Dragon Age II
OMG. Finished (about half the time it took me to finish DAO – as always, I tried to do _everything_). Yes. Here the cold hard truth: The game is a mixture of things done better than they were implemented in DAO and some other tweaks that feel fresh, as well as a general decline of other elements and some outright lazy fuckups. Just for spewing out wildly whatever comes to mind: The banter was awesome, no other word for it. It was so good, it involved all 3 party members at times. I don’t think they ever did that before. It was new! How high is the probability for players, to have these 3 specific characters in tow? Not that high I say! The companions also (mostly) have their own places throughout the city (of Kirkwall), what is more realistic than just cramping them all into a single room. In general it’s safe to say, that all the best parts of the game are somehow tied to the characters. The writing is almost always very well done (exception is the main story, which just ends without conclusion and leaves the impression, they didn’t bother to make one up, because it would get a sequel anyway). But even the setting was appealing to me. For once it’s more than just saving the world – the most overused cliché ever… So having this story of arriving in Kirkwall and exploring this gameworld is very much my thing.
Very noteworthy in addition to the plot and its presentation, is the import of a save game, which at that point can be an import that rippled through DAO, Awakening and Witch Hunt (players shouldn’t miss out on this opportunity IMHO). Since the character is no longer the good old grey warden/hero of ferelden, but an entirely different protagonist, this still fills DA2 with so many references and encounters from before, that it’s still a pure sequel and worthy follow up for the dragon age setting. Players with the best memories will get the most out of it, since there were so many names, locations and other occurrences by now. Again, I get it usually and hints like that are often what keeps me interested and spikes my motivation. It’s fantastic, if there’s a reward for paying attention. In fact it was done so well, that I got the impression, all the effects from earlier decisions stored in the save game, had more influence on various details, than the current decisions in DA2 itself…
Another highlight is the usual quality of the quests – they just offer everything players expect of such a game and sometimes even more. They are clearly above the genre standard. And that’s true for a great amount of the tasks in this game.
The graphics were often mentioned in the time leading up to the release of DA2, but seeing the actual game reveals it was really more or less hot air. The changes were few, the most visible parts are changed character models, especially for the elves and the qunari, who now clearly differ from humans. At least the qunari look much cooler now (although the best redesign award has to go to Flemeth). More relevant for me was, that the playable characters feel more responsive and less wooden. I played Awakening shortly before starting DA2 and it’s hard to overlook. I enjoy this quite a lot, because moving through the gameworld is the usual gameplay after all and will eat most of the time. Good call to tweak this.
What I listed so far doesn’t maybe seem like a lot, but whoever deems these parts as the most important (characters/quests/story), will (by and large) be happy with DA2 and enjoy it until the ending credits start rolling.
Sadly there’s also another side to this game, that somehow manages to spoil the fun every now and then and keeps it from being a total hit or a standard to which other games have to live up to from now on (at least in the eyes of some spoiled gamers). It begins with the interface, leads to unnecessary simplifications that can be frustrating (because they often are the opposite of what empowering is, when players can’t do what they’d like), reaches to lazily copied maps everywhere and ends (?) with outright bugs that are impossible to overlook by game testers wherever.
DA2 doesn’t feature the old approval system anymore, but uses a slightly changed “friendship/rivalry” bar, which displays the relation with the respective companion. Although the game displays messages like “+15 friendship” after certain decisions, the bar doesn’t display a number and it’s become a sheer guessing game, what value the companion might have right now. DAO directly listed the concrete value. Why remove that? Does this make sense? Does it help the player? Did this idea make the game more accessible? I would safely answer those with no. The character screen is miserable in the same way. Many items have effects on the characters attributes. Say a staff gives +2 magic. The DA2 character sheet _only_ lists the final number after all these effects, so to know now, what the unaltered, actual value is, all inventory items have to be checked first too! This leads to trouble all the time, when trying to equip another staff, that requires a certain magic value, that the character doesn’t really have, because of the effect of the old staff, that is now to be removed (there are also bugs with that, when a staff requiring 36 magic can be equipped, although the character has only 34 magic, but had a staff with +2 magic at the time). DAO showed the actual value and how it was altered through currently equipped items. Again, why remove something like this in a role-playing game, where stuff like character attributes are nothing but vital? Especially when the first part still had all of it. Why downgrade it?
This deterioration goes on in other parts of the game’s menus. The inventory can only be accessed by clicking through categories. There is no longer a “show all”. To me, in part one, these categories were nothing but filters, to faster find something, if I already knew what I was looking for. Therefore I only accessed them rarely. Now, to check out the complete inventory, a lot more clicking is involved. By removing such important options, they made the game actually harder to use or certain things even impossible to do. Simplicity and usability isn’t always the same thing. They really got that wrong. I’m mildly reminded of 1984, where they remove more and more words, so people aren’t capable anymore, to express certain thoughts. :P
Something else, that I find simply embarrassing (or actually much more than that), is the extreme amount and use of cloned maps throughout the entire game. Players like me, who have the need to do everything in such a game, will walk 20 times about the same, identical map before the credits start rolling. And this is true for several maps. Only the name changes, but it’s always the same area. It’s very much like Mass Effect 1, where they had only one pirate base, that was the same on every planet, except for some crates inside it, that were sometimes placed somewhere else. In DA2 that means, that in some cases a door is closed, but it doesn’t change the map in any other way. There is also only one version of the mini-map, that’s always visible in the upper right corner of the screen, and it always betrays this fact, because it displays hallways even on locations where the door is closed. I always keep an eye on the map and suddenly I’m running against a wall. This heavy reuse was already embarrassing in the short DLCs BioWare made for DAO, but everyone expects those to be rather miserable – DA2 on the other hand, is their flagship product, to do this here, is so much worse. How do they plan to decrease quality starting from this point? I even remembered them saying, DLC for DA2 wouldn’t be as recycled as Witch Hunt and so on… Good luck with that.
