Not Everyone Hates Dragon Age II, You Know

I have a lot of fun ripping on Dragon Age II. BioWare's 2011 follow-up to their epic and beloved Dragon Age: Origins disappointed and frustrated me in many, many ways.

But plenty of people liked it just fine. In fact, some people bloody love this game, to the point that every time I poke fun at it here or on Twitter, I get a sea of well-meaning responses hollering to the heavens about how great the game actually is, and would I lay off it already, and jeez Kirk what's your problem it wasn't even that bad.

This sort of thing happens sometimes with games that are commonly held to be "bad" — a small group of people fall in love with it and embrace it in spite of its flaws. Games like Nier and Deadly Premonition, and even my beloved Far Cry 2 could be said to fall into this category. (Fahey suggests Phantom Dust for this category as well.)

I love it when this happens. It shows that taste in gaming is not universal, that the critical consensus never speaks for or to all people. Often, we just like what we like. In addition, defending a game that is commonly thought of as overlooked, underrated, or unfairly maligned brings out a sort of zealotous passion that can border on unhinged — but passion is passion! (See, for example, the #FarCry2CoreHarder hashtag that came to brief, wondrous life the other night.) The Dragon Age II defenders may be defending a game that I generally found to be frustrating, claustrophobic, weirdly paced, and overly streamlined, but they defend it with passion and brains.

One of my favourite pieces was 'Dragon Age II': Making the Case for "Quality" Games by Kris Ligman. In it, she argues that while DAII is flawed, it is worth rewarding the Dragon Age team for making a game that concerned itself with setting out in new directions. "Strip away the pretenses of a AAA studio and the worst of its ham-fisted tie-ins to the first game," she writes, "and you have what is possibly some of the most compelling characterisation this side of a good book."

"Players went in to Dragon Age 2 expecting the arc of Star Wars and instead got handed something out of Sophocles."

"Dragon Age II is ultimately a character drama, less concerned with an epic, save-the-world storyline than in examining the interior worlds of distinct personalities," Ligman writes. "These are flawed beings, doomed by their own hubris or madness, and weak creatures whose personal and psychological failings become centerplace to the unfolding action."

Ligman concludes her critique by making the argument for more "quality" games like this that embrace qualities outside of the "aesthetic and ludic" qualities gamers have come to celebrate. "My greatest fear right now," she writes, "is that history will blame Dragon Age II‘s failings not on these disconnected elements but on the things that it gets absolutely right above all, giving us the sort of novelistic characters and depth we find ever so elusive in games."

Friend of Kotaku Denis Farr wrote a very nice piece about the game over at his blog "Vorpal Bunny Ranch" (best blog name ever) titled "Carver's My Brother," in which he analysed the relationship between his protagonist and his in-game brother, finding layers of nuance that, it must be said, do not exist in the vast majority of games, even deep RPGs.

Carver had both been a battle companion, and was someone who had interacted more heavily with both myself and the other people with whom I traveled who became my extended family. His role in my group had been a tank–my protector. It influenced how I saw him: despite my quibbles with him, he was someone on whom I could rely.

Kate Cox recently posted a wonderful look at the narrative tragedies in Dragon Age II, titled "The Age of the Dragons, part II: The Tragedie of Kirkwalle." (Spoilers abound.) "Players went in to Dragon Age 2 expecting the arc of Star Wars," she writes, "and instead got handed something out of Sophocles… No wonder so many were disappointed with what they got."

Cox also illustrates a point similar to Farr's: In this game, much of the reward and depth is tied to the relationships you forge and the characters you meet. The key here being the difference between " my story" and " the story," which is a hazy difference, particularly given the fact that Dragon Age II is itself a frame-narrative, a story told after the fact by Varric the Dwarf. (Remember, yonder lie spoilers.)

Indeed, for all that the player controls Hawke, in a meaningful sense the player is better represented by Varric. His presence as narrator — and a potentially unreliable one, as far as both Cassandra and the player are concerned — echoes and underlines the entire concept of the player making choices in what is ultimately a forced linear tragic narrative. "Here's how it really happened," the player says, and no one can particularly gainsay it because the ultimate sequence of events is still the same: Hawke came to Kirkwall in 9:30, in some way knew these 7 or 8 individuals, and in 9:37 was present when Anders destroyed the Chantry. Cassandra may stop Varric in moments of true absurdity but otherwise, she believes the story he has to tell about Hawke, no matter how it unfolds.

