Dragon Age 2 Review
Following in the footsteps of Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 is also set in the same world that reportedly took BioWare eight years to create. And what a world! Playing DA: O for the first time, one is time and again impressed at the incredible depth of the lore of Dragon Age, which keeps players up until the wee hours of the morning reading the entire gathered codex that provides insight into the world. In DA: O, one can feel oneself immersed fully in the game, the hallmark of any good RPG. The player begins to feel a sense of belonging not only with the main character and his companions, but also with the world around the main character. So much so, that it often takes many minutes of careful deliberation to decide on an action to take at any point in the game, and once taken, this reviewer made a mental note of taking the other decision the next time he played through the game (that’s a given, he’s hooked).
Dragon Age 2 continues in this very same tradition, but is set in Kirkwall (a city in the Free Marches) instead of Ferelden, where DA: O was based. The main character, whose name is unchangeably Hawke, is a Ferelden refugee from Lothering, who has fled the Blight with his/her family across the ocean to the Free Marches. As far as character creation is concerned, the immediate change is that this time, there is only one opening story and the main character will always be human. Nevertheless, the player can choose between the traditional classes-rogue, warrior and mage. There is also an option for importing a DA:O save file or choosing a preset of what happened in the events in DA:O, which influences a few cameo appearances of characters from the original game.
The first very prominent change in Dragon Age 2 gameplay is the combat. Whereas in DA:O combat was a protracted, messy affair, in Dragon Age 2 the actual fighting is much more fast-paced, and would not be out of place in some action fighting game.
Also, abilities cool down much faster, and activating one is only a matter of pressing the button. Although it does take some of the difficulty and heart-pounding moments-in DA:O the player would activate the ability and wait for the character to actually complete the previous move and then carry out the ability, with great chances of interruption-one is almost guaranteed that the ability will be activated and performed. Tactics are also less of the sticky affair that hardcore RPG-ers love, and there are a great number of presets. Combined with the quickened pace of combat, players can complete the game without any problem and never even have to open the tactics screen, such is the adequacy of the standard preset.
The entire game is divided into acts, three in all, with each successive act taking place three years after the previous one. This can be likened to the rather vague ‘phases’ in Dragon Age: Origins, but this time around they are much more defined. Whereas DA: O was more of a fantasy RPG, featuring the rise of a hero who saves the world, DA2 is based on much more pressing issues. Now there is no simple good or bad decision to be made; more often than not decisions involve choosing the lesser of two evils. In this case, quite a few of the issues plaguing today’s world are subtly incorporated into the gameplay.
Thankfully, now the main character can speak. Conversation options appear in a circular menu style, with the gist of each option displayed. There is also a ‘tone’ novelty this time around. The player can choose from ‘witty’, ‘sympathetic’, ‘angry/no-nonsense’, ‘romantic’ and ‘to-the-point’ dialogue options. Once selected, Hawke actually speaks out loud the speech option, in the defined tone.
There are multiple companions in DA2, each of which initially seems rather shallow, with seemingly rather trivial companion’s quests. It looks as if each lacks the depth of the companions in DA: O. This is reflected in the overall gist of quests, because there is no single overarching, direct goal to be achieved as in the first edition of Dragon Age. All the quests relate to multiple different issues confronting the city of Kirkwall. However, as the game, and the acts, progress all of what previously seemed disjoint comes together in an altogether appealing way, so that one is left wanting more in the end. The player also comes to respect what the characters are made of, because twists in the plot reveal that there is more to them than meets the eye.
Visuals nicely complement the storyline, with graphics managing to be both more aesthetically pleasing and less taxing on the computer than those of DA: O. No outrageous load times are encountered this time around, but this is mainly because of the fact that most of the different areas out-of-city are actually from the same set of 3 or 4 scenes, with perhaps different characters or enemies. It so happens that were it not for the captivating storyline, most gamers would have flung their keyboards and mice soon after starting the game-the player visits all of the scenes within the first few hours of starting the game. Afterwards it is all repetition, so that in the end it becomes simply a chore going through the map, mindlessly killing enemies in the way, and managing to doze off at the same time. Had each area been unique, it would have greatly improved the gameplay.
All in, this is one game that is an opportunity ruined. The streamlining, as BioWare puts it, turns off many RPG purists, in an attempt to please newcomers or casual gamers not ‘into’ RPGs. The end result, while quite good, simply results in a fair videogame. The quickened production process is obviously to blame in things like repetitive scenery, which could have been remedied easily were the game delayed a quarter. Even though the game is a fun RPG, and a rather good one at that, it could easily have been epic. Epic like the first Dragon Age, like Sonic 3D, like Mario or Tomb Raider; with immense replay value, destined to become greats. Although a nice experience, a classic Dragon Age 2 is not.
- Dragon Age’s world is carried over. Very impressive depth.
- Unconventional, critical storyline. Emphasises issues of current relevance.
- Slicker, more streamlined gameplay than DA:O
- Lighter yet better visual engine.
- The same scene/stage is used over and over far too many times in quests.
- Combat is now less challenging and involving than previously.
- Difficulty levels are rather discrete with a large gap in-between.