Game: Dragon Age 2
Game Version: 1.01 to start with, then patched to 1.02 part way through playing.
Dragon Age 2 had a lot to live up to, even for a Bioware game. Dragon Age Origins is probably the best RPG of the last few years and ranks alongside the best RPGs of all time. The sequel isn’t quite the epic classic that the first game was, but it doesn’t really disappoint either. Moving away from the Grey Warden character of the first game, you now play as Hawke, a man or woman escaping from Lothering with her family during the Darkspawn attack from the first game. It starts parallel to Origins, but over the course of the game's three acts the story spans around a decade.
The biggest change to DA2 compared to the original game is that the conversations have now been Mass Effect-ised. The lead character is now voiced and you choose from a list of brief options without knowing the exact phrasing, rather than picking from precise dialogue options as before. This has both positive and negative effects. On the plus side, you now get a fully voiced lead character, and the voice acting is superb, especially for the female version. On the other hand, it limits the choice of character. Where before you had the choice of multiple races and backgrounds as well as character class, now you’re stuck with human, the only choice being the sex and whether you want to be a warrior, mage or rogue. It can also leave you a little detached from the character since you don’t know exactly what they’re going to say, which potentially feels like you’re directing a character rather than role playing it. DA2 does improve on this slightly compared to Mass Effect by showing an icon representing the tone of the comment when you hover over them. This eliminates most of those irritating moments where you end up having to reload a save because your character has said something in a completely different way to how you intended it.
Combat in Dragon Age 2 works in much the same way as it did in Origins. You choose who to attack by right clicking on them and select your special skills or spells from a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. You can switch between the four members of your party to issue commands to them at any time. The main change is that the isometric view which was an option in Origins has been taken out of the sequel, so you’re stuck to the individual character view instead. Not a big issue for me since I never used it in the first game, but if you’re stuck in the past and only want to play RPGs from a distance then you may be disappointed. The only real change to the combat other than this is that it plays out much faster than it did in Origins, flowing slightly better and feeling a bit less clunky. Rogues in particular zip around the battlefield acrobatically in the way it’s always implied that they're supposed to but which is usually never actually shown. It basically makes combat look like combat while keeping the same tactical system as before.
In terms of story, rather than the sprawling epic of the first game, DA2 narrows its focus. Instead of travelling all over, the entire game is set in the city of Kirkwall. I was initially quite surprised to see that they’d relocated the game to the Orkney Islands, but it turns out it’s just another city in the Free Marches. The story develops over time rather than location, as various tensions mount in the city with Hawke getting caught up in the middle of everything. The strength of this is that you genuinely feel involved in events and they’re more meaningful given the span of time the game is set over. The down side is that you’re constantly revisiting the same areas over and over, which could potentially wear out its welcome. Thankfully, there’s enough happening to keep things from becoming boring. Some may complain about the lack of an obvious enemy to focus on throughout the game, but I’m personally glad to see RPGs escaping from the standard “defeat the great evil being threatening the world” cliché.
Companions are an important part of this sort of game, and as ever with Bioware, DA2 really excels in this area. You gather the full party of several varied members fairly early on, allowing plenty of time for character development, and all the characters are well written, though you won’t necessarily like them all. As you wander the maps, the people in your party will banter, bicker and argue with each other in entertaining ways and you quickly get to recognise the distinct personalities of each one. All of them have their own quests that develop throughout the game and these are amongst the more interesting side quests. One change to the way conversations with your party works is that you now can’t talk to them whenever you want, only at certain times when they have something to say. Given that in the original game you could talk to them whenever you wanted to but they would only repeat the same dialogue you had last time except at certain times when they have something to say, it’s hard to say this is either a good or a bad thing, just different. Anyway, none of the companions in this game were in the party in the original Dragon Age, though some of them did make small appearances in the game and Anders does return from the Awakening expansion. Which leads to one major negative: there’s no Leliana. Well, except for one very brief cameo that left me hopeful that we’ll be seeing more of her in the future…
There are a few smaller features that deserve mention, both positive and negative. The gift giving feature from the first Dragon Age has been stripped down to just a couple of gifts per companion which each lead to conversations with them. It lacks the huge number of additional gifts, removing the ability to bribe your way to being liked by your friends. There’s now a feature where all those useless items that you inevitably end up accumulating while looting everything in sight in RPGs go automatically into a junk category in your inventory, and the entire lot can be sold with the click of one button at any store. Anything else you don’t need can be moved there too. It’s far preferable to the tedious process of sorting through all the rubbish in your inventory every time you visit a shop. On the other hand, only a few of the special inventory items actually have descriptions, and these go straight into your codex, a sort of encyclopaedia of information which builds up as you play the game. All the other items simply have names. It’s a fairly minor thing, but usually everything in this sort of game has at least a short description, and it’s this sort of background details that helps to flesh out the world and make everything that bit more interesting.
Well, I could go on and on rambling about different aspects of the game, but I won’t because I’m a lazy git. Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyway), Dragon Age 2 is a brilliant game. It has a few changes from the original game, and it has its flaws, but they’re mostly minor and don’t have any serious impact on the quality of the game. Dragon Age 2 is fantastic by almost any standards, and it’s only really in comparison to Origins that it comes out worse, and even then it’s not a big deal. Its running time is around 40 – 50 hours, which is short in comparison to its predecessor, but again, long by almost any other standards. In other words, it’s great. Go and buy it. Or don’t. Whatever. But it’s good.
Save System Review: Save anywhere, quick save, no problems here.
Graphics: Decent looking graphics throughout, nowhere near as bad as the previews made it look like they were going to be. Not the most amazing graphics around, but certainly not bad.
Sound: As ever with a Bioware game, the voice acting is absolutely spot on, creating wonderful characterisation. Sound effects are all fine and the soundtrack works well.
Bugs: Nothing too serious. The game crashed occasionally in DX11 mode, but nothing too regular. There was one instance where a conversation at the start of Act 2 was skipped over, which may or may not have been fixed in a patch since. Thankfully it didn’t lead to any problems later on, and everything else ran as it should.
Gameplay: The combat works fine but the main attraction is becoming immersed in the game world and getting to make important decisions which genuinely affect the story, not always immediately and not always in the way you expect.
Storyline: A smaller scale story than usual, focusing on just one city, but a no less impressive one. Due to the time span and different situations it can feel quite episodic, but it also deals more with characters and feels a bit more personal than the usual globe spanning heroics.
Arbitrary Final Score:
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