Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Watching Dragon Age
Unlike film sequels, video games franchises often improve with subsequent iterations. I was surprised to see multiple reviews that viewed the game unfavorably in relation to its predecessor. Samantha Nelson of The Onion A.V. Club lamented the lack of dialogue opportunities and the story's smaller scale. Justin McElroy of Joystiq, also missed the epic story of Dragon Age: Origins, and found DA II to be streamlined, but sterile. The normally mild-mannered Brad Gallaway launched took to his personal website to communicate a simple message: "Do Not Buy Dragon Age II." His coherent list of criticisms included weak storytelling, limited gamplay systems, and technical problems.
While it would be exceedingly hard to determine, I'm interested in the impact said technical problems had on eager players. Our friend Justin Keverne's Twitter feed documented a depressing stream of technical mishaps and disappointing system crashes. While bugs might not have anything to do with the game's story, world, or design choices, technical flaws needlessly squander any amount of goodwill people bring in to a game.
Jason Schreier's article at Wired sums up the underwhelmed feeling many folks had after playing DA II. While the first game was "absolutely fantastic," DA II seems to be "a shallow whimper of an experience that seems to have been rushed hurriedly through development." Perhaps business realities forced Bioware to make some tough choices?
Although I tend to trust these writers' opinions, I can't help but wonder how their reviews would differ had they not played the first game. So much of the criticism around DA II revolves around comparing it to DA: O, but is this fair? Perhaps the first game was the aberration and DA II is the template? Is the world's apparent smallness and the simplified gameplay systems truly that bad, or is it just the shock of the new? How will the game change after subsequent patches and expansions? Perhaps DA II will age gracefully after a turbulent youth? In any case, it's been a privilege to watch the lively conversation surrounding Dragon Age II.
Finally, and speaking of privilege, I was quite happy to see Bioware's Brian Gaider defend DA II's progressive take on relationships and sexuality against a player who complained that homosexual romances aliened "the straight male gamer." It's an eloquent piece of writing that lucidly describes the ubiquitous and insidious power cultural majorities hold. Regardless of how one feels about DA II (or whether one even plays the game at all), it's great to see such thoughtful people making video games.