Obsolete pause button
Dragon Age 2 was announced to feature ‘proper’ real-time combat, as well as the pause-play type that was present in the Badur’s Gate series and Origins. None of us here at Hooked Gamers had a problem with this added aspect of the game until we actually played the demo ourselves. When we did it became clear that combat has had a firm push into the Action-RPG genre and it just doesn’t fit the game very well.
The game’s action-based combat is much faster and it is easy to see that the game would have become too difficult to play without pausing. To deal with this Bioware made your party’s attacks more powerful and enemies easier to defeat, breaking the game for the pause-play style in the process. In Origins, combat required players to plan out their attacks strategically in order to succeed but those who are looking for a similar, deeper pause-play experience in Dragon Age 2 will find the game all too easy.
What we see in Dragon Age 2 is a distinct loss of the necessity to plan attacks, you really can play it as an action-RPG. The demo made this immediately evident when we tried to adopt the pause-play style – it was just not practical. The reason for this is because combat is paced much faster and the only really viable way to play the game is to button mash. Any tactics like using the right spell at the right time are made obsolete due to the lack of friendly fire (apart from in Nightmare mode) and spells that recharge almost in the blink of an eye. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with button mashing, I actually enjoy it, but this is simply not what I want from Dragon Age!
A broken promise
None of this would be so much of an issue if BioWare lived up to their promises and actually provided two viable styles of playing the game. Everyone can sympathise with their decision to add real-time combat to the game and make it easier for new players to get into the game, in fact we support it. The more people you can get to play your game the better; cRPGs are notoriously hard to start off with so making things a bit easier for beginners is great. However, the issue arises when you change the very core of the game. The real time combat should in fact be harder to play. At the beginning of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, players were asked if they would like high or low player reflexes enabled, the slower being easier because players could adopt “a more cautious and thoughtful playstyle”. This is the kind of option that should be given in Dragon Age 2. Instead the game only truly caters to the fast, button-mashing style.
Playing with these kinds of settings just isn’t right for the traditional pause-play style. People have argued that if you want that traditional experience then you can simply play on a harder game mode, but this does not solve it. The difficulty simply makes the game harder with modifiers such as friendly fire (in Nightmare mode) tougher enemies and so on, but it is still played as an Action-RPG. While playing the demo, pausing the game to issue an attack on an enemy just felt completely ridiculous, as they would have already landed 3 attacks on you by the time you have done one. The only possible way to do it is to pause and unpause the game every half a second, therefore forcing players to simply mash buttons until the enemy is dead. Dragon Age 2 is a real-time Action-RPG, and so having the pause-play (that only really works with the slower pace of turn-based RPG’s) is just an unnecessary feature rather than another way to play through the game.