By Teran 51 Comments
Ten and a Half Things Dragon Age something something.
WARNING: Minor Spoilers.
I've played Dragon Age for over 250 hours now and done multiple playthroughs. The game isn't really built with infinite replayability in mind however the quality of the game has gone a long ways in keeping me from getting bored of it... however there are some things that really could have turned a great game into a legendary game.
I've narrowed my thoughts down into ten concepts that are easy to label. Some of these things are simple and just a personal preference while some really should have been in the game. They are in no particular order except that generally the closer to "1" they are the more I feel the feature should have been included.
10. More Fatalities. I know this is kind of a petty thing to mention but I have my reasons. The fatalities currently in the game are generally reserved for Darkspawn Ogres and High Dragons and while these are a nice touch when the animation goes off correctly it kind of leaves me wanting more.
There are a few fatalities that can go off on normal human sized enemies like a decapitation but these aren't quite as interesting and don't seem as savagely brutal as leaping onto the chest of an ogre, stabbing it multiple times as it falls before finishing it with a blow to the head, or leaping onto the neck of a dragon, climbing it with your your blades before slicing the top of its head open in a massive gush of blood.
I don't need something quite that grand for standard enemies but more context sensitive (what spell/weapon got the kill, near walls, spikes, cliffs, etc) animations in the flavor of the "sync kills" in Dawn of War 2, or the Age of Conan fatalities (especially the magic based ones) would have been nice and gone a long ways in creating a darker feeling world... heck even just adding in some of the stuff we see in the Sacred Ashes trailer would have worked.
9. Formations. Dragon Age really would have benefitted from the ability to set your party into a preferred formation for out of combat movement and exploration. As it is now your group is in a permanent diamond formation with whichever character you have selected always moving to the tip of the diamond. This isn't game breaking but I often have my group's healer selected and I generally don't want her to be the closest person to the enemy when a fight starts.
I would have really liked the ability to choose between a few different formations but even if diamond were the only option, being able to set group mates into specific points of a formation and have them remain in that position no matter who the player has directly selected would have been very convenient. I was actually a little surprised something like this wasn't included in the game considering several of their previous titles have this feature.
8. More Character Variety. Let me just say up front: I love the characters in Dragon Age. I love them all, each is unique, foreign, exotic, familiar, and cliche all at the same time. This in my opinion is the best mix you can have because you generally know from a first impression what group of characters is going to fit the mood you want the game to have. They are familiar enough that you know generally what you're going to get out of them dialog wise but exotic and foreign because there's a little secret or surprise about each character that you come to find out through interaction with these characters. I've found that the most plain of the characters often have the biggest secrets.
After that paragraph I realize this doesn't sound like a game that needs more characters and really Dragon Age doesn't *need* them but would benefit greatly from just a little more variety. Dragon Age lets you play it the way you want good or evil. There are good and evil factions in the game. On the other hand, there are no evil potential party members. Some of your party members have done evil things to be certain but they do not have malice in their hearts.
In Dragon Age you have the choice of grouping with the saintly good to the chaotic neutral and while choosing the "evil" option can often cause party members to leave in certain situations, choosing the "good" option will at worse cause Morrigan to sigh and whine, Zevran to crack an annoyed joke, or Sten will try to take command of the group (because you are not efficient enough in hunting the archdemon) and kill you in a duel... if you win the duel he admits you are the stronger person and will rejoin the group and his approval of you will raise. The one evil character you can recruit has a change of heart before being recruited and is no longer evil once in your party.
Let's take a closer look at our group options. Assuming you bought the game new you have the opportunity to recruit ten characters. Six are male if you count Dog. Four are female if you count Shale. Five out of ten are human. One dwarf. One elf. One Qunari (giant). One Dog. One Golem. Short of choosing elf or Dwarf as your protagonist race there is no way to get more than a single dwarf or elf in your group which really makes these races feel under represented. I can understand the rarity of Qunari, Golems, and Dogs but having the option of a full dwarf or elf group would have been nice. It was also a little disappointing to see city elves unrepresented and having only a single gender of each race present (qunari, dwarf, and elf are party members are all male).
I know this is a small gripe and as I said before I love the characters in the game I just wish I could have had an all dwarf or all elf group as an option.
