Bigger Sword Slashy Fun Time

With my copy of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood taking its sweet time to arrive, much to my chagrin, I’ve found myself recently completing my third playthrough of Dragon Age II.. and I’m still not sure what I should say about it, in spite of having said quite a bit already. I’m not going to call it a perfect game by any stretch, but after the amount of hours I’ve logged into it by now, I can’t exactly make claims about how it’s horrible and murdered my unborn children or anything.

It’s a strange game because all those complaints people have about it? Many of them are valid; there’s a pretty aggressive area reuse going on that I know have been bothering some people I know to great lengths – personally I only took notice as far as being mildly amused at how creative they might get in strategically walling off pathways to present different places and arenas. It might be because the last decade has had so many games dressed in the same colours of brown and gray running down samey corridors for hours on end that it simply doesn’t register; that and I do like the few areas they have, so their reuse doesn’t bug me too much.

Respawning enemies? Yeah, there are those too. I found I didn’t mind those either – for most part the game at least pretends they arrived in a sensible fashion (leaping down from above or whatnot) rather than just popping right into existance before you. That said.. there was the entire elven clan who popped out of existance one by one not long after a dialogue which can’t exactly be excused. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me either, but that if anything seems like something QA should’ve picked up on.

Of course, there are things that bother me about the game, and they’re not all necessarily named Anders or Fenris. There’s the whole partially-designed-for-teens impression the game keeps giving me that is like a nagging noise you can barely hear coming from somewhere you can’t quite place – not enough to drive you batty, but enough to be annoying when you’re not being distracted by louder things. And while I like how your family changes appearance somewhat to fit with your character, I wish they added the ability to actually preview your family before finishing face customization, because while you can fix the face of your character in retrospect.. your family isn’t so lucky, and if you jump the customization wagon right off, chances are that at least one of Leandra, Carver and Bethany will get the incredibly short stick of your appearance tweaking. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve restarted early on in the tutorial just because one of my family members looked just.. wrong.

Not to mention the occasional bugs like Merrill offering several dialogue events in the completely wrong order during act 3 and therefore completely breaking her character growth unless you manage to piece it back together in your head.. bits of dialogue randomly being skipped (only started happening to me after 1.01, mind), several weird issues with the respec potion and apparently a curious bug where being friends with Isabela and/or Sebastian can cause your stats to rapidly deteroriate to make your character incredibly weak if you’re unlucky (there’s a mod that prevents the latter from happening, at least)..

So it’s a rushed, buggy game that suffers some really strange design inconsistencies.. I mean, between Anders, Merrill and possible player mage Hawke, I find myself wondering just what all these NPC apostates do for the Templars to catch them, seeing how setting entire streets on fire while killing bandits in plain sight of Templars apparently doesn’t seem to twig them on! Yes, of course, I realize this is a mechanical limit much like how Warlocks are allowed to parade demons around Stormwind in spite of Metzen himself confirming there’d be no way the guards’d allow that if it was just up to the setting, but there are some amounts of design that just seems odd like that. (Thankfully, BioWare did seem to realize how a mage Hawke is sort of obvious by act 3 and actually let the Templars know about you, just unwilling to go up against the Champion of Kirkwall lest they have a riot on their hands).

But you know what? After 159 total hours logged in the game by now according to Steam, I’m not sure to what extents I can call it a bad game. Sure, there’s plenty of games that I’d consider better, but few of them could really compete with that number of hours played and enjoyed – especially not on first install. I mean, at the end of the day, I don’t expect Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood which I look forward to that much more and expect I will think is a much better game will be able to entertain me for nearly as many hours, so that’s definitely got to count for something.

All this said, there’s one thing I’d really like to mention in the context of Dragon Age II – what I’d probably consider its absolutely best feature so far and why I was able to enjoy subsequent playthroughs probably even more than the first: stacking dialogue choices.

For all her swinging a huge, two-handed sword, Anne Hawke was generally a kind, well-meaning and diplomatic soul – she was aggressive sometimes, made jokes sometimes, but for most part she just tried to be nice, good and helpful.. and that coloured her dialogue. She would appeal to people’s better natures and did manage to avoid a few fights through that so long as there was a better nature to appeal to. Of course, she was also a little too appeasing, trying to be on everyone’s side, sometimes with repercussions. She was fun enough to play the first time around, but then..

