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RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

Matt Gardner
BioWare, Dragon Age II, EA, Games articles, Laziness, Publisher pressure, RPGs

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

It's Thursday, the weekend is within sight but just out of reach, the weather is bouncing between grim and optimistic and, having a col,d I've just sneezed all over my computer screen. On top of that, a development studio I thought would never let me down has wasted 30 hours of my life. Carl gave BioWare's Dragon Age II a nice round seven in his review and, for the most part, it is a perfectly solid game. We arguably have to review what is in front of us, not what we want a game to be, but review criteria shifts as the landscape of gaming shifts. Judging the worth of a game is much like judging the worth of a legal case - opinions and reasoning are based on precedent.

Precedent suggests that BioWare could have (should have) done better, all fingers pointing to a scenario that suggests there was something of a sprint to the finish. We have been spoiled, in essence, by the surging splendour of the western RPG, helped in no small way by BioWare themselves. Games that offer choice and freedom, action and story, customisation and character.

God, Dragon Age II was a disappointment...

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Loot

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

RPGs have always had a thievery element to them; some, like Diablo and Torchlight, make the carrot the largest reason for us gamer donkeys to continue onwards. But not Dragon Age II. No, as Hawke you find that items really don't matter that much. You can't change your companions' clothes (you can't even really check their status), you can't fiddle about with any of the things you could in the first game.

You can change Hawke's armour, of course, and swap out your characters' weapons and trinkets. But with so much of what you pick up being utterly worthless junk, not to mention the complete lack of exploration opportunities offered in the game, you'll barely touch the inventory.

Being Kirkwall's Bitch

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

The first game cast you as 'The Hero of Ferelden', saving the land  - the only one who really could - from the plague of the darkspawn Blight. It was you, choosing class, creed and species, making your mark on the land. The whole land. Now I have no problem with a game spending ten years in a single place, in one city, as Dragon Age II does. But you'd expect that city to change and shift over those ten years. A lot can happen in ten days let alone ten years.

You'd think.

But no. The city barely changes, not visually anyway. Your companions don't really evolve as such. You change house, but you don't really feel the change at all. It just skips forward, with no real nod to the journey undertaken. Gone is the epic adventure of the first game, and in comes city politics and race relations.

Well...after twenty hours or so. First of all you have to spend an inordinate amount of time being a general dogsbody and doing odd jobs for everyone. This wouldn't be so bad only you're constantly accosted by the same bandits, the same assassins, the same mercenaries, the same shades and abominations. Dispatching the different enemies in the game is exactly the same every single time until you find yourself face to face with a dragon or a rock wraith or varterral. Which brings me on to my next point...

Violence Is The Only Option

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

There used to be so many options in BioWare games. Go back to KOTOR and before and you find that you can talk your way out of things, reprogramme droids, hack computers, pick locks and sneak around. There are non-violent dialogue options in Dragon Age II but they're pretty meagre at best, the game constantly funnelling you into combat.

That's not to say that the combat is bad, but once you've played it for half an hour, you've pretty much seen it all. Playing as a mage expands the game a little - the breadth of your abilities determining how tactical you can be as you order your warrior companions forward, not that you really need to. The tactics slots work well, you rarely need to pause the game. But the combat fatigue sets in after half an hour. There's no variety, no change in dynamics, it's just the same thing, in the same setting, with the same lack of alternatives, time and time again.

Cut and Paste

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

This extends to the level design. They all look quite nice, fairly detailed. But they're all exactly the same. If I ever have to see that stretch of the goddamn Wounded Coast, or traipse up Sundermount ever again or have to look at the inside of a guild's hideout (all of which are strikingly similar) one more time, I might cry.

When BioWare took on Mass Effect 2 one of the biggest criticisms was the cookie-cutter nature of the side missions. So they sorted them out, and each one was unique and vibrant and actually pretty damn awesome. True, there were some who missed the Mako, but making each side mission noticeably different took time and effort. ut the critics and public alike appreciated and applauded.

Not so here. Too much to do, too little time. Whether under pressure from the publisher or a target they set themselves, there was clearly not enough time spent here. Copy and paste doesn't work in any line of serious work and, whether through laziness (I hope not) or time constraints, Dragon Age II is much poorer for it.

Frankly My Dear, I Just Don't Give A Damn

RANT: Why Dragon Age 2 Disappoints So Very Much

My apathy regarding Dragon Age II could be down to the relative lack of interaction between the characters, the uninspiring quests or the absence of any particular reward. But the painfully average nature of the game's mechanics - the console battle system let down by any kind of diversity in terms of the creatures you fight - only serves to draw more and more attention to the storyline.

