Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Byte: Here Be Dragons

I wasn't alone this year in finding Dragon Age II a little on the disappointing side. While it had great characters and a decent enough story, the ending was anti-climactic to say the least and some was the game design was on the wrong side of lazy, with cut-and-paste dungeons galore and far too much padding in the action sequences with trash mobs. I also wasn't especially fond of the way BioWare slimmed down the RPG elements and slimmed down the talents and skills system and the inventory management - I prefer my RPGs with lots to fiddle with and customise.

So I decided to return to Dragon Age: Origins and finish my playthrough as a rogue (I previously completed it with a mage - a class that ends up being ridiculously overpowered at the end of the game - as mages should be!). My rogue is a human noble, which I basically picked because I want to be King (AND IN THE GAME!) - what can I say? Queen Anora is a cutie. Even though it's kind of like kicking a puppy while its looking up at you lovingly, the completist in me led me to exile Alistair after the Landsmeet and conscript Loghain into the Grey Wardens, simply for the irony value.

I took some slightly different routes on my play through - I sided with the clearly deranged Branka in the Anvil of the Void quest, which was a particularly tough battle, since Shale defected over to support Caridin, so I had to fight the battle with an incomplete party. Though at least the pragmatic pay-off was be that I had a squad of ridiculously tough golems to help take on the Archdemon at the finale in Denerim.

I suppose the thing I really prefer in Dragon Age: Origins compared to Dragon Age II is that the combat is much more tactical and requires careful management, even on low difficulty settings. The advanced tactics settings (provided you configure them correctly) do streamline the combat to some degree (purists can turn them off, naturally), but combat with bosses and multiple mobs can quickly get away from you if you don't keep a close eye on the health of all your characters. The other curious thing about Dragon Age is that the best party configuration isn't Warrior-heavy (unlike Baldur's Gate, say). Two mages is practically compulsory at all times (one for DPS and another for DPS/healing), with a warrior acting as a tank and a rogue acting as ranged DPS or back-stabby DPS from stealth, along with the obligatory trap-finding and locked chest opening duties. The story in Origins is also a heck of a lot more multi-layered than in Dragon Age II, though perhaps some of the characters aren't quite so well defined in Origins as they are in the sequel. The other really impressive thing in Origins is that (appropriately) all of the different origin stories for the protagonist are interesting and worth playing, with characters you meet at the beginning of the game coming back for cameos later. Some are more significant than others (especially Jowan, from the Mage origin story).

Dragon Age: Origins, in my opinion, is by far the superior RPG of the two games, both in terms of storytelling and RPG mechanics, and while it might lack some of the immediacy of the Mass Effects or the more formal fantasy setting of something like Baldur's Gate 2, it certainly makes up for it in terms of depth and execution. Here's hoping that the seemingly inevitable Dragon Age III will be more like Origins than Dragon Age II... but somehow, given the direction Bioware have been moving in lately, I doubt it.
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