..I was convinced to try a second playthrough.. and because I wanted to try to mix things up a little and not feel forced to repeat past choices verbatim.. I made a new Hawke – Kathryn. While both of them made largely the same choices where it counts, Kathryn didn’t quite have the same kind of kind, diplomatic approach to it. She, instead, was a fountain of jest, sarcasm and a very inserious outlook on the world. And.. I was quickly amazed at just how much this ended up permeating her entire dialogue, right down to what she’d say during combat. Where Anne had been serious, Kathryn would start making remarks about keeping score when taking down an enemy, making sarcastic remarks when combat started and would throw all these various interjections into her dialogue at large.. not to mention had a much different pre-final-battle speech to deliver. The point where the full awesome of the system hit me was when she was given the option – which Anne never got – to convince a group of warehouse guards to abandon their post to check out a supposed nearby fire. Anne had to fight her way through.

The third and so far final playthrough starred yet another Hawke – Sarah. Very much like Kathryn in terms of humor, but with the difference of being a mage, just to try that path out and see what I thought of that, and of Carver. It was different enough for me to enjoy that too, and I’ll admit I very much enjoyed utterly spanking the living pants out of the Arishok who had been such an annoyance to my warrior Hawkes. Seeing him holding his head and screaming in terror was.. satisfying, I’ll admit. It was also an interesting experience, taking a mage perspective into a game where the finale the game builds towards is essentially Templars versus Mages. Curiously, I found that without the presence of Bethany, I felt far more free to openly resent much of the rest of mage kind and their tendency to show about as much sanity as a city built around the face of Cthulhu.

Of course, I still think one of the strongest parts of Dragon Age II is the team you’re saddled with – not because they’re particularely deep or contain any massive new character innovations or any of that; they’re all quite designed to stereotype and rarely seem to have that many surprises.. but on the other hand, they act and interact with eachother and the setting in ways that I really haven’t seen that much. Far too often these days, an party member is just a combat aid that quietly approves or disapproves of your actions and might abandon you at a critical story point if there’s too much of the latter. Sure, some you might have long and interesting dialogues with back at camp, but they don’t seem to really speak to that many besides you and seem confined to the camp when they’re not with you. Dragon Age II shows them having lives even when they’re not with you, speaking and interacting with eachother and the rest of the world, and being able to help out in dialogue just as much as combat. While I’d be hard pressed to call it revolutionary, few games have quite made my main team (or at least, a portion of it) feel like such a solid circle of friends as Dragon Age II has.

This is further enhanced by the idea being able to gain their loyalty through either friendship or rivalry – and how it locks in if you solidify the relationship in either direction. You can actually disagree with someone and still be “friends” with them, more or less – I really liked that aspect of it. I found my appreciation for Merrill increased significantly when I didn’t have to go along with her crazy ideas and instead try to help her realize how they were something of a bad idea. As it ended (or.. rather, would have ended if the end part had come after the events that were supposed to cause it, not before..), it felt that Merrill even realized in the end that I’d done her a favor by not letting her go along with her idea.

Of course, I still can’t stand Anders. Or Fenris. It’s actually quite interesting just how much these two characters annoy me, because I really, really don’t like either of them – Anders more so, but perhaps not for the reasons one might expect. Fenris is still just trying way too hard, with some of his prose being so filled with typical melodrama that it feels like the only proper response would be to insert a picture of Captain Kirk facepalming whenever he speaks. Anders though.. I used to like Anders, back in Awakening. When he was funny and carefree and had some awesome banters going with Oghren. With that in mind, his decent into Lord Angstwaffle the Third feels much like an irreversible betrayal, and while I should probably be reasonable about it and blame BioWare, I’m perfectly content in blaming Anders because I actually get to kill him at the end of each playthrough.

There’s an interesting contrast because I’ve seen a lot of people not able to stomach Carver, and.. I actually had no problems with him. Carver I could see the frustration with, could understand what his deal was and how in spite of his frustration, pride and anger.. he still cared on some degree, even if his flaws sometimes caused him to act contrary to it. And at the end of the journey, seeing him come to terms with himself and reconcile with his sister felt so much stronger than Bethany just affirming she still had as much faith in her sibling as she always had. I thought Carver was interesting – not always pleasant, but interesting, and still caring in spite of his actions. Anders.. was all about himself and his agenda.

