Friday, March 18, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Impressions

I've been playing Dragon Age 2 in spare moments when I haven't really been up to playing Rift, or have just wanted a more story driven experience than MMOs currently deliver (whether Star Wars: The Old Republic will truly bring story into the MMO gamebook is another topic entirely).  Overall I do like the game, but much as I didn't care for the simplification Mass Effect 2 wrought upon Mass Effect, I don't like the direction Bioware has gone with Dragon Age 2.

At it's heart, the game is fun.  I have very few qualms with the core gameplay of the game.  I will admit it seems a little too easy compared to Dragon Age, but they have difficulty settings for that after all.  But, the sad truth is I'm an old-school RPG gamer at heart, and when you start ripping out (sorry, "streamlining") core RPG tropes like armor collection, inventory management, and meaningful character development choices I get a little cranky.  I will say that Dragon Age 2 has not been streamlined as heavily as Mass Effect 2 was -- you can still find cool armor for your main character and weapons and accessories for everyone, there are still multiple meaningful ways to spend your skill and attribute points as you level up . . . but there's less variety than there was in Dragon Age.  I am not a believer in the "less is more" approach to RPG development.  Those are nitpicky things though.  I still enjoyed Mass Effect 2 even though I couldn't really find cool weapons and armor anymore, and didn't get to pick a cool specialization, or any of the other things they cut from the sequel.  I'm sure I'll still enjoy the gameplay of Dragon Age 2 despite it's streamlining as well.

However, where's the story?!  I'm several hours into the game now, and have no idea what my goal for the game is supposed to be.  In Dragon Age you after the starter area that your goal was to find a way to defeat the Blight, and no matter how many side quests you diverged on, you always came back to this core storyline.  In DA2 . . . I'm running errands.  That's it.  I know there must be a story here somewhere, since there's a narrator retelling the story from his point of view and it can't all be about errands, but I'm having trouble logging into DA2 lately because there seems to be no point.  I've even had quests that seemed like they should be leading up to something (such as the DLC "The Exiled Prince") that just . . . stop.  If this is still the "tutorial" area, then . . . ugh.  Final Fantasy XIII had a "tutorial" that just dragged on and on and on, but at least it was clearly directed.  Either give me an open world where I can do whatever I want or give me a well crafted story.  Don't give me a guided errand running experience.

MMORPGs are the ultimate "errand" games.  Most quests in those games are just errands for NPCs.  If single player RPGs start devolving into that they're really going to lose me.  It's especially galling that Bioware, champion of the "fourth pillar", seems to have forgotten the importance of story in their single player games.  Mass Effect 2 was like this as well -- the actual "story" for ME2 lasted a mere couple of hours.  The rest of your time was spent running errands . . .

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