Before I go into this I want to point out that there are fundamentally two
ways to play Dragon Age; A 3rd person RPG
, playing mostly as yourself and relying on custom tactics for your companions, and tactical RPG
where you command your whole party as a unit. However, neither game provides the necessary interface for the latter style of play.
Dragon Age plays in real-time with the ability to pause anytime and lacking display for non-controlled party members' talent cool-downs. The interface is simply not designed for controlling everyone at once. You only control one guy at a time and can't tell what talents the others have available while doing so. For a tactical RPG, a different combat system is required, one where characters take turns selecting actions. So that when an ability becomes available, the game pauses for you and lets you decide. Dragon Age does not, leaving you constantly pausing, switching between characters checking their talent cool-downs. It's just inherently designed for controlling a single character.
Therefore, this review is from the point of view of role-playing the main character with tactics setup for your companions, only issuing orders to others than yourself in exceptional circumstances.
And now I'm simply going to list everything bad
about Dragon Age: Origins
that they didn't address in Dragon Age 2
and everything good
about Dragon Age: Origins
that they "addressed" in Dragon Age 2
. First how it was in Origins, then how I'd have fixed it, and finally how BioWare did.Speed of combat
was a tad on the slow side in Origins. Especially swords of the sword and shield variety as well as two-handers took forever to swing (with awkward animations to boot).Core Xii:
Combat could've used a 10% speed-up with a little more interesting animations.BioWare:
Combat was sped up 300% in DA2 with completely over-the-top animations of characters flying through the air, swinging two-ton swords like they were made of paper. Forget realism
, the combat animations in Dragon Age 2 are implausible even for a fantasy universe. The first time you see it it's kind of cool and you thank god for speeding up the combat, but it gets old real fast
. There's so much super-speed stuff going on at any given time you can't tell what the hell is going on.
A related issue is that your characters run around really fast
. You can kite every single boss by running around in circles, pausing to do a ranged attack whenever you gain ground (as the boss gets briefly stuck in the level geometry, being 10 times your size). It's the worst boss design I have ever seen, ever. A dragon chases you for 10 minutes while being slowly peashot its health down. (sorry for the spoiler, but I'd assume you'd figure that there are dragons in Dragon Age
didn't reset when a battle ended in Origins, leaving you standing around like a lemon waiting for a 60-second cool-down to reset before heading to the next battle, god forbid you wanted to use one of the more powerful spells each encounter. This is inconsistent, because health and mana/stamina did
(albeit with simply increased regeneration).Core Xii:
Talent cool-downs should reset or at least cycle with increased speed like health and mana/stamina after a battle.BioWare:
They made health and mana/stamina reset even faster after battle in DA2 (good), but talents still slowly cycle their full cool-downs. Certain talents have as much as 120 seconds
of cool-down, so if you used one at the end of the last battle and intend to use that spell in the next, you have to stand around doing nothing for 2 minutes. My god, who play-tested this thing?Talent trees
in Origins were linear and restrictive. Strictly speaking, they weren't trees at all. If you wanted the 4th fire spell, you had to get all 3 before it, whether you considered them useful or (most often) not.Core Xii:
This is a fairly big and fundamental issue. Some spells are more powerful than others and BioWare wanted to restrict your access to them in a progressive manner. But this is the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
The problem is not "how to restrict powerful spells to balance the progression" but rather "how to balance the spells in the first place".
My solution would be to not have better
spells, just different
ones. A large area-of-effect (hereforth referred to as AoE) spell doesn't need to be game-breakingly powerful even if you get it at level 1. You simply make the spells scale by level, such that it does X × level
damage with a radius of Y × level
as opposed to flat amounts.BioWare:
We were promised a remedy with DA2's actual trees
. Curiously, these "trees" are as restrictive as ever. Each spell not only has a level and previous talent(s) requirement but also demand an arbitrary amount of talent points already spent in the tree. This is no more flexible than Origins, sometimes it feels even less so. It's blatantly obvious with some spells having talent requirements that physically cannot be fulfilled before their level requirements (a hypothetical spell requires level 3 and 2 points in the tree. But you cannot have those 2 points before level 4 because other talents are restricted to level 4).
For example, the second ice spell (Cone of Cold) requires not only the first ice spell (Winter's Grasp) and you to be level 8, it also requires you to take two other talents from the same tree for no reason (Fireball and then one other, possible Winter's Grasp's upgrade which also
requires Fireball before it).
It gets even worse with upgrades.
At least in Origins, even if we had to get 3 other fire spells before Inferno
and be level 5 (it requires 34 magic which is attainable at level 5 at the earliest) at least we got it in its full form. In DA2, the equivalent upgrade to Firestorm
requires you to be level 9, have Fireball, one other point in the tree and of course the spell itself, another talent point. That is in no way less restrictive than Origins.
