Way of the dragon
Many of us enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins and felt it was a worthy successor to the legendary Baldur’s Gate series. BioWare delivered on a number of levels: an engaging story and world, an intelligent combat system and a wonderful character customization system. However, as the sequel drew nearer we noticed dark clouds of doubt were starting to form overhead. As developer interviews and the steady drip of details on Dragon Age 2 emerged, it seemed that many of the aspects of Origins that we held dear were being compromised.
Being more sensible than to simply outright dismiss Dragon Age 2 all together, we waited until we actually had a chance to play it for ourselves before making any rash decisions. That time has now come with the release of the playable demo. But were our instincts correct? Unfortunately, the majority of our team say yes, Dragon Age 2 is too clear a departure from the formula we have been in love with since playing Baldur’s Gate back in 1998.
A dying breed
There is no question about it, the classic cRPG is dying out. So why bring it up now then? The reason is because one of the few big developers who have remained adamant about catering for players who want to play the classic cRPG is BioWare. Their breed of cRPG was popularised with the Baldur’s Gate series just before the new millennium. This consisted of some defining aspects: detailed character creation (not just customisation); immersive character interaction; strategic-based combat that required thought and timing; and a deep, engaging story that was shaped by the player’s choices. This was a game that could only truly be experienced on a PC. It required a fair amount of work on the developer’s part, but players were rewarded greatly for their efforts and paid the developers back justly.
Needless to say, the Baldur’s Gate series was highly respected and adored by many fans. After dipping into many other projects over the years, BioWare finally came back to that formula, with the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age: Origins. At that time, BioWare had a number of titles in their repertoire that were able to cater to different RPG play styles. The Mass Effect series supplies a superb Action-RPG experience and Knights of the Old Republic took the classic cRPG formula and placed it within the vast Stars Wars universe. Dragon Age: Origins followed more of a traditional cRPG route and it proved to be both a critical and commercial success. There is no solid evidence to suggest that Dragon Age: Origins was not a popular and well-made game, so the natural thing for BioWare to do would be to replicate this right? Well let’s just take a look at Dragon Age 2 and what has actually happened.
Set in stone, lime, but still stone
The first evidence of a departure from Origins in Dragon Age 2 is located within the character creation tools. Quite simply you cannot create your own character as such; you merely customise a pre-set character. Granted, you can choose your own class, first name and the options for customisation of the character may be fairly detailed but the main character comes with its own, predetermined race, identity and history. This class-based character creation is usually associated more with Action-RPGs rather than classic RPGs and is our first clue that Dragon Age has shifted towards action.
When you get into the game you will notice that player conversations have become much less significant as well. As far as the dialogue scenes are concerned, this is not role playing; this is interactive playing. The dialogue is so simple that it could be replaced by a choice that you make at the beginning of the game: "Do you want to be a compassionate, humorous, or obnoxious character?" After that choice, you would only have to watch the dialogue scenes play through with no player-input at all.