I have purchased exactly 2 action RPG sequels this year. Can you guess which ones? After spending several hours with each title it has really brought me to a few stunning conclusions. Today I will focus on the first conclusion and also why Dragon Age 2 ultimately failed.
FACT! Good writing does not translate into a good game.
There is no game out there that had terrible gameplay mechanics, but the writing was so awesome it made it a positive experience and Dragon Age 2 is the epitome of this concept. Please allow me to ellaborate!
As per the usual, I know I am sounding like a broken record but video games do not share the "luxury" that books do as an artistic medium. It takes more than one skill mastery to create an effective work of art. What makes and effective video game? Of course a game that is very fun is a game that works but a great video game can be so much more than that and it takes more than above average writing. The mechanics need to work together to create an experience that works better as an interactive medium then any other.
I still haven't finished Dragon Age 2. I got to about midway through the second act and, despite loving the characters, the politics, and the idea behind setting the game in one location and not making it the end all be all epic quest to save the world, the game got eaten, nay devoured by it's massive shortcomings.
In my opinion Dragon Age 2 would have worked better as a book because it is only the superior writing that really brought me in to the world of Kirkwall and kept me engaged. The sub par graphics, reused environments, generic power-ranger enemies, and overall lack of polish and progression of the environment really prevented me from becoming obsessed like I did with Dragon Age Origins.
The sad truth is it really seems that BioWare put out DA2 to help pay for The Old Republic.
It is an unfortunate fact of life and of our industry (or any inustry). It is just such a shame when what should be a brilliant artistic statement gets rushed out the door when it clearly needed minimum another year. Just imagine if DA2 had the same 4 year development cycle that The Witcher 2 enjoyed. Continue to imagine the game if we had more than three dungeons to explore for all the quests. If we had more enemy variety and battles that ever played out differently then Dyansty Warriors. If the city actually grew and changed along with the characters. It is incredibly un-immersive when the game just tells you 2 years pass, but everyone is wearing the same outfits and armor, the city looks the exact same as it did, and the only way we can tell that any amount of time passed is the text on the screen. It is always bad game design when the game tells us and doesn't show us. May as well be a novel.
The only real success of Dragon Age 2 is the strong characters who are incredibly well written. When writing is your strongest aspect that should be your focus; ie an amazing book. If I read the dialogue and the plot my mind would be free to imagine the city of Kirkwall, Hawkes epic beard (default male look FTW), dew glistening off a templar's armor in the hot, Freemarches sun, the pointed and misshappen horns on a Quanari, etc. You wouldn't have to worry about good level design or using a somewhat updated graphics engine. Hell the game doesn't look as good as Half Life 2 that came out the better part of 7 years ago!
Quick side note.... there is no excuse for DA2 looking as terrible as it does when Mass Effect 2 looks as amazing as it does. WTF guys?!
Let's be clear; I am (or certainly should be) BioWare's target adience with DA2. I played through Origins 3 times soup to nuts. I have been playing both console and PC RPG's for 20 years (yikes). If they aren't making that game for me then I have no idea who they are making it for. I came in to Dragon Age 2 as excited as could be! I mean hell, it was BioWare's follow up to one of my favorite games of all time! How could they miss (see above)?!
Bottom line is everything but the story and characters reeks of laziness, forced time tables, and rushed deadlines. It is cursed with the stench of what could have been. It ultimately proves to me that good writing doesn't make a good game. It also, unfortunately, demotes BioWare games from day one purchases to wait and see if we can snag a Steam or Amazon deal.
BioWare, we will always have Origins, KOTOR, and Baldur's Gate (which I bought again on GOG.com ironically).
Tomorrow the opposite with The Witcher 2!