Poorly Thought Through Review: Dragon Age 2
I play games, quite a lot of games. And sometimes I wonder, what did other people think of this game? If I wonder this, surely others do as well.
In PTTR I review games as I complete them, completely subjectively. I’ll write as much or as little as I damn well please, depending on if or how much the game stirred any thoughts or emotions up in me. If I feel like rambling on about some random detail that annoyed me, that’s what I’ll do.
So if you ever wondered what some guy thought of the game you’re playing, I’ve got you covered.
I review games on a true 10 point scale. No 7-10 scale bullshit like IGN does, where you can only get less than 7 if you didn’t send some ad money their way.
This means that 1 = Shit. 2.5 = Poor. 5 = Average. 7 = Good. 10 = The Shit.
Poorly Thought Through Review: Dragon Age 2.
The reception of Dragon Age 2 among reviewers and consumers is one of the most interesting ones in recent memory. The dominant narrative has been that it’s not a very good game. The attempts at streamlining the game really dumbed it down. There’s only like 2 areas in the whole game, and they suck. Combat is mashy and stupid. The graphics aren’t very good. The pacing is terrible. Dragon Age 2 hates heterosexual males. Dragon Age 2 also hates gays. And so on.
However, everyone I know who has been playing it, are saying they enjoy it a lot. I did too, I really enjoyed it.
The graphics are nothing to write home about, but compared to the muddy textures and general ugliness of Dragon Age: Origins, it’s a huge step up. It also has an actual art style now, with at least some interesting character and environment designs. My main problem here was that they’re still using those same awful hairstyles, and you can’t even select default Hawke’s hairstyle if you decide to make your own guy. Which was the only male hairstyle in the whole damn game that didn’t look entirely crap.
The horrible hairstyles are pretty odd, considering most character artist students at my university can do as good or better mesh hair than we see in this game. And the intricacy of some of the armor designs in the game shows that clearly, the DA2 artists don’t suck, they could have made some better hairstyles that that, even with a restrictive polygon budget.
Then there’s the repetitive environments. Some of it can be explained away by having the whole game take place in Kirkwall. Although the lack of any real change when the game jumps forward a few years is a completely indefensible decision. I wouldn’t think of it as an oversight, I doubt any art team wouldn’t think of this. It has to be a decision that they simply didn’t have time to do major changes to the city. The repetitive dungeon areas and the lack of environments in general I think is something that has to be blamed on an extremely tight schedule. It’s not like the areas in the game are hyper detailed and took forever to research, design and build. It’s by far the clearest indication that the DA2 team did not have enough time to work on this game.
The combat, I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed it. It looks off, really off, in the context of the world. Especially considering the established style of the first game. And it’s mashy and not very strategic. The reason ME2 felt so good compared to ME was that it was a natural evolution of what was presented in the first game. You could clearly see how they built on what came before and made it work so much better. In DA2 however, you’re looking at what is basically really poor 3rd person action game combat, that has no relation to the previously established system.
It’s clearly not an RPG combat system, which means that despite being featured in an RPG, it should be looked at as an Action game combat system. In which case, it fails pretty badly. I really do think that they kind of halfassed it, and ended up kind of in the middle.
They would have been better served going all the way in either direction. Either go all in with the action approach and add a block button and a dodge roll, get rid of ability timers and tune the moves and AI for hectic real time combat. Or use the previous system, eliminate some of the cumbersome shuffling around and maybe speed it up a little to keep it more involving, but stick within the framework of what you’ve got.
As it is, DA2 ended up with kind of a hybrid system that fails as an Action game combat system and fails as an RPG combat system. But like I said, I did enjoy it. Not because it was good, but because it was more involving. I like pressing buttons and seeing my character immediately reacting to my commands.
The story is extremely poorly paced, the first act drags on for way too long, the third act is way to short, and the second act feels like the climax, leaving the short third act as a bit of a let down. I did enjoy having a voiced and defined protagonist this time around though. I’ve always preferred the defined character over the blank slate character approach. It works in some games, but in fully voiced, highly interactive games like this, standing around like a mute simpleton feels off to me. So I was happy about the ‘Sheperdization’ of the player character.
Then there’s the game design decisions. Some of them are really strange to me. I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the streamlining they did on… well, everything. I mean I totally get that they saw the massive critical and commercial success that Mass Effect 2 had, with it’s streamlined and polished approach to RPG systems and combat, and the bright idea to take DA2 in that direction as well.
But what confuses me is, that’s a complete rejection of the design philosophy they based the Dragon Age franchise on. DA was heavily pitched as the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. It was a real PC RPG. A return to Bioware’s roots. A love letter to true RPG fans. And in most ways, DA:O was a success in this regard. Dragon Age was never supposed to be a streamlined game looking for mainstream success.
I’d really have loved to be a fly on the wall for the conversations they had about this at Bioware as they decided what direction to take DA2 in. Did they all have dollar signs in their eyes after ME2 came out and completely changed DA2? Surely they were already working on DA2 by then, they should have been far along in production even. Did they plan this direction for DA2 from the start, or did they make major changes inspired by the success of ME2 at some point during production? And is that part of the reason DA2 shows so many signs of being a rushed and underdeveloped product?
Regardless of if that was the case or not, DA2 came less than one and a half years after the first game, which is just not enough time to adequately put together the kind of massive experience that an RPG requires.
Dragon Age 2 is a strange creature. It’s very flawed, it’s not a good game. It’s a game that doesn’t know who or what it is. It tries to marry the RPG and 3rd Person Action genres, but instead of giving us the best of both worlds, it in many ways gives us the worst. Yet somehow, it remains very enjoyable. I played the whole thing from start to finish and enjoyed myself the whole time. And doesn’t that make it good?
I’m confused by this game. And after finishing it weeks ago, I still think about it. If nothing else, it provided a long and entertaining experience, and left an impression. Kind of like your mom.
Rating: 7 – It’s a 5 that’s got a lot of heart. Those intangibles bring enough enjoyment to make up the difference and warrant a 7.