It’s starting to look like Dragon Age: Origins was something of a swan song. The last hurrah from a publisher whose bread and butter was the in-depth computer RPG. That is hyperbole…at least to a certain extent. Recent announcements from Bioware as to the changes in Dragon Age II, namely that you are playing a specific character, a stark departure from the “old school” vibe that Dragon Age: Origins embraced. This isn’t anything new on Bioware’s part, it is afterall what Mass Effect does, but the change does strip the series of Baldur’s Gate successor mantle that rested so aptly on Dragon Age’s shoulders.
I have been watching the continuing details regarding Dragon Age II with a growing sense of…betrayal is too strong a word though it does come to mind, but let us say apprehension instead. Yesterday Kotaku’s Stephen Totillo posted a short impressions piece with the seeming intent of trying to eliminate that sensation. It failed utterly. While I’m willing to agree, more-or-less, with Totillo’s comments as to the improvements Dragon Age II offers (greater graphical detail, ME2 conversation model, etc. Yes, even the use of a named specific character which I find annoying lends itself better to telling a more intense, comprehensive and immersive story); his reporting only seemed to highlight my own anxiety. Three key points came up:
Users can still pause combat and switch characters but can’t stack commands.
What? I was not a fan of Dragon Age’s AI “programming language.”; essentially a series of conditions and responses. I much preferrered to hop around the party and issue commands, or successive commands, to the group. I have no idea of the party AI will once again be programmable but by eliminating command stacking it means that players will have to rely on that system (assuming it exists). PC users can apparently issue “continued attack” command so we apparently not burdened by the need “button mash.”
An increased reliance on action heavy combat.
Button combos. Special moves. I love action RPGs. Don’t get me wrong on that. But I also loved the tactical approach to the original Dragon’s Age. Will that disappear with new action-heavy approach? I don’t know. But it makes me worried. I don’t know how Dragon Age II will handle character creation/class selection, all the promo stuff so far has show Hawke wielding a sword, but will I be able to play a magic user. If I can how will combat work?
No overhead tactical view.
This is almost a deal breaker. It is how I played most of Dragon Age; especially combat. Why is it gone? To support the more intense combat system and because the art team wanted to be able to make ceilings for players on consoles (who are locked into the 3rd person view). That last seams like a bit of bullshit to me. I distinctly remember playing the original Neverwinter Nights which when pulled out all the way had no ceilings, but when zoomed in closed did in fact have ceilings. In a half-hearted attempt to assuage our fears Totillo let’s us PC gamers know that we can at least zoom the camera out; console players cannot.
I am by no means a hardcore PC gamer anymore. I own all 3 of the current-gen consoles but, when it comes to single player experiences I still by and large prefer my PC over any console. The advent of HD televisions mean I can just as easily game on my PC from my couch so the siren song of comfort, previously one of (for me at least) any console’s primary attractors, is no longer an issue. Bioware’s decisions for Dragon Age II are definitely understandable from a development standpoint. With the bulk of AAA gaming seemingly taking place on consoles it isn’t any small surprise that a studio would cater to the greatest common denominator. Will I still buy Dragon Age II? All signs point to yes. Will I still buy Dragon Age II on PC? Assuming I can still get it for $10 cheaper on my PC over the 360 then yes, that is where I will be playing. I think that sentiment is important. By removing the key differences (or severely lessening at least) between console and PC versions that $10 (alongside the greater graphical power of your standard gaming PC, but that is a point that could be argued) is really one of the few remaining reasons to stick with the PC version. Again that is something close to hyperbole but Bioware’s decisions here seems to have been to employ a uniform development process to create a specific gaming experience across multiple platforms. While the nostalgic and optimistic parts of me want to believe that the good Doctor’s from Canada are doing this to create a stronger game for everyone the cynic can’t help but wonder if the decision isn’t entirely monetary; it is simply cheaper (overall) to do things this way.
I will still be buying this game. I won’t even attempt to argue that some silly boycott or protest on my part (or any PC gamer) will make a bit of difference. It does however color that inevitable purchase with hint of sadness. One of great last bastions of PC gaming has thrown in the towel. Is it true? I don’t know, but it certainly feels that way. Part of me now expects Gearbox to announce the Duke Nukem Forever will be console exclusive.