By now, we have heard a lot of Dragon Age 2 – many say so many things – and I tend to join that crowd and share my own thoughts and impressions.
Dragon Age 2 is not a sequel to the first Dragon Age – the sooner you will get that into your system – the more you will enjoy Dragon Age 2. This is a console title that can be played on a PC. This is merely a statement that is neutral – I don’t mean anything specifically bad with it, nor positive. What do I mean then? Well, the console market seems to attract a larger bunch of casual gamers then these games do on the PC – plain and simple – the game has to appeal a wider variety of gamers and people. Not all who are necessarily into RPG gaming – especially not the old pen and paper crowd so to speak. This can be seen in the entire character progression where you make one choice – and then stick with it. You don’t have several classes, you have three. Each class has specific trees and you also chose between weapon early on. Dual wield, sword and shield, two-handed or distance or simply being a mage. In each area you can unlock special attacks, abilities and actions alike to suit your characters need. This means – if you start putting points in two-handed weapon style – you won’t go for a few points of archery – simply because you can’t you are a fighter and fighter don’t use bows. Still, the game itself doesn’t even support you to have different sets of weapons equipped. You have what you have actively – and if you like to change, you need to dive into the inventory – which is yet again a shared history. Furthermore, your companions, are not equitable with amours, they have their own set from start to end – you can only find or purchase upgrades along the way. Weapons however, you can control and as well as the level progression.
The game no longer have a top down view. Many say this is fine – and it would have been – if there wouldn’t be so many problems with the camera. I have spent several combats cursing because I can’t trigger a spell because LOS or the ground simply not being accessible. You have to base a spell on the ground you can walk on or target a opponent. Combat in it self is not so tactical – it can be – but I will tell you my opinion why I didn’t feel like it later on. The combat takes place as most of the game, in 3rd person view, you target enemies either by clicking or pressing “attack nearest”. Once chosen you character will hammer away with default attack. You can as in the first make several if’s and but’s in the combat behaviour scripts. The problem is that combat is a dreadful affair. You sit and wait for a useful action or spell being accessible again after you use it, there is a cool-down and a cost of mana or stamina to activate. Combat looks like this:
1. You walk up to a bunch of enemies with red circles – if you have settings to pause before battle – the game pauses.
2. You fight these enemies, you take out rogues and wizards first or the big bosses. After the first group is almost killed, a new group will “magically” drop down around you (undead crawls up from the ground, shades/evil guys puff out of smoke). Then they will get enforcement from behind and in front of your party. ALWAYS!
3. You gather what little useful stuff they have to sell.
4. Your parties losses, are no longer losses, they do however require first aid to get rid of wounds.
5. If big boss: Big boss will be with all the 1-3 steps above, but will repeat the step 2-3 several times with some animations until you have killed the boss.
This is actually rather boring – to such content that I actually decreased the difficulty of fighting twice, and ended up with easy – because I wanted to get the fights over and done with as quickly as possibly, because honestly – they suck!
All of the above takes place in or around Kirkwall. Kirkwall has several really nice areas – and I don’t mind being forced to stay in Kirkwall, revisiting the lovely streets, cellars and stuff – it is that every house in the entire city have only 2-3 setups. Fine, mansion and squatter style. These are all the same layout – only different doors are locked or not. If you are lucky you may choose between going straight ahead, left or right, sometimes you can’t even chose, there is only a certain number of doors available. Same with the grottos and dungeons, outdoors and ambushes. the same terrain, only that at certain times certain things may not be accessible – but always the same. This gets tiresome as well because it gives you a feeling of “cheap”.
This is not the only thing that is recycled – the story and characters are recycled and even though I may enjoy that there is a sort of life and choices things going on – it gets tiresome when the same trick is used, again, and gain, and again, and again…
Dragon Age 2 you will most likely not play for the character progression – that progression is for you to increase your characters fighting capabilities so that the fighting scenes will end quicker. You play because you want to find out what happens with your characters choices and your companions. These quests are the most prominent ones and also the ones that makes the game worthy of playing. However, there is some troublesome clouds on the horizon as well. One is that all quests have for arguments/way of discussing:
1 Sincere and friendly
2 Joking and a bit indifferent
3 Downright hostile and mean
4 Investigate to get more information
With these four choices, you can try to pretend you can actually try to change things by discussion. Sometimes you can skip a fight or two – but that is not such a great impact. Most important scenes will be forced to end in either hostile or peacefulness. The middle road will eventually play out to one of the above. This is getting really tiresome because in the beginning you can either be indifferent, hostile or actually flirt – with anyone. Yeah you probably heard the gay route argument and I don’t care about that – I just want to be able to be friendly without provoking romances with everyone! That is tricky. Also, you want to tell these imbeciles a lot of your mind – but Dragon Age 2 smugly won’t let the obvious reasoning come into play. You have your 1-4 +4 to deal with and that’s it. The answers sometimes doesn’t mean anything apart from fighting or not – the same action will be triggered regardless in the story – it is just how you dealt with it. This is also rather boring and also you feel cheated in several arguments because the story takes precedence over reasonable lines of talking and discussing. It is over simplified in my opinion.
