Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Dragon Age 2 - playing and musing

The spell effects are great and shiny, I love the new style talent trees, the new crafting system is intriguing even if I'm not driven to use it much and I love love love the cross class combos that make for some great tactics....

Now that we have the loves covered, let's look at the stuff which is, frankly, making me not want to complete this game (playing it now is feeling more and more like a chore)

First of all, the game is a slog. There are so many random, pointless, non-plot related fights that I've come to dread travelling because you can't move 3 feet without assassins, mercenaries, thugs, carta members, random qunari and giant freaking spiders just leaping out to attack you for NO DAMN GOOD REASON. Petty street thugs are STILL trying to mug you despite you having the fully armoured captain of the guard present AND you being renowned across the city as the “Champion of Kirkwall”, a man who nearly singlehandedly ended a qunari invasion by being that damned dangerous. Seriously, go find an old lady to cosh and leave me alone. I'm going to become a grey Warden because in Dragon Age Origins there was LESS combat in the freaking Deep Roads than there is taking a short stroll across the road in Kirkwall

And on the city of Kirkwall – how does it even FUNCTION? I've killed so many criminals, smugglers, mercenaries etc etc to make up a sizeable portion of its population! How does ANYONE do ANYTHING when just leaving your door is going to get entire ARMIES descending upon you. How does Doris do her shopping – does she take a battleaxe with her?

And not only are there a lot of pointless fights, they're also soooo boring. A lot of the combat abilities have been simplified, especially for none mages (you may correct me in this, I play mage so I may have missed the nuance of the other classes. But Varric seems to shoot stuff and Aveline just smacks things and occasionally taunts. All her abilities revolve around making her unnecessarily tougher) which means, other than cross-class combos, there's not actually a whole lot of things to do in a fight

Additionally, there seem to be 2 kinds of fights:

A crowd of pointless crap that needs to be AOEd down endlessly. Swarms and swarms of crap to brush away that takes ages.

A big boss with a buttock-numbingly huge amount of health that has to be eroded down with all the scintillating excitement of chipping away at ice when defrosting a freezer.

I played with cross class combos because they were fun and made fights faster and it felt good to line up some enemies, cone of cold them and then have Varric put an arrow lance through the whole brittle line – yeah, explode ogres! But after the 15th pointless swarm of crap I just aoe mindlessly to try and get through it

Also, somewhere in Bioware headquarters, someone thought “hey, you know what'd be a good idea? Let's have a second and even a third wave of pointless trash leap into battle after they've killed the first one!” And I want to find him and hit him with a blunt object until he stops twitching. It's not only that this is used in the odd fight to keep you on your toes – it is used in most fights to make a long, boring pointless battle even longer, more boring and more pointless.

And character interactions. There's hardly any. You don't get to chat with your companions any more, there's no small talk, no history, no interaction, no friendship, 1 or 2 gifts at most and no personality. They're just a group of strangers who happen to follow you around who have nifty powers. When Leliana and Zevran made guest appearances (gods, even Nathanial) my reaction wasn't “cool insert” it was “PLEASE! Come back! I want to play with you guyyyys!” because they had more personality than my entire group combined. Even Sten and Oghren had deeper interactions than any of these – by the time Isabella had her relic quest I actually forgot who she was.

Contrast Alistair telling me our relationship had to end in Origins, a relationship built on conversations, much nookie, lots of kissing and awkwardness and Wynn teasing him and giving advice and Leliana sticking her nose in and lots of flirting... the breakup had impact because the story had established an actual relationship

Then look at Anders saying we have to end it – end WHAT? I flirted 3 times, we kissed once, had a fade to black and then you apparently moved in with me. There's a relationship to end here? You're a squatter with benefits! (Not even a friend with benefits!).

And, frankly, most of them annoy me

Anders is a one topic wonder. Yes the templars are bad. I agree. Now do you have any other aspect to your personality? No? Get a new damn kitten, you were much more fun in Awakening. Damn I'm sure this guys calls Hawke “Meredith” in bed just so he can say “SCREW YOU MEREDITH!” at the right moment. I expected to get a snarky fun, wisecracking Alistair, I got a guy who is putting up campaign posters in bed.

Fenris angst angst angst. I'm a mage, support the mages, he won't talk to me :P Which is a shame because he's a sexy elf

Isabella yeah, this character isn't problematic at ALL, oh no. Supposed to be Zevran I guess, but managed to be even more offensive and treated even more offensively

Aveline needs surgery to remove that stick that's rammed up her arse.

Merril was kind of cute like a little lost puppy. But then became steadily more irritating like a lost puppy that keeps pissing on the rugs. Oh and she summons daemons because that's fun

Carver hates Hawke but because there have been pretty much zero character interactions there's never any real reason WHY he hates Hawke

Sebastien ugh, go away and take your “should I be a prince or a priest” moaning elsewhere, I#'d care if, y'know, I'd actually ever had 5 minutes of conversation with you.

Varric is the only character I find vaguely amusing and even then the complete lack of casual conversation gets on my nerves.

To finish off the storyline just doesn't feel that epic to me. It could have been a great storyline – but we're following after Dragonage Origins and Awakening – which were epic battles against evil trying to destroy the whole kingdom. Political snarking just seems somewhat... anti-climactic. Of course it could be the Endless Freaking Slog to get to that story.

Mechanics-wise I also have a couple of whines

To select different members of your party you click on their portrait then click again. You have now changed character. If you DOUBLE click, you go to the character screen. Nope, you need a nice delayed 2 click. And whoever thought of this should be SHOT. Somewhere where they will bleed slowly.

Secondly, the game uses the same set of maps over and over (especially caves and wilderness areas). And then just blocks sections of them off for different zones. I'm an easter-egg hunter. I do every side quest, I check every cranny for hidden chests and stuff (something ALL Dragonage games SUPPORT with resources and loot hidden away). Finding my mini-map is lying to me and I'm trying to get access to a portion of the map that isn't actually there... vexes.

It's a crying shame, I wanted to love this game, After Bioware's awesomeness, I wanted to worship this game. But instead it's such a disappointment.

There are same-sex relationships which I love, but as mentioned above they're way more limited than Origins because even though you have more options, they're so lacking in interaction as to make them less powerful. I've heard people complain that Anders comes onto you too heavily which feeds into the “gay man as sex-predator” meme but I didn't see that – maybe it's because I flirted with him every damn chance I got so his actions seemed reasonable – but Isabella seemed far more pushy with much less come-on from me. Besides, I don't think “gay/bi man making the first move” IS a destructive meme. I think the idea that any romantic come on or indication from a gay/bi man as some kind of epic threat is the problem – Anders making the first move wouldn't be a problem, excessively freaking out about it would be.

The rest – well Isabella is a parcel of fails and how she's treated. And at one point Gamlen, completely unnecessarily says “I know which of you is the woman!” which pissed me off ebcause, apart from anything else, it had no counter-dialogue options.