Raven Reviews "Dragon Age 2" *No Spoilers*

Not what it SHOULD have been.....

By on March 10, 2011 10:50:33 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

RavenX

Join Date 10/2008
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Before I get into a detailed review, I know many of you don't like to read overtly long winded reviews and for those of you like that, here's a quick, short, TLDR version.

TLDR:

On it's own as a game (if you pretend there was no such thing as DA:O ), Dragon Age 2 is a "decent" Action RPG. It has it's good points, and as long as you don't know about the depth of the original game then you won't feel cheated out of what should have been a much richer experience. If you didn't play DA:O and you like streamlined, action oriented RPG's, then you'll most likely find a very fulfilling game on it's own. If you played and loved DA:O because of it's grand scope and depth of game-play options and diversity, then you'll most likely be left disappointed in DA:2 and feel somewhat cheated out of a richer experience.

Pros: DA:2's combat is faster and flashy-er than the original. Despite this they did manage to leave a somewhat tactical feel, but, you'll need to crank up the difficulty to see it. DA:2 has slightly better graphics than DA:O. Your character in this game actually has a voice which aids in the feeling of guiding a narrative.

Cons: DA:2 has been "streamlined" To Death. The wealth of options which provided Depth and some types of strategy like taking the time to fully equip each party member are gone. Conversations have been regulated to a "wheel" ala Mass Effect 2. Many of the sub quests only provide the ILLUSION of actual choice when in reality there is none. The game's difficulty is a joke and is quite laughable unless you put it on Nightmare mode. Far too many shortcuts were taken such as re-used environments and the lack of control over equipping your party except for their trinkets.

And now on with the In Depth and HONEST review....

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Dragon Age 2 feels much more like an "Action RPG" than a traditional RPG. The combat changes that many lovers of DA:O feared would ruin the game actually haven't ruined the game. What ruined the game was the lack of Non-Combat options which is one of the areas the original game shined at. Much of the Depth has been stripped away for no apparent reason when it comes to actual Game-Play. These "streamlined" changes didn't do anything at all to improve the game and had the exact opposite effect. The battles feel fun and exciting but with a camera that jumps around because you can't keep an over-head isometric view (even on the PC version) they can get confusing, frantic, and this lack of a proper view actually hampers spell casting at targets that are more than a screen away. Having said that though, standing on it's own as a stand alone game, for what it is, an action rpg, it does a decent job and has kept me playing for the last two nights and I imagine I'll keep playing until I finish the game at least once. Either that or until Shogun 2 hits and drags me away from all other life outside of conquering medieval Japan.

Storyline and Quests: The storytelling and quests in DA:2, while good, seem to jump around a lot which takes away from a "cohesive experience". I've had some good ones where my actions honestly did determine the outcome. I had control over how things would turn out. I've had other quests where I was only given the "Illusion" of Actual Choice. I tested this by saving it before trying a conversation, playing out the conversation, then reloading it and trying the conversation a much different way, still with the Exact Same Outcome. When I found this out it left me feeling cheated and made me wonder how many other quests this would be happening to without my knowledge because I'm not going to test every single quest in the game to find out which ones do this and which ones don't. I'd name off the specific two quests this happened to me in, but, I can't do that without explaining about the quest which would provide spoilers and it's far too soon to be giving away spoilers in a review. By only providing the Illusion of choice though, they stripped away many options that could have gave the game replayability and stripped away a layer of Depth that should have been kept intact from the original. The original game did this as well in a few areas, but, they were much harder to spot and I guarantee much fewer in implementation where it did happen in DA:O.

The Conversation Wheel: This Convo Wheel, in my eyes, is nothing more than an excuse to simplify things and to copy the commercial success of the Mass Effect series. The convo options given only show you the over-all gist of what your reply will be and in what tone it will be given. This can often lead to the player going "WTF, that's not what I wanted to say and I KNOW that's not the way I picked"...and in a game like this that's the last thing you want your player saying. Despite the opinion by some that this was a positive change because it helps with providing a voiced main character, in reality it detracts from the Depth of the game if you're looking for a more traditional RPG game with in depth conversations with real choice. The convo wheel could have been added and done "right" by explaining some of the replies better before they were chosen and by making sure the replies had a lasting meaning on the conversation. With a little more Depth added to the wheel, I feel this could have been a truly positive change instead of hampering and streamlining a much deeper system which it has done.

