I’m sorry that I’m hopping on the bandwagon to post about Dragon Age. This post will not be like others, though. Other bloggers have slobbered all over themselves as they’ve pointed out all the great features of DA:O. This post is heresy.
Everyone is in love with Dragon Age. I’m not.
It’s a good RPG, though it certainly doesn’t move the genre forward in any sense. I get a feeling of déjà-vu with much of what I see in Dragon Age. Everything feels familiar. It’s all good, but it feels too much like a trip back in time.
At first I was stunlocked by the very strong execution of traditional RPG elements. Then the game DPSed me to death with conversational weirdness overkill and combat that went from exciting to blah.
This review of Dragon Age’s downsides will be presented in the form of three suggested titles that were unfortunately rejected by Bioware during their brainstorming sessions.
Talk for an Age: Unyielding
Evizaer: “Oh, my lady, I see you’re not a refugee like the others. Allow me to tell you a little something about myself. In West Philadelphia born and raised in the playground is where I spent most of my days…”
Choose your response:
- “Don’t you ever shut up?”
- “I hate elves.”
- “Chillin’ out back and relaxin’ off, coolin’ off, shootin’ some B-ball outside of the school.”
- “I’m going to reference a moral framework that only came into vogue within the past two hundred years of a planet vaguely similar to our own, even though that framework didn’t exist in the time similar to ours.”
- “I’m afraid of strangers.”
- “I’d best be going.”
Dragon Valley: Uncanny
The graphics are good enough.
There’s plenty of detail in character models, but they still manage to be just barely off enough that I feel like I’m taking a tram through the uncanny valley. I see facial expressions that don’t match up with what’s being said. I see a lot of minor details that throw me off.
Bioware have gone very far towards getting their mannerisms and expressions perfect, but have fallen just short. I notice it in almost every conversation.
My primary gripe is with the combat system. I thought they’d come out with a system more interesting than the D&D systems they co-opted for past games. Nope. They made a system significantly more boring. Thankfully, you’re only exposed to the smorgasbord of uninteresting character growth options once every few hours. You’ll spend the rest of the time navigating dialog trees and pausing the game repeatedly as you stunlock and DPS your way through tactically dull battles.
If the game wants to be hard, it should provide the player with precise control.
You can only give one precise command to each party member at a time. No command queuing? Seriously? I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place: I can either give commands one-at-a-time to my party members manually, or I have to use a really wonky and insufficient scripting system passed off as “combat tactics”.
“Tactics” allow you to be the AI programmer and configure the heuristics for how your characters behave in battle. It seems like it should be a good idea, but the game is too difficult for it to be particularly useful. And when you try to give manual commands while its active, some annoying things can happen.
The combat isn’t helped by the enemies being as uninteresting as the terrain. The vast majority of the battles are not particularly tactically interesting, but are difficult. I found myself repeating the same tw o or three steps each battle, and I had to micromanage my characters to pull off my strategy. It was effective, but boring. And I didn’t see a more fun alternative.
The terrain boredom is exacerbated by the fact that the game’s pathing is not good enough. Beautiful environments path poorly. The game is hard, so find myself trying to position my party precisely where they need to be in order for my AoE attack to hit the right enemies. Sometimes characters will cut through enemies, sometimes they’ll walk around in a nice, gentle arc. Either way, I always feel like I’m surprised with how characters move in combat. That’s very bad.
Dragon Age has some of the elements of a tactically stimulating game, but it’s far from as good as it should be.
- It’s a good game despite the flaws I’ve mentioned.
- Buy it if you like RPGs.
- No need to wear your rubber pants, though.
- Don’t be a fanboy.