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Piellar avatar 3:54 PM on 12.10.2009  (server time)
Three improvements I’d like to see in Dragon Age : Sequel

Earlier this week, I experienced a series of wonderful nerdgasms as I reached Dragon Age: Origins’ climax and ending. A tough tie for my favourite game of 2009 with Demon’s Souls, Bioware has once again proven it can tell stories of vibrant new worlds better than nearly anyone else. Not only the storyline driven by many player choices was highly addictive and compelling, but rarely did I spend so much time hesitating in a RPG between characters I want to take along in battle. Sten aside, every party member felt like people I’d be interested in knowing more and making friends with in real life.

For crying out loud, this game absolutely needs a sequel! And with a little luck, I’m guessing that with the good reviews it received all around, we’ll probably get one too! However, since I like to play the whiny party pooper, I’d like to point out a few key improvements that could be brought to make the next Dragon Age game a prouder successor to Origins. None of the following are severe issues, mind you, but it’s those little things that stack up to make a difference between an outstanding effort (9) and a nearly-perfect game (10). Let’s start with…

Making sure every class specialisation is combat-worthy

One of the countless cool aspects of this game is that each of the twelve class specialisations is deeply rooted into the world’s lore. You see your drunken dwarf friend pumping himself into an enraged state of madness and you’re like “Whoa, I want my fighter to do this too! Can you teach me?!” and he’s like “Yeah sure, here’s the booze!”.

I had watched the cinematic trailer with Morrigan turning into a monstrous spider mid-fight, so when I met her in-game I took the opportunity to make friends… don’t you look at me like that! Anyway, after I explored her bestial side-I mean, I asked her as a friend to teach me her shape-changing ways. On the following battle, I eagerly activated my spider form mode after I emptied my MP on spells. And waited. And waited. And stared at a progress bar. Meanwhile, my friends made short work of the remaining foes, before I finally popped into a spider.

The novelty was there, it was cool to move around as an arachnid, but I was quickly let down by the ridiculous damage and limited options this form offered. Even several levels later, when the “improved” shapes are available, their use still doesn’t justify giving up crowd-control and area of effect spells, especially in this game where enemies always attack in numbers. Coupled with the ridiculous casting time, I ended up never using my animal forms except to cross maps quickly using the insect swarm. It’s a shame, because a shifter class always has the potential to be so much fun, and the graphic models were pretty neat too…

Increasing difficulty as the story progresses

Yay, another group of bite-sized darkspawn with a caster...

One thing that has frustrated many Dragon Age gamers, ol’ Jim included, is that the game’s battles offer sudden and severe spikes in difficulty, and I mean outside of boss fights. This ends in frustration as your friends drop down crying like they’re hit in the face by the newest Supersoaker; you have no choice but to load your game while you realize that your approach against these apparently average monsters needs refinement.

One could argue, and I would agree with them, that breaking players’ expectations of non-boss encounter difficulty is a GOOD thing. What bothers me though is these challenging encounters stop happening later in the game, when you can petrify the enemy caster, choke the archer in a force cage and pelt the rest with a blizzard. Simply put, so many crowd control abilities are available to all three classes at that point that only monsters with ridiculous HP and defenses (read: bosses) will still be standing after everyone has exhausted their initial stamina bar.

It’s okay to move on from darkspawns to dragons (in fact the dragon fights were awesome), but I don’t think it’s right that I could dig in my BBQ chips bag while Ohgren cleaved through all the whelps laughing. I’d love harder battles next time, where the game assumes you to be level 20ish and calibrates enemy stats and add difficult terrain accordingly. It’s quite silly that one can do the whole Denerim final chapter without using any of the armies it took most of the game to recruit in the first place…

More romance options

This picture has bewbies and hairy creatures.

Huh oh. In before the insults asking me to go back to The Sims! Seriously though, I felt that while the romantic options available were well-crafted, “player” characters you meet cover too little ground, personality-wise.

If you character is a man, you have the choice between:

- The cynical distant woman
- The superficial gentle woman
- The libidotastic elf

Otherwise, as a woman character, you get the wonderful choices of:

- The unassertive comic relief
- The superficial gentle woman
- The libidotastic elf

Why stop it there? Wouldn’t Ohgren make a great romance option for females? If you have helped him on his sidequest, you must have seen how the little guy fancies bed play! Why not break a taboo while at it? Your male character could be in his later adventuring years, being the perfect gentleman with Wynne near the campfire! *GASP* That’s right! Old people have sex too! I’ve never seen romance between older people represented in a video game before, here’s your chance to do another inovation Bioware!

I couldn’t possibly close the topic of romance without speaking of Alistair, so here goes: besides my opinion that he is a clear candidate for a closeted homosexual, the heated debates regarding this subject only point to the fact that male gay characters that aren’t either flaming queens or hairy bodybuilders are severely underrepresented in video games. You know, for example like regular gay persons in the real world. Oof. Sorry, I didn’t mean to shatter your illusions like that.

In short, if the next Dragon Age episode shows improvement on these last three elements, it would make me so happy I would promote Bioware to Greater Deity in my personal pantheon, where they’d get to sit next to Atlus!

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