I think I owe Dragon Age II an apology, at least

I recently started replaying the Mass Effect series – made me a MaleShep by the name of Hal (i.e. 2001: A Space Odyssey, not Malcolm in the Middle, though who am I kidding, really), he’s a redhead and a Renegade — and I realized something as I was meandering through ME1’s many sidequests. Almost every active space I traveled to looked the same. Like precisely the same except for environmental debris and, maybe, the locations or accessibility of doors. Every mine I visited looked the same as the mines before it. Every science station and gang hideout and derelict ship had nearly the same layout as the science stations, gang hideouts, and derelict ships before them. I was in awe that I hadn’t noticed this before. And I was embarrassed that my once giddy addiction to the first Mass Effect was so overwhelming that I didn’t take notice of the, well…lazy reuse of level designs.

And then, I started feeling guilty. Like really guilty over my own outbursts about uninspired level designs in games and the over-re-using of scenic elements. And that made me think about Dragon Age II, a game that I lambasted as dull, boring, and lazy in terms of environmental design. Indeed, by the time I was deep into the second act of DAII I was fully sick and tired of traveling through the same spaces with the same décors fighting the same groups of enemies. This constant repetition made DAII’s Kirkwall – the game’s main stage, save for a couple outlying areas — feel remarkably insipid. Over and over I traveled back and forth between the same dozen areas across Kirkwall only to hate each one a little more every time I came back. The fact that a new quest opened a new door along a path traveled dozens of times before did little to make things better. I was altogether taken in by DAII’s complex and intriguing story, but the general sense of “smallness” within the game undermined that wholeheartedly.

Back in Mass Effect, I continued working on various “Assignments,” traveling to different planets, taking out rogue scientists and bands of scavengers and mercenaries, and loving/hating the janky MAKO. And I continued to mull over this issue of sameness in game level design. And I wondered why it stuck out so badly to me in Dragon Age II and had only just revealed itself in Mass Effect, and, as well, why I didn’t seem to mind it as much. Aha…there’s the crux of the matter! Because when we’re playing our favorite games, we’re willing to forgive their sins much more readily (see: A Red Dead Rant). I didn’t quite realize the extent of my comfort and confidence with Mass Effect until this new playthrough. I’ve felt so contented while playing that I’ve been more than okay with the game’s flaws. It’s also apparent that Mass Effect’s setting as “an entire galaxy” over Dragon Age II’s single city simply feels more vast, even if we’re just talking semantics. So traveling to a new planet that’s different from the one you just came, even if it contains the exact same playable areas – mine, station, hideout, whatever – naturally feels “new,” even though it’s not. Not even a little.

I guess my rose-tinted Mass Effect glass have been a shade or two lighter, particularly since I’ve learned a thing or seven about the game industry and game development since first playing Mass Effect many moons ago. Back then, I was blindly in love. Mass Effect could do no wrong, no way, no how. Because it was Mass Effect. Now, though the fire’s rekindled, it casts a more critical, a more aware shadow.  Fact is, I pay more attention to game now than I did back then. And attention must be paid if I am to keep this gaming thing going.

Bottom line: I’m sorry, Dragon Age II. I’m sorry about all the mean things I said about you being a dull, lazy, and boring game. You had your problems, but Mass Effect has its problems too, as do any games. All games. Every. Single. Game. I almost wish I could replay them all, all the ones that I didn’t seem to like for whatever reason. But I wish I could replay you, DAII, the most right now. But I can’t. Not yet anyway. I’ve got lots more Mass Effect ahead of me, and…well, there’s stuff I gotta do. Big stuff. Universe-saving shit and all that. But when I’m ready to come back round to Kirkwall again, I promise you’ll be the first to know.

8 thoughts on “I think I owe Dragon Age II an apology, at least”

  1. Agreed with Pam’s statement. They got same-y with the environments and that was disappointing, but everything else felt pretty good. As Pam mentioned, the city changes over time, and since the game takes place over a matter of years rather then an indistinct period of weeks and/or months, we actually get to see more of the characters and their lives than we normally do. I might be biased though; I’ve always been a fan of DAII and it’s also home to Merrill, my favorite DA character overall.

    Hope you’re able to get back to it one day! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I think I’ll give the game another go at some point — seems like I really overlooked a lot in it! And I didn’t get to know the characters nearly as much as I did in the first game. Though I did quite enjoy the few conversations I had with Merrill.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought Mass Effect hid it quite well, DA2 was just square rooms after square rooms. The camera perspective also helped disguise it. That said, personally, I enjoyed Dragon Age 2. The story was smaller scaled and more personal. Had hoped to see the mage and templar war being the focus in Inquisition. Oh well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it seems that Inquisition, while still popular, didn’t quite live up to its predecessors in some ways. Jeez, now I really think I want to replay the earlier Dragon Age games — I seem to be way off in what I remember of them.

      I agree that there’s good attempts in ME1 to hide the fact that certain floorplans are bring reused. I’m really surprised that I hadn’t noticed it years before. But unlike then, this time round, I did most of the planetary sidequests all at once. Hopping immediately from mine to mine and base to base really showed just how similar they each were.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, constantly seeing the same spaces over and over got super annoying and boring after awhile. I did like the game’s combat system though. Although off the top of my head, I can’t recall how it compared to DA:O. It’s been too long since I played that game. Hmm…maybe I should make a go at that too…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It was kind of annoying that DA2 reused environments so many times, but I also always felt like that was the least important part of the game. DA2 is my favourite of the series. The story is good, Hawke is a real character as opposed to a blank slate like the Warden or Inquisitor. the companions were great to get to know. And, because the story took place in one city, you could see it evolve around you, impacted by the choices you had been making. It made it easy to get over the fact that every dungeon had the same layout, for me at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s one of the reasons I think I need to replay DAII — I became so overly concerned by the game’s layout that I think I missed most of the story. I also didn’t pay much attention to the city itself, and that’s much to my discredit. DAII is now on my “to replay” list, which I think is getting longer than my “to play”list!

      Like

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