In which I follow up previous posts related to assorted ages of dragons here, here, and here as I wend my way through Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 before I make my way through to starting Inquisition for the first time. I’m late to this party, I know.
As is my custom, I have a few things to say about both games that I didn’t get to in the previous several thousand words on the subject. Yeah, I know. I’ll be sort of brief this time.
Dragon Age: Origins
– I spent a lot of time this last run getting random achievements. I finally, after four times through the game, got the “set a trap” and “set 25 traps” achievements via mining the party camp, as you can see up top there. Pointless, but amusing.
– I am increasingly impressed, now that I have played through all of the origin stories, about how well each of them both seamlessly integrates into the rest of the game while at the same time expanding on and flavoring things elsewhere. Much of this is subtle and not altogether obvious on the first playthrough but becomes increasingly obvious on subsequent times through.
For example, my Dalish elf had a completely different set of dialogues in the Dalish this time about, and even many of the humans remarked on my being, you know, Dalish. For another example, I played the city elf origin just because, and boy does that change the whole Vaughan encounter in the Arl’s dungeon experience.
On a larger scale, it’s interesting how each of the origins changes the center of the game’s gravity. The Circle Tower becomes a much weightier experience as a mage, while Orzammar changes from annoying to completely epic as the dwarf noble, and obviously my Dalish elf had a lot going on in the Dalish camp.
There a whole lot of details that went into the writing in Origins a lot of people will never see, which can make changing up on multiple playthroughs totally worth it. I love it.
– Speaking of my Dalish elf, part of the reason I played one this go around is because I wanted to see how much the Dalish origin influenced my experiences in Witch Hunt and Dragon Age 2. I am happy to report that I feel greatly enriched for having done that thing – eluvians and the Dalish as a whole are much more important than just playing DLC-less DA:O would lead one to believe, and seeing how much stems from that one little ruin in the origin story is very cool. The echoes from that are bigger than I think any of us realized.
– On a wholly other note, once you start paying attention to all the various ways Bioware tried to hide the seam between character’s heads and bodies, it’s absolutely impossible to unsee.
– My opinion of Witch Hunt as a DLC experience continues to go down the more I play it. While the actual gameplay and the temporary companions are all fine and good, and having an actual Dalish in the party with my Dalish elf was cool, rather missing from the experience is any sort of explanation for why I’m doing any of it at all. We had a demon baby, great. Morrigan left. Great. Why am I following her when we don’t even have a relationship? I have no idea, considering almost all the writing seems to think you and Morrigan are either BFFs or the greatest love of all the ages.
– Speaking of the demon baby, I managed to manipulate things so that pretty much everyone lived this time. Alistair married Anora, I made Loghain a Warden, and he fathered the demon baby on Morrigan. Turns out he’s an interesting guy if you don’t kill him outright, though why you would spare him remains a mystery to me. Also, the choices necessary to get Alistair to not freak the hell out over the Loghain sparing thing are extremely obscure.
– It hadn’t really dawned on me how much all the various DLC content changes the game until I started looking things up. At this point I have basically all the weapons and things you can unlock via DLC achievements, plus all the promo DLC items. The DLC stuff is all basically best in class – you’ll use Battledress of the Provocateur and Blightblood all game, and even some of the little promo rings and stuff are very nice. I don’t really miss the old days of the difficulty sawtooth, but I did feel more than a bit OP.
– Contributing to that, I am sure, is the fact that my experience at manipulating the skills and the tactics system has grown exponentially over the course of four characters. It’s astounding how much better your party becomes once you realize area of effect spells are a bad idea and that everyone’s top tactic should be to drink a health poultice if they drop below 25% hit points.
– The ability to roflstomp combat surprisingly made the Deep Roads much more palatable because I could ignore most of the slog, but my opinion of the entire Dalish arc lessens each time I play it. All except the one choice are kind of bad, presented in not particularly wonderful ways. Unlike Orzammar, one of these sides is clearly evil with no redeeming qualities, even if you’re Dalish.
Dragon Age 2: Rants (Mostly)
– DA2 continues to be a very weird mix of astoundingly good coupled with the unbelievably bad, and while subsequent playthroughs dull the shock of this, they do not dull the weirdness of writing this good coupled with gameplay this horribly bad.
If the internet is to be believed, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be, development time on DA2 was limited to a year, with most of the work being done inside 8 months or so. On the one hand, it’s impressive they even got a game out at all, considering. On the other hand, this leads one to ask some questions:
– Why, for the love of Andraste, if you know you’ve got an extremely short dev cycle, would you only barely increment the graphics quality but completely redo the entire interface from scratch including all the graphics in a way that was less appealing and worse in many ways? I suspect consoleitis, but I’d love to know.
– For that matter, I’m unclear why they felt the need to scrap all of the existing graphics and systems from Origins and rewrite them in a not particularly better way for DA2. We’re a long way from the comparative purity of Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, here.
– While the combat becomes easier to stomach once you know that yes, you’re going to have to murder 40 people to go to the store, and with proper tactics set up your party can more less autopilot, it must be said that by the end of Act 2 or the beginning of Act 3, it’s still a slog. This could have been mitigated with about half (or even a quarter) as many enemies or giving each enemy about half as many hit points.
