Dragon age 2: Not calling you a Liar, just don’t lie to me.
As a fan of anything Bioware related, I was excited about this new title. Dragon Age: Origins was chock full of content that was utterly amazing. Whether it be the fight between Dalish Elves and Werewolves, to Mages and Templar, right down to even Dwarves vs. Dwarves, we were forced to take sides and play the politics game with each and every decision we made. The companions you gained along the way were a range of quirky individuals that you formed into a rag-tag elite fighting force, leading the charge against the Archdemon, which could only be seen as ending in death. Though the game was far from perfect *cough* Mage's Tower *cough*, and it had several irritating companion mission options that, if missed, would lock them forever, resulting in Lelianna being the most awkward woman ever heard of to get into bed with, Origins still shines as one of the main examples of how a WRPG should be handled, with enough DLC to bankrupt the accounts of any college student, only three of which were good (I don't support DLC unless it is like Awakening, which was a whole different ball game), this was truly the pinnacle of the series.
Why do I say that? Because in truth, Dragon Age 2 falls short of ever reaching the heights its daddy ever did, a disappointment, for an avid fan like myself.
The story of Dragon Age 2 is convoluted, as it isn't sure of what story it wants to tell. Told in the form of a retrospective tale, by the dwarf rouge and storyteller Varric, to a Chantry Seeker looking to find out the truth about Kirkwall's Champion, Hawke's, involvement in the events that led to the current crisis with the chantry, nearing war. Whether it be of Hawke's rise to power, the struggles of the city of Kirkwall down through the years, with the overflow of immigrants from the Blight, the Qunari being feared and mistreated as a religious minority, until the tensions rise too high after chantry involvement, (a religious war, basically) or the struggles of the Mages and the Templar order, as the Mages seem mistreated and harshly ruled, just for the gifts they possess. These overlapping storylines decimate the flow of DA2, leaving it a crippled mess, never really getting to the main plot until the third of the three acts in the game. However people may view this, may I remind them that in a fantasy RPG, with dragons, I hardly care about the damned Mages and Templar, bigger fish in the world, such as the Archdemon, Flemeth and the other, clearly more interesting threats we see grow through side missions throughout the game. Though the premise may be that the chantry is on the brink of war, it really isn't even given a glimpse throughout the first two acts in more than a few sentences from random NPCs.
The level designs are insultingly linear, with no real variation throughout the game. In fact, most of the locations you visit throughout the game are just recycled, and for an environmentalist in Kirkwall, that’s just fine, but for a large scale, triple A title? Not so much. The scenery barely changes at all, with areas being cordoned off instead of changing, and people standing in the exact same places, despite shocking events throughout the timeline you play. This lack of attention to the finer details is nothing short of a lazy developer job, that wasn’t given enough attention. It’s actually disgusting. Coupled with the fact that the load screens can take anywhere up to 40 seconds between minor locations you’ll have to travel between, and you have the makings of everything you need to feel like you’re a doomed soul travelling the River Styx.
The game play doesn't really range beyond hitting things with your sword, shield, magic or daggers, and this can get boring after, let’s say, 36 hours of the same combat system over and over again. I can't really sugar coat that fact. However, the new, faster combat system will be a welcome change to some of the people put off by the classic, strategic combat system that Origins relied on. Unfortunately, this is somewhat of a double-standard for Bioware, as they could not decide whether or not to do away completely with the 'pause' function and rely wholly on the quick combat, or to split said systems 50/50, and allow for a little more strategy. This calls into question the decision for such combat, as throughout certain points in the game, we are forced to place more weight on the pause function that actual playing. The combat usually boils down to repeatedly tapping the 'A' button until carpal tunnel sets in, on the most basic fights with the hordes of generic enemies you are forced to face. This is annoying. Pure and simple. In Origins, we at least had some interesting mixes of combat, such as blood mages backing up Qunari Mercenaries, and archers, making it difficult to kill enemies that were, in any other situation, a breeze to take out. In this game, we merely get the same 6-8 individual soldiers coming at us in waves of boredom; in fact, the only thing they're testing is my patience for this game. You'll see enemies drop from half way in the air, fading in until they hit the group, full of blood they're just dying (see what I did there?) to spill. Boss fights can be interesting, ranging from the Arishok to Demons and some interesting and creative choices for other, secret bosses. They aren't really challenging, as you simply use your healer to heal the party in the second of mild peril, which is the equivalent of an electric car four miles away heading straight for you, up a steep hill.
The talent trees have been simplified, giving the player a much easier time in upgrading certain spells and talents, and giving them a full explanation of what each ability does. This is fine, if the simplification hadn't taken out certain, handy and strategic spells that one could use in Origins to cool the fray of combat and take stock of certain situations. They are instead replaced with frustrating abilities that can only be used if a certain, constant ability is active. For example, Anders, the healer of the party, and previous Grey Warden companion from Awakening, must activate a certain, constant ability in order to gain the group heal spell or revive all spells in combat. This ability reserves 50% of his mana, and stops him from using offensive spells. All of this, for two spells that were usable from just picking that spell in the abilities list in Awakening and Origins. While tactics could sort this out, they are, for want of a better word, pointless, as the default tactics are all set for other spells within the regular healing tree, which are needed too. The combat has been simplified, yet, somehow, Bioware have managed to complicate something that didn't need to be changed, talk about one step forward, two steps back...