So, is Dragon Age 2 a bad game?
No, not really, it is a very competent game, it just isn’t a Dragon Age Origins game, so they should have lost the “2” and called it something ending with “expanding the Dragon Age universe” or something. A heads up – because now a lot of energy is wasted on realising that this isn’t a follow-up on the first game. It is more for the console players cause simply put – the BioWare guys realised that console brought more money then the PC version on origins. That in itself is a bit disturbing – and I do blame Valve for not letting loose those figures. Anyway – I guess that this then puts the gravestone solidly in the ground: BioWare isn’t the game for the hardcore PC RPG lovers anymore. They are moving towards the cash bag of the more easily appeased RPG light console gamers.Should we fear? No – we should not – the Witcher 2 is on the way, Deus EX Human revolution is on the way – and if companies like BioWare don’t deliver – that will simply open up for smaller developers.
So what is the verdict for Dragon Age 2?
This is the verdict:
Graphics: 20 – The graphics is actually not that ground breaking, it is however fashionably done with a design on esthetics rather than crunching pure polygon love and realism. The world is lovely, the city even more so. Characters are nice and even though you may not 100% agree with the design. It is well done – if poorly implemented and took two or three patches before you could run high on a 560 TI card and DX11….
Sound: 17 – the sound is OK, the music is well done and funnily enough, the music score guy said he didn’t get enough time. If he is disappointed, I would love to hear what he could make with enough time. What is missing? Well, remember first time you got out on the streets in Neverwinter Nights? Or hit the harbour in Amn in Baldur’s Gate 2? The sea in Baldur’s Gate – the cry of seagulls? That isn’t here. The background noise is here – but not enough to make you feel you are actually running around in a city full of people. The effects are also a bit tame and it makes the job – but nothing more – and it isn’t bad!
Game-play/Story: 17 – A mixed bag. It is over simplified controls and set-ups for character progression and a tedious and boring combat that lowers the score a lot here. The story is so so and the main quest is a bit of a let down – I mean come on, it is not hard to figure out what will happen. What saves the game is the numerous side quests and the stories of the sidekicks.
Controls/Quality: 17 – Controls are responsive, but there are too many flaws with not having a tactical overview, a design decision that is just bad in my opinion. The interface with potions and icons is a total crappy design. You can hardly see any difference between the potions, and the clarity from older games is severely lacking. The interface itself is a decent way to show you what you can do, but it feels to me, that I could as well be playing a KOTOR game without light sabres… The design is too modern and too much like Mass Effect to satisfy the fantasy gene for me. But, it is not bad – important to remember.
BioWare knows how to make games, even though I have given this many harsh words and complained a lot along the way – I have to admit that this game I finished – Dragon Age Origins I haven’t – but to me Origins isn’t at all the spiritual successor of Baldur’s Gate – there are no successors to those games – plain and simple. So please, admit it and move on – you obviously have but are simply trying to get easy points for telling us so and score some extra pre-orders? Another thing that makes me feel a bit nauseated with Dragon Age 2 is the overdone pre-order bonanza that plagued Facebook, STEAM and stores. It was so important to pre-order to get the goodies, then the pre-orders just continued… Bad form. Also, I don’t want to plague my Facebook with small games just to get some more items for my game. I want to un-lock things for my game in – well you guessed it – in the bloody damn game! My opinion now is that BioWare unfortunately have hollowed out Dragon Age while Mass Effect is the better series by far at this stage. Also, I would like BioWare to get a less whiny lead director next time. Crying on-line and telling us we have a far superior product and then admitting to cutting down due to consoles is just fucked up. So – tell it up front and skip the bullshit. Bullshit makes us angry – the truth makes us make a decision based on what we can stand or not.