Graphics: Over-all, the graphics in DA:2 are much improved from the original, especially on the PC version where the "High Res Texture Pack" and DX11 come into play. Sadly though, even on a high end gaming rig with all the bells and whistles enabled, some of these new options actually make certain aspects of the visuals pixelate in places and once you notice those places, you spot them constantly, such as the outlines of hair on the models and objects in the background that are supposed to be blurred because of a "depth of field" option. Unfortunately this depth of field option makes some things stand out as being heavily pixelated when you look very closely. If you don't look closely though, they are hard to spot and easy to miss sometimes. DX11 does provide a whole host of new lighting effects which in many areas such as environmental lighting and spell effects makes those aspects shine. So, bottom line on the graphics, they're an improvement in many areas and a slight draw back in others. Mostly this depends on the players attention to detail. If you don't look close you'll miss them and just think the newer graphics are amazing without seeing their faults.

(pictures of this "pixelation" coming soon when I have the time to circle the areas I'm specifically talking about and get the pics up on photobucket)

Items and Equipping Party Members: The item system, like many other aspects that were loved and part of a deep, true, RPG experience, have been half bastardized in DA:2. You have full control over every piece of armor and item/trinket but Only for your Main Character. For your party members you can't change their armor....at all...and can only change their trinkets such as belts, rings, and you can change their weapons IF they're the right weapons for that character. One character, a dwarf named Varric, has a special crossbow which simply can NEVER be changed, so for him at least, even that option has been removed. When you find new gear, if it's a piece of armor of any kind, rest assured it's only going to be usable by Hawke and no-one else. There's really not much need to save any un-used items you may have saved up. Go ahead and sell them, they won't be needed if they're outside your chosen class for your version of Hawke.

For me at least, as a Hard Core RPG enthusiast, taking away the ability for me to fully control the entire load-out of my parties gear is a Big Change for The Worse. This part of the game was Dumbed Down for no good reason other than to cut down on development time and costs. For Shame Bioware...for SHAME!!! A big chunk of party management, of the Depth of it, is flat out gone.

Map Areas and Re-Used Maps: Some (granted though few) of the areas of the game look quite honestly dazzling. Other areas....not so much. Also, there are quite a few maps that get flat out Re-Used. Where you should be going to a completely new area, you get there only to find out the area is laid out exactly like another area you've previously been to. There might be some new items or loot in a chest, but those chests or sacks are hidden in the same spots they were on the cloned map from another area. It's like half way through level design they decided they had enough to work with and fired the guy who was in charge of making new environments. This is yet another area of the game where things have been overly simplified and Dumbed Down to either save on time, money, or both. Using "stream-lining" as an excuse for this doesn't fly for anyone with half a brain. It's just another part of the game where the Depth was removed for no good reason. Again I say for Shame on Bioware...For Shame!!!

Crafting Items and Potions: The crafting system was "stream-lined" as well, and Not in a good way. Now, when you find a potion ingredient, you Always Have It. It works like this. Say you find 3 Elfroot and 2 Deep Mushrooms. A potion you want to make requires exactly that count to make. Now that you've initially found that many, you can make As Many of that potion as you want, and all you have to do is pay money to a potion maker to do it, even if you your-self are a mage/alchemist. You still must pay the cost in money to make the potion, while your total count of the ingredients needed to do so Stays The Exact Same. Meaning once you've found enough of the needed ingredients, you have unlocked unlimited access to making that potion (you need a recipe to learn how to make it oddly enough, even though you're paying someone else to make it). This is another Prime Example of where a system that worked perfectly fine in the first game was Simplified and Dumbed Down for no apparent game-play reason other than to keep the player from having to hunt them down in the wild repetedly (the ingredients) or buy them from a vendor which for me added a lot of Depth to the original game.

Skills and Abilities: The skills break down into very easy to read skill trees, ala a MMORPG like WoW, only with a bunch of small trees per character. Speaking of "per character", some characters who will join you have Specific Skill/Ability trees that were designed just for them, even though another party member might be of the same class, they won't have that specific skill or ability because it was specially made Only for a certain character. Two prime examples of this are Varric and Fenris. Though Varric is a rogue, one of his skill trees revolves around his very personalized weapon. Fenris is a two handed sword wielding elf warrior who has a special skill tree because of something that happened to him which fits into his storyline so I won't spoil that. Those aren't the only two characters that have special skill trees all their own. Some of the others do as well. This wouldn't be a bad thing, except that in some cases other skills or abilities were obviously removed from their classes to make room for these custom skill sets. Again, applying limitations to what can be done with individual characters has over-all Dumbed Down the game and cut out Depth. The way this was done over-all with skills and abilities, it's a small step forward combined with a big leap backward by removing some skills. Also, if you want to "Dual Wield" a blade you MUST be a rogue. Warriors no longer have that ability at all.

