Dragon Age II: reinventing the chat wheel?

, | Game diaries

I have another confession: I’m a goodie two shoes when I play RPG’s. The first time I run through an RPG, I feel compelled to be the world’s biggest ass-kisser, suck up, do gooder, and holier-than-thou moralist. I don’t know where the habit started. Possibly as far back as the original Baldur’s Gate, though I don’t recall a morality system beyond influencing your party members. But it has stuck with me. It has so permeated my playing style that even when I try to play RPGs a second time as an evil take-no-prisoners jerk, I usually end up choosing at least a few good options to ease my conscious. This would likely make for the world’s most boring game diary though, so I decided that I was going to pick every bit of dialogue based on how I thought it fit with the game world. No reloading, no second thoughts. The first thing that came to my head was the right choice.

After the jump, that’s not what I meant to say

Dragon Age 2 isn’t really doing anything new with its chat wheel. It’s basically a carbon copy of the wheel from Mass Effect, though it frequently appears to have fewer conversation choices and branches than that game. Dragon Age: Origins featured old-school decision trees, complete with number shortcuts, incredible amounts of dialogue to read, and enough choices so that players didn’t have to feel pigeonholed with their morality and how they role-played their characters.

Dragon Age 2 mostly does away with that. What you have left are three choices: one “good” choice that is usually friendly, polite, and conciliatory; one “neutral” choice that is almost always sarcastic or funny (and seems to poke fun at the morality system as a whole); and finally a “bad” choice, which functions much like it did in Mass Effect 2 as a get-things-done renegade option rather than something evil.

From a pure role-playing perspective, the change isn’t always a good thing. The Mass Effect series effectively invented the chat wheel, and in its pulpy, grainy, sci-fi B-movie setting, the system works exceedingly well (though if you aren’t careful, you can punch a woman in the face when all you are trying to do is tell her to shut up — no really, you can!). I don’t think it works as well in Dragon Age 2 in actually conveying the tone and content of what your Hawke is going to say. It’s still a vastly easier way to play than working through complex dialogue branches, and it definitely speeds up the pace of the game. Even more so than Mass Effect 2, I frequently had no idea what my choices were going to lead to in conversation.

The reason that is problematic is because many of the choices in the game — speeches that your character gives, the reaction of certain NPCs to you, and the behavior of your own party — is governed by a system that essentially keeps a running tally of all your dialog choices through the game and tailors events and reactions appropriately. I think this is a great idea in theory. Dragon Age 2 is telling you to play the game as the character you want to be and let the game customize the experience to your personality as it develops. That’s a pretty ingenious idea, and for the most part it seems to actually work well. Where it fails though, is in actually conveying what you are going to say based on the tone you take. More often than not the dialogue is mostly a surprise, and instead of real choice in conversations you are left with picking a conversational tone or feeling and letting things develop.

Unfortunately I am still in Act 2 so I can’t speak for how well the personality system will reflect on the end of the game and how much it will change to fit my character. I can tell you that I am having a lot of fun being a smartass, though it has been harder than I thought to break out of my habit of just being a nice guy in these games. Sometimes though, you just need a little Jack Bauer in your Dragon Age. That’s why despite the flaws, I am sold on the chat wheel.

Coming up next: next dungeon, just like the first
(Click here for the previous Dragon Age II game diary.)

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