As a huge fan of the original game, and its older siblings Baldur's Gate I and II, Dragon Age II should be on my 2011 wish list. And yet it isn't. More worrying still, why does Bioware seem hell-bent to keep it that way?
Right from the start, something felt wrong about Dragon Age II. The original announcement was disconcerting to say the least. My first thoughts were "What do you mean, Hawke is the main character in Dragon Age 2? I thought - I - was?" and then it dawned on me: you don't get to name your own character, you are stuck with who Bioware wants you to be. Who came up with that idea? Next, I looked at the two pieces of artwork accompanying the news which put me off immediately. What ever happened to the lush, colourful high-fantasy setting that we knew and loved from Dragon Age? Why would I want to play in a dreary, dull looking world with off-putting colour schemes of reds, greys, browns and purples?
Disappointed, I tried really hard to push these dark thoughts aside and even made an effort to block out any and all news about the game until the first in-game footage would be available. For the past couple of months, more and more of that has made it out of the Bioware offices and I'm sad to conclude that my initial fears that the game was going the wrong way have not been alleviated. In fact, my fears have become worse. Let's have a look at why that is shall we?
Water it down for consoles
It's become abundantly clear that Bioware is developing Dragon Age II primarily for console gamers. After the flak they received for the dumbed down Xbox version, I can understand that they needed to do something to appease console gamers, but I can virtually guarantee you that the compromises made to make the game more attractive to console owners will be felt on - all - platforms.
Bioware had an excellent opportunity here to really show the world that it is possible to create two distinctly different gameplay experiences, allowing for a tactically oriented system on PC and an action-oriented one on consoles. Like almost every developer, they chose to take the short-cut and create one system for both. Likely result? PC gamers get shafted with a watered down RPG and console gamers will still give Bioware flak for the same things they complained about in the original. Mark my words.
It looks... wrong!
RPGs come in all shapes and forms. Sci-fi, high-fantasy, urban, modern-day, you name the setting and you'll find an RPG matching it. Dragon Age had a high-fantasy setting which conjures up Tolkienesque images of lush worlds full of vibrant colours that make you feel alive. All this has disappeared in Dragon Age 2. Instead, we get drab and dreary colours intermixed with sheer maddening ones.
Many who have seen the game in person have commented on the game's graphics feeling 'wrong'. I am convinced that it is Bioware's attempt to try and mix the high-fantasy setting of Origins with this ugly, drab and overly artistic colour scheme that is making it feel that way. They just don't work together and I think spending a lot of time inside the game is going to be simply depressing. My best guess is that the art director (who admitted to have preferred a cartoon setting for Dragon Age) has been given too much freedom and he ran away with it.
Basic enemies are easy to kill?
Say again? Basic enemies are killed more easily than in Dragon age: Origins? You're kidding, right? You're not? Hoo boy... So Dragon Age II really is an Action RPG then. Where is the challenge in that? I don't get satisfaction out of slicing through enemies like a blazing knife through butter, I want to fight for my victories. Oh, you're making the game more difficult by increasing the number of enemies? Can somebody tell me where the door is? I want out, now.
And, Bioware, if you hadn't noticed, the world is - full - of action RPGs. The reason why people loved Dragon Age was because it was - different - from your run of the mill action RPG. Bad move.
What's with the restrictions?
If it isn't broke, don't fix it! Seriously, Bioware, we don't want fewer options when talking to NPCs, we want deep and meaningful conversations. And we actually liked the way we could develop our character and really don't want to be restricted to pre-selected spells and skills and pour our hard earned skill points into those. And if you can't get decent frame rates on consoles, don't punish PC gamers for that fact by giving them less control over camera zoom. We want freedom, freedom you hear me! Freeeaahhhhd... ahem. My emotions are getting the better of me. Can you tell how this is getting to me?
Bio is aware
I know, I know. Dragon Age II may still be a very good game even despite all of the above. The problem is that it won't be a continuation of Dragon Age: Origins. It will be something new, something too different for it to give us the same fantastic experience that we received the first time around.
There are hints that Bioware knows that especially PC gamers are weary of the game. A developer diary appeared on Youtube in December and discussed the game's combat system, one of the many things fans have been worried about. It received a large number of dislikes and probably did not take away people's fears. There was also talk of the demo arriving earlier to GameStop employees so that they can “become a key source of knowledge for customers”. Right... Fortunately that idea was canned for fear of the demo leaking early. A good decision, but I’m not sure why it would be such a big deal leaking a demo…
And do you know what's scary? I talk to Dragon Age fans all the time and they all have the same reservations.
So there you have it. Now you know why I'm NOT pre-ordering Dragon Age II. I will wait for my colleagues to review the game before putting my hard earned cash towards the game and I recommend everyone else to do the same.