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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Final Thoughts on Dragon Age II

Towards the end of Dragon Age II, I was ready to post a pretty positive footnote to my previous review, saying that once you get knee deep into the game, the story, characters and gameplay really seem to overshadow the other flaws. I was going to briefly try out either a warrior or rogue to see if mages may just be more fun, and probably continue that through a slow second playthrough.

Then I got through the last chapters of the game. Free of spoilers, all I can say is that the story completely falls apart and the mechanics issues of the past come roaring back.

Spoilers ahead.

I didn't buy Anders. Not one bit
While I think the characters and plot of DA2 are still more two dimensional than Mass Effect 2, it was shaping up to be an interesting tale. I knew Anders was up to something, and it probably wasn't going to be the most peaceful thing in the world but ... blowing up the Chantry? What? It makes no sense, and only served to re-ignite open violence across the city. One could argue that the final ending might justify his actions, but Anders went from being a troubled mage trying to save lives to a cliche terrorist in about a heartbeat - with only a set of new shiny black robes as an explanation.

As soon as that moment hits, the plot stops making sense. It's way too black and white. Anders' actions are clearly out of bounds, but instead of anyone reacting to Anders - they just go off on a tear in whatever extreme they might have possibly been pointing at.

Speaking of - screw you Fenris
The worst of the lot, I think, is Fenris. I really wanted to like this character, but every time he managed to have a complex moment, it was punctuated with "all mages are evil." I had made every effort throughout the game to befriend and help the guy, but he uses Anders as an excuse to essentially swear an oath to kill me. The mages act as an odd reflection of racism in the game, and by the end Fenris proves himself to be the equivalent of a Neo-Nazi jackass who would stab a friend if he found out they were dating a black girl. At the end of the day, nothing matters to Fenris except who is or isn't a mage.

Blood mages, blood mages, everywhere there are blood mages
Course hating Fenris and even Meredith becomes problematic towards the end since apparently you are actually the only potential mage in the entire game not inclined to become a complete asshole (assuming you played one, otherwise there are none). Let's recap from my game: Merrill stubbornly seeks demonic advice, which ends up with us being party to slaughtering her whole tribe. After, let's see - her keeper decided to get possessed by a demon. We had to tranquil one kid because he might have become a powerful scourge on the world. In trying to help a group of apostate mages in the game, most of them try to kill me with blood magic - and the rest turn to blood magic to betray me later. Orsino, who should be making it his life goal to prove how mages aren't all evil, turns to blood magic and becomes an abomination ... resulting only in trying to kill his most trusted allies. And after Orsino's death, I keep running into not just circle mages using blood magic - but freaking templars.

The problem with wanting to hate Fenris and Meredith is that the game constantly tries to prove them right.

Those were some darn spammy boss fights.
Wanting to save the lovely Isabella, I got into a challenge with the Arishok. At first I wasn't sure how I could win with just myself. Then I realized I could run, zap, run, zap. Run. Zap. Run. Zap. Wash, rinse, repeat, oh ... about a thousand times. The guy never stood a chance statistically, provided I didn't die of boredom first.

Most of the boss fights ended up this way. There was no trick to beating Orsino or Meredith, just determined button mashing. And somehow, this seemed far less true of the standard battles I played out in the game.

And sadly, I ran into one battle I don't think was possible to win. Right after Anders goes all Al-Qaeda on you, you run into a series of fights with templars and blood mages. The last of these pits you against something like fifteen shades, a pride demon, a desire demon and the blood mage. By this time I had lost Fenris and Anders, which means I couldn't have two warriors and I was the only mage with healing. Every time, the shades just did way too much damage to the party, and there was no way my revival cooldown could keep things up to get past the two greater demons.

And whether this was winnable or not - the point is that it was off the scales more difficult than every other battle that followed. Including the end boss fights, which were cake walks. There's no way that is defendable as a well balanced game.

So in the end
Yeah, this obviously turned into a far more negative post than I had originally intended. In truth, I still liked the game overall - just very disappointed by the end. I compare it to Mass Effect 2, and it seems like a copycat from some company other than Bioware. I'm now a little concerned for Mass Effect 3, to be honest. It's not that Dragon Age II is a bad game, it's a good game. It just is far removed from a great game.