I’ve come to the conclusion that petty criminals in the city of Kirkwall are idiots. Any normal person after seeing his friends on the receiving end of explosive arrows, being frozen solid, shattered into pieces, or just plain having the crap kicked out of them by my party should be running a mile and yet they stoically continue on, regardless of how effectively I end their objections to my presence. Dragon Age 2 has arrived, and my smiting of people opposed to me can continue.
Let’s briefly recap. Dragon Age: Origins was released back in 2009 and was widely considered to be one of best RPG games of the year, if not the decade. It did so with a dark yet rich and engaging world that you could hack, slash, fireball or negotiate your way around while accompanied by interesting characters that were very well voice acted.
Having spent the first several hours of the first game swearing in delight at how wonderful it all was, I had high hopes for Dragon Age 2, and to be honest it hasn’t lived up to them.
Dragon Age 2 is all about you. So much so in fact, that at 20 hours in I was left wondering err, where the hell is the Plot? While there are some city politics and conflicts, for the most part the plot is all about you, which feels weird to be honest and left me feeling as if there wasn’t one for quite some time.
Of course, sequels are always tricky. It’s a difficult balance between repeating what you got right the first time around, fixing things you didn’t, and making enough changes to still keep things fresh and interesting. Sadly, it seems to me that Bioware have (rarely for them) gotten this wrong.
Where’s my varied scenery and environments?
In the first game, there was a whole country to explore. There were fields, forests, mines, dwarven cities, elven camps and much more. Dragon Age 2 has the immediate problem that it’s set in (plus a few short ventures out of) a single city. Clearly they have tried to keep this varied in places – there’s a variety of different ‘sections’ each with their own style, as well as basements, sewers, docks and so on – but you still find yourself running back and forth around the same areas a lot, which after a while is just, well, boring. Many of the smaller quests also take place in the same areas (often with one branch closed off), as a lazy way to put a ‘new’ area in without creating one. Basically after your first few hours or so of game play, you’ve seen all the different scenery the game has to offer.
Where’re my interesting companions and enemies?
Dragon Age: Origins was the first RPG I’ve played where I really hated some characters. I thought some of them were annoying, irritating, and downright rude, which of course was all down to the excellent way in which they were portrayed and voiced. There was a range of romances to choose from if you wanted, and interaction with your companies was a pretty regular occurrence for no reason other than because it made the game better and told you more about them. You might love or hate them but there was no doubt that they were all very well done, and all had strong back stories, secrets and so on.
By contrast, Dragon Age 2′s characters I can barely name any of after playing through the game twice. They are competently voice acted, and you can romance anything (all characters in this universe are now bisexual, it seems). You can’t get information from them because interaction with them is limited to ooh, I have a quest for you! a few times each, and that’s it. You can’t ask them their histories, their stories or find out anything about them, as the game doesn’t let you. You can do some quests to make them like or hate you more, that’s your lot.
What happened to the varied and interesting combat?
Dragon Age: Origins had a pretty varied array of combat opponents. There were Darkspawn of several types, humans, elves, wildlife and so on. They had different abilities and skills to contend with. Dragon Age 2 has a few Darkspawn in the intro part (complete bizarrely with a new graphical look which I don’t approve of and which jars against the supposed connection with events in the first game), and then the majority of your opponents are humans with the odd mage thrown in.
On the plus side, the combat in Dragon Age 2 is faster and smoother flowing. Actions are quicker and generally feel more as if you are fighting for your life. There are some new combat skills, as well as many of the original ones from Dragon Age: Origins. However, because combat is now faster, Bioware has decided that the answer to this is to spawn in new waves of enemies during the fights to make up for it. Sadly this has had the effect of making every combat sequence feel drawn out for too long and after a while it just gets pretty repetitive and boring. By the end of the game I was dreading getting pulled into another combat sequence.
One interesting addition here is the ‘leader’ type characters which you have to engage quickly or their spells/attacks/buffs will make things much more difficult for you. The downside to this is that failing to spot one means certain death for party members, even on the easiest difficulty settings, which means that until you know to expect them you can lose combat and have to start from the most recent save without knowing why.
So, in a lot of areas, Dragon Age 2 just isn’t as good as the first game was. Bioware gets a fair bit of criticism for their RPGs following the same formulas, and they’ve clearly tried to spice things up a bit here by changing some things, but the changes for the most part have made things either shallower, less interesting or just plain frustrating.
Despite these flaws, there is a good RPG of sorts here, the presentation is well done in the usual Bioware fashion, there’s the standard array of weapons, armor and crafting things to collect and use and plenty of quests to complete. There are improvements in areas such as crafting and the game now shows with icons the expected results of conversations.
In isolation it’s a solid game, with around 30-35 hours of game play per play through (by comparison, Dragon Age: Origins had roughly twice this, not including DLC and expansion), and it even runs on the same PC I played Dragon Age: Origins on 2 years ago, with decent loading times.
It’s just that… this is Bioware. They are supposed to be better than this at producing deep and involving RPGs and their sequels, and I’ve come away a little shocked that this isn’t what I was expecting at all.
The situation then is this. If you liked Dragon Age: Origins for being a deep and involving RPG that you could lose yourself in for quite some time then the changes here will not please you. If on the other hand you thought Dragon Age: Origins needed to be shallower, with faster combat, simpler character interaction, and fewer areas to explore and quest in, then you’ll approve of what they’ve done.
Personally, I find that I have a preference towards receiving more things in exchange for my hard earned (yeah, stop laughing, co-workers!) cash. I expected to receive a sequel with more things in it, not less, and that’s hard to take given the calibre of the developers making it. While there are some improvements, on the whole I’m left with the feeling that I’ve just paid the same money for half as much game as I got first time around, which makes it difficult not to feel cheated.