Tuesday, March 8, 2011

DA2 Playthrough: Baseline expectations

Hours In: 0
Character Level: N/A
My Score: 70 (Baseline)
Metacritic Score: 84

I was sorely tempted to make this a DA2-free zone this week. For one thing, I wasn't sure I would buy the game on release, which would have made commenting on it a bit awkward. For another, I wasn't sold on the value of adding my voice to the cacophony of internet opinion. I mean, between the deluge of professional game reviews and all the forum chatter (read: bickering), who needs to hear what I have to say?

Then today arrived and I found I had nothing better to do.

However, rather than just jot down a few thoughts under a bland title like "First impressions," I thought I'd try something a little different - something that might help you get a read on how my opinion is evolving as I play the game. So, before I even fire up Dragon Age 2 for the first time, I'm going to predict how much I'm going to like it and adjust my score with each report. I'll also chart the Metacritic score to test the conventional wisdom that it declines over time (in the case of Dragon Age 2, it already has declined somewhat from its peak of 94).

Finally, to provide a more detailed baseline and give you more of an idea where I'm coming from, I'll list what I consider the positives and negatives of the game as I currently understand them. Of course, I could be wrong in my assumptions. In fact, if I'm not wrong in at least some cases, I will be seriously disappointed.

  • Offbeat plot structure: A number of reviewers have commented on the story's lack of direction, which actually strikes me as a positive in these days of intricate, over-controlling plots. It's equally intriguing that the game events occur over a decade.
  • City adventure with a more limited scope: City adventures have always been a favorite of mine, and I welcome the departure from the Ferelden-spanning uber-epicness of Dragon Age: Origins.
  • Simplified inventory management: From what I've heard, Dragon Age 2 doesn't swamp you with loads of useless crafting components or force you to constantly evaluate new equipment. I know the old-schooler in me should gripe about losing control over my companions' armor, but inventory management has just never been my thing. Besides, it's always struck me as weird how in RPGs you could pick up a follower and have them completely re-outfitted five minutes later.
  • New character advancement system: The old linear system gives way to one with more room to create unique characters (or so it would seem). I may or may not miss the skills that have been removed.
  • The lore: I'm expecting to see many aspects of the Dragon Age setting fleshed out in the sequel. Since my own mod is set in Thedas, this is what motivated me to buy more than anything else.
  • Preset character: This alone would have been a deal-breaker for me a few years ago. I've played some RPGs with preset characters - some of them good games overall - but I still see this as a negative, and I don't think my opinion on this will change.
  • Console combat: I prefer the sort of tactical combat where you position your characters, launch spells at just the right time and place, etc. I don't expect that to be possible in Dragon Age 2, but I may find cross-class combos and fast-paced animations fun nonetheless.
  • Romances: As I feared, all love interests in Dragon Age 2 are apparently bisexual. They're optional, so I plan to simply skip them. However, because I actually like romances in general - when the love interests aren't peddled as one-size-fits-all playthings, that is - this is as much of a negative as if the feature didn't exist.
  • Overall reduction in freedom: Most of the "streamlining" changes don't bother me individually, but there are so many in Dragon Age 2 that I expect I'm going to find the experience too confining.
  • Graphics: From what I saw in the demo, the graphics haven't dramatically improved. However, people who have actually put their hands on the game seem to be impressed. I doubt it changes my overall opinion of the game either way.
One last note: My impressions are based on the PC version of the game. This should be fairly obvious to anyone who has read the blog before. However, it's also a crucial point, as most of the debate about Dragon Age 2 seems to revolve around platform - which one is being used to play the game, and which one the game was designed for.

OK, my download has completed, the game is installed, and I am (finally) off to play.