I don’t know, I’ve been rambling quite awhile now. There’s some things I really wish Dragon Age II had – more actually sane love interests would be a good start, for one, but there’s some parts I really love about it too. The stacking dialogue choices and the friend/rivalry meters are things I’d love to see survive the game, in spite of it getting some pretty poor overall ratings. I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some people claim, though very polarizing, and I suspect a great deal of negativity simply comes out of a feeling of betrayal, much like my resentment of Anders.

And I do resent Anders.

You know, it’s funny how my only real regret with siding with the Templars for my last playthrough was that I didn’t get to kill Fenris too.


14 Responses to “Bigger Sword Slashy Fun Time”

  1. March 25, 2011 at 18:22

    If you wanna kill Fenris, just make sure you don’t get enough Friendship points with him (or keep him as a Rival), I think. I’m reasonably certain it’s only the Friendship that keeps each party member on your side during the ending of act 3.

    Then again, it would be just my luck to state that then to test it myself or if someone else tested it just to find out that Fenris really did get Healing Factor along with Radical Tattoos. “You can’t keep the melodrama down!”

    • 2 WierdGuy
      April 10, 2011 at 21:17

      The whole point of building up a rivalry relationship is to be able to keep characters without having to be all goody with them. Infact, supporting the mages with Merril on full rivalry leads to an automatic response from Hawke convincing her its the right choise. And as for Fenris, at the confrontation between meredith and orsino before the final battle you can appeal to his even greater hate for slavery, then refering to the mages ofc.

      Only way to “get rid” of characters is to choose specific dialogue options or have too little friendship or rivalry points when it matters.

  2. 3 Meglivorn
    March 26, 2011 at 16:57

    Geez… I really like your reviews 🙂 Always makes me want to play.

    I only played through DA2 once, and maybe I’m the heretic one but liked much better than the first one. The story overall was better, the nuances more in place, and maybe even the companions. OK. I missed Morrigan but I think that’s all. Right now waiting for the mods, before my next “fun-run”. Story and vanity mods. I hate cheating and god items… never understand their point 😦

    My only complaint was a little about the mages and their reactions and ways. At first it seemed clear that I have to side with the mages, the way the templars (mostly Meredith of course) acted was absolutely right. But even after that, the mage npcs were like they just want to make the temps right. Turning into abominations the first given time, and right after a successfully repelled attack, the First Enchanter making that absolutely stupid ritual… GEEEZ.

  3. 4 Amelia
    March 27, 2011 at 18:00

    The only thing that hasn’t been said that I feel needs a comment:

    “…his decent into Lord Angstwaffle the Third…”

    I demand his name be that in DA3 (2.5 for DLC) if they make reference to Anders.

  4. 5 Thalis
    March 28, 2011 at 18:20

    My 2c on characters in DA2:
    Aveline – I really like her character with “rough edges” and enjoy her being in my party, but, sadly, she cannot be romanced.
    Varric – Who can’t like him? Unfortunately, un-romanceable.
    Anders – I laughed at “Lord Angstwaffe”, that characterises him very well.
    Fenris – He seems fine for me, even if only by “being a relatively decent elf”. Although I think I am biased in this occassion.
    Merrill – I can’t stand her naivety and her utter lack of responsibility. And I can’t even kick her behind for it.
    Isabela – Offer to sleep with me in her 4th conversation? Huh? She never got into my liking, and when she left in Act 2, after that problems she caused, I really didn’t miss her.
    Bethany – Also the one and only good mage in the whole Kirkwall. Too bad she either dies or leaves party for long time.
    Carver – I didn’t play mage yet.

  5. 6 Mel
    March 30, 2011 at 15:44

    Your review is the first one that made me want to actually give the game a try. I just recently bought DA:O. I am not much of a computer gamer, but this game just blew me away. I am still enjoying the hell out of it.

    Therefore I became a liiitle bit wary of DA2 when the news rolled in that it was deviating from Origins pretty much. I relly like the fact that you don’t have these emotion-markers for conversation choices in DA:O, for example. Providing the player with hints as to how something that you say might be received appeared to me like dumbing down the dialogues for the console-kiddies.

