Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beating Dragon Age II or: How I Learned to Stop Hating and Accept the Bomb

Recently, on a gentlemanly agreement, I made the journey to beat Dragon Age II, a game I had nothing but contempt for. I chronicled my play through the entire way in a series of diary entries. There be spoilers here, so don't read unless you've beaten the game. Hell, even if you have it may not make sense.




Entry 1: The start menu looks like a 5 year old made it. It's really ugly. This has no bearing on my like or dislike of the game, but I thought everyone should know how I felt about this picture.

Entry 2: I'm playing from my latest save, because fuck starting this game over again. My latest save is clocked at 20:44:20.

Entry 3: After loading up my save, I am in a cave. It's been almost a year but I instantly recognize it as a cave I've been in dozens of times at various locations and under a variety of different names. This one is called "Bounty Hunter Getaway". No idea why I'm here. Something tedious no doubt.

Entry 4: Not 10 seconds after my last entry my game froze. No joke. I took a few steps forward and it locked up. This is going to be fun.

Entry 5: I restart my game, walk forward a few steps, and get in a fight. I button mash the attack button until the fight is over. I imagine this will be a common strategy as I play. (Addendum: It is.) Bu WAIT! The fight isn't over. Out of thin air more bandits appear. I mash my button at them until they disappear into the nothingness from which they came.

Entry 6: While Walking, Merrill pipes in with "Have I mentioned I don't like it here?". Over the many, many times we've been in this cave, yes Merrill, probably. But as soon as I hear that sexy accent of hers I am reminded of the one thing I DID like about this game.

Entry 7: I follow the quest arrow onscreen. Turns out I was here to save some girl. I came in here to save her almost a year ago but gave up and left her to the bandits until today. Whoops.

Entry 8: Playing the game now depresses me even more. As I enter in conversation I am reminded I modeled my character after Andy Whitfield as Spartacus. He was still alive when I last played this game :(





Entry 9: Another thing about conversations. Role playing as a good guy in Origins could sometimes be tricky. There were a lot of morally grey decisions to be made in that game, and I had to think about what my character would do. This game includes helpful pictures next to most dialog choices telling you exactly what kind of response it is. I don't think about what to say, I'm a good guy so I pick the blue response. I look for a way to tun it off but find none. It wouldn't matter anyway, all the good dialog choices are at the top.

Entry 10: After two and a half hours, I can take no more for this sitting. I remember what made me quit this game in the first place. Whatever je ne sais quoi a good game has, this game doesn't. It feels hollow, lifeless. "Technically" crappy games like Earth Defence Force 2017 and Deadly Premonition have this indescribable feeling, which is why they can be so great despite so many problems.That's probably why it's hard for me to describe in detail why I hate it beyond "it sucks". It has a bunch of big and little problems, sure, but overall I just don't care about any part of this game. And it doesn't feel like the developers did. I have no motivation to keep playing like a good game will give me.

***

Entry 11: Seriously guys...





Entry 12: I started where I left off last time, before a mission called "Night Terrors". My quest? To save that dumbass Feynriel again. I accomplish this by......going into The Fade!!!? If this follows the pattern of everything being worse than it was in the first game....my god.

Entry 13: Barrel puzzles? wtf

Entry 14: About to go confront some freaking demons, this outta be interesting...

Entry 15:





Entry 16: I notice my morality has shifted from "Do what is right" to "Do what makes Merrill not hate me". Often this involves reloading my save.

Entry 17: Well darn, that Fade section was pretty alright. Probably because "The Fade" was just a regular castle interior with a blur filter, and I really dig the Desire Demon's nip tassels.

Entry 18: After a few hours as I gather herbs for some dude I realize my play style is really harming me here. When I play games like this, I do everything. I do every quest, talk to every person, go through every dialog choice, and read every codex entry. As it turns out though I don't just do that for games I like.

Entry 19: The framing device for the story is sometimes very clever. Varric exaggerates parts of the story and those exaggerations play out in front of you. It's really the one thing I notice that makes this game stand out from other similar games.

Entry 20: I don't like my character's voice. It doesn't really fit my face and I kind of want to punch myself whenever I talk. In Origins I could sound like whatever I could imagine. But all I could imagine is Jason Statham's voice.

Entry 21: I'm the kind of guy who doesn't usually notice lower framerates. Anything over 20fps and it's just as good as 60fps to me. Unless you have weird pockets of air in your game where everything in the world moves silky smooth. After I walk out of these bubbles in this game it feels like a slide show in comparison.

Entry 22: "Do you ever feel like the world's getting... simpler? Like everything from eating to fighting is a lot less complex than it used to be?" Bioware you cheeky monkeys :)
That's all for this session.


***

My Journey this time begins with me helping my friend Anders to find evidence Templars are enacting some sort of "Tranquil Solution" for mages. We sneak into the Gallows through a hidden underground tunnel from Darktown...

Entry 23: Of course the secret entrance leads to that cave. I know it's well worn territory at this point, but for an RPG that takes place in one city, they  really should have tried to make up for that with more than 3 interiors.

Entry 24: Daaaaaaaamn Anders. (Editor's note: For those with memories a bit fuzzy, Anders straight up kills a chick down here. I mean, it's "Justice", but still. Daaaaaaaamn)

Entry 25: Aveline is now asking me to transport a package to someone not twenty feet from her. The laziness in the development of this game has leaked into their characters.

Entry 26: What the hell? Am I passing notes back and forth here!? "Do you like me? [] Yes [] No Please check one". Bitch there's dragons and shit out there!!

Entry 27: Matchmaker Hawke...

Entry 28: And then Aveline stands us up! Still, I had a nice date with Donnic I guess.

Entry 29: I can't walk five feet in the Viscounts keep without hearing "Good day serah", "How are you today serah", "Que sera, serah". I'm not really complaining. Better recognize, fools.

