Wednesday, March 9, 2011

DA2 Playthrough: A rough start

Hours In: 2.5
Character Level: 4
My Score: 55 (-15)
Metacritic Score: 84 (no change)

In my previous post, I gave Dragon Age 2 a baseline, "sight unseen" score of 70. I didn't explain my rationale for that score because, honestly, I didn't put a lot of thought into it. It wasn't intended to be some sort of objective measure, but merely a starting point for the sake of comparison. The important thing was for there to be considerable distance to a perfect 100, as I didn't agree with many of the design changes in Dragon Age 2 and was not impressed with the demo. I wanted there to be plenty of room to raise my score in case I was pleasantly surprised.

After my first play session, I don't think that's going to be a problem. So far, it appears the demo is an accurate gauge of the game's quality.

In fact, the demo is the game - at least, the first 30 minutes of it. It was a bit painful having to play through this scenario again, though going through it with a character of my own design (Nemorem Hawke, mage) made it tolerable. As far as I could tell, nothing significant has changed in this section of the game, aside perhaps for some technical fixes.

After the fast-paced beginning, things slow down to a surprising extent when you get to Kirkwall, a city that resembles nothing so much as the Imperial City from Jade Empire. As in Jade Empire, Dragon Age 2's strategy for portraying a large, bustling city is to treat its denizens as non-interactive background props. It makes sense - after all, who ever read those one-liner conversations attached to "commoners" on the street in previous city adventures? However, Kirkwall, with areas that are both small and desolate, seems downright insubstantial to this point. It badly needs more places to go and things to click on.

This "district" is about the size of my living room, and has no interactive NPCs in it. At least there's a barrel to look in.
In fact, that probably fits into a larger complaint that is really the main source of my disappointment with Dragon Age 2 so far - too thin a veneer over too little substance. Aside from a few carefully designed branches, the conversations and plot are suffocatingly linear. Even the advance of time that I was so intrigued by seems to be mechanism for resetting the plot to a more controlled state (and given the stingy area design, the cynic in me now also suspects the passage of time will be used as a convenient excuse to recycle levels).

I also have an issue with the writing, which like Origins seems competent but mono-voice. So far, there doesn't seem to be even an attempt to add color or distinctiveness to a character. In Origins, I felt the excellent voice acting made up for the fact that most characters seemed to share the same vocabulary and dry sense of humor. I don't feel the same way about Dragon Age 2 so far, and the worst part is that the voiced PC gets dragged into this dull (though mildly witty) uniformity that apparently represents conversation in Thedas.

There were other disappointments, but I don't want to turn this into any more of a rant than it already is. This has to be the low point of my experience with Dragon Age 2... right?


  1. The PC Gamer review makes me very angry. A score of 94% is clearly ridiculous and unjustifiable in light of the recent avalanche of reviews. It only serves to further highlight how corrupt the relationship between the ailing print magazine and the larger publishers has become.

    PC Gamer has no real reason to exist in this digital age and only survives by the sales spikes gained from performing public fellatio. Frankly, anyone who doesn't believe PC Gamer were required to post certain score in return for breaking the review embargo by almost a month is deluded. It's even more galling when they award MoW a "generous" 61% (despite former editor Desslock saying he'd have given it around 85%). Bitter? Yes, slightly.

    It's about time PC Gamer died.

  2. You may be bitter, but you're not wrong. The conflict of interest is obvious ("gee, we just got exclusive access from Bioware - think we should use it to pan their new game?"). When the actual review score is obviously high, it doesn't take a grand conspiracy theory to explain why. It would be surprising if things *didn't* work this way.

    It also seems natural that publications that sell their rating this way are going to be especially harsh on companies that don't have much to offer - both to sustain the illusion of objectivity and provide the incentive for others to play ball.

  3. I'm quite pissed about local game magazines too... the two biggest ones still gave scores of 88 and 87, while even in their reviews they list some negatives that for sure don't justify such numbers. But, seeing how their websites are plastered with DA2 advertising, full screen popups etc., I can pretty much imagine the rest.

    Looking forward to the next part of your review.