Let Off Some Steam is a new section where we let you guys get something off your chest – it can be a vitriol laced rant, a sappy love letter to whatever, or anything inbetween. Send your ranty words in this direction, and try and keep it under 600 words. This time Thomas Muller makes an impassioned, articulate, confusing case for/against Dragon Age 2. I still don’t know if he likes it or not!
Dragon Age II – WTF
Recent reviewers of the much-hyped Dragon Age II have all come down hard on the fence, breaking their backs to wring a score out of the game. Every write up is a see-saw of personal dialogue, as he or she tries to convince themselves of some kind of verdict. Sometimes it’s easy to come up with a conclusion about a game, a film, a restaurant. Sometimes the thing is a mishmash of brilliant, inspired, indispensible design and appalling, lazy, tired components (or lack thereof) that, together, give you a game that comes out exactly… neutral. In fact, most reviewers seemed to come to the forlorn conclusion that this is a brilliant game that manipulates them in exactly the right way, appeals to rationalism be damned. Dragon Age II grabs you by the balls and drags you all the way to the end kicking and screaming. The gaming world seems to be struggling with the idea that a game can ride through with terrible omissions based on the strength of a few incredibly synergistic components.
That is what Dragon Age II seems to have done. The reviewers hate the damn thing then award it a 90, seemingly struggling with a rogue hand when they come to the end of their complaints.
The game’s art design is nothing short of stunning, with awe inspiring landscapes and intricate character models. But the boffins of Bioware only crafted what seems like a quarter of what they should have. Subsequently ALL of the action takes place in a finite, tiring number of arbitrarily sectioned levels. Enemies take the same forms every time, and encounters are devoid of variance. Shades appear in every corner for three minutes until the room is ‘finished’. Whether this was a conscious decision or a consequence of engine restrictions, this sort of thing went out with the age of RPG’s squeezed into one CDROM.
This isn’t a penny arcade. But we keep playing.
Similarly, voice acting is utterly superb given the amount of content, countered by wooden, awkward animations that seem pulled straight from Knights of the Old Republic. But we keep playing.
The lumbering, slow combat has been transformed into a whirling death spiral made of exploding body parts, and everything sparkles and zings with kinetic energy. Nothing is wasted. When you hit something it stays hit. But all you ever fight are shades, multicoloures spiders and stamped out soldiers. Difficulty comes in the form of increasingly oppressive waves of enemies. But we keep playing.
Quests are carbon copy; ‘fetch this’, track down this missing person, kill another group of the same endless waves of fodder, with only a few that go beyond the ‘encounter madman in random alleyway, kill his minions’ trope. But we keep playing because of characters that suck us into thinking the next one might be better than the rest. Not to mention a perfectly balanced progression system that keeps you hunting one last level.
Core storytelling that reeks of professional polish, with genuine characters and not a word out of place. And city that is devoid of life and character,that changes far too little to hold attention, surrounded by lore and history that only presents itself in written slabs of texts and in the offhand dialogue of NCPs. Still glued to our screens.
Are we starting to see a pattern here? Everything bad about Dragon Age 2 is balanced and made up for in another way, in ways that go so far into the territory of awesomeness so as to make anything forgivable.
But is that, in itself, forgivable? Should gamers be allowed to be slowly tortured as long as there is addictive, beautiful bandit-slaying morphine on hand?
As always, it depends upon what you like. Bioware has refined Dragon Age into a specialist, bringing all of their polish to the fore and forgetting to include content. But masters they are, and whether they were restricted by budget, lack of time or the fear of making a perfect game before the release of Dragon Age III, they knew what they were doing. The executive producers are cackling away somewhere imagining gamers slogging their way through their maze. They have charts or something, ingrained instinct for the gamer’s psychology, which led them towards a formula that makes you play even though you writhe at the artificial nature of the construct.
God help us all, I’m going to kill my three thousandth darkspawn.
Fistbeard McTavish – GET OVER HERE, and everyone who has been playing Dragon Age II for that matter. It seems to be one of the most divisive games this year – what is it about Dragon Age II that causes so much debate!