Clearly, the game is worth talking about. It's worth talking about its failures, sure, but also about its successes. The people who have tweeted and commented and written at length about Dragon Age II haven't chosen an underdog just to stand out.

They legitimately believe Dragon Age II is fantastic, and they're eloquent in talking about why. In fact, many are willing and able to talk about the game's flaws in the same breath as its strengths. We could stand to see the inverse of that, to see more people talking openly about the flaws in widely-praised, successful games.

Yeah, I said that Dragon Age II felt "akin to attending a dinner party and being fed unsatisfying side dish after unsatisfying side dish while awaiting a main course that never arrives." I also may have called it "flat, unfinished and short on soul." I still feel that way about it, for the most part.

But while my distaste remains, even I don't hate Dragon Age II, not really. It had its redeeming characteristics, most notably some of the characters (Aveline!), its interesting and nuanced portrayal of interpersonal relationships, and its laudable inclusivity.

So it's nice to see that there are folks out there who disagree with the critical consensus. Regardless of its frustrating faults, Dragon Age II should not be dismissed, and not simply because it has a sequel coming that Might Fix Everything. For the time being, it's enough that Dragon Age II is a work worthy of its own discussion; it is perfectly capable of standing on its own to be criticised for its failings and celebrated for its successes.

Just don't make me play it any more.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)


Comments

    This is heartening as I have yet to play the game and actually plan to play it next.
    However, I do object strongly to Nier being called a "bad" game. And not solely from a jumping-to-its-defence-because-I-loved-it perspective like the article is referring to. I think people just assumed Nier was a bad game because the graphics were close to PS2-era looking.

      Please don't play it. As a player who loved DA:O, DA2 ruined everything. Never ever touch it. If you want to play it, pirate it so you won't support Bioware.

        Did you even read the above article?! How dare you suggest that people not support Bioware. They are the most respected makers of Western RPG's in the world. In the same post you say you LOVED DA:O. Do you not want to support the developers who made THAT game?

          I hope you are trolling but no after DA2, SWSTOR and the frightening promises they are making for ME3, I do not want to support Bioware anymore. The days of BG2, NWN and ME1 are long gone. EA and Hamburger Helper ruined Bioware.

            Noko... why does that sound familiar...

            Anyway, I agree with you. Bioware used to be my favourite RPG developer, until they turned into to making action/adventure games with slight character customization.

            And yeah, Helper is the worst writer since Meyer.

              Alright, I can't fault your consistency.
              I still say they consistently write the best stories in the business. David Gaider is my champion, in that respect. And I'm enjoying the story in SWTOR, as well.

              Although, props to games like Witcher2 & Bastion for aiming high in story content, as well.

                I'm not sure they do write the best stories in the business. You've played the Witcher and the Witcher 2 - maybe not perfect games, but the narrative of both was far better than anything I've seen from Bioware (not a criticism of Bioware by the way, with the exception of DA2 and to a lesser extent ME2 they have excellent stories).

      I agree with STRANGE here.

      I dislike people calling for blood on a title that they simply didn't like.

      I personally enjoyed both Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 and ALL the DLC's for both.

      I Enjoyed the first game in the stereotypical high-fantasy "I'm gonna save the world now" way (and who couldn't enjoy a game with a character like Shael, really?)

      I did, however, enjoyed just as much the more personal level of interaction found between the NPC's and the difficult choices in DA2 that weren't as cut-and-dry as the first game.

      Both were enjoyable in different ways:

      Dragon Age: Origin was basically a Baldur's Gate or KOTOR (any other PC RPG you care to name) clone in terms of how the story structure and mechanics played out.

      Dragon Age 2 was something a little different - with a heavy focus on fast paced combat and interpersonal interactions on a "family" level. I do admit that seeing the same areas rehashed a few times was a bit of a strange move, though for me this was only a minor frustration in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

      They are COMPLETELY different games in many respects. You WILL be disappointed if you go in expecting the SAME GAME.

