat.  Whether or not you want to buy multiple same-channel modal Abilities/Talents depends on your strategy for how that character will work in the long run.

 

Many/most of our abilities are already designed around limited use and a specific tactical application.  The rogue's Finishing Blow does much, much more damage if the target is under 50% Stamina (and, in fact, increases proportionally the lower the target's Stamina is).  The paladin's Reviving Exhortation can bring a single target out of a 0-Stamina state with a big Stamina bump, but if it's done too early in combat, the revived party member will have a Stamina crash before the end of combat.  The ranger's Marked Prey ability grants a bonus against a single target once per combat, but it can't be switched once it's assigned.

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Yes.  Modes all have an assigned "channel" and you can only have one mode active in a given channel at a time.  E.g., the paladin's Zealous auras are all on one channel.  In the UI, we would like to visually group all same-channel modal abilities together so it's very clear to the player.

I don't feel that the dilemma (if you want to call it that) is solved this way. It sounds like maintenance-heavy mode swapping. What made you decide against having only one mode active at any one time?

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It's only maintenance-heavy if the circumstances require you to switch modes often.  Unless you think circumstances will shift so rapidly that characters will change modes as frequently as a wizard casts spells (unlikely), it's at least going to be lower maintenance than triggering a sequence of active abilities.

 

We have different mode channels because not all modes have logical overlap.  D&D's Rapid Shot and Power Attack don't really have any overlap because the former is for ranged attacks and the latter is for melee attacks.  Shutting off one when the other is active isn't necessary.

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welp, for 'Power Attack' and 'Rapid Shot', I wouldn't have minded pausing every time I need to activate them. Honestly. As it now seems, I may be pausing a lot more often in the end just to check if everyone's 3 or 4 modal abilities are set up ideally.

Edited by Sacred_Path

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I've read some vociferous condemnations over this issue.  Some people feel like activated abilities don't belong in a game like P:E, but why?  Is it an aesthetic choice?  I've always felt that it allows for a more tactical approach to combat.  Out of every mechanic that BioWare used in Dragon Age, I liked the proliferation of activated abilities the best. I especially liked how they were used to varying degrees -- Sword and Shield tanks had Shield Wall and other modes as their bread and butter, whereas a good Two Hander basically had to use abilities to be effective.  Taking the hands off approach you could use with a Sword and Shield tank would get you killed with a Two Hander.  

 

So what exactly is wrong with this?  It is one of the innovations in the CRPG field that I actually like.  It requires strategic character building, tactical approaches to combat, and it requires you to pay attention.  Do people not like it because of it cuts too close to WoW?  

 

Anyways I'd like to hear your thoughts.

The problem with DA and especially DA2, is that combat is designed and balanced entirely for a specific unflexible party composition, which is exacerbated by the fact that DA2 requires the use of inter-class combination attacks to do more-than-adequate damage.

 

Regular attacks are really just there to make players feel like something is actually happening while they're waiting for their activated abilities to cool down.

 

There's nothing wrong with the fundamental concept, but Dragon Age is not the best example.

Edited by AGX-17
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