EA is the most hated video games company ever. Or at least according to the internet. But today, we are focusing on one game. Dragon Age 2.
Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Chris Taylor and I am the Advocate of the Devil!
We’ve had a lot of fun these last couple of weeks, talking about both the good and the bad, but what about the ugly? The disgusting? The wretched hive of scum and villainy?
No, I won’t be talking about Jabba the Hutt, I’m talking EA! With all their meddling into things that seems to anger every single person on the planet, Electronic Arts truly is a group that makes my job harder than it truly needs to be.
That being said, EA isn’t just one evil, maniacal faceless empire. There are loads of individuals working on the games they publish, as well as other game studios both minor and major under their corporate umbrella. While many games are released and purchased, few have held on to a fan base quite the way that one in particular has. And that set of individuals calls themselves Bioware!
I love Bioware. I love RPG’s, and I especially love having TIME for RPG’s… which I hardly ever do anymore. But back in the days before I did this, my free time was spent leveling up characters, slaying dragons, and listening to my party members rip into each other.
Enter the Age of the Dragon… the second one actually. See, the first was a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, a beloved set of RPG’s, and while the First Dragon Age was enjoyed in much the same vein, the second one… well, it was glitchy, rushed, seemed to only be released in order to capitalize on the success on the first, and was all around loathed by many.
Instead of a big sprawling map, you spend 90% of your time in one city! Instead of a story of epic proportions you get a handful of people dealing with mundane problems. Instead of a wide variety of areas to explore, you get the same maps reused over and over and over and….
…. And here’s the thing: I actually preferred the second Dragon Age to the first, and today is the day I get to explain why.
I’m a man of simple tastes. I like greasy foods, I like mindless action and clever humor, and I like games that are fun. Pure and simple. Dragon Age, as a series, has the kind of dialogue options that I gravitate towards in modern Western RPG’s… but the first one was slow.
I’m talking paint drying on a bench that you want to sit on because your legs are tired but can’t because it’s still wet SLOW. I’m talking Ted Mosby telling the amazing story of how he met his kid’s mother SLOOOOOOOOWWWW.
At its core, the original Dragon Age is a love letter to RPG’s of old. The kind that people used to play on their computers in the early to late 90’s, like Baldur’s Gate, and Fallout. The kind that take hundreds of hours of micromanaging and super planning to power level your way into complete and utter domination.
The kind of games I would never play, because of either difficulty or just how long it takes.
Look, I know and have advocated for all types of games and gamers here, and I would never want to take away the fun and enjoyment that one gets from playing games exactly how they want to. If you want to micro manage every aspect of every member of your group, please do! If you want to pause between every character’s actions so that you pin point exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it, have at it, I won’t stop you!
But as mentioned before, I have ZERO TIME! I hardly have an hour to spare to play a couple of random battles on Final Fantasy III on the DS! And I mean the original Japanese numbering here.
The Battle System was largely streamlined, and in my opinion VASTLY improved in the second game. Many shunned how much easier it was than in the original, how they “dumbed it down for the filthy casuals”, but you know what? The option to fix every body up individually, to fine tune every aspect of every character is still there. They just made it faster paced for guys like me who like options!
That being said, the battle system was one of the few things that the majority of players actually enjoyed this go around! What they didn’t like was the story. Specifically, how the story was also dumbed down, with the stakes lowered rather than raised.
As a writer myself, I must say… you are just flat out WRONG here. I have read many books, played many a video game, and the one thing that nearly all of them have in common is the need to tell stories about someone who is destined for greatness, how the world is in peril and only one person, the chosen one can defeat the evil bad guy of evilness and his army of evil!
Lo and behold, we already HAD that story line, in the first game! The entire game was about how the Grey Wardens were the only ones who could stop the indominable plague that was the Darkspawn. The chosen few, with the fate of the world at stake!
So yeah, we already got the world saving out of the way. And now, we can get into the meat of the game itself! Now we get a more focused story, one about family! You aren’t saving THE world, you’re saving YOUR world!
Yes, it sucked that we were really only in one town, but now you get to truly see how your decisions affect your immediate surroundings! You get more time to spend watching your party grow!
There are all sorts of stories to be told, ones that involve whole countries that could live or die by your actions! But there are also more personal stories, tales of individuals growing and changing, your party members being more fleshed out instead of just being the kind of cardboard cookie cutter stereotypes of so many other RPG’s!
Now, one thing that I truly enjoyed from the original, speaking of storylines, was the section where you are dealing with the Templars and Mage’s. By the climax of Dragon Age 2, the conflict between these two sides is at an absolute boiling point!
Once again, I tip my hat and kudo’s to the storytelling capabilities of Bioware. Yes, the game WAS rushed, and yes, the fact that the maps were basically reused is a shame! These are simple facts that I will not deny.
Much thanks to EA on cutting costs instead of allowing their studios to make quality games.
BUT, a lesser studio wouldn’t have been able to turn around and still make a quality game. I’ve always said that the more you are restricted, the greater opportunity to get creative! The more you are held back, the more you need to look outside the box, to turn your negatives into positives.
By having less of a budget and less time to create a massive world, Bioware instead chose to see what they could do with a smaller scale story. A more personal story about small triumphs. We can’t all be huge heroes, sometimes you need to see how the small people, how THEIR decisions help shape the larger narrative.
As you go along in Dragon Age 2, you see Hawke’s decisions affect the entire town of Kirkwall, how your group grows and changes as time moves forward! And in making a more personal story, you as the player are more invested in those characters, closer to the people involved in how this story plays out.
And in how the conflict between the Templars and Mages finally explodes! Do you choose one or the other? OR do you try and keep things right down the middle?
Worldly problems and the stories where that is the main draw, they’ll always be there, and there will always be a place for them. But as someone who loves detail in characters, even more so sometimes than those of the entire world, I can say with no shame or holding back, that I prefered Dragon Age 2 over the first one.
Maybe one day I’ll have time to try the third one.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary I do hope I managed to shed some light into the positive aspects of Dragon Age 2. Whether it be in the improved combat system, or the decision to shy away from the overplayed “hero of the entire world” storyline, Dragon Age 2 had a lot to offer to fans of the RPG Genre.
And while there were plenty of behind the scenes aspects that could have dragged a lesser studio down, I think that Bioware did a fantastic job at creating a world on a smaller scale where the stakes still matter, and where you are still invested in the characters.
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And above all else, let us know in the comments below what you think! Did you like the way Dragon Age 2 focused more on the people instead of just the world? Or am I wrong in every conceivable way? Let your own views clash with my own… so that I may proceed to prove you wrong!
But for now, in the case of Dragon Age 2… The Defense Rests.
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