Before the launch of SWTOR, Bioware talked a lot about their new model of four pillars of game design: Exploration, Combat, Progression, and Story. Bioware uses characters with strong motives to energize their Story pillar because characters are the heart and soul of story. Characters move mountains, ravish princesses and princes, and start wars.
What’s the heart and soul of Progression? I’d say it’s the hero’s journey–the desire to venture forth to battle, seek treasure, overcome obstacles, and become powerful and great. Everyone wants to live a hero’s life. So what about Exploration? The first pillar is the first for a reason–it’s of first importance for fantasy fiction. We often take it for granted.
Aside from the continued simplification of DA2 , which is more a matter of opinion, (I’ve been trying to come up with a good euphemism for “dumbing down” because the phrase is getting stale) setting is the main weakness in the opening chapters of Dragon Age 2.
The Bioware devs were apparently so close to their project that they didn’t write for the average Jane. I didn’t even realize until I’d played Dragon Age for a few hours that this was a city campaign. The narrator just said a short blurb about Kirkwall during the boat voyage cinematics, something like this:
Kirkwall–the city of chains. A free city, in a manner of speaking.
And some other vague historical things that I didn’t bother write down after making a new character to verify whether or not I was imagining my perception of this. Speaking of historical things, everyone has probably read Robert Howard’s fiction, for contrast.
Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyberborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.
Okay, we’re psyched to go to seek our fortunes now, right? Gather your party and set sail for the tombs. Meanwhile, I know almost nothing about Kirkwall or the Free Marches where the city of DA2 is located. It’s probably somewhere in the depths of the journal that I’m supposed to be reading but never really do.
This design, by the way, is a real weakness of Bioware’s voice-over imperative. You speak to NPC’s and go back and forth with one-liners, but this isn’t close enough to describe a world, so you get these big “info dumps” in fiction writing terminology–you read a huge essay on a tablet or something.
Guess what is considered a no-no for fantasy and sci-fi writing? Info dumps. Avoid them, because your reader gets bored. Try to weave setting into the action and dialogue instead–something MMO writers so often just don’t do. Guess what? This latter strategy doesn’t work for Bioware. Voice file sizes will go haywire. Players will get bored listening to NPC’s drone on about backstory.
And with respect to the Exploration pillar, what can you really explore in Dragon Age 2? Linear dungeons with dead side-passages that lead to trash. The city overall is really nicely designed, though–the areas are big enough and the art and architecture are beautiful.
Bioware claimed that Dragon Age is the spiritual successor of Baldur’s Gate (these classics are on sale right now by the way–buy one get one free until the end of February at Good Old Games). I admit that in DA2, I’m finally feeling this a little bit. This is a really good thing.
You’ve got the snarky party banter. You’ve got this great city where random things do seem to happen, and adventure seems to be everywhere. My point is that I wish I felt a lot more of the good vibe of a great city adventure campaign–with more attention to the “first pillar.”
Also, I greatly admire the stylish, sleek maps and interfaces in DA2–this is some brilliant artist work–but the tried-and-true realistic fantasy art romances me better. (The art in the map graphic above is my own.) I kind of have the same reaction to the new stylistic, modern-looking maps in LotRO, which I’ve gone back to playing a little bit in the past few days–as predicted.
I signed up twice today for the Guild Wars 2 beta–once for English and once for Spanish. You too can throw in your bid for the next two days with the hopes of being chosen. Visit the article on Massively.com if you need a link.
I hope GW2 is great and surprises me, but I can’t help but feel like–as with SWTOR before launch–the game is slightly overrated right now. The similar combat system as the original, combined with the desire of Arenanet to put GW2 on consoles, are also speed limiters on my enthusiasm. The WvWvW PvP sounds interesting, but it makes no sense at all to me in terms of immersion.