Yesterday was my 21st birthday, and among the presents I received was a copy of Dragon Age II from my younger sibling; a game that has been almost universally condemned by the Origins fanbase as a singularity of badness. Some have gone so far as to say it’s not only the worst game in Bioware’s history, but one of the most awful games ever made and a sign that they’re going to collapse, go bankrupt, can’t be bothered with anything, etc, etc, insert your own damning comment here.
Well, flame my blog and call me one of the Four Horsemen of the Gaming Apocalypse, because I not only enjoyed the game, but thought it was far superior to the original.
I tried to like Dragon Age: Origins, I really did, but I just didn’t get it. Oh, the story was strong, the characters well-developed and likeable as always, and there were plenty of pretty environments, but every time I made an effort to jump into the game the combat system repelled me. Now, due to being raised in the slums of consoles rather than the ivory towers of PC gaming, I had only ever played Bioware games like Jade Empire and Mass Effect, which featured much faster and simpler fighting. I just found it hard to make a real connection to the slower, clunkier battles of Dragon Age: Origins. Now, you could say that things got better down the line and I just gave up too soon, and I certainly don’t expect a game to hand over all the best toys on Level One, but if I still can’t find what I’m looking for after three characters, two classes, and a few hours invested in each, then I reserve my right to say ,”This game isn’t for me.”
Dragon Age II didn’t have this problem. Fighting was quicker and easier, and there was more of it. Now, I understand that not all gamers like a lot of combat, but I do. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of being raised mostly on more action-based titles, but if I get the ability to toss the Mystical Flames of Utter Obliteration at fools, then I want as many opportunities to use them as I can. In fact, Dragon Age II was the first game to make me break my habit of always picking a melee class. The game’s tutorial lets Hawke sample a few of the higher-end powers and lets you thrash a horde of Darkspawn with them. If you don’t like the preview of how your chosen class is going to feel twenty levels down the line, you can go back and pick another one. After I’d finished my first slice of the magic pie and looked over the corpses of all the monsters I’d burned, frozen, and electrocuted to death with it, I realised that simply hitting people with swords was positively dull by comparison.
Having made a sizeable dent in the game, I understand why the game’s tendency to reuse environments annoys many, and I even agree that it’s a glaring flaw. However, that’s where I stop seeing eye-to-eye with the hate crowd. “The characters aren’t as interesting!” Really? There’s a woman who was ostracised by her clan by trying to restore their glory days, an amnesiac former slave out for revenge against his old master, a hedonistic pirate up to her neck in dodgy deals and hounded by a shady connection to an antagonistic army? Yes, these characters really aren’t as deep as a jovial assassin seeking to escape his past, a slightly mad cleric with a dark past, and a witch who hates absolutely everything you do. Dragon Age II‘s cast might not have backstories as deep as their predecessors, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less interesting or involving. Also, while I do have an issue with the finale, in that the final boss’ reason for being evil has almost zero foreshadowing, I for one loved the villain of the second act. Earning his respect and understanding how his different cultural values operate painted a much stronger image of his society than any archdemon could have done for the Darkspawn. When a game gets me interested in its lore enough to start coming up with my own wild theories and ideas about what an unseen part of it is like, I know it’s done something right.
So, Dragon Age II isn’t perfect, and it’s certainly not Origins 2, for better or worse, but that doesn’t mean it deserves anywhere near the hate it gets. Is it lazy? Yes, when it comes to the environments. Is it boring? Hardly. Quite simply, I think a lot of people are just upset that it isn’t what they wanted it to be. I can sympathise with that. I expected Tales of Vesperia to be the best JRPG ever, but what we got was a half-finished game riddled with typos where every explanation was hidden in an impossible-to-find sidequest. However, if I was able to get past my initial frustrations and enjoy the parts of that game that were good, why can’t the Origins fanbase get over itself and stop hating their first love’s younger sibling just for being different?
Come to think of it, maybe there’s an ulterior motive behind why Bioware plays the “Tolerance” plot card so much in this one.