Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wier Reviews: Dragon Age 2

Cool logo right? I mean it just exudes an aura of bad assery that most men dare not to dream possible in a RPG. But alas, beauty is merely skin deep in what I had hoped to be the next great step in a new and glorious series. Let me preface this review with a few notes about how I had originally planned to approach reviewing this game. At first I thought I would just do a direct compare and contrast to Dragon Age Origins but I found that would be a too depressing prospect the longer I played the game. Then I considered making it a "10 reasons why Dragon Age 2 is WORSE than real life" to be an amusing doppelganger to my DA:O review. Then I finished the game and the disillusioned rage I felt at that point filled my heart with such great darkness that I could not even begin to take the affront as lightly as I had hoped. The game had evolved into something higher level than the farce I thought it to be, it had become a cruel visage of something I had grown to love and a stain on the honor of the reputable story tellers at Bioware. Lo' the sky did darken and the heavens did split and from the blackness poured into our world a mediocre Bioware game!

If you can't tell from my introduction that I was not too pleased with DA2 then you are indeed quite dense. So dense in fact that you would probably give the core of a star a run for its money. Well let's jump into this mess head first shall we? Onward to DRAGON AGE 2!

The Story?: Well you being the story as one of one person, either (Insert First Name Here) Hawke Human Male or (Insert First Name Here) Hawke Human Female. Your character, being a noble and therefor having a severe aversion to bravery begin your tale running away from Lothering during the blight in Ferelden. To players of DA:O you might remember the locals mentioning how the lord of Lothering and their family just headed for the hills (quite before the darkspawn even arrived making your character's family a bunch of cowards). So you play as one of three siblings you start as either a mage, a rogue or a warrior of which there are various subclasses and talent trees. Your family has in it a two handed warrior named Carver (get it, he carves up bad guys lawl) and a mage sister named Bethany (No pun intended I guess). As you flee in terror from the darkspawn you find yourself saved by (NOTE: AHEAD ARE SPOILERS SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ THEM THEN SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT SECTION) ................................ Flemeth whom in return for saving you asks you to deliver some amulet to the Dalish. (Take note that after you finish this quest you never ever hear from Flemeth again, I mean at all. There isn't even a mention of what she might be up to). Anyway, you venture to a town called Kirkwall where you, being a snotty noble, decide to work yourself from the ground up to obtain power for power's sake alone.


Essentially, for those of you who care to miss spoilers, you will find yourself milling about in the same city for literally the entire game. The majority of your journey will be spent collecting some very boring characters and a few decently interesting ones for whom you shall endlessly be questing within the town or in the three areas you're allowed to go outside of your primary quest hub. There will be decisions to make that you would THINK would significantly impact your story or the world around you but in all honesty you can make the opposite decisions in the second play through and get pretty much the same results. The story meanders about in three completely separate chapters that are only strung together by the loosest of threading. All of this could possibly be forgivable if the game had managed to bring it all together to a logical end but therein lies the problem... This game had no ending. I played for 30+ hours wandering about a stupid city fetching reagents for apothecaries and hunting down apostate mages (of which the vast majority were omg surprise surprise EVIL) with no real sense of purpose. INC MORE SEMI SPOILERS: By the end of it I discerned that tensions in the city between the Templars (fellows that keep dangerous mages in check) and the Circle (the collection of said mages) had reached a boiling point. Though you had little to do with the conflict than either a) letting a lot of mages go or b) turning them into the Templars to be jailed or executed you find yourself thrust randomly into deciding between the two factions. Don't worry though because no matter how many mages you killed you can still side with the mages, or conversely if you always sided with mages you can arbitrarily decide to help the Templars at the end just to play CHAOTIC EVIL. I am pretty sure you end up killing the same people no matter what happens in the end either way.

It was bad enough that the story was barely there in a coherent matter but the fact that NOTHING you did seemed to effect any major outcomes at all in the game was a tragedy especially considering the pedigree that this game was spawned from where everything you did had a clear consequence whether it be good or bad. Here's a glaring example: One of my characters, I'll call him smarmy jack off #2, decided to side with the Templars when I decided to join the Mages in the final conflict, as a result SJO2 left my party. At first I was excited because it was a real consequence for the first time ever in the game a character CHOSE to leave me based upon my actions. Alas when I met up with them again I got SJO2 back by choosing the most retardedly obvious dialogue option you could fathom. As a result all consequence is washed away. A big whatever to a whatevery blahfest story. Anyway, back tracking from my rant the game ends after this conflict and they end it with the idiotic narrator blabbing about how the whole party just sort of "lost touch with each other" and he had no idea what happened to your main character, then they throw in a cryptic dialogue session to insinuate that there is more of this crap to come probably in Dragon Age 3: The Quest For More Money.