Initial Ending Assessment of first 1/3 of the game: Over-all, if you can pretend there was no DA:O , or you simply never got around to playing DA:O, and if you like "Action RPGs", you'll most likely find an enjoyable experience as a whole with DA:2. It is a Fun game so far minus some of the tedium of constantly killing weak and pathetic mobs while you're dealing with the mobs leader. DA:2 does have it's charms. Particularly if you're a fan of the Mass Effect series you'll most likely get a lot of enjoyment out of the game.

If how-ever you did play DA:O and you're looking for there to be the same Depth that was in all the other options in DA:O then you're going to be sorely disappointed. While the combat changes turned out to be an over-all improvement (once the difficulty is cranked up), the rest of the experience is left lacking and wanting of the Depth that were in place when it came to item management, skill and ability management, and being able to effect many more quests and their outcomes.

In the end depending on what kind of game you're looking for and to enjoy will play the biggest role on whether or not you merely like DA:2, or love DA:2. On it's own it's a "decent" Action RPG but with nothing spectacular to write home about. When you take into account all the Depth in the various game-play options in DA:O how-ever, DA:2 comes off as a child-like experience that will more than likely just piss off players of the original game. The new combat system didn't ruin the game at all, it's the Lack Of Effort that was put into all the other aspects of the game that will leave a very bad taste in your mouth.

DA:2, so far, gets a "Raven Score" of 6/10, and that's being a little generous.

I hope you enjoyed this detailed look at what DA:2 is REALLY all about. Happy gaming my friends , RavenX

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March 10, 2011 10:51:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This Space Reserved for End of Game Review.

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March 10, 2011 11:12:41 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think this is a fair review and I mirror it's oppinions.

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March 10, 2011 11:25:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

i wont even try DA 2

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March 10, 2011 11:42:28 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This is the best and most comprehensive review of DA 2 yet and certainly the most thoughtful and accurate. It's a refreshing change from the breathless reviews from so-called professional sites which appear to have been written by a marketing weasel from EA. It is a decent game if taken on it's own merits, but it's a shame nevertheless because Bioware is capable of doing so much better.

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March 10, 2011 11:55:08 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I agree with a lot that you have posted Raven.  So far I've only played about 2 hours into the game (I don't plan to play much further until the first patch, usually what I do).  I totally agree with the "dumbed down" statements because they are true.  The depth just isn't there in this game.

BUT despite this I am having a blast playing the game, even though I'm a huge fan of Origins and other hard core RPGs.  I fear thogh that those days are over as companies continue to dumb down games for consoles.  Not trying to talke down to consoles here but it's true that the hard core elements we all love usually don't translate well to the console.

So I am having fun.  I won't however spend any money on any extra DLC's or expansions and instead wait until an "Ultimate" edition is on sale and get all the content.  Assuming I even want to.  With Elders Scrolls 5 on the horizon I'm sure I'll get my RPG fix with that game instead.  Although there is dumbing down going on even there too.

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March 10, 2011 1:26:39 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I had so much faith in bioware.... why Raven? why? Its my fault, I should have seen it coming... DA:O was a great game, but a shadow vs games like baldurs gate, planescape torment, kotor and maybe, maybe nwn. Classes, skills and spells where dumbed down, but the new setting was ok, and the characters and story were great.

But now... equipment? isometric/strategic view? less conversations? and even irrelevant outcomes? wtf? what happened, what?!

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March 10, 2011 1:53:41 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I think they started to like games that drive the player after ME more than games that give player freedom. If you think about it, the Mass Effect games drop you into a role of a heavily pre-defined character to play through the story that's layed out step by step by BioWare, only allowing you a few real choices on how to alter some events. DA:O, to a lesser degree from the older RPGs, allows you to play your own character the way you want, even in the framework of a central story. In DA:O, you drive the game more than it drives you. For DA2, they took to the ME approach - they stick you in a predefined character, with limited real ways of changing anything.

