Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: "Dragon Age 2"

Good god, I don't even know where to begin. Looking back at my Dragon Age Origins review, I keep wondering where did Bioware went wrong with this game. Seriously, there weren't many things wrong with the previous game. The biggest complaints I had were mainly balance issues and a couple of personal opinions which disagreed with the game.

I'll list down the main problems up here first in case I forget as I write:
- Stats, Weapon restrictions/customizing equipment
- Fortitude
- Bugged import feature/ Buggy characters
- Lack of animation cancelling in combat/ Animation in general
- Lack of strategic view
- Incredibly cheaply generated instances
- Plot

From here on, be warned that some sections contain spoilers.

First off, I'll like to briefly discuss the good parts, however few the game has. Dragon Age 2 does has some improvements which I find pretty decent like the new Skill system. I'm kinda in support for the skill tree, although it might be just personal preference. I find it much cleaner and much more fun navigating the trees. Aside from that, there's the improved graphics, which I don't really have much to comment about.

Then everything just went downhill from there...

Stats and equipment restrictions
Bioware, or EA for that matter, I understand that you are streamlining stats for the sake of the masses. It's so obvious: Heavy armor can be worn if you have high strength AND constitution, light armor can be worn if you have high dexterity AND cunning, and mage robes can be worn if you have high magic AND willpower. On top of that, bows and daggers require dexterity, staffs require magic and sword/shield and two handed swords require strength. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is going. It means that as a warrior, it simply does not make sense to try to play a light armor dex-based warrior because if I invest into dexterity and cunning, I won't have the stats to carry warrior weapons!

But why not just pretend to be a rogue then? Can't you carry daggers? Well, apparently Bioware decided to go "Well, what kind of warriors carry bows?" or something and only allowed swords/shields and 2 handed swords to only be used by warriors, daggers/bows to only be used by rogues and staffs to only be used by mages, on top of the stat requirements to wield them. Then what the hell, don't bother allowing me to customize my stats then. If you want to streamline a mechanic, just do it all the way. Why bother my rogue with other stats such as 'willpower' and 'strength'? Already by passing half of my stat gain to dexterity and cunning, I'm finding it a little hard to keep up with the equipment I found and it hard to find the remaining points to spend onto other stats. Seriously, if they are so supportive of restricting important things such as equipment, they might as well save themselves the trouble and restrict us from customizing stats.

This is a wonderful sub-stat that Strength governs. Apparently Bioware found it cool to send your characters flying when they are hit by a mob with higher strength value or something. Apparently, they also find it cool to tell you everytime you die in the loading screen that "All classes have their way of escaping. For instance, Fighter can use Stonewall, Rogues can use Evade and Mages can use Mind Blast". F*** it does not work when you are stunned or knocked back goddammit. What good are such abilities when you can't use them while stunned? Once I recover from my knockback, I'm just gonna WASD my way out of safety instead of spending stamina to enter ANOTHER animation and risk myself getting killed if the skill did not do what it's supposed to do (for mages and rogues, it's reducing aggro) because sometimes it doesn't.

It's gonna stupid to see a random guy or monster suddenly hitting your rogue/mage and he/she is doomed to die unless you somehow manage to stop him. Seriously my rogue have skills like Inconspicuous and Evade and I hardly use them because once I get hit, I'm gonna get chain stunned to death anyway. You may say I lack skillz or something, so then how would you use Evade? You obviously don't use it when you are not getting hit, and you can't use it when you are getting hit. So what, add strength to my rogue? I might as well make another warrior.

And if you are going to say I am supposed to manage the aggro with it, well take a look at the description: "The rogue leaps backward. Enemies within melee range will often seek an easier target instead." The second statement OBVIOUSLY implies that I use it WHEN I AM GETTING TARGETED (which usually translate to getting hit). Well, if I'm targeted and unlucky enough to fail my dodge chance with a 80% defense (to an even mob), what then? The skill don't even make sense at all. Same for Mind Blast: "The mage projects a wave of telekinetic force that knocks enemies back and diverts hostile attention." What good is it if you can't use it when stunned or knocked down?

