Dragon Age II: the neverending dungeon

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Let’s face it: an unavoidable fact of life when you play RPGs is that you are going to be spending an inordinate amount of time in dungeons. They may not all be dark, dank, moss covered caves or yawning caverns. They take the form of the interior of castles, the basement of suspicious taverns, or a cursed church. Regardless of how they are skinned, they are all dungeons: corridors separated by doors and puzzles, with enemies around every corner and usually a boss at the end of the road. Dungeons can be the best part of an RPG or a nagging problem in an otherwise good game. Despite the traumatically awful experience of the Fade, Dragon Age: Origins featured varied, interesting dungeon design, enough to keep me coming back through an expansion and seven downloadable adventures. Surely Dragon Age II wouldn’t disappoint.

After the jump: No honey, I didn’t make a wrong turn.

It took about five hours of play, a dozen quests, and some time for my excitement to wear off before I started to sense that there was something wrong with my dungeon questing in Dragon Age II. I was having fun, some of the encounters were challenging, and I was enjoying the side quests despite feeling like a well-armored delivery boy.

I think it was my fourth dungeon when I stopped, looked around, and started talking to myself. Something wasn’t right. I had just been down that corridor. I had walked around that outcropping of stone. I had been through that door. I had fought the same enemies. No, wait, that happens regardless, since there seems to be all of three or four models whether you are fighting humans or darkspawn. I had done this all before, hadn’t I?

Well, sort of. The quests themselves are all different, of course. The composition of the enemies, the difficulty of the encounters, and the type of boss are never the same. The problem is that the dungeons, underneath superficial changes to room placement, length of corridor, and cosmetic effects, are all exactly alike. I don’t know for sure if there is only one set of dungeon tiles and graphics, or two, or even three, but that is the extent of the variety. You will, all exaggeration aside, remember landmarks, textures, lighting, and locations from one dungeon to the next, because they are that similar. It’s almost a critical flaw in Dragon Age II, something so egregious, so unnecessarily sloppy, and so rushed that it makes you not want to go through the effort of slogging through the same areas one more time. The only saving grace in most of the dungeon settings in Dragon Age II is the strength of the combat system.

Next: the lowdown on combat
(Click here for the previous Dragon Age II game diary.)