The Companion roster for this game is not as strong as in previous titles. Ranging from the colourful and fun dwarf Varric, to the boring, brooding, bland character of Fenris the elf. To harp on about an old point, Anders returns from Awakening, with a story and character shift that is simply too convoluted and contradictory to make any sense. We don't gain any insight into most of the character motivations, and yet we are expected to like these two-dimensional stereotypes, with the personalities of gone-off cheese. Varric heads the piles of filthy, crap characters as being the most fun of them all. The storyteller and rouge, Varric recounts tales of the events of his time with the champion, exaggerating some of the minor details initially, followed by some overblown tales of heroism and self-gratification that really makes him a human character, someone we can relate to, and is a joy to have in this game. Unfortunately we have other such gems as: Merrill, the Dalish elf from Origins, but now, her character and clan have all acquired a strange, 'auld Irish accent (some believe it is welsh...I could see where they're coming from, but the majority of Dalish elves sound like insultingly bad Irish impressionists), with her bimbo-esque beliefs that she is always right...again, another character change from Origins, that isn't truly justified, Isabella, the sexy pirate lady, who much like her ship, we can assume to have more than a few 'barnacles' on her 'hull', Anders, as I've explained above has questionable motivations that are only half explained in a 'you have to do better than that...really' kind of way, who is surprisingly bisexual, in a really awkward moment conversation kind of way, Bethany/Carver, the siblings who are the classic, expendable kind of side characters, and therefore have as much personality as their boring voice actor and bratty personas can offer respectively, Fenris, the brooding, douche-elf, who would have been an excellent character if they hadn't introduced him through an optional side mission, and given him barely any screen time, Aveline, the shield and sword warrior, who I can only describe as the female Conan the Barbarian, but with a more mannish chin, who is given no room to grow as a character, and the DLC character, Sebastian Vael, the prince of some kingdom you won't care about, because you'll never use him, and once again, he has the award winning personality of most of the characters in this game. This is by far the weakest group of companions you'll ever see in a Bioware series, making the team from Awakening seem more interesting, which is a feat because, as an expansion DLC and not a full game, there wasn't really time to get to know them. This line-up is hardly Origin-veteran friendly either, as there is no complexity to the characters, they're mostly just morally-ambiguous and self-righteous to a fault. This further pulls you out of the world of Dragon Age, as even the characters are, for the most part, stand-ins for what used to be an involving aspect of the DA games.
The graphics in this game are breathtaking at times. There are some excellent backgrounds, and though the art style has been changed, it isn’t something I can object to. Unfortunately I have a few issues with some character models, race designs and customisation options. The elves and Qunari are the most notable physically different character models in the game. While for the Qunari, this is a positive change, now with horns and badass armour, you can really tell they’re different from Sten in Origins. This can seem a little overblown at times, but it can be forgiven. The major issue with the elves are their weird faces, as they don’t have foreheads, just large noses that seem to join with their scalps. It really is an unwelcome change, and I know the elves didn’t exactly look any different from humans in DA:O, but this seems to be overkill to make the race seem different. The customisable character options are basically a refined version of Origins options, but with a few extra additions. The best options one can take with these options are to just leave the default Hawke faces, which isn’t terrible, but it seems to remove the need customise your character.
The music however, is epic, hitting all the right notes (Badum-bum), in most of the right situations. At some points however, it doesn’t match up with the gameplay, which can pull you out of the world and really take away from the already lacking depth that this game already has. I will say that the number by Florence and The Machine at the credits was excellent, and really made the game for me.
Dragon Age 2 is a game that tried to fly too high, with an idea that was never inherently meant for a full RPG. It falls flat on most of the premises that made its predecessor world class, and unfortunately, takes a major toll of the player, as the combat is repetitive, and the storyline is buried under a mountain of side-quests that barely inform the so-called ‘epic scale’ of the timeline Bioware had promised, a ten year span where your choices had repercussions, which never really came through. In truth, decisions in this game are pointless, and it feels like more of a linear ride through someone else’s life, than a game where the player is in control. All in all, it is a solid game, but not a worthy sequel to the Dragon Age game that started it all: Origins...Review Pending.
· A solid graphical improvement
· Combat initially feels more involving, and characters are no longer static
· Musical Scores are excellent
· Weak story
· Some bad character designs
· Weak supporting cast
· Lack of enemy variation
· Linear level design
· Lack of impact from Origin Imports are disappointing
· Several mission glitches that hinder some mission’s progression
· Pointless DLC
A solid game with severe issues that hinders it in every way possible. This makes DA2 a joyless affair, that anyone with a shred of concern for their mental health will only play through once. It will forever be overshadowed by its predecessor.
WTF Moment(s): The length of load screen. Ander’s insanity and aggressively rapey sexual ambiguity.