7. Cooperative Multiplayer. Allowing two protagonist characters to join a group together and play through the game would have been a nice feature. The game as it is now is not really balanced with something like this in mind and really a lot would need to be changed (like difficulty) but it would have given this game a bit more replayability and as we all know, playing a game with someone is usually more fun than playing alone.
6. Harder Difficulty. I'm pretty happy with where the game is at on the normal difficulty but I am extremely disappointed with it on nightmare. The game actually feels easier on nightmare than it did on normal for me just because I now know the systems inside and out and know what is powerful and what is not. I was hoping nightmare would be like Diablo's nightmare where every single fight had the potential to butcher you but the rewards were great. This would go hand in hand with number seven.
Currently players who have mastered this game must artifically handicap themselves in order to create challenge. Some folks are soloing their way through the game (when possible), others are setting tactics and not intervening in fights directly, still others are taking and using specs known to be inferior and weak. A more nightmarish nightmare difficulty would have gone a long ways in adding significant replayability to DA:O.
5. New Game +. This also goes hand in hand with numbers six and seven. At the end of the game it would have been nice to have the option to restart the game, choose a new class and origin and start up at the level you ended the previous game on and start from there. This would ideally increase the difficulty and add a new dimension to the game. Like number 7 though the game would need to be redesigned somewhat for this to be practical... but I still wish it had been planned for.
4. Talent Synergy. Talents are effectively pools of completely separate, utterly incompatible skills which just doesn't seem right to me. The system is straight forward enough in that you choose the talents you want but it makes the whole process dull when you realize you're basically limited to 12-16 skills and after that anything purchased will essentially be useless.
I think in addition to giving spec related skills and passives they should also be of some general smaller use as well. Let me write out an example of what I mean.
Momentum (current tier 3 dual wield talent): While this skill is active and your character is dual wielding your attack speed is doubled. This talent also passively increases your characters attack speed by 5% with all weapons.
Momentum still gives a very powerful sustained ability but now also has a minor passive buff perhaps to represent what your character has learned from momentum that they can apply to any combat situation (bow/2h/sword and shield).
Actual skills gained from talents would still be locked into use with the intended weapon set (ie momentum will still only work while dual wielding) but with the smaller passive bonuses you could fine tune your character rather than feel stuck buying a bunch of skills you don't intend to ever use (the entire punisher line in the dual wield tree for example). Not saying these skills are useless per se, just not in line with what I have planned for the character. This would have turned the relatively simplistic process of talent speccing for rogues and warriors into something as deliciously complicated and customizable as speccing is for the mage class.
3. Unlocks. I really wish they had handled their unlocks differently. Rather than learning subclasses from manuals and and characters I would have preferred to see a more complex system of unlocks in general. You would be awarded points for completing quests, finding tome unlocks, and any number of other things which you could then go into a menu and spend on things like subclasses, special side quests, tomes, perhaps even different "costumes" to skin your armor with or special gifts for your party members. There's a lot that could be done with a system like this and it would feel more rewarding to me than buying a manual and reloading the game.
Any situation where a player is forced to follow an arbitrary set of rules in order to unlock the full potential of the game just doesn't feel right. I hated that I had to side with lunatic cultists and then drink a cup of dragon blood to gain the reaver class because that act was simply out of character for me while being a reaver might not have been. There's something to be said for convincing Zevran and Alistair to teach you their subclasses after building up their relationship but again it cheapened the process because at times I felt like I was just bribing them, I wasn't able to stay in character.
This would have also allowed them to incorporate things that count more as dm (dungeon master) type of tools once you reach certain points. For example they could have added the ability to re-spec your characters into the game as an unlock after you beat the game once on a certain difficulty. They could make certain cutscenes and character encounter "movies", conversation, and banter unlockable in some kind of theater type of setup accessible from the main menu. I put into words how much I'd like the ability to just listen to all the different banter that goes on, I've missed so much do to loading and because it doesn't count as actual conversation it does not show up in the pseudo chat log they give you.
I understand why Bioware went this route with it, I just feel that a broader system with more rewards would have been more satisfying.
