Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dragon Age 2 and the death of role playing games for computers

First of all, this post constists of many spoilers for Dragon Age 2 or Dragon Age: Origins, so for everyone still interested in playing the games without predigested knowledge, stop reading here...

So, I played Dragon Age 2 some days ago and I was really disappointed by the lack of innovation and the overall changes they took in this game.
Not only did they shift the focus more to combat and farther away from the player and his decisions, they also crippled the story enormously.

It all starts of with the class system that was also in Origins. The classes have no real impact in the story and the role the character plays in his world. So why are they there in the first place?! To distingish between different styles of play?
In Origins, yes, the mage is more fragile and needs to be in the background trowing magic at enemies, the rogue is able to take a little bit more but still has to avoid getting hit too often and the warrior is able to withstand damage while wearing heavy plate armour and hold the ememies off with sword and shield.
They are there to distiguish between the different parts needed in a combat situation, ok, but they have little impact on the rest of gameplay apart from the rogue who is the only one able to open locked objects.
In Dragon Age 2 these distinctions are nearly gone because the mage is now able to wield his staff as a weapon and make the same damage on close range as on long range. The different types of armour still exist and there are even weapon restictions for the rogue that make no sense.
The classes are for combat in both games and have little to no impact of the character apart from different stats.
The little destinctions that were in Origins are gone in DA2 like the rogues ability to steal and the mages skill in herbalism.

With those aspects gone or crippled where are the mechanics for role playing?
In former games most customization was in the ability system and the decisions made there determined the stats and the mechanic role the character plays in the game. The loss of those mechanics changes the whole concept of play, the focus could shift to other part of role playing like the decisions and the interaction with npcs, companions or otherwise.
Unfortunatly DA2 has more focus on combat as Origins had and in Origins the focus was mostly on combat. So we have a game that has three classes that have no impact on combat roles and no impact in other parts of game mechanics and a game that only focuses on flashy, unrealisting combat.

The only thing that could help there is the players ability to influence the npcs by other means like talking. But DA2 adopted the dialogues wheel from Mass Effect so there are only some words to choose from and the character says someting different. The different choices are "goodie goodshoe", "sarcastically uninterested" or "confrontationally brutal"; nice! So if you for example chose to follow the path of the selfless helping angel (always "goodie goodshoes" options), you might think that you will get that experience but no the story unfolds in ways that just ignores the player's point of view and you get the feeling that "sarcastically uninterested" might have been the better option all over. Maybe it was the only option tested so the story was tweaked that way, I don't know. I as player grew more and more uninterested by passing hours and needed sarcasm to keep me going to experience the ending.

The game (DA2) is structured in different acts, the first is orientation and acclimatisation with the world and the game mechanics, the second act was finding out what goes on in the world and maybe climbing the social ladder, the next act is confrontation with a mayor threat (the Qunari) and its "solution". The game should have stopped there and it would have been ok but it added another act that pushed the conflict between mages and templars that exist in Thedas to the extreme and the character has to take a side and kill off the opposition unless they surrender. But how do you choose between two sides if their leaders are both psychopaths?! So I chose the side of the oppressed, the mages. The mages are feared because they can be possessed by demons and could "destroy the world" so they are guarded by the templars of the holy church... sorry, the chantry. These templars have to find demon worshipers and bloodmages (who practice an forbidden kind of magic) and kill them (simple and shortsided solution).
So in this conflict the character is thrown and now he has to decide which side he supports. The fact that there are templars mobbing mages and even kill them without provocation and mages on the other side that throw their teachings over board to vent their frustration through destruction and mayhem makes that a hard decision but the character is predefined and has a family so he already has a predefined point of view. He/she is a child of an apostate mage and has an apostate sister, so he(simplified because the gender also makes no difference) should side with the mages. He even can be a mage so why would one side with the templars?! But you get the decision and I chose the mages. So I tried to calm both sides down and avoid bloodshed but that is not the solution BioWare wanted, so I had to kill the templars and help the mages. And then I happened! The first enchanter turns on me even though I already sided with him and I have to kill him and the knight commander of the templars in a rediculous boss fight that made no sense at all. After that the game is over and all the land is in turmoil and a war between the two factions is inevitable. What?! Why is there war now and why am I the one who started it? This is even worse than the ending of Dawn of War, where the planet is destroyed after you fought so long to liberate it...

But why is that the death of computer role playing games?
Well, it was one of few interesting settings that existed in computer games and it was one of the last single player games that interested me. Yes, I know that Skyrim comes out in November but I fear that it will also be "awesome" like DA2 was. The decline from Morrowind to Oblivion was drastic enough.
The generation of crpgs is dying because it is impossible to provide the same depth and immersion in an online game like we could witness in WoW or others.
With the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic as an online game my dreams of a Star Wars rpg that I might want to play died and even german role playing games like The Dark Eye switched to online games for their next release.

In conclusion I have to say that role playing games for the pc turned more and more into action games with some rpg mechanics so I have to get my role playing fix in p&p and play those action games for fun. Maybe...

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