I’ve finally picked up Dragon Age Deux and I’ll be attempting to write a series of entries that will be a cross between diary entries, a let’s play, an opinionate and mindless ranting. Originally I wasn’t planning on playing the game after I saw what BioWare did with the franchise, but a brilliant idea hatched in my brain and I just had to give it a go. I’ve talked about my inability to roleplay a bad guy (or my general inability to roleplay) in an RPG, and it’s something that really irks me. If I ever want to see anything besides the “good guy” path in a game I have to arduously and consciously remind myself at every fork in the narrative road to not simply go down the one that seems the best to me. I’m sure you can imagine that takes away from the game and hinders immersion. But in Dragon Age Deux, in a game that I didn’t think was a proper RPG in the first place, I decided to attempt to roleplay a complete asshat. It doesn’t matter if I have to stay conscientious and am unable to fully immerse myself, because I wouldn’t want to do that in the first place, right? In any case, here’s my first encounter with the game.
Warning: The following post is very likely to contain Dragon Age 2 (and possible Dragon Age: Origins) spoilers. Continue at your own risk.
Seeing the familiar opening cinematics I started doubting myself. The game can’t be that bad, it’s made by BioWare after all. Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy it. Then I encountered a screen saying “Press any key”. Hm, this screen probably serves as a warning, a point where you are to compose yourself because something exciting or unsettling is going to happen when you do press any key. So I left the game alone, went to take a few deep breaths outside, drank a glass of water, took a piss and returned to my PC completely calm and prepared. Now I was ready to face whatever scary or disturbing shit was behind that screen. I slammed my head against the keyboard. “Oh, it’s just the main menu.” I was disappointed, because I was fully expecting the press any key screen to have a function. Oh well, I guess I am entering retard lands. Off to make a character.
There were six possible character variations, a mage, a rogue or a warrior, with all three coming in either male or female flavours. The choice was simple, pick whoever has the biggest sword. No, I didn’t go for the male warrior, you pervert. Sword as in the weapon. I went for the female warrior because I prefer staring at a female ass over a male one. Plus, there’s more jiggling potential. Now I needed a name. Since I couldn’t change her last name, it needed to be something that synergises well with Hawke. I immediately remembered my biology lessons (or rather what I did during them) and decided for Porcupine. Think about it. How cool is a hawk that can dive at targets at the speed of 300 km/h and pepper them with quills? Or simply back dive anything to inflict maximum pain. You don’t mess with the porcupine hawk. (Curiously enough, I’ve yet to see anyone call my character by her first name, in spoken or written from. So that’s a bit of a waste of a cool name.)
Jumping right into the game I saw, what looked like an italian midget pimp, being questioned and (wo)manhandled by an armored woman. Presumably it had something to do with him being a pimp. Then there was my (I use the term loosely, there was very little that was mine there) character fighting darkspawn. And boy was it a blast. Charging enemies left and right, whirlwinding and splitting them down the middle using the enormous sword, seeing them driven before me and hearing the lamentation of their women. It was immensely fun.
I thought that the sequence played a lot like Darksiders, a game I hate to love. Awesome, a God of War clone in the Dragon Age universe. I can live with something that’s this awesome to play. I started thinking I might really enjoy DA2. It wouldn’t be a Dragon Age: Origins sequel, but it would still be a great game. And then it ended. Why? Why did you do that, game? I had fun and then I stopped having fun just so you could go all Hollywood on me and introduce your story in a flashy way. You teased me with a lap dance and then said “Hey, you can enjoy the rest but you’ll have to go through 10 of my hideous sisters.” Why do I need to work my way up into the fun zone? I don’t want to spend 20 hours leveling my character, just so I can have fun for the last 2 hours of the gameplay. Fuck you.
So apparently the pimp changed his story, and this time there were more prostitutes (and a male one). I wasn’t confused by the narrative in the slightest, I don’t know what every reviewer and blogger was whining about. It’s all pretty straightforward.
When the dwarf (apparently him looking like an italian midget pimp was a coincidence) finished his story (or started, I really didn’t give a crap) I was trapped in what looked to be a very bad linear FPS map layout. I needed to choose a difficulty. I decided beforehand to play it on nightmare difficulty, because I read a post claiming that DA2 is a difficult game to complete on the harder difficulty settings. I wanted to prove the poster wrong, which turned out to be something I later regretted.
