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I can see a sad trend emerging.
on 20 March 2011
First of all: in my 20 years of C-RPG experience I've never written a game review before, and that's because I've never felt the need to do so. I believe that with Drageon Age 2 a worrying trend is emerging, a trend I would like to address here: short development phases (18 month for DA2), incomplete game world and story, simplistic game play to broaden the audience, demanding full price for a game while preparing DLCs to fill in the remaining gaps. Bioware was once regarded "the bringer of rain" after a drought in the genre of RPGs (for the PC). But now they could play the opposite role: if they are the most prominent agents of the genre (besides Bethesda) and their games are setting trends, then other companies will follow their example, if they haven't already. To be more detailed I'll point out aspects that annoyed me the most:
- The most insolent recycling in a state-of-the-art RPG I've seen so far: dozens of times you walk through levels which are IDENTICAL, and I mean identical. Every corner, texture, model, architecture, lighting etc. are exactly the same, just with another label (for example "cave xyz" instead of "cave abc").
- The main game world consists of just 15 to 20 small or very small locations in a city (small means an area which takes 20 seconds to 60 seconds to cross, very small means a simple flat)
- There are no (more or less) diversified regions like snowy mountains, deserts, jungle, forest, real dungeons, castles, other towns etc., just this one city and three outer regions that are not noteworthy
- The few existing places look sterile and somehow empty although there are a few people standing around, but they are just copies doing nothing. There are no animals, no interesting props, no interesting architecture, no waving foliage, no sounds of wind, loud chatter etc.
- Most of the levels are extremely "tubular": just one way, no possibility for exploration. If you use such level design, you should use it for thrilling script events, as seen in COD, to propel the storytelling, but that's not the case with DA2.
A proper game world would have been to expensive...
- 90% of game play consists of running and killing: go to place X, kill everyone, talk to person Y to have a reason for killing and then go to place Z and kill everyone. Most of the time there are no alternative ways to solve problems (the only exceptions are found in dialogues with companions). But hey: that's what the world is about, ain't it?
- Interactions with the environment are not possible, just run, fight, talk, (rudimental) barter. No environmental riddles, no forging, no eating, no sleeping, etc. Would be to complex, eh?
Items and Inventory:
- Companions can't be equipped with armour, just with a weapon, a ring, a belt and an amulet. Would be too complex...
- In the inventory and shops items look absolutely uninteresting and the same: each type of item has the SAME grey and white icon, for example the same symbol for a sword. The only differences are the values of the item. Too much effort giving them a distinctive look?
- Most of the time the few items you can purchase out-value the few items you find in your travels
- There are no real item sets or unique items
- Why does a plate armour take exactly the same space / weight in inventory (= 1 Slot) as a ring or an amulet (= 1 Slot)? Too much to think about?
- Remember, you have to fight and fight and fight, and sometimes to fight, but don't worry: there isn't much to do, sit back and watch, no tactics needed (you could raise the difficulty but that just means opponents don't take as much damage and hit you harder).
- No overview allowed: forget Dragon Age Origins or Baldur's Gate, not immersive enough, has to be a close look over the shoulder like in Mass Effect 2, or say COD!? Another "advantage": the game world seems to be larger than it actually is.
- In many fights there are up to four or five waves of the same opponents like in good old arcade gaming. That's a challenge RPG-players really enjoy.
- If a fight ends successfully health, mana and stamina of all your companions are restored instantly. No need for rest, healing etc.... Waste of time, there are more interesting fights waiting 10 yards ahead.
- Ammunition is for prigs: arrows and bolts are created the moment they are shot, no buying needed.
- The backgrounds and dialogues preceding and following missions are of high quality, BUT what about a larger conflict, to what end am I killing hordes of idiots? Is there any greater inner or outer threat than a killer whom the player seeks to kill? The Qunari are a threat, for twenty minutes of game play. Templar and Magicians don't like each other and there's a fight, but that's it. No threat and no thread. Calling Hawke "Champion" is an exaggeration to cover that he hasn't achieved much. The whole game is "unepic" and seems to be merely a chapter of an epic game, if that.