For that matter, I don’t understand why they didn’t just stick with the (relatively) fast-paced, tactical combat of Origins. Those fights were fairly fun if repetitive, but each of them took about a third the time. DA2 fights seem to inevitably bog down into my entire team beating on some guy with a ton of hit points who can’t do anything because he’s stunlocked for five minutes while I complain about it on the internet.
– All of this culminates in the boss fights at the end of the game, which I am astounded I didn’t gripe about last time. After the usual Bioware slog through several platoons of guys and some lesser bosses over a few maps (let’s call this an hour or two of just killing guys who can’t really kill you back), you end up fighting the penultimate boss, who not only has staggering numbers of hit points, spawns a second form with just as much health once you kill the first, except this one disappears randomly and makes you fight a room full of mooks for no good reason except to slow the game down and make you spend 20 minutes on a boss fight where the boss can’t even hurt you.
The best part of this particular boss is that apparently he was added, if the internet is once again to be believed, because somebody at Bioware thought they needed another boss fight. I wish I was making that up. I don’t understand it either.
This is, fortunately, followed by a second boss fight with the real main villain, which not only involves people in full plate jumping like anime characters fifty feet in the air with gigantic swords and then animating giant statues somehow, endearingly included a section where I had to call my party off from killing the villain just so she could fire a script, stun me, then villain monologue for a minute straight while my companions flailed at her villain monologue armor.
Like, who even does this? How many levels of fail do you have to go through to wind up here? I’d honestly like to see a tell all book or something, because I don’t get how people of Bioware’s caliber end up here.
Dragon Age 2: Praise (Mostly)
– Unlike the actual gameplay, which is just awful and lame, I find myself caught up in the actual plotline of the game, especially after I know not to expect it to be Origins. I find that I actually quite enjoy the single protagonist, the family focus, and the focus on a longer timeline in a single small area. It highlights the character-focused stories that are Bioware’s strong suit, with an emphasis on ongoing character arcs and growth. It’s sort of like condensing the story of Garrus, or Tali, or Ashley from the Mass Effect series down to a single game, and I find that I very much appreciate that sort of thing.
– Merrill is apparently my kryptonite. I find it almost impossible to be mean to her, even when she’s talking about forbidden magic and demonic possession. It’s the strangest thing. Too, be it the writing, voice acting, or what, her story is probably the most resonant with me of all the DA2 companions save for your siblings and maybe possibly Anders.
– Which, you know, I had planned to let Bethany die in the Deep Roads, but I still felt like the hugest asshole when it actually happened. There are a whole load of just really emotional moments in this game. It really is worth playing just for the story.
– I found myself somewhat more sympathetic towards Isabela than in days of yore, possibly because she’s absolutely hilarious to have in your party at any given time, though pairing her up with Bethany and/or Merrill is great fun, and having her around for any of the DA:O character cameos is amusing.
– On the other hand, I’m not sure what to think about Fenris, which I’m sure will get me crucified by his legions of fangirls. He’s got a very interesting and tragic backstory, and he’s all very dark and whatnot, but between the thin elf build, the white hair, the glowy magic stuff, and the giant sword, I couldn’t help but feel that some JRPG or anime somewhere was missing its protagonist. Neat but didn’t feel remotely Dragon Age to me.
– My love of the writing stated, I’m still not really sure why anybody would ever side with the Templars and Meredith as written. Most if not all of them are just staggering Gestapo-like assholes the only way I could bring myself to side with them was because I knew that’s how I wanted the story to play out. Maybe it’s just how I’m wired, but man, give me mages every time.
Dragon Age 2: DLC
There are three major DLC for this game, plus Black Emporium, the launch DLC. I haven’t said anything about them, so I’m going to, with the exception of Mark of the Assassin, which I did not buy.
– The Black Emporium was the free launch DLC. Unlike Shale, who was very well done and an integral part of the game, everything in the Black Emporium is just sort of there. It’s a store with a few unique items and a way to change your appearance. That’s it. That’s what there is, besides a few easter eggs and a really annoying guy. It doesn’t make any particular attempt to make sense as part of Kirkwall, nor does it serve any particular function. Most of the time I forget it exists.
– The Exiled Prince is my favorite of the bunch. It was the other launch DLC with Black Emporium, though unlike that this one costs money. Like Shale from DA:O, The Exiled Prince revolves around a new character, Sebastian Vael, who I think is the most pro-Chantry companion and a good counter-balance to Anders. While Sebastian himself is basically that one super preachy and kind of awkward kid you knew in high school, his quests are interesting and he rounds out the slate of characters nicely.
As an aside here, there’s a super awful bug with this DLC where all of Sebastian’s various quest-related cutscenes get stuck in an infinite loading loop. It’s bad. Fortunately, you can fix this, as the internet has told me, by removing addinsda2_prc_drkmodule from your DA2 folder temporarily while doing the quest, then put it back in after. Yes, the fact they never patched that should make you want to shank somebody violently.
– Legacy is Dragon Age 2’s take on the age-old Bioware construct of the deep dark dungeon holding some nameless evil that, if released, spells doom upon the world. And I’ve gotta confess here, with the exception of Durlag’s Tower in BG1, I’ve never been a fan of this trope, and this one is…not good. It’s mostly combat, with one (fairly intensive) puzzle section and a boss fight that would be extremely bad if it wasn’t in the same game as the other boss fights I already ranted about. There’s a bit of interesting backstory for Hawke’s dad here, and the boss actually has some really cool lore behind him, but for the most part it was just a slog.
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