In any case, I spent the next hour playing a character that had one skill, with the additional two characters each having another one. Oh fun. I didn’t like the inventory or character interface, I hated the friend/rival slider (yes, when people think you are a dick they want to be your rivals, not completely ignore you), I didn’t like how you couldn’t equip your companions with anything besides weapons and jewelry, and I really didn’t like the fact that I died several times. Most of the time dying wasn’t my fault, as it wasn’t me not strategising or thinking correctly (not much you can do with 3 skills in total), it was the interface being clunky, AI being retarded or me not standing in the spot the game wanted me to.
Though I did like the combat. The animations were fluid, dynamic and flashy enough. Shame I had to spend so much time micro-managing the characters because they couldn’t get up a ledge without getting stuck.
Then I came to the big boss battle. It went pretty bad. With having only 5 or so abilities combined in my party, it wasn’t something that I could prepare for by developing a strategy, properly positioning the characters and what not. Both my character and the tough tanking chick ended up passing out half way through the battle, so I ended up running in circles and kiting the remaining darkspawn and the ogre with the mage character. It took a long time, but I managed to kill them all. I’m not sure I would be able to do it in any other way. Funny enough, I thought beating a game on harder difficulties involved stepping up your game, not exploiting the game’s mechanics.
While I was pondering about the development of the game, a religious fanatic with an attitude interrupted me. She said her name was Flemeth, which I found hard to believe, because I had killed her in DA:O, but mostly because she looked a few hundred years too young (comparing to DA:O anyway). I didn’t really listen to what she had to say because I was busy trying to figure out how she managed to fix her hair that way. Magic, I guess. I agreed to help her if she helped me, yadda, yadda and the tutorial section (I think?) was over.
I have to say that on the whole, I haven’t been impressed with the game so far. In fact, given the reputation of its predecessor, I’d say I’m disappointed.
I didn’t find the story interesting at all. There were a few dramatic moments, intended to be heartbreaking and cathartic, but only came across as cheesy and artificial because I knew almost nothing about the characters and haven’t even had time to bond with them (even if that were possible with how uninspired the character design is).
The map layout was completely linear and so far the game hasn’t given me any freedom whatsoever. But I suspect that will go away now that I’m done with the starting area. The combat was nice, if somewhat confusing and frustrating because of me choosing to play it on the nightmare setting. The higher difficulties take into account the player properly using their abilities and strategising, but the problem is that it’s hardly possible to do any of that given the action-oriented design of the game (aiming, no isometric view, AI pathing, encounters being small arena fights).
On the subject of my intention of roleplaying an asshat though, I found it impossible to do. The conversational wheel of doom™ has so far confirmed all of my fears. You have three options, with the top one being “I’m a complete pacifist, have no character and are a whiny crybaby“, the middle one being either “I’m being adamant in being adamant” or a “Sarcastic loony” and the bottom one being “This line looks ten time worse than what the character actually says, which will be similar to the first option only more serious“. Which means that I’m usually choosing the middle option when it’s sarcastic (and no one takes me seriously) or the bottom one when all of them are pretty much the same (and no one takes me seriously). None of the options seem to influence the story, they only seem to change the one-line response of the character you’re talking to, who then goes on as if I hadn’t said anything. If this continues, I’ll have to abandon my plan of roleplaying an asshole, which isn’t surprising since DA2 doesn’t look to be a friggin RPG. Just a PG.
The last three paragraphs might come across as being whiny and me splitting hairs, especially because I have only experienced the starting area. But those are my impressions so far and if you think I’m being unfair, disregard them.
As an aside, playing through the initial portion of the game made me recall a similar experience. The beginning of Guild Wars was similar, with the player starting on their own in an instanced tutorial that really didn’t do much in terms of story or gameplay. I could imagine Guild Wars 2 having an instanced tutorial that would feel just as polished and even more fun (judging from the gameplay videos I’ve seen) than the starting section of DA2. Which is probably a bad thing. Comparing a single player RPG to an upcoming MMORPG in terms of potential fun, even if it is in the starting area, either seems like a step back for the RPG genre or a huge leap forward for the MMORPG genre. And I’m not convinced that GW2 will achieve anything groundbreaking in the MMO genre.
In any case, I’ll be obsessing and raging over DA2 a lot more in the coming weeks. Ready your pitchforks and stay tuned!