Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of BioWare games. I’ve played through all of the Mass Effect saga and Dragon Age: Origins. I haven’t made my way to play any Knight of the Republic but it’s a possibility. After much trepidation I’ve decided to try Dragon Age 2. I know, I know, the reviews were highly critical and mixed at best. I’ve read quite a few of them but it’s always best to make up one’s own mind.
For the first few hours I was having a really good time. The story was engaging. Most noticeably was the change in art design. Dragon Age 2’s style draws from an eclectic range of sources. It’s loading screens and storytelling art are some combination of Medieval, primitivism, and some definite eastern influences. BioWare has also cited such film inspirations as Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and the Sergio Leone westerns for terrain. Some of the character design options come off a little too trendy to be cohesive with all of its influences. But the end result is entertaining and eye-catching.
The storytelling style I find fascinating. It begins with a dwarf, Varric, telling a story, (your story) in a flashback almost Rashoman-style. That moment when Cassandra Pentaghast stops him midstream telling him, “that’s not the way it really happened,” and Varric starts the story that you just played over really impressed me. It took me out of the story yes, but it was also reminiscent of storytelling like The Princess Bride, breaking the fourth wall while giving you a little chuckle. I’ve never seen a video game attempt this type of storytelling. It isn’t perfect. I haven’t made it through the end yet but I can foresee conflict with player and storyteller expectations. Some players that prefer more agency or illusion of control over their games may find this type of storytelling too constricting and limiting. Those just looking to be entertained in a more filmic way may find it a treat. However, since BioWare prides itself on personalization I’m not sure how they will resolve the conflict with telling a tightly framed story and player personalization. Still, it was a brave attempt and I found it refreshing to see a large company try something different.
What I didn’t find so refreshing was the way BioWare handled personal relationships in Dragon Age 2. Like I previously said I was having a good time despite the repetitive level design, grinding through bad guys, and the forced side quests until I realized that you could gamify your relationships with your companions and love interest.