    Sooo, I’ll probably will ask around if I can borrow the game from one of my friends. The price tag on it is a little bit high for something I might end up not liking after all.

    • 7 Nhani
      March 30, 2011 at 22:41

      I actually thought it was a generally good step to take; since the dialogue is presented as text only (in both the radial menu and in origins) it’s not always entirely certain how a line of dialogue is intended. A line that you might mean verbatim was actually spoken with sarcasm, and you won’t know that until you see the reaction it had.

      With the icons, you just as much pick a response based on intended tone, rather than just what you want to say. BioWare doesn’t exactly go all the way with it, mind you, but it struck me a bit as trying to combine the dialogue systems of Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol.

      The fact that your dialogue choices stack, so your dialogue can become either more diplomatic, more sarcastic or more forceful if you show definitive preference for one of them was a nice touch that show the strength of it, however.

  6. March 30, 2011 at 18:07

    If there was one thing I liked about DAII was how the characters seemed to have a life outside of their adventures with yours.
    Like Isabella and Fenris hooking up in Act III, Varric looking after Anders and Merill by buying off the criminals to let them be, Aveline getting married…

    I did miss that with DA:O but that is understandible since in a camp there is little to no privacy and since your traveling around you cant ‘settle down’.
    Anders….i do wish they had mroe the snarky Anders from Awakenings then this angsty one, there is a reasn why he was on my rival list on my Warrior playthrough.

    The only thing I wished they did was that there was a over-arching enemy in this game, like the Qunari indeed invade and you have to defend your city from being overwhelmed.

    • 9 Nhani
      March 30, 2011 at 22:45

      I didn’t mind the lack of an overarching enemy so much; the story was about the ate of Kirkwall and where the whole mess began, I was content enough to see that story through. I understand some would rather have a singular path with an established villain, but I thought it refreshing to have several tied together story strands over a period of time.

      They tied together enough for me to be happy with it, really. Though I can definitely see how it wouldn’t do it for everyone.

      • March 31, 2011 at 19:21

        I also found it a tad sad DAII left a lot of questions behind, not jsut about the Champion but also of the darkspawn.
        I recently did Nathaniel Howe’s quest in DAII and the expedition to the Deep Roads and your own does show something strange is happening to the darkspawn. But that might just be me who still see the Darkspawn as the Franchise’s worst enemy rather then this upcoming war with the Chantry and Orlais/Ferelden.

  7. 11 saila AKS Wester
    April 8, 2011 at 17:58

    Nhani just an head up if you bought the CD version don´t know about steam version.
    happy time whit an SecuROM running havoc in your computer and yes its the same **** we saw in I dont know spore I think that got EA sued badly.

    Anyway read that it been some what lame like an we take what we got make an expansion and release it as an new game not an expansion and we add SecuROM what an great ide that was.

    ranting done

    • 12 Nhani
      April 8, 2011 at 18:11

      Actually, no it isn’t. It’s apparently a false positive, and while it apparently leaves temporary files around, they’re apparently inert and not about to rootkit your PC or any some such.

      It’s largely a communication issue, actually – it doesn’t contain the bits that are responsible for SecuROM being considered evil, but at the same time EA didn’t disclose their presence, which caused something of an understandably alarmist response due to past controversies. Even the site that originally found out about it (one named Reclaim Your Game, apparently) even clarified that the problem wasn’t so much the inclusion (because it’s fairly benign) and more that they failed to mention its presence.

  8. 13 saila AKS Wester
    April 8, 2011 at 22:01

    okay looks like I was wrong but ah well some true in it, glad that I was wrong that mens I will buy the game maybe in one or two year when the price sinks to
    199kr(22,2 euro) from 599kr(66,7 euro) yes I am an sheep baa-stard…

    //note to self you can use the sheep baa an word in writing only sound whit out it looking bad.
    Bha I need to get blender working… hay hani heard of RepRap? I think you can use that print an model of your caretakers.
    nha just joking but I swear If some one makes Hhani or nhani or anyone from
    Beyond the Tree then I would…. laugh then stare in envy.

  9. 14 Thalis
    April 13, 2011 at 12:01

    I have to take back my opinion that mages sucks. They are fine, they just need a bit more work than “charge-taunt-activate +100% dmg boost-whirlwind” warriors.

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