3/25/2011 – Rinse and Repeat

That’s a definitive keyphrase for my life right now. Hey, it happens, I’m not crying about it. But, it makes for bad blogging – or no blogging, as it were. My poor site, Riddlethos, has been sorely neglected for some time now, and frankly it bums me out. Not quite the “vision” I have for it, as it were. But, the sad fact of the matter is that Riddlethos doesn’t pay the bills – and if I view it as a chore, it’ll only worsen the situation.

Riddlethos will always be around. But, it will always reflect the varying up and down points of mine – and Ethan’s – lives. When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound so shameful.

One of the not-so-shocking facts about videogame journalism is this: if you aren’t actively playing games, it’s damn hard to muster inspiration. Browsing news hubs can only be so thrilling when you’re not out tasting the actual, sweet nectar of the videogame industry. Gone, sadly, are the halcyon days of my youth during which I could play Final Fantasy XII for 30, 40 hours in a week and not be strapped for a single moment. More than two weeks after its initial release, I think I’ve managed to reach a whopping 18 hours on Dragon Age II. If that. Really, I’m impressed I’ve even gotten that far.

Well, no, I’m not. There have been numerous times where I’ve sat down with Dragon Age II and a notepad, intending to take some notes and write an article. But, I would always end up setting my notebook aside and playing 3, 4 hours without taking a single note. Then going to work. Rinse and repeat. (Hey, there it is again!)

But after 18 hours, I certainly have an opinion. Here’s the thing: I agree with all of the complaints about the game. I do. It’s clearly a rush job from BioWare, and while I always suspected this being the case, it’s still a little disillusioning to see the results. After 18 hours, it’s clear you never really leave the one, main city of Kirkwall. You venture to several other surrounding areas and environments – all of which feel very samey – but there’s not a single other fully realized city or environment in Dragon Age II. After the massive map of Ferelden that we were allowed to explore in Origins, it’s quite disappointing to see Dragon Age II falter like this.

But. God damn it, the game is just fun to play. It’s the most immediately engaging and playable RPG I’ve seen since Final Fantasy XII. The main reason for this is the absolutely top-notch battle system that BioWare has put together for Dragon Age II. So incredibly easy to pick up and play, and yet, BioWare has carefully preserved – and even improved – on the tactical layers beneath the action. If you’re patient enough to sit and spend time adjusting all the tactical pre-sets for your teammates, you’ll be rewarded with a well-oiled machine that deals death with style and efficiency. It’s incredibly satisfying – but even beyond that, it’s still a breeze to pause combat and issue manual orders during tougher situations. Which is good, because the game is still a good challenge on the normal difficulty setting  - if you don’t take the time to pause and strategize, tougher battles can destroy you.

Beyond that, the writing is still top-notch, and the story is interesting enough to keep my attention. It’s not as desperate or epic as the story in Origins, though. Or at least it doesn’t seem to be so far. I’ll be honest and tell you: I’ve hardly advanced the main story at all in Dragon Age II. At 18 hours, I’ve just entered the Deep Roads for the first time.

Yeah. I’ve been questing like a motherfucker. Because, like I said, Dragon Age II is the most entertaining RPG I’ve played in years. I take extreme pleasure out of mowing down a throng of armed Qunari with my well-oiled fighting machine of a team. Similarly, I enjoying spending collective hours amongst the game’s menus, carefully choosing which stats to upgrade, what skills to purchase, and what tactics to set for my party members. It’s just a shame that these amazingly refined mechanics aren’t a part of a bigger, better overlying framework. I think Glenn said this first, but Dragon Age II feels more like Dragon Age 1.5.

After I finish the game, I’ll likely give it a proper review for my site. (Like you did for Dead Space 2? Oh snap!)

Ahem. But no, really, I’ll try my best. I really have a lot more I’d like to say about this one.


7 Responses to “3/25/2011 – Rinse and Repeat”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    Sounds more like Dragon Age 0.5 …

  2. Ethos says:

    I dunno, some things ARE better than the original. 1.5 would accurately sum it up for me. But that’s harsher criticism coming from me, I usually never use that term to describe a sequel.

  3. SiliconNooB says:

    This is the era of 1.5 incremental Sequels. AC Brotherhood, Bioshock 2, New Vegas etc.

    I’m finding it very hard to care about sequels this generation, the only true sequels which come to mind are Uncharted 2 and Dead Space 2, everything else seems to sit in the uneasy territory between sequel and expansion pack …

  4. 7thCircle says:

    Care to defend how the writing is top-notch? That’s a point I already know people are split on, but I haven’t had any success getting its defends to explain why DA2’s writing is so great.

    I thought New Vegas, Mass Effect 2, Alpha Protocol, and DAO (especially DAO) all had significantly stronger scripts. You can put two books in front of me and I can tell by the end of the first chapter which one is written better than the other; I thought DA2 was below the quality of writing we’ve seen in WRPGs over the last couple of years. Toss in goofy scripts like DeathSpank 1+2, Fable 3, and even Cthulhu Saves the World and you have another set of titles whose writing was at a higher level than DA2. Even some JRPGs like Nier are better written.

    So when you say the writing is top-notch, do you mean “top-notch” like “just like 95% of the WRPGs out there” or do you think, relatively speaking, that DA2 has better writing than WRPGs tend to have? I tend to think of quality as a relative thing. Or are you comparing the writing in DA2 to the writing in non-RPGs like Killzone3? I played Killzone 3 over the weekend and that script was fucking terrible.

  5. Ethos says:

    *shrug* dunno Glenn. In the sense that they talk like humans. That there’s subtext and sarcasm and it’s all believable. I’d say that’s top-notch writing that you still rarely see in any games these days. Maybe the story took a hit in DA2 (along with many other things), but I think the writing itself is doing fine.

  6. 7thCircle says:

    I thought it had a stylistic simplicity to it that wasn’t in DAO, New Vegas, or ME2. The writing in DA2 is fine, but it reads like a couple overworked people spent 80 hours/week pushing it out so the voice acting could be recorded in time rather than a labor of love with the attention to detail that we’ve been seeing from RPGs lately. Most RPGs nowadays feel like they are written, edited, rewritten, and perfected over a significant period of time, like a novel or screenplay.

    The writing isn’t a really a problem in DA2 — aside from how Hawke’s lines often have nothing to do with the short phrases you pick when he talks (I swear that’s also a result of a rushed schedule. I can’t imagine that it was planned that way from the start, since ME1+2 weren’t like that). I just wouldn’t praise it for being excellent.

  7. Ethos says:

    Hrm, fair enough. I’d still say it’s top-notch writing, just very rushed top-notch writing.

    Man, now I just want to play more DeathSpank.

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