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March 10, 2011 4:35:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I am almost 1/2 way in on hard... Ya I agree with ya Raven... Well hopefully the rest will be a little better but... doubt it. (Well Witcher 2 and Skyrim are out this year so hopefully these will deliver...)

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March 11, 2011 2:46:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I have to agree with Raven here. I've played about 6-7 hours so far, and saw my first copy/paste dungeon about 3 hours in. Wow. Slightly different lighting, otherwise IDENTICAL. That gave me a real bad vibe.

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March 11, 2011 5:51:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

*checks professional reviews*

*checks honest reviews*

It's times like this I'm glad I subscribe to Raven X for my reports.  Without it I could easily have become another consumer casualty.

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March 11, 2011 7:16:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting RogueCaptain,
*checks professional reviews*

*checks honest reviews*

It's times like this I'm glad I subscribe to Raven X for my reports.  Without it I could easily have become another consumer casualty.

I appreciate the confidence there, Cap'n , thanks.


I thought I should clear up a general impression I might be giving off. DA:2 is Not a Bad game. It Is a pretty decent game and it Is fun for the most part. It's just not anywhere near as Deep as the first one was in a whole lot of areas, most of which I covered above.

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March 11, 2011 9:09:37 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

I thought I should clear up a general impression I might be giving off. DA:2 is Not a Bad game. It Is a pretty decent game and it Is fun for the most part. It's just not anywhere near as Deep as the first one was in a whole lot of areas, most of which I covered above.

Which is why I won't buy it at the current retail price. Maybe when it is heavily discounted.

 

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March 11, 2011 10:46:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I hope that the upcoming Skyrim doesn't go the same route. One of the devs was talking about being inspired by the menue layout for the Apple music store and it gave me that sinking "we're going to streamline everything" feeling. It's just the way the culture is changing, I guess. We've gone from Frank Sinatra and Billie Holliday to Justin Beiber and Britney Spears. Games appear to be following the same path.

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March 11, 2011 11:06:29 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

Games are going the Twitter route.  Instead of 140 characters or less, the philosophy is to make things take 14 seconds or less. 

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March 12, 2011 12:35:32 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Gaston_DAoust,
I hope that the upcoming Skyrim doesn't go the same route. One of the devs was talking about being inspired by the menue layout for the Apple music store and it gave me that sinking "we're going to streamline everything" feeling...

With Skyrim, they wanted to get around the menu system that Oblivison used, which wasn't entirely user friendly.  So, they made everything graphical instead.  It's still menu driven, it just looks prettier now.  The map, for example, is just the camera zooming out to show you the entire world rendered in real time.

As far as Dragon Age 2 goes, all the comments I'm seeing is that they removed the RPG Elements.  Which wouldn't matter, if the game wasn't an marketed and billed as an RPG.  Ultimately, I'm glad I passed on it.

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March 12, 2011 6:55:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It is interesting to look at this review now in hindsight after finishing the game. I too was bothered by some of the thing stated in the OP, but as I played through the game, I came to realize just how deep the game actually was. There are a couple of things from the OP I would like to point out though as I think they were overstated.

The crafting system in DA2 is definitely different than in the Origins, yet the infinite crafting resources is not somehow new to DA2. In Origins, elfroot, deathroot, and lyrium were all infinitely available from various merchants and one needed only go to the camp to get flasks and other components to make a near infinite amount of health and lyrium potions. While DA2 removed traps as a craftable, the traps in Origins were insanely overpowered, even from the weakest trap.

As for skills and skill trees, it is true that the companions do not share the same skill trees and not all of the skills from Origins are represented. While this means does mean that Aveline will never become a two handed fighter or Varric a dual wielder, each companion still has more skill and upgrades than they could ever possibly hope to select in a single game. On top of this, there is an incredible depth in combining skills, both for a single character as well as for the party. For instance, cleave grants a +100% damage boost for 10 seconds, which is also applicable to other skills, mixed with a mage casting haste, this spell can devaste enemies. Another great improvement is the use of status effects such as disorient, brittle, and staggered, which are placed by one class and exploited by others. For instance, winter's breath can be upgraded to cause brittle, while mighty blow can be upgraded to deal massive damage to brittle enemies.

Map Reuse is probably the biggest problem I had with DA2, and after finishing the game, I will say that this was by far most unpleasant during the first part of the game. The four most noticably reused maps are the mine, the sewer, the warehouse, and the mansion. Of these, the sewer is probably the least offensive as one tends to access this from the same places in Darktown and thus makes sense that they are all basically the same. The mine is probably the worst offender as the first part of the game uses this map several times with the climatic battles occuring in exactly the same spot with almost the same layout of treasure chests. However, After the first section, this map all but vanishes.

