Dragon Age 2: Bi-Polar Hate/Love Rollercoaster

BS Rating with arbitary numbers: 6/10

You can now read further if you want to know why I didn’t particularly care for Dragon Age 2.

So, I can’t say my DA2 experience started off on the right foot. I was expecting to continue playing my previous character in some way, rather than being forced to play a specific character/storyline. This can probably be attributed to the fact that I’m just too busy to keep up with what’s going on in games, these days. So, rather than experiencing that major disappointment months ago when I could have read about their change in direction, I experienced it while reading the manual while the game installed. Needless to say, I went into the game with a skeptical eye.

Not many games can overcome a wave of early onset Alan hate. So it’s a huge indication of the quality of their writing and design prowess that BioWare was able to turn my disappointment around within that vitally important 5 minute period when I first start playing a game. But I remember my reaction exactly, when I finished designing my mustachioed mage hero. The story was intense and the gameplay was fantastic. Instead of a typical “go kill rats” story, it was a full blown James Bond opening, with epic battles and brilliant dialogue.

So, the writers at BioWare got to me again. Man, those guys, they are crazy talented…

After that, my high lasted quite a while. I’d say a good 4 hours of solid gameplay as my party explored Kirkwall. The characters grew, I learned new spells, met new people, got new loot. It was your typical wonderful BioWare RPG and I was thoroughly in love with it.

I ran all over town making money and building a reputation, so that I could invest in the grand expedition to the Deep Roads. I knew the Deep Roads from the first game and I really wanted to go back there – back where things actually mattered. I was so excited to get out of Kirkwall and start doing REAL things. The kind of real things with real impact on the real world (well, the real fantasy world anyway…). I was looking forward to seeing my impact from the first Dragon Age but also making new impacts with this character.

After much playing, I finally finished all the quests I could find and had more than enough gold to get to the Deep Roads. I was thrilled. We got in there and started killing Dark Spawn and it was fabulous. Treasure and glory awaited! 45 minutes to an hour later, it was done and we were back in Kirkwall, back where we started.

That’s when I got my first real glimpse of Dragon Age 2: Kirkwall Adventures. I wasn’t off on some glorious journey and I wasn’t going to see different parts of the world. Instead, I was going to take a brief romp in an uninteresting part of another world (which really is just repurposed graphics of the dwarven areas but I won’t go there… yet.) and then head back home. It was like taking a thrilling vacation to rural ohio, staying there for 4 hours, then driving back to my apartment to spend the rest of my weekend in my basement.

Except, now that I’ve returned to Kirkwall, I get to go into different buildings! And these buildings are entirely new, right? Not so much. Actually, they are all exactly the same, but some have doors that don’t open. Or sometimes I start out in a different place. Perhaps the designers hoped I wouldn’t notice?

And I’ve also grown, right? My character is a few levels higher. He has some new spells, some new gear. Yep. But the bad guys I’m fighting are more powerful too. Which is good, I don’t necessarily want to be a sadist who just runs around one shotting weak squishy things. But unfortunately, the meager amount of variety provided by new spells is counteracted by the balance between the enemies. Because they are stronger, the gameplay is identical to the last time I was in Kirkwall. And the bad guys look identical. So basically, I’m doing the same stuff, in the same place. Over and over and over. This continued until the very end of the game, more or less, and was the only thing preventing it from being a great game.

The saving grace for Dragon Age 2 was the writing and the characters. They were the only thing keeping me going through to the end. The storyline was interesting. even if the setting was not. The characters were engaging, even if what they were doing was not. If the writing was poor and the character interactions were dull, then I’d not even have finished the game and I wouldn’t be writing this long article. I’d have just posted “IT SUCKS” and moved on.

The writers at BioWare are brilliant. They need to be put up on a pedestal. I’ve actually read the Mass Effect novels, too, so I think that points out just how talented their people are.

But unfortunately, the writing can’t make up for the fact that the game itself was a miserable mess of content recycling. I can understand the motivation to re-use a few well designed environments over and over, but there’s a limit to how far that can go. The well designed environment quickly becomes normal and then even more rapidly becomes boring, when you have to repeatedly run through it in order to get to the story bits. Other companies have figured out a better sweet spot for content recycling – such as Bethesda with their Morrowind/Oblivion/Fallout games. Environments can look similar, that’s OK. But being identical makes things grueling. And trying to make them different by just locking doors – that’s insulting. I can see the map. I know there’s rooms on the other side of that door. I saw what you did there.

What made it worse is that the game consisted of 3 different chapters of the SAME content. I thought I had beat the game on multiple occasions, only to realize I had further to go. Which would have been great, if the environmental design matched the quality of the writing. I remember being sad when I beat the first Dragon Age, because I wanted more. When I beat Dragon Age 2, I felt relieved.

So, overall, Dragon Age 2 was a roller coaster ride, bouncing me between love and hate and leaving me with an averaged feeling of “meh.” The writing and characters were wonderful and the initial gameplay was brilliant. But unfortunately it was followed up with far too much repetition. A little repetition is fine, but they definitely crossed the line. I think the level of content recycling that they tried was a worthwhile experiment – they did find how far was too far. But unfortunately, it leaves me in the position of not being able to endorse this game. Not, at least, until it costs $25 or less.

So, that beign said, I must also point out that BioWare also wins a major respect points for standing up for minorities when it comes to the love stories in their games. I actually loved the fact that my mage could have a budding romance with the other male mage. Heck, it even got me a cheevo. Of course, my mage also had a romp with the lusty pirate lady. What can I say? Those characters… I loved ‘em.


One response to “Dragon Age 2: Bi-Polar Hate/Love Rollercoaster

  • Daniel Park

    I actually rather liked DA2, but yes, things felt so, erm… familiar after a while, that I suspected that someone had opened a chain of Kentucky Fried Dungeons all over Kirkwall.

    I wonder the role EA as the publisher know plays in “encouraging” Bioware to hurry a title out the door, potentially before it’s ready.

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