      But separately? Quite good. b^_^d

      - Aron

    I'm sorry but if you think this game is actually good, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU. It's the laziest attempt at an RPG I've ever played and it was the first game that I've ever played and stopped playing in disgust. This game was an absolute travesty.

      Could not agree more. Really was quite bad.

        RPG Rule number 1: If you have to reuse a room, level or area to masquerade as another entirely new area more than once in the story telling, you're too lazy and should be shot. Since Bioware broke this rule about three dozen times in the same game, it's time to get out my BFG9000...

          Kill Bethesda then too. Skyrim has the same flaw. I really can't understand how things Dragon Age 2 got castigated for were totally overlooked by Skyrim fanboys.

      Yeah, you're right! Opinion IS fact!

      Example: my opinion of you is that you're a numpty. With the above rule applied:

      You're a numpty.

        At what point did I say my opinion was a fact? Keeping in mind that normally when people use all-caps like that they're joking to some extent or at least implying that their opinion is to be taken with a grain of salt.

        Don't be a tool and jump to conclusions like that.

          Funny everytime I see All-caps I assume the person typing is yelling seriously at the computer screen.
          http://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/newsfeed/000/037/968/CapsLock.jpg

          So, stating that "if you like this game then you're wrong" isn't you asserting your opinion as fact, and telling people that their opinion is incorrect?

          Clearly I've missed something here...

            The phrase "There is something wrong with you" is usually used as a joke and rarely actually implies that you need to see a doctor because of your opinions. I was not actually using it in a serious manner.

      I'm hesitant to agree with something that is so subjective, but man if there was ever a time to accuse people of being wrong about liking something, this is it.

      Every defense I've seen of the game has come down to characterization (probably because we all agree everything else about the game was just crap). My problem is, even the characterization is uneven. Some were very strong (Aveline comes to mind) and some were really weak. Across the board, the behavior of the characters is schizophrenic and only serves to push the plot along. Further, your interactions with characters were a step backwards from most games of its genre. It certainly wasn't as complex as DA: O where a lack of consideration of your team meant losing your main healer.

      The game did have two good quests: "the investigation" and that Varric one, which anyone who has played the game will immediately recall (I'm being intentionally vague so as not to spoil it). Both were in the middle act, which was vastly superior to the other two. In many ways, the game would have been better had they just dropped the other Acts.

    Repetitively designed dungeons, a bare handful of different enemy designs, unsatisfyingly simple major battles, weak main story.... but enough about Skyrim.

    At least DA2 has terrific characters and dialogue. It was disappointing compared to Dragon Age Origins, but it wasn't a bad game

      The only way you can justify a game being focused on good characters solely is if the talking bits are the core of the gameplay, like LA Noire. Talking to the characters wasn't even a huge part of the game in Dragon Age 2, and even then it was horribly implemented with that Mass Effect wheel shit. The characters were somewhat well written if a little cliched, but the rest of the game sucked horribly. All the dungeons are identical, the gameplay is stale and repetitive, there is less customisation than the previous game (which was pretty poor to begin with) and the game was just a turd overall.

      But by that description it was a bad GAME, you just make it sound like it could have been an ok interactive movie.

        I happen to like OK interactive movies! I also liked FF13 in parts (generally parts which didn't involve the awful combat).

        By the same token, Skyrim is barely a game, but it's a fantastic exploration simulator set in a detailed fantasy world...

          I'm not really sure what you're getting at... Skyrim is a perfect example of a game. You have challenging battles, you have varying ways that the game can pan out, the dialogue is a minor part of it. Saying that Dragon Age is not really a game because it has so much emphasis on dialogue (while not true) is somewhat understandable because dialogue isn't challenging in any aspect, it's basically a movie with a number of different endings. You're essentially saying Skyrim isn't a game because it focuses on gameplay, which obviously doesn't make sense.

    I was going to make some wort of well written, meaningufl post, then I remember I was one of -those- people. The one's that actually liked Too Human...

      So much so that my typing skills have clearly been negatively affected!

        Too Human ... Shakes head

      I loved Too Human!
      I wish Denis Dyack had kept his mouth shut though. :(

    What the hell was the point of this article? 90% of it is just links and quotes from other articles.