Bugged import feature/ Buggy characters
There are a few bugs like the horrible Merrill Act 3 quest bug but such bugs are unfortunate since it does require quite a deal of testing to find. But Fenris' and Isabella's friend talent bug? What? This is so damn easy to test. It leaves me wondering if the developers even checked the numbers properly when they implemented the talents. For those who don't know, when you become good friends with Isabella, and if they are in your party, your main character will be hit by a permanent 5% attack speed DEBUFF every time you load the game. Check the video of a victim here:

This bug is rather unforgivable and it's really not that hard to test. This leads to me think that there is something funny about whoever programmed the Save/Load aspect of the game. Maker's Sigh potion also had a bug regarding Save/Load.

On top of that, they screwed those who imported from their Dragon Age: Origins DLC save or Awakenings save. Apparently, romances and other flags are not toggled properly when imported. This is apparent when Leliana appeared in the Exiled Prince DLC and implicitly tells my character that she did not romance with my Origins character. It may seem like a small thing but it has several several implications. Firstly in invokes the wrath of the perfectionist fanboy and people like me who purposely replayed Dragon Age: Origins so that I could port my character over. Secondly it raises the concern about future DLCs and expansions. Why can't Bioware even get something as simple as an import feature or Save/Load right? It feels like they are abandoning this franchise.

Lack of animation cancelling in combat
When I first saw the new animations, I thought it was a change for the better, but I could not be so wrong. During an animation, I am only allowed to perform a command (drinking potions or casting spells) only after the character completed the current animation. As if the Fortitude thing I stated above isn't bad enough. Not only Bioware thinks enemies chain stunning me is a fun thing, they even went ahead to implement self-inducing stun! It was ridiculous to see my mage low on half, pausing the game, switching the camera to his view and see him in the middle of his staff-twirling antics (the last animation for auto-attack that takes 2 full seconds), and realize that he refuses to drink the damn health potion until his animation is done.

It's not like it's even hard to implement animation canceling. Oh wait! If you have coded animations before, you'll know that animation cancels from one to another naturally UNLESS you put code to restrict it. What does this mean? It means that Bioware intended to restrict your characters from cancelling his animation, so that he can't suddenly drink a potion in the middle of his attacks. Yes Bioware, aesthetically it's good. Mechanics-wise, it's horrible, not fun and ruins one of the main features Dragon Age claims to bring (remember they emphasized strategic thinking in combat?). Speaking of which...

Lack of strategic view
Seriously Bioware. The best thing that EVER happened to me in Dragon Age: Origins is the existence of his semi-ingenious mechanic that allows me to see most of the battlefield from a bird-eye view. Why did you take it away? Is it because you want to be in sync with the console versions? Is it because you suddenly decided not to make combat strategy, but instead more arcade? Might as well just turn the whole game into an FPS then. Otherwise, I just don't understand why it was removed. The camera is restrictive and painful enough to control in battles already with all the weird corner issues. If your reason is to make it more arcade-style, it STILL doesn't make sense from the previous reason (animation cancelling). There seem to be almost no direction in the game just by considering these points. It seems that the guys making Dragon Age 2 had no idea what made Dragon Age 1 good.

If they are taking into reference Mass Effect 2, they really are idiots. They are DIFFERENT games. Mass Effect can live without strategic view because it's mostly a point and shoot game. Their enemies are based on that. You are not going to see enemies chain spells of doom on you. In Dragon Age, knowing where each and every mage on the field is important. Knowing where the low-hp mobs are is important. Knowing where the archers are important. EVEN MORE SO when you give me crappy mechanics like Fortitude and restricting my animation cancels.

Incredibly cheaply generated instances
I've gone through instancing and ranted much about it in the past, but this takes it to another level. I wanted to kill someone when I went through all the random missions in Mass Effect 1. All the missions look the same as each other because of instancing. But it's okay. Those are just very unimportant sidequests.

