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Dragon Age II: Featuring at least 5 polygons!

July 15, 2010

Those of you who know me will also know that I enjoyed Dragon Age, a Bioware game released late last year. Infact, I enjoyed it a lot – despite me having to forgive a great deal of flaws such as the uninspired story, hamfisted MMO approach to skills, and the dreaded Bioware “branch into three” main plot design. The reason I forgave all of this was because Dragon Age tried to, and in my opinion, succeeded at being a modern take on a much older game (also developed by Bioware) called Baldur’s Gate.

Baldur’s Gate had several advantages over Dragon Age that got lost in the reinvention – a rich RPG underpinning from the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset was replaced by an in-house design which is clearly immature, the dreaded advance of consolitis and the even more damaging “casual” gamer replaced the hundreds of thousands of lines of text with five or six sentences spoken by an unconvincing voice actor and rendered in eye-melting 180pt Xbox friendly font. But they kept other things! They had a strategic, top down view a la Infinity Engine games, they had several interesting side quests, some real dialogue choices, and multiple types of sword that were almost the same! Sure, they got rid of character death (you can only die in DA if every party member kicks the bucket), and they lost the wonderfully rich setting of D&D (creating their own Tolkein rip off land), and post patching, the game was almost hilariously easy (even on the dreaded nightmare difficulty), but you could see what they were trying to do, damn it.

More importantly, it was a like they had made a promise to all of us who bought, played and loved the old school CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate (I and II), Planescape: Torment (best game ever) and Icewind Dale. The promise was “here is your chance to relive that experience, it’s not quite the same but it’s closer than anything made in the last 8 years and we’re even going to make a franchise out of this bad boy”. So we all rushed out and bought it, enjoyed it to varying degrees and told eachother “this game would be pretty good with another iteration of polishing and a bit more content”.

We should have seen the writing on the wall; Dragon Age came with the worst DLC since Bethesda made us pay actual real money for horse armour. DA’s DLC has been universally overpriced, under-specced and half-baked. The “Warden’s Keep DLC” which came out with the game and promised hours of excitement as you discover the secrets of your warrior order turned out to basically be three rooms, some game breaking items and two utterly useless skills. It was followed by the even worse Return to Ostagar, and several other wastes of time and money. The proverbial knife was really twisted when the expansion pack, Awakenings, was released. I played Awakenings just because I felt I owed it to the story (and my wallet) to do so. Your party members who you developed a relationship with (a hot lesbian relationship, in my case) in the main game got replaced by a bunch of shallow automatons, who somehow rip off characters from the actual game itself. The side quests are watered down, the conversations pared back, and the whole thing really feels like a bit of a cheap buck, undoubtedly the case, given its amazingly short development time.

Which, finally, takes us to Dragon Age II, of which press releases came out a few days ago. To my abject horror, they’re doing what I absolutely wanted them not to – they’re “streamlining” it. The main character is now going to be fully voiced, which always means fewer conversations, less dialogue, less customization. The whole real-time-turn-based pause mechanic of the old game is gone (perhaps for consoles only), apparently it was too hard for the legions of Halo players who bought the first game (which sold better than any other Bioware game to date), so they’re going for a more god of war style combat system (I assume). The dialogue system is being ripped from Mass Effect (you pick a summary of what you want to say rather than choosing some text from a list) which doesn’t really bother me, but it seems to me like they’re trying to merge Dragon Age and Mass Effect to streamline development and appeal to an audience with less developed higher order brain functionality. The lead writer has even said that he wants to remove the ability to talk to your party members (probably too expensive) about their lives – with the exception of Knights of the Old Republic / Dragon Age: Awakenings style “contextual” dialogue. Literally the only way to learn anything about the characters in Awakenings is to drag the correct party member to the correct place and click on some random object such as a tree or a statue that somehow gets them into a chatty mood. They’ve even reduced the amount of character customization allowed.

Thankfully, a great many people have responded to the news in much the same way – begging Bioware not to create “Dragon Effect” as it is now known. I don’t understand it, maybe I’m just naive, but if the original sold so well, why mess with the formula? My girlfriend is a huge Dragon Age fan, and she isn’t even a serious gamer, yet when I tell her the news from the press releases she is horrified at the planned changes. Unfortunately for all of us, DA 2 is due for release in 8 months, not enough time for a major redesign. Of course, there are some people who have applauded the changes, people who should be shot on sight, but they bought the original game anyway, so it can’t have been that bad.

And now for the title of this post. With the press release they released one of the most atrocious screen shots I have ever seen. It literally made my eyes fall out of my head and explode. People complained about the art style in Dragon Age (zoomed out, the way awesome people play it, it looks fine, if a bit uninspiring. I assume the people who complained were console gamers and therefore not really worthy of consideration), so the geniuses as Bioware have gone for a more “anime styled”, “cleaner” look. See the before and after below:

I wonder if they’re trying to make it work on the Wii…

From → Games, News

One Comment
  1. kraynin permalink

    wow!! they REALLY fucked up the hurlocks, the ogres, the scenery. I loved DA Origins artstyle was dark

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