Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dragon Week Part 2: What is it good for? Absolutely Nothing.

Today’s Dragon Age II subject is the element I most hated about the game: the combat system. And since that’s a good 50% more of the game in its entirety, it’s a big problem. Essentially, it boils down to this: in the game’s frequent battles, you control a squadron of four characters, but you only have direct control over one at a time. For Bioware games in general, this limitation means that, especially for harder difficulties and fights, you are either constantly cycling through characters or letting your other members die and fighting solo. The former is frustrating because it makes you feel like you’re micromanaging rather than fighting, and the latter is frustrating because it rather defeats the purpose of having a team to begin with.

Dragon Age II attempts to solve this conundrum by allowing the player to program character macros, called “tactics,” that allow you to automate characters to a certain extent. For example, I could set the character Fenris to attack anyone who is targeting my healer, or to drink a health potion when his health goes below half, or to use a Smite blow whenever he is surrounded by more than 2 enemies—or I can set him to do all three, and prioritize each option.

It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t quite work. To be honest, even after hours of play, I’m still not entirely sure if it’s because the characters don’t quite use the macros I set out for them, or if it’s because they are using them, but because of the long waits between recharges for their moves, they are never quite accessing their moves exactly when I need them to be implemented. And honestly, as long as a game gives you even the sense that it’s not doing what you told it to do, something’s gone wrong. As an example of what’s clearly not working, on many of the bosses, there’s a visual cue that they’re gearing up for an area-based attack, and you’ve got a limited window to back away. You can always run your selected character away, but there’s no macro for getting the others to avoid what is very obviously coming—and no macro to set one to attack from the rear while the other attacks from the front, to avoid both getting hit at once by a front attack. So you’re left with the micromanage or solo play.

My personal solution was to take manual control of the healer, and let the computer take care of the others. It stopped the frequent deaths, but it also sucked the fun out of the game—I wasn’t really participating in the fight, I was managing it. And when the healer could do something, I just spammed attacks. I don’t know what the solution is here. You could go the solo route, like the Bethesda Elder Scroll games, but that sacrifices the group bond that is Bioware’s hallmark. You could go into a more robust macro such as that used in Final Fantasy 12, but... well, when it comes to which games people remember, it’s a sure bet they’re not going to place FF12 over the last Bioware effort. I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t like what I gots now.

Later Days.

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