Dragon Age 2 Review

Posted on April 4, 2011 by

2


The original Dragon Age was a mixed bag, (specifically one containing both diamond-puppies and SATAN). On the one hand, it played like the bastard love child of Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, on other the hand, it played like the bastard love child of Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (I didn’t really like Oblivion very much). As a setting, it was nothing we hadn’t really seen before. The gameplay was so-so, and clunky. The role playing elements were good but took away from the overall ‘action rpg‘ experience that Bioware had previously gotten spot-on perfect with Mass Effect. For all it’s flaws, (and lo, they were many) Dragon Age was still a great game, loved by many. Bioware took in all the criticism of Dragon Age- that it was unattractive, clunky and predictable, and, well- fixed them.

The first thing you’ll notice about Dragon Age: Part Deux, is that it looks gorgeous. The graphics and art style have been massively overhauled, with Bioware very keen to ensure that the series has it’s own distinctive style. The characters are expressive, well defined and wonderfully animated. The environments are well realised, and as the player character him/herself actually points out, “less brown”. Certain races are re-designed, such as the darkspawn, who go from looking like orcs/goblins in Lord of the Rings to looking more like undead, while the Qunari become more fearsome and gain some bitchin‘ horns. The next thing you’ll notice is that unlike in the first game, you have much less choice as to who you play as. While in Origins you could play as either sex of 6 different classes over three races, from human mage to Dalish Elf to Noble Dwarf . However here, you can only play as a human- Garrett/Marian Hawke (as a dude or a chick respectively) who can be either a warrior, a mage or a rogue. This allows for much greater level of characterisation. Where it would have been frankly impossible to voice-act every possible player character in Origins, resulting in your character being a voiceless mute who could only communicate through text menus, your character in DA2 can actually converse and express emotions, which I often find helps out in conversations with people.

In many ways this game is a major step away from what was becoming a very recognisable story template in Bioware games- a nameless and lowly protagonist gets involved in a massive conflict (The Sith Wars, Sarren’s Defection, The Blight), joins a faction (The Jedi Order, The Grey Wardens, the S.P.E.C.T.R.E.s), discovers things are actually deeper than they first though (You are Revan, Alastair is Heir to the throne, Sovereign is the real bad guy), builds up a crack team (Dragon Age, Mass Effect, KOTOR, Baulder’s Gate and so on and so forth). Instead, you are simply Hawke, a refugee from Lothering, which was destroyed by the Blight in the first game. He flees across the seas taking his family in toe, his Mage Sister Bethany, his Cocky Warrior brother Carver, and his Mother, who has a surprisingly large bosom for such an old lady. You also recruit Aveline, a Templar, after she loses her husband to the taint. Our heroes manage to escape the blight with the help of not-quite-as-dead-as-she-should-be Witch of the Wilds Flemeth, to the relative safety of Kirkwall.

Now, when I say relative safety, what I mean is that Kirkwall is constantly on the verge of some sort of internal conflict. Either between the inhabitants of the city and the Ferelden Blight Refugees, or the people of the city and the shipwrecked Quanari warriors, or between the Templars and the Mages, the city is always on the verge of civil war, and Hawke and his friends find themselves constantly in the middle of one conflict or another, not because s/he’s the chosen one or a Grey Warden, but simply because s/he is so often in the right place at the wrong time. Unlike so many other Bioware games, and indeed most other action RPG’s around today, there is no karma system. There is no right or wrong, some of your companions will argue against or disapprove of a particular action you take, while others will gleefully engage in less than savory activities. You frequently have to decide whether to do quests given to you by your companions or to refuse to help them for their own good and lose their friendship (though not their respect or allegiance), which is a refreshing test of the player’s morality, there are no signposted right or wrong ‘save the kitten or set it on fire’ options here.

The gameplay here is greatly tightened up- the combat is more visceral, profoundly bloody, to the point where it starts to be a little silly, but the whole game has a slight air of campness to it, as it knows it’s just a little bit silly and is just rolling with it, which frankly suits it well, as the original game was slow and boring when the combat came around, and you didn’t have much to do besides hammer the attack button. The combat and skill trees are hugely expanded and greatly varied, allowing for deep character customisation, along with character tactics in combat, where you can queue the importance of abilities and skills to be used by party members. Although you can get upgrades for companions armors, and provide them with new weapons, that’s as far as customisation goes for anyone who isn’t Hawke, who can wear a wide variety of bizarre and pointy armors throughout the game, and wield a number of very big weapons. Only rogues can now dual-wield blades, only warriors can use the (HUGE) broadswords or sword-and-shield sets, and Mages now have a number of pointy bits on their staffs in case some naughty bad guys gets too close for comfort.

The huge, twisting three-act story takes place over ten years (though thanks to the framing device- the the events of the story are being narrated to a Chantry Seeker by your Dwarven companion Varric, you only play through three of those years) detailing Hawke’s rise from lowly refugee to Kirkwall Nobility (and possibly even city Viscount if you play your cards right). Story elements are laid in from the very beginning that don’t come to full fruition until the very end of the game, and the story builds beautifully, subtly interweaving with the story from the first game and it’s expansions with the new narrative, and creating a deep, believable world.

Dragon Age 2 is an example of a sequel done perfectly, everything has been improved and refined, and while yes, it does take blatantly from Mass Effect, given that they’re made by the same people, i’m going to let them get away with that. I do have one problem though. There is no New Game+ option in Dragon Age 2. Once you get to the end of the story, there’s no going back to start again with your carefully built character, with all your gear and money, you simply have to start anew. Which is annoying, since you could New Game Plus in Mass Effect, but, hey, you can’t have everything…

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Posted in: Games, Review