      Kirk expressing his appreciation for an aspect of this industry, citing several sources to demonstrate his point, and then generating further discussion in he comments section (some good, some bad)?
      Ya don't need to be grumpy about everything, 'Berg.

      PS Alpha Protocol is a good game.
      ;D

        I can't help it. I've been in a grumpy mood all week.

        I HATE EVERYTHING

        AP wasn't as bad as people said.

    The problem here isn't that a few people have fallen in love with it.

    Which is a great thing for some games.

    The fact is that compared to the first game DA2 is a let down in nearly every respect.

    It's okay for original games to have a cult following. It's not okay to make a game sequel that was in essence an attempt to cash in on the franchise.

    Your choices had little to no impact on the entire game, constantly reused dungeon maps, many a bug and story option removed to publish the game faster ....

    Yes its a continuation in the DA universe but as a game as a whole ... meh

    I didn't mind DA2, it was the first one of the series i played.
    Recently i got DA Origins, and while it is better in many ways, the endless micromanaging of gear across the 7 or so companions i have sofar is tedious.

    I'm just not getting into origins as much, not sure why....

    I didn't know people consider Far Cry 2o to be bad- that game rocked!

    Y'know, ALL they needed to do with DA2 was take out the repeating dungeons. That's it. It was such an insult it coloured everything else. Such an easy problem to fix, I really can't imagine why this didn't come up in testing.

      I didn't like it - it had the same problem as the first Ass. Creed game - way to repetitive.

    I'd like the visuals and speed of DA2 blended with the story and depth of DA2 please.

    DA2 feels like a singleplayer MMO. That's all that needs to be said.

    Oh, and one more thing.

    *Gave item: Body of unknown thief*
    NPC: Thanks, I was looking for these!

    The biggest faults that DA2 has is what was removed/disabled in the game, compared to DA1:

    - Ability to equip armour, weapons etc to party members
    - Interesting and varied locations and the feeling of scope
    - Reasonable storyline with meaning
    - Good and varied loot
    - Characters you actually can connect with

    DA2 was simply an effort to appeal to as wide an audience as possible by dumbing it down.

    Half way through DA2 I felt like I was filling out a tax form but I was obligated to finish it :(

      They did the same thing to Mass Effect 2. They somehow escaped so much criticism for it there; probably because game sites decided it was the cool thing to bash DA2 but not ME2. I wasn't a huge fan of ME2. Good, but not anywhere near as good as ME1.

        I coudn't agree more RAF. I liked ME1 much more than 2.. I mean whoever thought the planet scanning thing in ME2 was better than ME1's Mako missions is kidding themselves.

        I hate to say it, but since EA's purchase of Bioware, my once favourity studio is a shadow of its former self. To this day Baldur's Gate 2 is my all time favourite RPG. But since EA have taken over, Bioware are slowly removing the RPG from their RPG's in the name of "streamlining"

    Not everyone has a brain. Retards have always existed and always will.

    I like it. It's combat is more fun to play with. I just only found myself wanting to play it 5 times at the most.

    I enjoyed DA2 much more than DA:O. I liked the streamlining. DA:O was inflated with so much micromanaging and so many tedious tasks that I've never finished my second playthrough. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't like the repetitive dungeons or the wave style of combat in DA2 (although i liked the faster pace to combat), but to my taste, the improvements outweigh the new flaws.

    DA:O's story felt like something I'd seen/played a million times before albeit in an interesting setting. DA2 grabbed my interest because it used an interesting series of plots about Hawke's journey from refugee to Champion of Kirkwall, rather an yet another anonymous hero against all the odds. All in all I found the DA2 story more involving and compelling.

    It is disappointing to see all these arguments that DA:O is an empirically better game, because you're dealing with taste. Trying to come to a 'correct' consensus is futile. Anyone telling me how much better one game was doesn't change how much more I enjoyed the other. Is there really any point pissing and moaning about how much worse you think the sequel was?

    /shrug, i already thought DA:O was meh, the typical boring bioware story of 'here's the bad guy, go do filler quests for 30 hours then you can kill him' stopped me from getting past the half-way mark.

    DA:O was decent CRPG. DA2 was a shitty console hack and slash. That said, they both have to much romance shit. If I wanted to play a dating sim porn game I would.

