(This post contains minor spoilers. You have been warned.)
I have a feeling that there are two reasons Dragon Age II slows down for some people early in Act 2. The first is that the game for the most part takes place in the only slightly changing city of Kirkwall, broken up by cookie-cutter dungeons and occasional interludes outside the city walls. The second is that by the middle of the game, you realize that Dragon Age II has abandoned almost every pretense of dressing up fetch quests.
After the jump, is this really what a hero does?
If you have ever played an RPG-from the early days of cRPGs to the classic NES-era JRPGs to modern action hack-and-slash like Torchlight, you know what a Fed Ex quest is. I don’t know who first decided that the best way to lengthen their RPG was with filler quests, but I curse him nearly every time I read quest text that goes anything like this:
Hail, adventurer. I have a task for you, if you are interested in earning some gold. My son went off to war without his favorite teddy bear. It would mean so much to him if you could return it.
Inevitably you run back across several areas that you have already traversed and fought your way through, found the son, and earned a paltry sum of experience and gold for your troubles. Then, the son has an important delivery of ore for the blacksmith in another town a few more loading screens away. Would you kindly deliver it for him? His life of standing around in camp with a teddy bear is obviously too hectic.
You get the picture. Every RPG is chock full of this kind of filler. Massively multiplayer games are the worst culprits, with frequent chains five or ten quests long that involve little more than running from point A to B and then back to C, over and over again. In the last decade developers have gotten a lot better at masking these quests by dressing them up with boss encounters, throwing a twist or surprise at the player, and frequently adding comedic subplots to move things along more smoothly.
Dragon Age II doesn’t bother with any of that. Some of the fetch quests are so rote, boring, and tedious that you will arrive at your destination, complete the quest, and with only a few words of dialog you are back to the not-so-bustling streets of Kirkwall trying to remember what your next objective is. By and large, the delivery quests are all that bad, and based on the number of complaints I’ve seen, I’m not the only one who is disappointed by just how blatant and obvious the filler is. It’s one thing to know a game was rushed and on a tight deadline; it’s another to see the corners being cut in ways you aren’t used to by one of the most respected developers in the industry.
To a lesser extent, the city of Kirkwall adds to the problem. The core concept of the game — you guide Hawke through ten years of conflict before, during, and after the events of Dragon Age: Origins to learn his story and how he became the Hero of Kirkwall — is one that I think is surprisingly fresh in a genre with little innovation. I like the idea, and I like much of the way it was implemented, but like most features in Dragon Age 2, it suffers from feeling rushed.
It’s one thing to see a city as it ages for ten years, see the locations and people change, see the consequences of your actions and decisions as you make your way through an epic story, and I wish I was able to play the game that way, the way Bioware likely wanted to build it. In practice though, you have a city that never really comes alive, that never really changes with the time, and that you leave so infrequently that nearly every quests feels rote and familiar by the end of the game. The game would have had a vastly better sense of scale, a better understanding of the importance of the events in Kirkwall if the world itself had been bigger. The player never gets a chance to see much outside of Kirkwall, and the feeling of being trapped exacerbates the tedium of many of the quests. All hail Garrett Hawke, hero of delivery quests!