Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dragon Age II Thoughts

Dragon Age II got a fairly luke warm reception from critics so I was content to wait over a year after release before playing it. Now after completing the main campaign I can understand where some of those criticisms come from. The original Dragon Age Origins also had flaws but those flaws could generally be put down to an exuberance of ambition while the flaws in Dragon Age II feel seem to come from a deliberately constrained budget. This is perhaps most obvious in the tiresome re-use of a few limited pieces of scenery over and over again. Despite these misgivings, I still thing Dragon Age II is a very enjoyable game and it kept me enthralled for many hours. I think it would have garnered higher review scores over all if it had not been subject to the inevitable comparisons with its superb predecessor. Anyway here are some random thoughts:

Combat: Over all I liked the combat sequences in the game a lot but it took me a while to get the hang of it. Enemies come in greater numbers than I remember from the first game  and the action seems more fast and furious. Crowd control and healing abilities have been nerfed but tanking has been considerably buffed with a lot of new threat control skills so the overall level of tactics required is as high as the first game. I played on hard difficulty setting  (because I read somewhere that hard mode was balanced for those who played the original game) and I had numerous wipes as I worked out strategies for the games challenging battles.The classes feel more balanced than before and mages are no longer far more powerful than other characters. The tactics system which was one of the great innovations of the first game is largely unchanged but at least they got rid of the annoying requirement for skill points to be used to buy tactics slots.

Story: Everything is a lot less epic than Origins. In Origins you had to save the world from armageddon, in DA II you sort out a few of serious but limited incidents over a period of years in one backwater city. Nevertheless the stories themselves are well imagined and thought provoking at the top level. This is let down somewhat in implementation,  particularly when stories which appear to offer thought provoking choices turn out to have the same ending no matter what you choose (another manifestation of a constrained budget perhaps). The story telling is also let down badly by the implementation of dialog choices. The game gives you a simple graphic and one line summary to suggest what each choice means but there is a major disconnect between the "simple" hint and the actual words your character will say.  There is a further disconnect between what the character says and how it impacts the game. It feels as if the person who created the decision tree never actually listened to the dialog nor vice versa and it makes the decision process feel frustratingly random.

Toughest battles in the game for me: Based on number of wipes these were actually the Troll battle at the end of the prologue and the fight with the ancient rock wraith at the end of the Deep Roads expedition. There are tougher fights in the game but theses are the points where the sudden ramp of difficulty forced me to to re-examine my play style. In the prologue fight it was the first time I had to think about combat mechanics while the rock wraith fight marked the transition where I had to start micro managing my characters more closely.

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