Who’s Right About Dragon Age II, Critics or Users?

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Critics seem to love Dragon Age II, awarding it high scores and spouting superlatives by the dozens. Techland’s own Evan Narcisse gave it a 9.7 out of 10, calling it a “heavyweight champion,” and he doesn’t even like fantasy games.

So what’s the deal with all the wildly-at-odds Metacritic user reviews?

The Xbox 360 version of BioWare’s chatty roleplaying epic scores a respectably neon-green 83 out of 100 (of 34 critics), but the user score plummets to an evil-eye red 3.9 out of 10–and that’s out of 354 user ratings, as of this post.

“Dragon Age 2 is a[n] over simplified hack and slash game where not even the gameplay but the story itself is simplified in order to make the game more accessible,” complains one user, alleging developer Bioware “took away pretty much everything that made the original Dragon Age such a big sucess [sic].”

“By trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, Bioware has created game that never really develops it’s own personality,” writes another, calling the game “utterly forgettable.”

“Quite simply a horrendous sequel in every way possible, [B]ioware have truly let their fanbase down,” writes a third.

It’s the same story for the PC and PS3 versions, averaging a sulky 3.2 (511 ratings) and 3.3 (201 ratings) with users, respectively.

I took the time to scan most of the negative complaints, and nearly all boil down to two points: Fighting’s too button-mashy, and conversations are too simplistic.

Dragon Age: Origins certainly offered more nuanced tactical combat, but where you might call it “complex,” I’d substitute “convoluted.” Fiddling pop-up radial menus with sub-layers (and sub-sub-layers) as well as pausing combat to deploy new orders isn’t my idea of entertaining–more like interrupting a football play every couple of seconds to tweak running paths and throw trajectories. Dragon Age II leaves the pause-play options in, but accommodates a leaner button-tapping fighting style that gradually evolves into something fairly sophisticated by the time you’re into the first act.

As for gabbing with soldiers, citizens, and the odd chatty monster, Dragon Age II is just as layered and pliable as ‘Origins’ was, it’s just less deceptive about what those choices conjure. What you choose to say in both games matters, but not much. And the primary quests, plot points, and grand ol’ ending are essentially the same, whatever you say or do.

Picking different stances in Dragon Age II while dialoguing is rather more about narrative color, shading rather than substituting. Whether you come off as a goody-two-shoes, cranky critic, or witty wisenheimer–that’s up to you. It’s a directorial thing. And Dragon Age II’s every bit as good at letting you interpret its “script” as Origins was.

Besides, games aren’t advanced enough (well, yet) to let you dynamically rewrite hard story points on the fly. Dragon Age II’s willingness to back up and streamline that stuff is more about celebrating what games can do, instead of trying to hide what they can’t.

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