New England Gamer
The Evolution (For Better or Worse) of Dragon Age
There is little in this world more cathartic for me than buying a new game. Unless
it's purchased on a whim, chances are I'll have been following its development for
months, even years. I'll have read countless previews, participated in myriad
discussions and in general just hyped myself up to a state of almost childlike
In the run up to Dragon Age 2 much of the discussion wasn't about how great it
was going to be, but rather how its developers were screwing it up. A product of
RPG savants Bioware, the theme of its development was by and large change.
They wanted to do something different, to refine what they'd created in its
predecessor and more importantly expand on RPGs in new and unique ways.
It was a gutsy move. The original game, Dragon Age: Origins, is something of a
modern day masterpiece. It was a deep and multifaceted role-playing experience
built around an emotional story with well-written characters. Bioware could have
easily repackaged what they already had and sold millions of copies with minimal
effort. Instead they opted to overhaul the entire experience; chipping away at the
rough edges of the original and coupling it with a brand new story, characters, and
an unfamiliar setting.
To an extent it paid off. Dragon Age 2 features what is probably my favorite
combat system in an RPG to date. The gameplay in Origins could at times be a bit
sluggish. Dragon Age 2 is fast paced and intense while still requiring the player to
be tactical and intelligent on the harder difficulties. They did simplify some things
unnecessarily. I liked customizing the equipment of my party members in Origins,
and I was disappointed to see that they had limited that. That said, the majority of
what they trimmed was genuine fat and the gameplay is better for the changes they
But for all the rough edges Dragon Age 2 polished away, it created some new ones
of its own. The game was clearly rushed. Where Dragon Age: Origins was made
over the course of five years, Dragon Age 2 was made in less than two. When
you've recycled your environments so heavily that I visit the same cave a dozen
times over the course of the game, it becomes clear you were under pressure to
hurry things along.
The game also suffers from a story that's oft times inconsistent in its pacing. I
won't say it's bad because it isn't. The writers at Bioware are some of the best in
the industry and there are moments in Dragon Age 2 that I would count as some of
the best I've experienced in a video game - several which handily outclass the best
of its predecessor, which was fraught with emotional and moral depth.
That said, Bioware was clearly stepping out of their comfort zone. For close to a
decade most of their games have followed a structure of "gather allies, fight big
bad guy." Dragon Age 2 comparatively is a framed narrative following your
character's actions and their resultant consequences over the course of ten years.
It's a story structure rarely seen in video games, and one entirely new to Bioware.
This inexperience shows; the story has many good moments, but it frequently
stumbles and lacks the focus and build up of their more typical fare.
This may sound like a dismissal, but I actually admire Dragon Age 2 for the
chances it took with its story. Dragon Age: Origins is great, but in the end it boiled
down to a quest to slay a dragon. There is only so much you can do with that. The
most engaging moments of Origins were the one's grounded in human issues:
moral, political and religious conflict and debate. Whereas the original made these
somewhat ancillary, Dragon Age 2 sets them front and center and I find it to be
more interesting as a result.
In the years to come, Dragon Age 2 may become something of a black sheep in the
Bioware library. That said, I can't help but feel that it will be a personal favorite
simply because it took risks it didn't have to and tried to move forward. Stagnancy
is one of the worst things that can happen to a franchise. You can see it testing the
patience of Call of Duty fans and Nintendo devotees tiring of the constant
rehashing of properties that used to be revolutionary. Dragon Age 2 may be a black
sheep, but it could also be the sacrificial lamb that saves its franchise from
becoming a mere footnote in the record of the progress.
Continued Below Advertisement
Read more by Stewart Shearer