A minor interface issue relating to the talent trees is that you can't see the upgrades until you zoom into the tree. So to see if you have upgrades available to your talents you have to check each tree one at a time. The hell?
Here's the mage spell trees BioWare made for Dragon Age 2:
The requirements aren't laid out in a simple hierarchy but have stuff like "Requires: 3 points in Elemental" (that's including
its prerequisites, making it even less intuitive and visual).
And here's how I would have laid out the mage spell trees. Now they're actual trees with options; No level or point restrictions or upgrades. The entropy tree requires you to take every spell before the last... but by its description it's really powerful, so I'm not too worried about that (and it combines effects from all the other spells).Stat transparency
was problematic in Origins. The choice of +1 in one stat or another was oblique at times. At worst, you didn't know mana and stamina were used interchangeably in item descriptions as they were listed separately, or that +1 spellpower was strictly inferior to +1 magic because each point in magic grants one point of spellpower. Items also often listed stats multiple times, like a staff that had Spellpower: 7 and
+1 spellpower. Item sets granted bonuses you couldn't see or look up.Core Xii:
This is mostly a documentation slash interface issue. Whenever the player is expected to make a decision, he should be able to access the relevant information. The choice between one item or another should be perfectly clear and enumerated, as it's a fairly big part of the game. Fortunately, otherwise Origins was simple enough. +1% magic resistance meant you had a 1% greater chance of resisting a spell. Simple...BioWare:
...so then why Dragon Age 2 would be even more oblique
is beyond me. What does +1 magic resistance do? The hell if I know, because it's not very well indicated. Stats have the weirdest, most contrived formulas for deriving their final values which is not at all transparent to the player. They added a display for what your attributes do, then somehow put another layer on top of it as oblique as before, only making it worse.
Information is scarce and all over the place. +1 strength gives +1 attack to a warrior which translates to a few percentage increase in their chance to hit, which you can clearly see on the attributes screen. But if you find an item with +26 attack, you've no way of seeing how many % it translates to. Even worse is that +1 in something often has diminishing values; +1 armor is huge
at level 1, but completely insignificant at 20. In Origins, +1% magic resistance was +1% magic resistance, regardless of level, and hence easier to understand.
Which brings me to...Attributes
. Origins had a bad case of uselessness in some attributes, like willpower, because simply leveling up granted you some and item bonuses provided enough to offset the balance. It was annoying, but in a harmless way; You just didn't put any points there. Gear had an attribute requirement, such as strength for swords, but thankfully no item required willpower.
Furthermore, the extremely gradual progression makes the choice difficult. Should I put 1 point into magic this level when it has a 0.01% effect? But if I don't, will I be gimped later and then have to retroactively dump points into that stat three consecutive level-ups? The investment of points seems so insignificant but if you don't
, you'll invisibly gimp yourself until it's too late to do anything about it, since your points are long gone to another stat and you only get 3 on the next level-up.Core Xii:
I don't think the whole attribute system works, at all, really. If your character knows a talent, its success shouldn't be tied to a stat you have to raise independently. Indeed, they half
fixed that in DA2, by making talent success
independent of attributes (I still have no idea how +1 magic resistance factors into this). Sadly, damage
is still largely tied to stats.