But Dragon Age 2? When I saw Fenris' mansion's layout look exactly the same as the Bartrand mission and MANY MANY other sidequests (the Blood Mage that killed your mother quest, Silent Sisters (?) quest, the list goes on...), I was disgusted. But the worst, the most dirty trick they did was to give me the map of the dungeon and find out that most of the corridors are inaccessible. Like the ONLY difference (aside from minor texture changes and other aesthetics etc) between Fenris' mansion and the Silent Sisters mansion was that different doors are locked, but I was able to see the entire map (which ultimately looked the same). Otherwise, both mansions are EXACTLY the same as far as layout is concerned. It's disgusting. I thought Mass Effect 1 had it bad. This is not even trying. I can't even say that it's called instancing. From what I've studied so far, this is very close to 'cloning'.

Finally we come to the final ingredient. There're so many ways to begin. When I tried to explain how discontinued the plot seemed to my friends, it was difficult. The overall story is actually digestible, but the plot was bad. What I meant was the way the story was told, and how the game lead me through the story. Lemme try to explain.

First you tell me that Hawke was from Lothering, ran away from the darkspawn to Kirkwall, find out that their uncle used up all their money and tells you that you need to find work. Hawke then finds someone to serve for a year in return for allowing her into Kirkwall. Fair enough. It's just a prologue.

Next, time skip 1 year. You tell me Hawke decided to go to the Deep Roads with some dwarves to get rich. After 200000 pointless quests, none more epic than the next, you managed to get enough money to allow the dwarves to let you into their merry party. Then in the Deep Roads, you found a curse idol, the leader of the expedition, Bartrand, stole it and locked you up in the cave where you found it. Obviously, you found a way to leave the cave.

Chapter 2, you tell me that Hawke became rich. Eventually Varric found out and decided to seek his brother Bartrand for revenge. You found him and do whatever. Curse idol cannot be found (or most of it anyway). Qunari attacks Kirkwall, you fight for Kirkwall, you meet leader of templar and leader of mages. Qunari was defeated and you suddenly become Champion.

Okay let's stop here. The next chapter is going to be the FINAL chapter. So after hours into the game, I still have no fucking clue who the BBEG, or what drives Hawke, which ultimately means that the game does not play with my intrigue and feed my curiosity enough for me to continue. To put it simply, there is no hook and no bait. If you are saying that those does not matter, you are wrong. A story without hook is not a story; it's a documentation or a biography. In fact, my companions are more interesting than me. They have their goals and BBEGs. They know what they want. When I played Hawke to this point, I had no idea what Hawke wants. He/She feels like some errand boy/girl running around aimlessly to do everyone's bidding as long as it is within his/her interest.

So the qunari is not the bad guy. So Bartrand is not the bad guy. Suddenly in chapter 3, you are telling me that the leader of the templars is the BBEG? Wtf? I just met her and she had NOTHING to do with whatever I was interested in in the previous chapters. And why she became bad? Oh apparently her sword has the cursed idol crafted into it. My brain just exploded. It reminded me about the crew in FF8 'suddenly' remembered that they are all from the same orphanage in the middle of disk 2. And I thought back than this was bad. I really didn't expect Dragon Age 2 to top it, doing the exact same 'revelation', only this time you tell me at the END of the game. Not only that, you tell me that the templar leader is a possible important NPC only at the START of chapter 3 and confirmed that she is the BBEG ONLY BEFORE the FINAL quest of the whole game. It utter crap.

Compared to DA:O, DA2 had almost no epic moments. In DA:O, the dwarf quest was really epic. The elf quest was kinda epic. The mage quest was awesome. The human quest was also get the idea. I never complained about DA:O being bad in terms of plot really. The whole playthrough of DA2 was just underwhelming. I can barely remember most of the quests. None of the quests in DA2 tops the DA:O elf quest which I thought was the worst among the main quests in that game (and it was still very well done despite that).

Well, that's about how I felt about DA2. On the bright side, they did implement the cross-class exploit system from Vanguard: Saga of Heroes which I liked alot. But the bad stuff far far FAR outweighs the good stuff. I honestly felt that Dragon Age Origins is a lot a lot better and that Dragon Age 2 was a huge setback. I will still keep it around in case of further add-ons, but as vanilla, it's a huge disappointment.

No comments:

Post a Comment