And that's not great either.

BioWare have experimented with different ways of telling a narrative with this one - the Varric mechanic an interesting, if underused, variation on the unreliable narrator theme - but the story's just not that interesting. There are reasons most RPGs don't have you running errands as a relative nobody for the first half of a game. There's plenty of high drama, but none of the fine narrative setpieces of the first game. Certainly nothing in there to rival Mass Effect's Virmire level or KOTOR's twist. The difference? I just don't care, and the game never tries to really make me. BioWare and EA were able to get away with some of the worst DLC EVER on the strength of people really wanting, needing to see what happened to Morrigan. I can't say the same particularly about anyone in this game.

I had only excitement for Mass Effect 3. Now I'm worried that it's going to be big, shiny and (dear god please let me be wrong) on the strength of this, really, really boring.

Add a comment10 comments
Dunny  Mar. 31, 2011 at 19:42

Fully agree, but despite all it's shortcomings, I still managed to clock up 40 hours and anticipate a sequel!

Adebisi  Mar. 31, 2011 at 22:48

EA did this with crysis 2 also! We are going backward or stopping
until 2015 when the new consoles will be ou

Adebisi  Mar. 31, 2011 at 22:53

EA did this with crysis 2 also! We are going backward or stopping
until 2015 when the new consoles will be out

Josh  Apr. 1, 2011 at 00:52

Absolutely agree. I clocked up a respectable 30-odd hours, and I can't think of a single one of those that I enjoyed all the way through.

Origins was about 5 years in development (I think), and it shows. Dragon Age 2 was barely 2 years in development, and the same unfortunately applies.

I thought Bioware could do no wrong. Now Valve are the only ones that hold that honour in my eyes (yes, I AM disregarding Episode 3).

Riiiimeh  Apr. 1, 2011 at 16:58

Welcome to the club bucko. Some of us have been feeling like this since ME2.

I, like you, am worried for ME3. But its been that way since ME2 and how I came away from the game with little more than a long list of disconnected missions where I mowed down hundreds of faceless minions with Biowares "new shooter combat" which was clearly the focus of the whole game.

Matt Gardner  Apr. 1, 2011 at 17:06

Mass Effect 2, for me, was a different kettle of fish. The story was there - if handled a little awkwardly (like literally phoning in the big twist) - and there'd been a lot of work having gone into making everything feel and seem epic. You were still very much the ultimate Hero archetype, and a conscious effort was made to make the level designs at least a little more varied.

But you're right to a certain extent. I played Baldur's Gate II and KOTOR through last month and the comparative variety in terms of gameplay choices is staggering. I loved the combat in Mass Effect II, but there was too much of it...though I only really felt that the second time around. ME2 made me forget or ignore a good number of its flaws the first time around because I found the experience exhilarating.

Can't say the same for Dragon Age II at all.

Bethesda will be laughing their arses off.

Jonathan Lester  Apr. 1, 2011 at 17:27

I'm with Riiiimeh on this one. Mass Effect 2 was a much better third person shooter than the original, but everything else (especially the story) seemed to be a step backwards in my view. Whereas Mass Effect was an incredible work of interactive fiction, Mass Effect 2 was basically an expansion pack IMO. It moved the story - and the brand - sideways, not forwards.

Samantha  Apr. 2, 2011 at 03:16

I'm with you on this one. Overall the game is simply lackluster. I think the characters and the interaction between them were the main problem for me. Aveline and Fenris are two of the worst characters I've ever seen in an RPG; Fenris being the worst by far. He was absolutely unusable due to his constant pity parties and incessant whining. I couldn't bear to have him in my party. Also, the story itself was pretty fractured with numerous plot holes.

Randell C Graybill  Apr. 2, 2011 at 05:56

Yes Dragon Age 2 is different. Yes there are a couple things I'd like different. But what I enjoyed most about the first game was the tactical combat, which I feel is still very much present if the game is played on hard (which honestly feels like Baldur's Gate 2 normal).

The biggest complaint that I have with the game are equipment for the companions. I get that they wanted them to have a certain look, but that could have been done by making equipment changes not matter visually or better yet be able to toggle between having it change the companions appearance and not changing it.

The second complaint that I have is not being able to talk to your companions anywhere. This made it hard to really get attached to any character.

As far as combat goes, I think they made a move in the right direction. But they took a few steps backwards in other regards.

Matt  Apr. 24, 2011 at 04:02

Ehhhh... I gave Dragon Age 2 a miss after the demo. I was hoping for something more like Mass Effect, but with all the D&D stuffs and less mind sex with blue aliens.

The combat system didn't really work for me either. Glad I didn't waste my time with the full game.

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