Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Modders could help fix Dragon Age 2

Is it just me, or has the attitude toward Dragon Age 2 soured a bit since the release of the demo? In large part, this is simply because more folks are talking about it now - the "normal" players are getting interested and are disrupting the shiny protective halo formed by the long-term Bioware faithful. Many of these latecomers may not have been aware of some of the major changes in Dragon Age 2 and are only now registering their disapproval.

Then again, the demo did kinda suck. It wouldn't surprise me if it turned some of the true believers into skeptics. In addition to its un-Biowarian lack of polish, the demo demo-nstrated the impact of some of the design decisions that had long rankled old-school RPG'ers and change-averse fans of Dragon Age: Origins. The dialogue wheel, the fast pace of combat, the lack of choices, the console-ified interface - all have become targets of criticism.

Where do players turn when they find certain aspects of a game's design vexing? Well, if they're playing on the PC - and PC gamers seem to be those most distressed about the changes in Dragon Age 2 - they often turn to mods. Unfortunately, there won't be a toolset for Dragon Age 2 available on release, and Bioware is noncommittal on whether one is forthcoming in the future.

Bioware's statement that it's "looking into" providing a toolset is actually an improvement on its previous stance, which was (as far as I know) total silence. In fact, the reason I haven't addressed this elephant-in-the-room before is that there hasn't been much basis to launch a discussion. How to put this without sounding bitter? Bioware hasn't been very responsive to the builder community since the launch of Origins. Given that builders didn't seem to be much of a priority, I've been more than a little pessimistic about the chances of a toolset. The fact that they're now talking about it as a possibility is a positive sign.

Unfortunately, it's doubtful that a toolset will come soon enough for many players (if it comes at all). As with The Witcher 2, Dragon Age 2 apparently won't have mods in the first months after release - no respec utilities, romance tweaks, unofficial bug fixes, or any of the other quick-to-release add-in mods players use to alter the game to their liking (I, for one, was looking forward to the Isabella cleavage-reduction mod). If some of the rough edges shown in the demo haven't been smoothed out in the final game, that's a loss that could be felt by many players.

Two more reasons for a Dragon Age 2 toolset
However, any toolset release - even a delayed one - would still be welcome. There will still be plenty of players playing Dragon Age 2 six months and more after release, especially if the DLC is parceled out as it was with Origins. The toolset undoubtedly hasn't changed much from Origins, so I'm sure modders could start producing mods very quickly.

Also, while there aren't a lot of standalone mods for Dragon Age now, there are a number of projects in development that could be ported over (assuming the toolset supports standalone mods at all). If the experience of Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2 holds true at all for Dragon Age, there are modders out there toiling in obscurity on standalone mods that literally take years to develop. That's content that could help extend the life of Dragon Age 2.

The Dragon Age: Origins toolset. Given the quick turnaround, the version used for Dragon Age 2 probably isn't much different.
And it may need the help. According to a presentation by a Bioware localization representative at GDC 2011, Dragon Age 2 appears to be a lot shorter than its predecessor. A few of the lowlights:
  • Fewer than half the words
  • Fewer spoken lines (despite the PC being voiced this time around)
  • Half the characters
  • One-third less playing time
Statistics like that can be deceiving. For example, I would imagine Dragon Age 2 would have less need for those wordy Codex entries after the major pieces of Thedas lore were laid out in Origins - resulting in a big word count reduction that players won't necessarily "feel." On the other hand, the lower playing time, if accurate, is hard to brush off. And besides, this all fits with what we would expect given the abbreviated development time of Dragon Age 2.

Ultimately, I don't know whether releasing a toolset makes business sense for Bioware. I'm only making one side of the case. I'm sure Bioware is aware of the points I've laid out, and has a lot more information besides. In the end, it's up to them to decide whether to give the community a toolset, or let another feature of Dragon Age: Origins fall by the wayside.


  1. Except there will never be a Dragon Age 2lset.