Weekend Game Review: Dragon Age 2 (Multi) – Part 3: Battle & Gameplay Mechanics
So I’m finally back after over a month without a computer, with a long overdue continuation of my review on Dragon Age 2. It may seem too little, too late, but as my review would be incomplete without it, I’m pressed to finishing it instead of letting it hang.
A lot of negative opinions are surrounding the battle system, and for the life of me, I can’t really figure out why. A lot of people say that the battle system is ‘dumbed down’ or ‘panders to the masses,’ and is not as deep as the battle system in the original game, but the truth is, the battle system hasn’t really changed since the first game, outside of having to continually click/press a button to keep attacking. Lack of auto-attack is a pain in the ass, but outside of that nothing else has really changed. Positioning plays a bit less of a role in battle (as an example, rogues don’t really need to stand behind an enemy to backstab them effectively). Battles still have you taking control of one character in a four-man band, and the mages are still one of the more powerful classes, but rogues and warriors are still incredibly fun to play.
Classes, Abilities, and Equipment
Each class has very specific abilities, equipment, and functions – you can’t, for example, make a heavily armored mage like you could in Origins. This can come off as a negative for some, and for those who love to do a lot of customization with their characters it might be a deal breaker. It’s also rather annoying how vendors sell equipment for all classes even though you can only be one class at a time. One could make the argument that you also buy equipment for your other characters, but outside of accessories, equipment for your party members only come in upgrades, which is a bizarre, but understandable streamlining. In Origins, it was incredibly annoying having to refit all your characters every time a new piece of equipment came along; surely it satisfied completionists and detail-oriented players, but without an overall equipment management system, it was tedious and annoying. This time, however, I fear Bioware has gone to the other extreme, making equipment too easy to maintain. There is a middle ground but developers seem to keep missing it.
The ability system has gone under a revision as well, and is much better for it. Skill trees are no longer linear, and while there are fewer total skill trees to invest points in, each tree has a multitude of abilities (passive, sustained, and active) and upgrades to learn. Each ability also has some use in battle and unique purpose, and Hawke can learn specialty skills (such as assassin abilities for death strokes as a rogue) to increase effectiveness in battle. Supporting characters have specialty skill trees as well, each with specific abilities that can be learned through extreme friendship or rivalry (more on that later).
The game features three classes, rogue, warrior, and mage, and each of these classes can be specialized into distinct classes with different abilities; one set may make a warrior Hawke into a powerful brawler, while another makes him into an nigh-invulnerable tank. I’ve played through about five times now, each with a different class specialization, and each time gameplay was something quite different.
Exploration and Crafting
Exploration in Dragon Age 2 is a lot more dull than in the first game, thanks largely to the repetitive level design. It baffles the mind, but the maps that you fill out doesn’t carry over between acts, so each act has you filling out the same dungeon maps over again. The fact that you’re only limited to Kirkwall isn’t the problem – more unique dungeon designs would have helped immensely in terms of exploration, and in actuality the entirety of Kirkwall has more to explore than all the towns in Origins, combined. However, in terms of dungeon layouts, Origins has many more unique areas to explore. Dragon Age 2 even commits the cardinal sin of filling the map with areas that seem accessible at first glance but end up being blocked off, something that happened a lot in Final Fantasy XIII – just the comparison is enough to show how horrible the layouts in Dragon Age 2 can be.
Crafting is similarly streamlined in Dragon Age 2, and it’s actually for the better. Instead of carrying a truckload of ingredients, you find ingredient sources within dungeons and towns. These sources are tallied up and if you have enough sources of certain crafting material, you could make various items which you had recipes for as long as you have the money. Crafting is performed only in your home, so doing it on the road is out of the question. Again, some diehards and detail-oriented folk might hate this change, but I enjoy not having to sift through my item bag holding some of every ingredient in the game to be able to craft.
Conversations and Interactions
So almost everyone I am acquainted with knows that I love Mass Effect’s dialogue wheel, because it keeps dialogue flowing and doesn’t force players to read and choose from a long list of conversation options. Bioware has made the dialogue wheel even more intuitive in Dragon Age 2 by including icons that show the intent of the dialogue choice, so as not to confuse players with the wording. This is something I hope makes it into Mass Effect 3, because it’s actually a really nice addition and helps making dialogue choices much more intuitive. Also, the developers have implemented a sort of invisible ‘attitude meter’ where Hawke’s tone of voice changes depending on player’s selected dialogue choices. As an example, if players consistently choose sarcastic or jovial dialogue choices, the tone in Hawke’s voice overs will be different than if players consistently chose aggressive dialogue choices.
Having persuade and intimidate options not linked to a karma or ability system is a step forward, in my opinion. Being forced to go completely renegade or paragon in order to unlock the higher end paragon/renegade choices was one of the few problems with Mass Effect 2, and having them not really linked to any ability or alignment in Dragon Age 2 is a definite improvement. The dialogue system also allows players to allow supporting characters to gain special abilities, either by becoming friends, or by making them rivals. Either way, characters gain a boost depending on the ability gained, and choices regarding the characters near the end of the game can be opened up when loyalties are on the line.
Characters can, much like in Origins, have random conversations with each other while exploring, and the conversations range from deep glances at character opinions to hilarious jabs at each other. The problem is that Hawke can only converse with companions at their area of lodging, and never during exploration. This is a change that didn’t need to be made, and frankly the game is worse off for it; it’s annoying for me to have to trek back to a character’s living area when I just want to talk to them. This also brings me to another problem, character conversations are overall much less meaty than in Origins. While in Origins you had lots of extraneous dialogue (such as Leliana’s stories or Alistair’s commentary), there’s very few such things in Dragon Age 2, which is a shame – these extraneous stories were part of the reason I liked the characters in Origins.
In all, the gameplay survived the transition mostly intact, but the final product leaves something to be desired, particularly in the conversation and character interaction department; battles and ability systems are well done, exploration is dull and repetitive, and character interaction ultimately isn’t as deep as the original.
+ Battle system is still engaging
+ Great skill trees and class distinction
+ Dialogue wheel improved to almost perfect implementation
+ Persuade/Intimidate not tied to abilities or alignment
+ Large amount of equipment
+ Intuitive crafting system
- Exploration is trite and boring due to reused dungeon layouts
- Character interactions can be somewhat shallow and uninteresting at times
!? Being forced to leg it to a character’s home to converse