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The three biggest problems with Dragon Age 2

David Hughes's picture

Playing through BioWare’s Dragon Age 2 has been enjoyable so far, but the game is far from perfect, with three glaring design problems pulling the experience down.

Difficulty balancing is non-existent. It is becoming increasingly clear that BioWare cannot balance combat systems in its games. Origins had issues with difficulty spikes, but combat was mostly enjoyable until the game’s final boss. This was an exercise in utter frustration that seemed to stem more out of a poorly designed battle system than an intentional choice to make the final battle that hard. Curiously enough, the standalone expansion pack Awakening went the opposite direction – combat was so easy that even the highest difficulty level frequently became boring.

Things have gotten worse with Dragon Age 2. Retained are the game’s four discrete difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. Every player has a different experience, of course, but my own experience finds standard encounters quite easy on Normal yet boss fights are nigh-impossible on Hard. Consequently, I find myself constantly going into the menu to adjust settings so that I can get the most out of the game. Some of this can be attributed to very ‘cheap’ boss battles (replete with attacks than can literally kill 3 of 4 party members in one hit) but a setting just about halfway between Normal and Hard would be perfect (for me). Why not take a page from a game like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and use a sliding difficulty scale?

Cooldown or stamina/mana – but both? Special abilities outside of a default attack drain mana (mages) or stamina (rogues and warriors) but also have a ‘cooldown’ period before they can be used again. To be fair, Origins used a similar system that I had very little problem with, but it is not suited to the faster-paced combat of Dragon Age 2. Nowhere is this more apparent than the excruciatingly slow cooldowns on healing items and spells – which make dealing with the swarms of enemies this game throws at the player quite difficult. It is very easy for your party to get overwhelmed and not be able to heal themselves, simply because the game won’t let you.

If a player likes a certain ability, why not let her use it at will until mana or stamina drops to zero? I’ve previously sung the praises of the rogue class, whose best abilities (thankfully) have a relatively quick cooldown, but I frequently need a certain attack when it is still in cooldown (despite having the stamina to use it). Alternatively, do away with stamina meters altogether and focus on cooldown timers that make sense for the given ability. Having two semi-conflicting limits on ability usage must have made it very difficult to polish the game in its rushed development schedule – which was no doubt a key factor in the game’s poor balancing discussed above.

Recycled dungeons get stale very quickly. During one of my last game sessions, I did two quests in the same hour that had me – literally – going through the same exact dungeon. The second time differed only in the fact that I traversed the dungeon in reverse. BioWare is all about ‘hand crafted’ dungeons, including the daring amount of level design for their upcoming MMO The Old Republic, but in the clearly rushed development cycle they recycled a lot of area maps.

Given that battles frequently feel like the game’s enemies are zombies by a different name (enemies will constantly spawn invisibly behind your lines, swarming you on all sides), a procedurally generated dungeon system would fit really well. It doesn’t really matter what the dungeon looks like, as long as it has some corridors and a few big rooms, and the few locations important to the central storyline can get the extra special treatment. Knowing that every dungeon will play out differently – especially in a second playthrough – would really spice up the combat system. It would even make playing on an easier difficulty level more enjoyable, since there’s no memorization of enemy positions, simply reacting to a given tactical situation – making even swarms of easy enemies interesting to fight.

An honorable mention would be the fixed skill trees of party members. Want to make Varric a swordsman, or at least give him a melee weapon option (e.g. Origins’ system of two weapon loadouts)? So sorry, but he can only use ranged weapons! This is a major pity because he is one of my favorite characters (in terms of dialogue) so far, but the ‘zombie’ battles so frequent in the game make a ranged character other than a mage essentially useless in combat.

Do you have other frustrations with Dragon Age 2? Do you disagree with my complaints? Share in the comments!

Comments

Submitted by Bishibash (not verified) on
In my experince, mostly being hard and nightmare. I play hard on all the trash mobs and go nightmare against bosses. I think the game is severly lacking in difficulty. I found that i flourished through the entire game without to much difficulty. The boss fights are really lousy almost all the times. the combat system has failed since u can kite any melee. Also the only difficult thing is dragons, but even they prove to just be about how much you pause the game. If you build your characters to good, they game is to easy. You can max out most resistances, crit chances, defense on a rogue. Making it the most IMBA charcter ever to be found in a good RPG. So it has failed. I do however agree about the healing part. Not that its about being overwhelmed. But its about the time i can be inactive with heals. I want to be pushed to the limit in most fights. But since its no point going nightmare on trash since its basically just as easy, its better to just go hard. But if i constantly had to heal my tank i would be fine with it:) Another flaw is the rogues, again. But really they are too OP. Isabela and main character as rogues can sweep the floor with almost all trash in nightmare. Its a really bad RPG for strategy. But the way u can exploit many tactical bugs is also a big issue. Go behind a wall and pull mobs to you and you dont get full assault on you and similar. But the story is kinda good. But i thank thee who read this input:)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
i recently beat dragon age 2 on hard as a mage and i decided to play it again as a rouge on nightmare. the only thing that i have to complain about regarding the combat system is how all area effect attacks have friendly fire. Maybe my problem isn't really that they have friendly fire, but do i really need my swordsmen or rouge to run away every time i want to use a bursting arrow, fireball, miasmic flask or walking bomb for fear that it might stun or kill them. I'm not saying friendly fire should be turned off but it would be nice if their were a tactic where melee characters could just run away when a mage uses an area effect attack. Even mighty blow deals friendly fire. C'mon.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I actually thought the slow healing cooldowns were one of the BEST things this game had. In Origins, I watched so many of my friends just gulping an endless amount of healing kits, while worrying very little with playing carefully or with strategy. Afterall, after a while making an infinite supply of healing kits is REALLY easy in that game. i am very please DA 2 is not like that and that you have to optimize life regen.

Submitted by Josh P. (not verified) on
I highly enjoyed Origins, and it remains one of my favorite games of all times. Dragon Age 2, for as fun as it was, had alot of flaws that brought the game down. I decided that if they sort of "combined" ideas from both Origins and DA2, it would be more enjoyable. The main thing I enjoyed from Origins, was the ability to be different races, beginning playthroughs, the multiple choices, and the many outcomes that could come as you make those choices. I greatly enjoy well thoughtout storylines, which DA2 lacked. It had maybe 3 major choices that would affect the game outcome, but nothing that made the game interesting enough for multiple playthroughs. I hope that in DA3, they will give the player more chances to make game-altering decisions. For that is was RPG games are all about! The freedom to change the outcomes as you see fit. I did, however, like the fighting style in DA2, i found it to be more interactive than Origins. Though the classes seemed quite unbalanced. I definitly agree as far as your idea with the cooldowns and stamina/mana. DA2 had alot of potential that was never brought out, but I think they will surprise us with DA3. Especially since they will be using the Frostbite 2 Engine for the game.

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