Mass Effect 2 vs Dragon Age: Origins

Written by Clive Webster

December 19, 2010 // 11:28 a.m.

Tags: #bioware #dragon-age-origins #mass-effect-2

It’s curious that two similar games from the same games studio differ so much in how enjoyable they both are. While Mass Effect 2 feels fresh and vivid, Dragon Age feels dull, clichéd and derivative. That’s quite an achievement, considering that both games are set in unique worlds and both have essentially the same plot. What’s so wrong with Dragon Age to provoke such a reaction?
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To me, almost everything that could be wrong with Dragon Age is, barring catastrophic failure. The graphics look poor, with basic and blocky geometry, low-res textures and too much shininess. While ME2 shares some of these characteristics, it’s less noticeable – sci-fi clothing is meant to be shiny and robots and machinery are meant to be blocky in shape.

The gameplay of Dragon Age falls into the tired format of slogging through lengthy dungeons. I found myself wondering what on Earth I was actually doing at numerous points in each mission, and the only answer I could come up with was ‘it’s a dungeon, crawl through it till you get to the boss at the end.’ This meant the game comprised of slogging across the world, fighting irritating bandits along the way, and then slogging through a dungeon full of the same kind of enemy. Thrilling...

Meanwhile, the missions of ME2 felt more fun and were more varied – the siege of Archangel had different sections that encourage different ways of playing, while Jack’s rescue was a full-on firefight, while Tali’s loyalty mission had a great sense of dread about it. All these missions had a tight focus and felt compelling to play. It’s no coincidence that ME2 is the only game I’ve ever started replaying as soon as I’d finished it (in fact, it’s one of the games I had any interest in re-playing at all).

Even the tone of Dragon Age left me underwhelmed – the buckets of blood that was thrown over everything in sight, and the supposedly tough moral choices. I felt no remorse at killing a demon-infested child, but felt the need to think much more about decisions I made ME2 as I actually cared whether or not I closed off missions or friendships with the characters (even if this is fairly hard, in reality).

It’s baffling that Ferelden felt so tired when the galaxy of ME2 feels so fresh and interesting, but if you’re going to use the same old stereotypes (Dwarves are miners, Elves are fey and aloof and so on) and only mix in some generic ideas of world cataclysm, that’s the inevitable result. A hodgepodge of the blandest parts of Robert Jordan and Tolkien is hardly the way to go for a brand new game world; I’d like to recommend that the next time Bioware looks to do a fantasy game it puts Steven Erikson, George R.R. Martin and Glen Cook on the required reading list before writing a word.

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