Gameplay: If the story was horrible then surely the game play MUST have had effort put into it right? Well....yes and no. The combat in the game was decently done, attacks flowed smoothly and the interface was more intuitive than the previous installment but tragically the way the fights are executed left much to be desired. I played through the game on hard and well there were fights that were "hard" insofar as they involved me running around like a sissy girl a lot plucking away with my bow hoping the bad things didn't catch up to me. Retreating to narrow passageways seemed to be the best and well...only real strategy that you could deploy in the console version of the game so I often found myself triggering a spawn and then running down the halls to funnel them into a choke point. This strategy was made all the more effective when I found out the large powerful bosses I had to fight often couldn't make it through doorways... So I would get to the other side of a doorway and savagely beat my opponent to death as they sat there just taking hit after hit before they finally dropped. Couple that with some inexplicably glitchy fight mechanics and you have yourself one mediocre game play experience.

But before I sort of write the combat off as blah I will tell you that it is in fact extremely infuriating how it breaks down. You will enter an area and enemies will be standing there or spawn or whatever and then you will hit the pause to start lining up your attacks and developing a strategy but as soon as you cut through a few enemies a whole bunch more magically materialize up your ass and butcher your ranged fighters. Before you know it half your party is dead and you're running away once again attempting to kite kill the entire zone again. This behavior is especially prevalent among spiders whom will materialize out of thin air and surround you in 4-5 waves at a time.

Combat aside there was the whole RPG aspect of the game which failed miserably. As Hawke, and no one other than Hawke you get to choose dialogue options similarly to how you could in Origins. Problematically they employed a tonal system where what you see on the screen gives you a little picture to indicate the tone of what you are going to say instead of what you are actually going to say. Sometimes I would pick the diplomatic tone and it would say something like "I agree" next to it and then suddenly my character goes off on a bizarre diatribe about how she likes the smell of lilies or something stupid like that. This made me feel like I wasn't really playing MY character through a game, rather I was playing a NPC that had a preset destiny and dialogue options. I may as well have played the game as Anders...stupid stupid Anders. I don't know who among you complained about having to READ IN A ROLEPLAYING GAME but may you forever burn in the fires of Mordor. I rather know EXACTLY what my character is saying rather than have a general idea of what they might sound like when they say it. I do not need to HEAR my characters voice to discern the tone of a well written line. One can infer the tone of a line through context unless they are a gibbering idiot in which case they should pick a genre that doesn't involve thinking like Candy Land board games. Good lord people, READING IS FUNDAMENTAL DAMN IT!

This felt less like a RPG to me and more like an action or adventure game. Something along the lines of God of War or Devily May Cry. It may as well have been a hack and slash given how little effort they put into making the story a compelling role playing story.

The environments were not much better as the game shamelessly reuses the same battle maps for different zones....over and over and over again. Really? You can't even make a slightly different looking basement? Was that too time consuming? If you needed another year to make this game Bioware I would have given it to you. I swear I would have waited patiently.

Conclusions: Clearly I was not a fan of this game. When I look at Origins and compare it to this...abomination they crafted I can't help but think that something was lost in transaction when EA smacked Bioware in the face with wads of cash. This was not a classic Bioware game. It had no truly compelling story or endearing character for which Bioware is known. This just felt like a rushed job that was spat out in order to capitalize on a fresh new series before the sands of time ticked away and people lost interest. Ironically I can see this game not has the deathblow to what could have been a great series but the first dire strike to it's vital organs. If this is the type of game Bioware decides to turn out for their inevitable third installment of the series then the poor husk will be dead on arrival for me. People could tell me that I couldn't do better or blah blah blah but honestly I KNOW Bioware can do much much better and I am disappointed. You would not be lenient with your favorite author if they suddenly turned out a pile of crap that wasn't worth reading would you? Or your favorite director that put their hands in some terrible continuation of the Fast and the Furious?

I'll quote my sister's words that she spoke to me when she saw me finish this game; "I have never seen such a look of bitter disappointment on your face in my entire life".

What a shame this game truly was to me and I think to many other fans of Origins. I can only hope that Bioware overcomes EA and finds their way back to RPG glory once more.

Dragon Age 2 Gets 6 extremely sad pandas out of 10.


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