Anyways, even when the player doesn’t walk through identical maps, who are supposed to be another area, the whole game world consists of static maps, that have to be “explored” again in every chapter of the game. Nothing changes there, only the loot is refilled. It makes some sense for the city, to be always available, but is it really necessary, that the majority of adventures outside of Kirkwall takes place on “the wounded coast”?
The game also has some obvious bugs and it remains to be seen, if BioWare’s patching is gonna be any more dedicated than it was for DAO. With the first game I was so naive, to still believe they would probably patch it really well, because the game became the client for all these DLC installations, they planed to sell later on. Even that DLC bubble had to burst. When I played Awakening for the second time, I discovered a whole new batch of bugs I didn’t encounter in my first playthrough – but what more can a player do, than install the newest version… It’s the only huge downside to an otherwise great expansion. For DA2 however, it happened to me once that I got locked in a room, because the party stayed in battle stance, although there were no enemies left. Leaving/entering rooms is only possible, if they have holstered their weapons. Didn’t happen again, after I used a save and replayed the fights. Some quests are broken. I guess everyone must have heard by now of “Sketchy on the details“. The quest stays in the journal and isn’t moved to completed quests, even after it (apparently) is. The Merrill companion quest seems to be a little broken too, after leaving the cave with the demon, the quest is over without any remark from anyone. All other companion quests have an afterword with the respective character. Someone even told me, that Merrill stayed locked in the party selection, after the quest was done. Another quest I couldn’t complete was about the Qunari blades (“The Lost Swords“) – I browsed every shop in the game and took every bit of loot everywhere – it still never finished (I also never managed to get all my companion armors to 4 points/100%, despite buying every upgrade I encountered). [Update: The last upgrade for Aveline isn't dropped because of a bug. Everyone else can be completed. It's just important to grab everything right away, because all this stuff is only available in the according Act. I didn't buy all upgrades in the first Act, because I was saving the money.] Which leads to item sets, that I got never complete, although not leaving anything behind (the “… of the Champion” stuff appears to be the only cool looking armor set in the game anyway – at least for mages). Maybe most items are just randomized by the game and it is coincidental, if certain collections can be made. [Update: The "Overseer" stuff/Act 2 item set can only be completed in the third Act, which is kinda silly, because at that point parts of the champion armor are already available...] The most obvious bugged quest was supposed to be on the wounded coast (“Who Needs Rescuing?“), where I was to free Orlanna, a nobleman’s daughter. But there was absolutely nothing in this entire area. There was a guy standing not far from the entrance to the wounded coast, who couldn’t be clicked – but it’s only pure speculation, if that had anything to do with this broken quest. I checked twice if there was suddenly a new cave (certain areas sometimes become accessible, only if a quest is active) or something…
And now I’m already at the end. An end, which is no conclusion, it simply stops. It’s like they never bothered to come up with the whole story, because they knew they would continue it anyway, yes – I repeated that. At least the game is consequent with that, for it also has no character or other epilogues, like DAO and Awakening had. Witch Hunt 1.1 made a save right at the end, so this would be the one to be imported into DA2, but nothing in this sequel follows up on that. Like DAO, DA2 makes a post-campaign save and it remains to be seen how/when it can be used again. I’m interested how the next DLC (or even expansion) will work now. I hope they won’t release any DLC like “Return to Ostagar” in the first game, that was only playable during the original campaign, which sucks for players who are finished with that. Except for rare replays, no one wants to repeat the entire game, just to have a save that contains everything. Mass Effect 2 had that part handled very well, where the game just continues after the credits and all later releases can still be played easily.
PS: I had no problem with the changed zoom feature, where it’s no longer possible to zoom out until you see everything from far above – what I missed because of that change, was that in Dragon Age: Origins, when completely zoomed out, it was possible to move the point of view, by moving the mouse cursor to the window edges. As a result, with the limited zooming possibility in Dragon Age II, the game will always stay centered on the selected party member. That’s the negative limitation to me, not the available level of zoom.
It seems the companion armor upgrade locations are fixed after all. I guess I didn’t browse every shop in Act 1 and it wasn’t available anymore when I started with that in Act 2.
Since Anders and Merrill (if romanced) have 5 upgrades, I wonder if the last upgrade just vaporizes into thin air, because there are only 4 slots. Actually the “fifth upgrade” is only a different color/style for their clothes and not a further enhancement. So if anything vaporizes, it’s the old/first version of the companion armor.
Dragon Age II 1.01
Fixed save game issues on single core machines
Fixed game asking for non-existent drives
Fixed release control issues where some players were unable to unlock correctly
Fixed a Steam-specific issue related to VO not playing after switching languages
This texture mod supposedly grants the DirectX 11 features with the DirectX 9 renderer – without the miserable performance. Haven’t tried it yet, but I certainly will.
The idea is, and I love this idea in concept so much, that you’re not playing as the last hero in the land, saving the universe. You’re just some refugee, trying to survive in a city that has no fondness for Fereldens, working you way up through the ranks from villainy to nobility, seeing the city change shape through time. I wish I could have played that game.
Dragon Age II 1.02
I couldn’t forget it, so I played the game with 1.02 once more and to my surprise: Nothing has changed for “Sketchy on the Details”, the quest stays open like before. I was surprised by it, but to be fair: the change log didn’t mention it specifically. Next I was floored by “Who needs rescuing?” (this one _was_ mentioned in the changes) – I simply didn’t get that quest. Uhm… I have no idea why, I certainly didn’t do anything different – to my knowledge. But Aveline’s fourth armor upgrade was finally dropped correctly by Jeven. :)