When it came time to come up with a third and final thing to suffer the wrath of my quarterly “BOTTOM Everything” post, I tried to single out the thing that most DISAPPOINTED me.
And the one that hurt me the most, I think, was Dragon Age II. It’s not that DA2 is strictly a BAD game. It’s just a slap in the face to fans of the phenomenal original.
I should note right now that I only played half the game, so my opinion is incomplete. I stopped playing not because I was angry with how it betrayed the dynamics of original, but because I GOT BORED… which is even worse, I think.
Let’s take a look at the things I most loved from Dragon Age: Origins, one of my favorite games ever, and see how the sequel lived up to that standard:
Nope. Dragon Age 2 takes place almost entirely in the city of Kirkwall. It’s a good city, but seriously – an epic fantasy game with just one setting?
Addictive, strategic combat
Nope. The “tactical” mode of combat in Dragon Age was eliminated, forcing you to control battles entirely from the shoulders of characters. The combat is still fun, but it lacks the intuitive depth and strategy of the original.
Complete customization of your character, including several possible backstories
Nope. In Dragon Age 2, you play as “Hawke” who is basically Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. You must be human. You must have the same backstory. You must be male.
Huge, sweeping quests that make you feel like you’re brought to the edge of the world
Nope. Everything in Dragon Age 2 felt like dinky little quests that let you knock out a few per hour. It’s easier to play in short spurts, but it sacrifices the sense of scale that I missed in the original game.
Richly designed world, overflowing with detail and variety
Nope. Again, everything’s in one city. No ancient mines, Mage tower, rotting ruins, Frostback mountains, enchanted forest, etc. They spent ten years working on DA:O, and two or three working on DA2, and it shows. Even the ventures out of Kirkwall feel repetitive, with reused textures and dungeon designs.
Ambiguous, open-ended sense of ethics
Nope. Well, some of the big decisions are still ambiguous. Unlike Mass Effect, it’s not as simple as “Are you a renegade or a paragon?” But it’s not much better; the dialog wheel lets you know if you’re being nice or mean. Maneuvering the complicated character dynamics has been reduced to a binary good-bad system.
Nope. Well, maybe they’d grow on me, but I didn’t really like them for the half of the game I played. No one as original as Morrigan (and no pairing quite so wonderful as Morrigan-Alistair). No brooding giant like Sten. NO PET DOG. Get it together, BioWare.
Sense of history and mythology
It’s still there in the Codex, I think , but it fades into the background unlike in Origins. The rich history of the world that is thrust upon you DA:O and makes you want to explore and dig deep into the world is gone.
So there, I just listed eight of my favorite things from Dragon Age: Origins, and NOT A SINGLE ONE was nailed in the sequel. DA2 has some things in its favor (DA:O’s biggest drawback is its lack of voice acting for the protagonist, which DA2 thankfully fixes), but it’s a mere flicker compared to the creative wildfire of its predecessor.
I’m even grading it on a curve. I can’t hold against the game a lack of “holy f*#&ing s#!*” moments — like The Landsmeet, which I immediately replayed three times to see what outcomes I could end up with — because I haven’t played to the end of DA2.
Dragon Age 2 was the beginning of the end — or maybe the end of the beginning — for BioWare, its first major tarnish on its previously stainless reputation. (More discussion on that topic later.)