    Spoilers ahead.
    Man when my sister died in that game I was cut up. I have a sister in real life and I was not happy. I had no save to go back to either. It was emotional and I cared about those characters dammit. Making the centre of the conversation wheel a sarcastic response instead of an entirely bland response is quite possibly the most genious move ever. I keep trying to play DA:O but it feels so old school and clunky.

    I didn't mind it, just the "side quests" felt a lot less relevant to the story, or epic, as the first game.

    Not to mention the copy pasted dungeons with a few different areas shut off each time.

    as a person who don't have hundreds upon hundreds hours of free time to play an RPG game anymore, i somewhat welcome bioware decision to shape dragon age 2

    gone were the days i spend 999 hours playing final fantasy 7 just to get the perfect bahamut

      perfect bahamut?
      knights of the round, perhaps?

      Sounds like RPG genre is just not for you...

    I loved DA:O, I played it over and over.

    I also love DA:2. However they are vastly different approaches to RPGs.

    This might sound stupid or silly to some, but DA2 was a lot more mature in its storytelling, instead of relying on the same old fantasy tropes that DA:O used, it instead sought to create a different story, one with a lot more intricacies should you chose to follow a few side quests. The strength of its story telling meant it didn't rely on 'scope' and a plethora of locations to keep the gamer engaged, it really didn't need to. Sure some of the dungeons did get old to revisit the third time etc, it still had its epic, mind blowing moments. DA:O tried so hard to meet a variety of fantasy cliches that the game almost felt like one big cliche at times (holy grail stories, Elves on the fringes of society, Dwarves an ancient and ebbing civilization, Backstabbing bastard antagonist...) the only real innovative ideas into the fantasy genre were city elves and the mage/chantry conflict. DA:2s focus on characters and political machinations, mistrust etc all enhanced its story in a much more mature way. If you need to be stimulated by fantastic environments I take it you probably hardly read books as well, imagining things is such a chore.

    As for combat DA:O was very hard to go back to after DA:2. DA:O feels slow and clunky, actually it IS slow and clunky, DA:2 flows nicely, however I do find the encounters in DA:2 to be tiresome, mainly due to the waves of enemies with low hitpoints vs DA:O one wave, hard to kill enemies. If the encounters were more like DA:O, and if they had appeased the unimaginative trolls with a range of varied locations instead of revisiting old sites the game would easily have no critics, sadly most critics are too superficial to even notice why they are critical.

    What annoyed me about DA2 (despite the contrived setting and reused locations) was the use of enemies and demons.

    In DA:O, Abomination and Desire Demons were basically "boss fights", were rare and really dangerous (the Desire Demon especially in DA:O which had large impacts on the story with its hold on certain characters). In DA2 they were just another monster to fight over and over and over again in the endless waves of enemies that you fight in DA2 (which screwed any plan or strategy going into a room for battle).

    Dragon Age 2 to me felt rushed. This was highlighted above all else in the fact that they reused the same dungeon environments repeatedly. The characters were better than in Origins, the story was of a higher level than Origins albeit being told in such a way as to recount someone's life rather than giving you the option to live that life for them like in Origins, the Inventory system felt like they just couldn't be bothered worrying about animating the other characters in the various armours, and the environments just left you wondering what happened to the other 20,000 areas you were supposed to have visited and why you keep ending up on this same damned bit of coastline every time you try to visit a different area

    To put things in a different perspective, I actually played Dragon Age 2 before DA:O. I hated EVERY single moment of DA2 - everything except the voice acting was utter, pardon my French, shit. Then I went and played Origins and loved it. I don't think it's a matter of expectations - Dragon Age 2 is just a bad game.

    BUTTON, AWESOME
    BUTTON, AWESOME

    I hated pretty much my entire experience of DA2. Only played a demo of DAO and then thought I'd play DA2 to see what the hype was about.

    Holy crap was it terrible. It reminded me briefly of BG2 for a bit, but then party placement was USELESS because they would drop in from the roof at random.

    Oh, AND THERE WAS ONLY ONE CAVE! THEY JUST CHANGED THE SIGN EACH TIME AND HOPED NOBODY WOULD NOTICE! GAH!

      LoL

      I knew it was bad the moment I found out I couldn't customise other party members' items...

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