2. Where's the balance? This game is one of the single most exploitable rpgs I have ever played. Talents are nowhere near balanced. The entire 2h talent tree is easily surpassed in terms of dps with a mere 3 points in the dual wielding tree (momentum). Archery was just straight bad on the pc version until the patch a day or two ago and it's still not fully fixed. The fastest weapon is effectively the highest dps weapon in this game because buffs like fiery weapons do not scale with attack speed and larger weapons do not have any more enchantment slots than small weapons.
How is a 2h sword with a two second swing time, fiery weapon, and 3 enchantment slots supposed to compare to a dagger with a half second swing time, fiery weapon, and 3 enchantment slots? Lets say a 2h sword hits for a little over twice as much damage per hit as a dagger of similar quality. Per hit you've hypothetically got:
2h: 80 damage (base) + 15 (fiery weapon) + 15 (3x elemental damage runes) = 110 damage per hit.
Dagger: 35 damage (base) +15 (fiery weapon) +15 (3x elemental damage runes) = 65 damage per hit.
Both weapons benefit the same amount from runes and the mage spell but the dagger hits four or more times (dual wielding 2x daggers) for every single 2h sword swing so in ten seconds of combat (assuming no misses, no resists, no vulnerability/immunity to elemental damage) you end up with:
2h: 80(X5) damage (base) +15(X5) (fiery weapon) +15(x5) (elemental damage runes) = 550 damage (400 base, 150 from spell and enchants).
Dagger: 35 (x20) damage (base) +15(X20) (fiery weapon) +15(X20) (elemental damage runes) = 1300 damage. (700 base, 600 from spell and enchants).
Dual wielding in this hypothetical situation is roughly 240% more dps. Now if you run with a group of three dual wielders and a mage stuff dies so quickly a tank is no longer needed. Before writing this blog post I killed the high dragon on nightmare difficulty with Sten, Oghren, and my protagonist rogue dual wielding daggers while Wynne healed. The dual wield group build made killing this dragon pathetically easy even compared to my previosu two kills (once with two mages, rogue, and warrior tank and once with a 2h warrior, archer, mage, and shale tank).
Add to this that most debuffs that effect melee combat almost universally scale better with faster weapons and there is no contest as to which spec is better... even if you get warriors like Sten and Oghren with points pre-spent in the 2h line you only really need to get five talents in the dual wield line to put out these kinds of numbers (three to momentum, and the first two passives).
Now before I move on, I will say that yes this is the way I have chosen to play. I did ignore these numbers on my first play through to fully enjoy the game without min maxing but I was really hoping that the nightmare difficulty would force us to sit down and min max just to survive but that is simply not the case.
1. Three Words: Random Loot Generator. The absence of this feature is the most surprising thing of all in the game for me. How do you let a game this good get shown up by a flash game who's sole reason for existence is advertising this game? Dragon Age: Journeys (the flash game prequel of sorts) has two huge things Dragon Age: Origins does not. A random loot generator and stamina (basically rogue and warrior mana) potions.
A random loot generator similar to the likes of what we see in games like Diablo, Torchlight, and Dragon Age: Journeys (/facepalm) would have added so much to this game. Instead we have a never ending stream of identical suits of armor and weapons of varying levels of quality with the occasional piece of armor that is part of a set but often has no special stats of its own (though there are exceptions). This would have given the game a bit more replayability as players would no longer simply go straight to the location they know their favorite suits of armor are waiting for them.
.5 Optional challenge mode content. This is something I wish the game had but not so much that I'd give it a whole number. It's common for RPG's to have some option content specifically in place to challenge players. Dragon Age has a couple dragons to kill but these things take very little time to complete. Considering there is a fully functional arena in the game it was surprising to me that there wasn't some kind of massively challenging content built around that... I actually got my hopes up when I found the unsactioned (illegal?) matches but those hopes were dashed when I cleared five or so of them and got my reward... they actually were some of the more challenging fights in the game I had encountered up to that point which was perhaps why realizing the event was so finite hurt me so.
Well if anyone read this I certainly commend you. This is quite long and just my opinion. I'm sure many will agree and many will disagree. If you feel I'm off base feel free to yell at me, I rather like discussion of this type. Thanks for reading.