Entry 30: I got stuck in a room for a few minutes because my companions wouldn't move out of the way before I remembered I can be them.

Entry 31: Gentleman, I consummated my relationship with the lady Merrill. It was....awkward. Both because Bioware's poorly rendered models smashing together is always awkward, and because Merrill is just an awkward lass. All part of her charm.

Entry 32: And now some dude turned my mom into the Bride of Frankenstein.

Entry 33: I like to imagine the Orlesian chick interrogating Varric is yelling "MORE! More stories about the Champion gathering herbs for minor errands!"  "Tell me again about the time he bought a few potions!"

Entry 34: Awwww man I think I lost Isabella. I didn't use her much, but when I did I enjoyed the chatter between her and Merrill.
(addendum: Nevermind she came back. All I had to do was kill the Arishok. The things I do for friends.)

Entry 35: I always find it funny when my character says "Watch your step!" just before he steps into a trap.

Entry 36: The whole Qunari business is actually marvelously interesting. These kind of political conflicts are exactly what I was hoping to see in a smaller scale RPG. If Bioware had actually given us the opportunity to choose instead of deciding what happens anyway, I don't know if I would have sided with the Qunari or the Kirkwallians. It was really just a crap situation for all involved. It's just too bad EA didn't give Bioware more time to develop a better game around these events.

Entry 37: Well, interesting part's over.

Entry 38: The idea of an RPG taking place after over years and years is a good one. But like the rest of the game, it's poorly implemented. The only way I would know three years have passed is because characters are always saying "Three years have passed."

Entry 39: Why is Anders always trying to break up me and Merrill. Get your own man Anders.

Entry 30: It's cute what Bioware has done to try to hide the low budget and short dev cycle of this game. It's endearing, like a movie trying to pass off cardboard boxes as an MRI machine.

Entry 31: Ok, quick trip down to the Bone Pi-HOLY SHIT A GIANT DRAGON!

Entry 32: Well well well, the "Murder in the caves turns out to be Antonio Bendera-I mean Zevran. Cool beans.

Entry 33: It's always been funny how the characters weapons float behind their back, but it's not even close with Isabella. Her weapons are just following her like a lost puppy.

Entry 34: Ugh, all these quests are Talk to person at Point A who sends you to Point B to talk to a person who sends you to Point C and then a quick trip back to Point A to kill that person when it inevitably turns out they were lying. At least with a game like Fallout/Skyrim, those kind of quests are interesting because all the places they send you are new.

Entry 35: I turned the difficulty down to casual. I wasn't enjoying the combat enough to feel like I should be challenged by it. And bonus! I could get rid of whiny Anders and have an all sexy girls Charlie's Angels party. Well, two sexy girls and Aveline.

Entry 36: I let Isabela be kidnapped so we can trap the guy looking for her, but I guess this quest is glitched. I killed all the dudes, explored the whole area, tried talking to Isabela (she just says the same old generic stuff) and I can't leave through the exit.

Entry 37: So I reload my save and do the same stuff, except this time some more dudes pop out of a closet or whatever and a cutscene triggers. This game sucks.

Entry 38: I just told some Elven chick I would protect her from her blood mage husband. Not 30 seconds later she had a knife in her neck. I suck.

Entry 39: Another quest glitched. But it was a crappy side quest so who cares I guess. That girl can stay kidnapped.

Entry 40: Jeeeeeeeeeeze I just committed genocide on Merrill's entire Daelish clan with her. I told that bitch to stop messing with that mirror like 10 times.

Entry 41: I feel like Bioware was also trying to make the Templar/Mage conflict a morally grey situation. But it's not, the Templars are clearly in the wrong here.


Entry 42: A haunted house quest! These are always cool in RPG's, with quests in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, and especially Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines as highlights.

Entry 43: This was not as good as those.

Entry 44: Hey, it's Alistair! It's nice to see cameos from characters from Origins, but reminding me of Origins just makes me want to play Origins.

Entry 45: I was fighting in Darktown and some random NPC was strolling nonchalantly through the battle the whole time...

Entry 46: I'm investigating some mages that have escaped from the circle, and upon seeing me they accuse me of being sent by Meredith. Instead of saying anything, like "Um...nope" for example, I just stand there until they attack. Then I kill them. That'll show 'em I'm not with Meredith.

Entry 47: You're right Anders, blowing up the church is totally the best way to make everyone realize mages aren't all killers.

Entry 48: Oh no, I lost the support of Fenrir! *snicker*

Entry 49: And I sent Anders away too. This plan was good for getting rid of sucky characters anyway.

Entry 50: Damn it mages Why do you constantly have to prove the Templars right! Stop turning into Abominations and shit.

Entry 51: Orsino you fool! What did I just say!

Entry 52: Statues.....this game is dumb.

Entry 53: Aaaaaaand the whole ending is dumb.

And that's it. It just sort of ends. I imagine it ends the same way no matter what choices you made. Meredith turns into a Highlander and throws statues at you, she sizzles away, we cut to the present and we find out things have happened to characters, and then a To Be Continued. But I beat it. No one can say I didn't give it a fair shot. Before I started this journey to finish it I would have rated the game as such:

As a sequel to Origins: 0/10
As a game: 5/10

After playing the rest of the game I did see some things I liked. I liked most of the characters, and some parts of the story were pretty cool. Now I'd say it's like this:

As a sequel to Origins: 0/10
As a game: 6.5/10

Back to the bottom of the closet where you belong.



I'm glad to see this game cleared from my backlog. I'll never play it again but I do hate to leave things unfinished. All joking aside, I don't hate the game anymore. As a sequel to Origins it will always be a disappointment, but it's not "The worst thing to happen, ever" as I've been know to say in the past.


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