Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dragon Age leaves me wanting to move on from Bioware

I think I'm giving up on Bioware games for awhile. Mind, I've been trying to get away from buying anything published by EA--the company's practices do not endear me to them--but Bioware was always a big kicker. I'm a big fan of Bioware's earlier stuff--I've played the Baldur's Gate series, Neverwinter Nights and all its add-ons, and Knights of the Old Republic. I missed Jade Empire, and I missed Mass Effect and Dragon Age on release because my computer couldn't handle them at the time. But I picked up Dragon Age: Ultimate Edition for cheap on Steam relatively recently, and my delight with catching up with what Bioware was up to (even if still a year or two behind) quickly faded.

What it comes down to is the following:
- Good story moments and interesting choices offset by other moments of feeling utterly railroaded
- God, the awful cutscenes which would pull nonsense like pull your entire party into the center of a room before you got ambushed. What made that especially lazy is that there were wonderfully challenging fights that didn't have to resort to such cheesy cheating tactics. As I've noted elsewhere, if Dragon Age were a TTRPG (well, it is also one, but bear with me), and the GM suddenly picked up my miniature and moved it to a spot to his advantage, I'd grab my mini back from him and shove it up his nose.
- Others have waxed on this more than I, but it DOES feel like I've played this game several times before... with the only significant differences being that it's more gory (whatever) and I like fewer of the characters
- God the bugs. And I got this game late and fully patched, remember.  The one where the game pulls the hideously boring and cliched "you find yourself in a dungeon with none of your stuff" was just so enhanced by the fact that the game actually deleted my belongings permanently. Lovely.
- So much of it is bleak and depressing, without reprieve. I've just come off finishing Awakening, where there is not one but two sidequests which end in you finding someone's lover having committed suicide. What? Why? Why is this necessary? It's not like they were even very interesting sidequests with otherwise rewarding results (okay, one might have been if it wasn't hideously bugged, but still). Not to mention that the whole storyline is that you're pressed into service into an organization where you must either let yourself be murdered or taint yourself with demon blood, the result of with will, guaranteed, doom you to a life of nightmares and eventual insanity and death within a few decades. Lovely. I feel so heroic.
- Not interested in endless "cinematic" dialogues; voice acting isn't that important to me, but they seem to be emphasizing that and other shallow stuff rather than, say, good combat design (see above about the cutscenes). 
- And that's the biggest thing. I play RPGs often, to feel heroic. Grey areas and difficult moral decisions are good, but I want to feel like my player character chose to do good things and good things came of it. I felt often through much of the game like maybe just letting the world end might have been the kindest thing to do. Even trying to play heroic, I didn't feel it. And I often felt the most important choices were taken from me--or not adequate options were offered me.
- There was a point where I kept playing just to see how it ended, not because I was having fun.

TL;DR: I stopped having fun.

Mind, when I say the stuff about depressing and not feeling heroic--the last game I played before this was Fallout: New Vegas. Shiny happy, black and white morality, rainbows and bunnies Fallout: New Vegas. Well, that's how I seem to remember it now, even though I know there was hideous death and brutality and slavery and difficult decisions, but somehow, they made it fun. Dragon Age seems to be about showing how awful and bleak and dark and gory it can be for the sake of being awful and bleak and dark and gory. The Fallout series (I've played all of them but Tactics) is darker and bleaker and gorier, but it isn't the point; it's about how people deal with that and still come out on top. Plus the humor's better, in my opinion. But I digress.

And ultimately, I think I want to step away from Bioware is because when I stop and think about it... when I think about what was the best Bioware game EVER... for me, it was Baldur's Gate 2. Which, by all means, is one of the best computer RPGs of all time, and that's not my opinion, that's fact. :)

But I think they hit their peak early, and I haven't seen much but downhill since. I'm sure Mass Effect has its own good stuff going on, but at this point, I don't think it's worth my money to find out.

Ah well, lots of other good games out there to play. And I look forward to that, certainly.