Dragon Age 2 User Review
Dragon Age: Origins is one of the most beloved RPGs of the last decade and stands as one of my personal favorites of the generation. The scale is grand, the setting is well-developed and interesting, and the characters each have unique backstories and complex motivations. While not necessarily doing anything original, DA:O took a recipe that was established many years ago (Neverwinter Nights comes to mind) and gave it the modern treatment. While some complained of boring combat and a lack of polish, I found the game extremely satisfying.
When Dragon Age 2 was announced, I began looking forward to more of the same. I applaud Bioware for their attempt at progress, but as I played DA2 I found myself longing for the classical conventions of the original. Gone were the epic scale, strategic combat, and impressive set-piece moments. There is a lot to love about DA2, but the sacrifices made to make the game more accessible are too great for me to ignore.
DA2 begins with you, Hawke (alongside mother and sister), fleeing the darkspawn through the wilds of Ferelden. After fighting your way past these demons you make your way to Kirkwall, a fortified and architecturally stunning city across the sea that is experiencing its own share of problems, including a ballooning refugee population and an ongoing power struggle between the city’s main factions. The story chronicles your rise within Kirkwall as you form alliances and build your team.
As you progress you will learn more about Kirkwall, its denizens, and the conflicts that are driving them apart. The story, while not quite as engaging as that of Origins, is well told and the pacing is, as in most Bioware titles, exceptional. The voice acting is outstanding and the dialogue trees are back in full effect, forcing you to make many difficult decisions along the way. It is these decisions that drive the story forward and give each player a unique experience.
You control Hawke, but what would an RPG be without a quirky cast of characters? DA2 presents you with a diverse team of thieves, knights, mages, etc. and their interactions help flesh out an already intriguing story. My only complaint story-wise is that the set-piece which occurs at the halfway point in the game is more exciting and has a better climax than the endgame. This is not to say the ending is bad, but I feel like the better antagonist did not get the spotlight he/she deserved.
The game consists of main story, companion, and side quests. Most of these have the signature Bioware flare and include some cool moments and unique story arcs. Many of these sidequests can be completed in a variety of different ways and most have multiple endings. The companion quests are especially well done and add a lot of depth to each character.
While I enjoyed the story immensely, the gameplay struggled to keep up. Similar to the transition from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, DA2 favors action in place of strategy. Battles are over much more quickly, but they are less varied and provide less of a challenge than in the first game. The sacrifice here was style over substance. The battles look better but are less engaging; they are more cinematic and less strategic. The enjoyment of watching a battle is dwarfed by the satisfaction of “executing” a battle, which was one of the greatest strengths of DA:O. More difficult battles still require frequent pausing for manual commands, but I found myself running through lesser battles without much care.
Commands are executed using an ability wheel similar to that of Mass Effect 2, but I never felt the need to vary my attack strategies. I found myself spamming the same abilities in nearly every battle, which made things start to drag on toward the end of the game.
Character progression is pretty standard and, once again, similar to that of Mass Effect 2. You can allocate ability points to raise certain stats in addition to choosing a new technique or ability at each level up. The system works well but it is nothing we haven’t seen before.
One of the primary complaints of the game is one that I certainly agree with: the lack of customization for your party. You cannot customize your AI companions’ gear (aside from weapons and accessories) and what makes it worse is that you will constantly pick up gear that you cannot use. I cannot count the number of times I picked up an awesome weapon or piece of armor and proceeded to the equipment screen only to realize it was only for a specific class and limited to Hawke. Bummer. As someone who loves to tinker I found this extremely disappointing.
The other primary complaint is the recycled dungeons. You are limited to Kirkwall and a few surrounding areas and you will constantly revisit these areas and, eventually, you will know where the enemies are coming from and where the boss battles will take place. This eliminates any sense of surprise and takes away from the sense of mystery you get when exploring an area.
Production-wise, Dragon Age 2 makes a better showing than its predecessor, but still fails to compete with console exclusives. The art style is slightly different than DA:O and I enjoyed gawking at the awesome architecture of Kirkwall. The dungeons are pretty standard fare: caves, mountain passes, dark alleys, etc. Character models are detailed and I appreciate the attention to detail given to weapons, armor sets, and ability effects. DA2 is a great looking game, but, once again, I miss the charm of the original.
The music is suitably epic and the voice acting is also very well done. Sound effects really pop and battles are brought to life (I especially enjoyed the sound of landing a critical hit, in which the enemy explodes in a splash of blood). After all, this IS Bioware. Production value is a given. I don’t have to say much more than that.
I have always been impressed with Bioware and I can appreciate the consistent quality of their major titles. I enjoyed Dragon Age 2 immensely. The storyline kept me hooked throughout, but some of the design choices were a step backward and these not necessarily for gaming as a whole, but for the RPG genre. I don’t want more action in my RPGs. Give me a big, open world (with a world map!), a deep cast of characters, an engaging storyline, and plenty of options to customize my party and I will be happy. You hear that Bioware? Now…how about an announcement for Dragon Age 3?
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.