Honestly, if I were to review this game, I would give it an 8/10. It is not a hardcore RPGer's wetdream in the same ways that tried to be, but it is definitely a well thought out RPG in its own right. I would suspect that after the dust settles from the initial naysayers, most players will find the slow build up of the story to draw them in and make the experience well worth the price of admission.

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March 12, 2011 7:47:55 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So the trick for a new customer is to play number 2 first and then go to the richer original I guess. I just might do that.

 

Thanks Raven! And all the best in real life!!!

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March 12, 2011 11:20:28 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

My willingness to want to play dao2 has dropped now.

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March 12, 2011 11:44:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I usually go to The Escapist for my reviews. They've been a source of largely accurate and impartial purchasing advice in the past. So when the Escapist had this to say about DA2, I immediately decided to buy it:

Bottom Line: A pinnacle of role-playing games with well-designed mechanics and excellent story-telling, Dragon Age II is what videogames are meant to be.

Recommendation: Buy it, steal it, beat up your little brother so you can play it.

But the game hasn't lived up to the review. DA2 is playing very much like an above average RPG title. It's good, but it's not great, and it certainly does nothing new for the genre. There are just too many parts where it feels like the developers took shortcuts. Most obviously in the map reuse, but also in the limited companion inventory, the dialogue mechanics and other areas.

My main beef, then, is in the almost dishonest review. It doesn't so much as acknowledge that the game has flaws. Obviously, any game has flaws, and I didn't expect DA2 to be the exception. But these are some rather notable flaws. Reusing entire dungeons, with nothing more than a slight change in lighting hue (light green here, light blue there), is something players are going to notice, and going to be put-off by. In short, it is something that any unbiased review should have noted.

I'm clearly not alone in thinking this. The Escapist review now has 400 comments, a full half of which seem to be attacks on the integrity of the review. The other half, in true internet tradition, are attacks on anyone who had an issues with the review or the game itself.

Is there an emoticon to convey a sigh?

I'd like to say again, though, that it IS a good game, solid and play-worthy. But it doesn't, in my mind, have a place beside the best of RPGs, and isn't quite as good as DA:O was. I'd suggest picking it up when the price drops.

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March 13, 2011 1:31:15 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The more I have been playing it, the more I have really, really been liking it.  After the jarring lack of common RPG options has finally worn off, the characters and story are really, really good in my opinion.  Still don't like a lot of changes and still consider the origional better, but this game does have a unique and interesting story.

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March 13, 2011 3:26:57 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Too, me, from every review I've read, it sounds like they made a port, and not a game for the PC.  It's primarily meant for consoles and that style of gaming.  It's the reason I won't buy it and seem to be done with the DA titles now.  I am wondering if MA is going to go this irritating route?

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March 13, 2011 1:11:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I honestly didnt find DA:O to be all that "deep" either. It was always kind of directed and straightforward to begin with. Looks like the sequel might be even more so but I can't say im suprised or would feel like im robbed of some incredibly in depth gameplay from Origins. Not a bad review but I do sometimes wish people would find more to comment on than "streamlining this" "dumbed down that" "gone action RPG" "lack of depth" these are things people say about EVERY new game that gets released. Even when its true I feel like its reiterated about a thousand times per post.

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March 17, 2011 12:26:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I am at the point in the game where I just want to end it as combat and encounter design and level reuse is so nerve wracking and boring. I didn't even buy it and I am not ashamed to say it. I will not buy it even if it costs 5$ and if I could not pirate it I would not buy it either and would just do something else (like play DDO or NWN2 which I plan to play after this again). 

 

Also after this game I will be even more careful about Kotor MMO. If it even smells like DA2 I will avoid it in a wide circle. 

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March 17, 2011 12:54:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I found this description of DA2 on official forums to perfectly mirror my feelings about this game: http://social.bioware.com/forum/Dragon-Age-II/Dragon-Age-II-General-Discussion-No-Spoilers-allowed/A-detailed-look-on-DA2-and-CRPG039s-6561302-1.html

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March 17, 2011 12:59:18 PM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums
Best thing to do is vote with your wallet. I don't want a dumbed down version of DA so I'll stay away.
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