Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: "Dragon Age: Awakenings", Dragon Age revisited.

Seeing how Dragon Age 2 is already released, I decided to spend whatever little free time I have into replaying Dragon Age: Origins along with all the DLCs and the Awakenings expansion. Then I took a quick glance at this old post and realized I might need to justify my tone then.

(Note that this is going to be mostly a Dragon Age revisited rant/review more than an Awakening review, seeing how the weak points of Origins carry over and Awakening being actually easy. Honestly, there's not much to talk about Awakening other than "wow nice voice acting, nice story, etc". I could talk about the characters you recruit, but what's the point? It's like spoiling the game already for those who haven't played. What I can only tell you is that it's rather good and worth playing through).

I was most probably hoping for a Baldur's Gate 2 replacement, and I might have been unfair to compare both games given both their circumstances. Games nowadays are harder to create. What was simply a hand drawn dungeon is now a 3D mesh complete with shader effects and textures. It's ultimately unrealistic to expect Dragon Age to have as much content as Baldur's Gate 2.

I'm probably more sympathetic now than I was before, but Dragon Age's problems still remain: Mages and Itemization. I used to complain about "Reusing formulas" in the old post, but I must admit that it is a safe formula and there is actually nothing wrong with using it. Also, nowadays it's hard to expect a 'complete' game with 1000 sidequests on release, that's why there are such things known as DLCs and patches. Games are taking a different route now. Whether a consumer should pay for such content is another debate for another time.

For now, I'm just going to add on to the two main points that harmed the game in my opinion. I also complained about the "Difficulty" but it's really mostly due to enemy mages more than my lack of 'skill'.

Now that Starcraft 2 is out, I can bring up the templar analogy. For those who have played Starcraft 2, you know how Feedback works? Yes, I'm talking about Mana Clash. It trivializes the game for my current run (my main is a mage) as much as it trivializes the opponent killing my mage-less party the last run I did long ago.

Although in Awakenings mages do not shine as much (due to warriors and rogues getting armor and talents so ridiculous that healing, buffing and crowd controlling hardly matters), playing through Origins without a mage is still hellish. The question is: are mages too important, or the talents of the other two classes too underwhelming? Mage is THE control class, but compared to them, Fighters and Rogues are really crap. Archers get a decent CC late into one of their trees (Scattershot). Fighters who specializes as Champions get their first AoE knockdown at their 4th talent of their specialization tree. Shield fighters can knockdown at melee and Rogues can stun for awhile (Dirty Fighting) in melee. Bards and champions can buff rather well at their 3rd talent into their respective trees. That's about it really.

Compared to that, what do mages get (not even counting those AoE spells that has friendly fire)? Replaying my main character as a mage doubly reinforces my viewpoint that mages are indeed overpowered in Origins.

1) Mana Clash: Instant kills almost ALL other mages. Period. It crashes my computer a couple of times too.
2) Glyph of Warding: Adds +30 defense to any friendly within the circle. +30 defense btw is essentially a flat (not compound) -30% accuracy on the attacker's hit.
3) Forcefield and Crushing Prison: Immediately takes one guy out of the fight for a pretty long time. Both are 2 active skills from the same tree (if you are getting forcefield, might as well get crushing prison)
4) Glyph of Repulsion: Knocks back all enemies that fails a physical resistance check. This usually saves the lives of your ranged units from swarms of enemies.
5) Glyph of Paralysis: Stuns one creature that enters the circle. I use it on (usually) lone spellcasters when my Mana Clash is on cooldown.

I have not fully explored the mage spells but there are a few more worth mentioning like Paralysis, Mass Paralysis, Miasma, Sleep, Cone of Cold, Glyph of Neutralization but even these are overshadowed by the ones I mentioned above.

And Blood Wound. Oh my god Blood Wound. If there's ONE spell that makes Blood Mages powerful, it's Blood Wound. It's a delicious mini-Crushing Prison on a huge area of effect.

I don't believe I have to mention this again. One huge gripe I had with Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings is the itemization. The old post explains it well enough and hopefully Dragon Age 2 doesn't face the same ruddy problem. Awakenings brings in another kind itemization problem but I'm unsure whether it is intended or not. The equipment you get in Awakenings is really so damn powerful that even Nightmare mode seems like a joke.

So yeah, after replaying it, even with the DLCs, it still has the same problems. However, the DLCs are excellent. Witch Hunt, Golems, Warden's Keep, Return to Ostagar, Leliana's Song, etc are actually better than I expected. If you actually felt underwhelmed by the effects of choosing the Dalish Elf Origins (which is actually almost non-whatsoever), you might like Witch Hunt a bit although the ending is...'open to thought'. I liked how Return to Ostagar shed some light as to why Loghain betrayed Cailan.

And after replaying it, the story of Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings, as 'save the world' as it might be, is actually pretty darn good. Setting and atmosphere is fantastic. Cutscenes and voice acting is beautiful.

John just told me that DA2 was a disappointment so far. I hope that is not the case =/

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