You should be able to choose talents to suit different
tactical situations, and their effect should be tied to your level, if at all (since both you and enemies level up...). Such a system would be fundamentally tangent to this flavor of RPG, though.BioWare:
Not only did they make willpower not useless, they made it mandatory. Every item has two
stat requirements now; Every mage robe requires equal amounts of magic and willpower. Bye, choice. Similarly warrior gear takes strength and constitution and rogue gear dexterity and cunning. They might as well just combine each pair into a single value, because you'll never get to raise one without the other. Gone is the choice of dexterity rogue vs cunning rogue. Gone is the choice of DPS warrior vs tank warrior. The three classes are set in stone now and there's no diversity. Warriors tank, rogues DPS and mages CC (crowd control). Some people call it streamlining
. I call it stupid
The most annoying part is that willpower is still
useless even when it's forced to not be. Each point gives you +5 mana/stamina, but sustained talents reserve a percentage
now rather than a flat value. So if you have 50% of your mana reserved in sustainables, +1 willpower translates to only +2.5 mana. If 100% of your mana is reserved, like a good blood mage should, willpower has zero effect. Yet, blood mages are forced
to get as much willpower as magic in order to wear clothes
. This system boggles my mind. Did they deliberately try to make the game less fun, or what? Speaking of robes...You can't see what you're buying
. In a game with full character customization and role-playing, you're shopping for pure stats. You can't see that the mage hat you bought for half your gold looks ridiculous as hell
until you already have. So either you hate it and the developers for the rest of the game or you always quick save before shopping. Actually, this isn't limited to shops; You also don't know what gear looks like until you can wear it. So investing points into a stat to wear something which turns out to be crap can be discouraging - Though rarely fatal, since gear usually requires your primary attribute which you dump anyway (exception: cunning rogues).Core Xii:
Simple, obvious fix: A preview. An image of the item on the shop menu and inventory. Is that too much to ask? Or maybe they could've designed some headware that didn't make you look like a retarded bird.BioWare:
Nope.Gameplay and narrative
. Aren't these supposed to go together to provide the best experience? Not just tell a story independent of gameplay, but tie them together? Well, Origins doesn't. Progressing on your quest, you'll hear a million billion "blood magic is evil", "oh no blood magic" comments. Yet, you can be a blood mage and use it under their very noses
and mysteriously nobody seems to notice. It gets even more perplexing when you're a blood mage and want to sympathize
with other blood mages. Except you can't. Somehow, the writers decided blood magic is evil and the gameplay designers decided you can be one, without talking to each other, because your dialogue options are always that blood magic is evil, even when you're a bloody blood mage yourself.Core Xii:
Er, make people react. Let me use blood magic in dialogue to influence people. Have my companions notice I'm a freaking blood mage as they complain how evil it is. Give me the option of not
killing blood mages whenever I encounter them.BioWare:
On the last hour out of thirty you can side with blood mages for the finale. Up to that point, every blood mage you come across is automatically evil, an enemy you've no choice not
to kill. Well, except one of your companions. Again, nobody minds about that or the fact that you're an apostate blood mage (if you chose so). You go around doing side-quests of disposing blood mages without the option of sparing them. It's jarring
. Clearly the writers are not talking to the designers at all.The dialogue
wasn't voiced in Origins. You got a number of lines of dialogue to choose from that read exactly what you were going to say. The choices were fairly varied and interesting, although the other characters didn't always respond in an interesting manner (they saved a lot of work by making more than one line invoke the same response, at the cost of some quality).Core Xii:
The lack of a voice is excusable. It would be prohibitively expensive to record all the different lines, in two genders, possibly in human, elf and dwarf voices. It might be preferable to separate what
you're saying and how
you're saying it, but again the voiced responses limit the number of possible options for the sheer amount of work required.BioWare:
Ah yes, the Mass Effect dialogue wheel. It's still not working. To be exact, the problem isn't with the wheel itself; It's just a shape of a menu. The problem stems from the incredibly vague, generic, voiced responses. The line on the wheel is nothing
like the dialogue your character will spout upon selecting it. The wheel can say "No." and that can lead to "I'm so sorry, but I have to follow my heart" or "Ha ha, I'm not interested in your problems, peasant!". Technically both decline, but in rather different manners. Nothing breaks immersion like opening your mouth and having something completely different than you intended coming out. It's like Hawke is schizophrenic and you're the other half trying to nudge him into behaving in a certain way, rather than directly assuming the role of the character.
Having a voiced main character exaggerates this issue even further as we can have even fewer responses than before. So you get to pick from the paragon, neutral or renegade response. Or in DA2's case, the sincere, sarcastic or aggressive response. This is not role-playing.Level design
is good in Origins. You visit nobles in cities, soldiers in castles, mages in towers, elves in forests, dwarves in their underground deep roads, and demons in the fade. A number of locations, each large and unique. Between traveling from one place to the next, any of a number of random encounters can occur, providing even more variety. My only complaint is for all the walking
. They should've just let you fast-travel from anywhere, at any time, because you can just hike your way back and back again, with the same effect, just incredible tedium.BioWare:
Here's one city, one beach and one cave, each of which you'll be visiting a minimum of 12 times. I am not kidding. There is one cave in the whole game with different quests in it, pretending it's a different one each time; They have impassable doors that are (seemingly) randomly closed, making you take slightly different routes. These closed passages aren't even reflected on the minimap! Ok, the deep roads were very long and samey in Origins, but my god, at least each samey tunnel was unique
. DA2 has one cave. The same one. For fifty different quests. With slightly randomized placements of (copious amounts of) corpses and chests for loot. In a consistent fashion, there's also one beach, one mine (that doubles as a sewer when required) and one mansion, each passed off as a "different" location on each quest. The only unique place in the entirety of the game (of any significant length) is the deep roads which you visit briefly.
It's... I don't even know what to say. If you don't have the resources to model locations then you should look into procedurally generating them. Having one static cave you visit fifty times is... I don't even...