Sequels are such a mixed bag. So many great new IPs have died out thanks to poor sequels, but on the other hand a lot of forgettable games have gotten great sequels that made them recognized. You can’t forget the Activision model of business either – yearly sequels to run franchises into the ground. In the middle of all this were Canadian Developer Bioware, who brought two good new IPs to the table in the form of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Yes, they were games built on sci-fi and fantasy staples respectively, but they were still entertaining and Dragon Age: Origins, in particular, gave me immense pleasure during my multiple playthroughs simply because of the fantastic writing, good characters and immense scope the game had.
Which is why a lot of people were very interested in what Bioware were going to do with the sequels. Mass Effect 2 came out last year as a more focused title. Many didn’t like or agree with the changes made in the game, but for me it cut a lot of flab from a series that had a great setting and narrative, but was let down (in the first game) by rather lackluster gameplay. Yes it started out as an RPG trilogy, but the almost TPS-y sequel was, in my humble opinion, a much better polished game and a better fit for the kind of the space opera it was trying to be.
Still as bloody as ever
Under no circumstances did I except Dragon Age 2 to turn out the same way, though. A classic fantasy world built up by an RPG that induced feelings of nostalgia – there was no way, even with a seemingly rushed sequel, any developer would touch that goldmine and change it around dramatically. But that is exactly what Bioware have done, and therein lies one of the biggest problems with Dragon Age 2.
Gameplay has been oversimplified to the point where it almost feels like a hack-and-slash Action RPG. So much so that it’s better to play the game that way. DAO made tactics and positioning important, even for the party members. Set choke points with your warriors wearing heavy armour so the mages at the back are protected and have sufficient time to cast their spells. Have your rogues be a disruptive element and provide ample distractions so the rest of your party can take advantage. Use the tactics slots to set patterns of behaviour so you don’t have to worry about it all the time during frantic battles. In DA2 however, you’re better off forgetting about all that. Respawning enemies make choke points useless, the friendly AI is too competent (yes, that can be a bad thing when AOE attacks from your party wipe out the scrubs, leaving nearly nothing for the tank to do) and the increased tactic slots can even be called overkill. Bump up the difficulty though, and the game becomes much more fun to play and regains some of that lost RPG flavour.
Not the best looking game
That the game looks terribly outdated does nothing to make you feel better. In today’s day and age of incredibly realistic looking games, DA2 is a blip on the radar apart from the nice character models. Poor texture quality (even after installing the hi-res texture pack) and awful optimization are the worst culprits. I started playing the game on a GTX 580 and was shocked and horrified when the game had massive texture glitches like black patches along the ground and crawled along at 15fps. It seems to have been an issue on the driver end though, as an install of the latest beta drivers from NVIDIA did fix the problem, but it really should’ve been rectified before release.
The game looks terrible but that’s no different from DAO and it never was an issue there because of the artistic diversity and the atmosphere of the game. DA2, however, survives on copy-paste locales and dungeons, and extremely bland art design. Nearly every location or dungeon you visit will give you a feeling of déjà vu, and it’s not misplaced either because you probably have visited the same place hundreds of times in your playthrough. There’s a reason for that though, but just having a reason doesn’t justify the lazy work put in here.
Improved Skill trees
That reason is the narrative. The entire game is set in Kirkwall in The Free Marches, where the game’s protagonist Hawke and his family move to following the demise of Lothering. Yes, DA2 begins pretty much at the same point in the timeline as DAO did, but the story is told via a series of flashbacks narrated by the dwarf Varric to a Chantry Knight Commander. Through the flashbacks, you learn what Hawke, the fixed main character that replaced the character creator from DAO, did to have such a big bullseye on his back. That the story is told like this is in a way the saving grace of the game, because it gives you a reason to complete it to see just what Hawke did to piss so many people off.
Without that sense of curiosity, I seriously doubt many people would want to complete the game, simply because it takes a long while to get any good. With the entire game set in Kirkwall, all of the missions and sidequests make you visit the same areas over and over again in a mundane first half of the game. This brings the copy-paste locales and dungeons into the picture, and the ‘go fetch’ nature of the sidequests simply augment the frustration.
Meet Hawke, the Champion
The game does get better later, though, as the story picks up pace and gets more focused. But by that point I was so apathetic to the whole thing because none of Bioware’s famed writing skills were on show here. The characters are extremely bland, a far cry from DAO’s motley crew, and their interactions with Hawke, or the banter between each other simply don’t bring out the same level of reactions as you’d expect from a Dragon Age game. However, the Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel worked out unexpectedly well and is a nice, if unneeded, change.
The game is also riddled with numerous bugs. One gameplay bug that really irritated me was that once in a while, I’d be rendered unable to make Hawke collect some loot or go to a certain position because the game wouldn’t let me right-click. It’d get fixed if I selected another character and then came back to Hawke, but it was annoying nonetheless. Other issues included a huge number of sidequests that wouldn’t activate at all, and some that would auto-complete, leaving you with no clue whatsoever what was going on when a cutscene randomly starts up. Without turning this into a spoiler, this happened to me in a quest that was connected to the main story, and a character that interested me, so it was somewhat of a major turnoff.
Bring back the epic
There are times when Dragon Age 2 does things right and brings back that feeling of epic fantasy scope from Dragon Age: Origins, but those times are few and far between. Everything else just reeks of a rush job hoping to capitalize on the success of a new IP. The narrative has taken a nosedive and somewhere, you can’t help but feel that the writing was forced to take that direction simply because Bioware didn’t have the time to work on all the various assets that would’ve been required for a story with a greater scope. The lack of time shows in the polishing of the game as well, with various bugs and issues plaguing the overall experience.
Dragon Age 2 is a major disappointment, and in their handling of a fantasy world so fixated on their Maker it is Bioware - the Makers themselves - that let us down.
Published Date: Apr 04, 2011 09:45 am | Updated Date: Apr 04, 2011 09:45 am