By mrbrooks 7 Comments
Bioware's games have a history of taking the player on wild rides through exotic locales. Dragon Age 2, however, feels like it's spinning its tires in the mud, it comes so close to taking you somewhere but never actually moves. It's not that the story is bad, Dragon Age 2 just feels like a victim of its own ambition.
Dragon Age's story is told by Varric, one of Hawke's companions, as he recounts Hawke's life over the past decade to a mysterious interrogator. As Varric begins with each new segment of Hawke's life, the game drifts back in time and the player takes over as Hawke with Varric (among others) riding shotgun. This approach to storytelling, while unique in games, creates a disconnect of sorts between the player and the characters as the game pulls you out of the proverbial matrix and skips ahead a few years. The story also, rather curiously, never reaches a satisfying conclusion, instead opting for a cliffhanger ending that will perplex those who haven't explored the series' canon.
The biggest flaw of Dragon Age 2 is that it confines the player to the city of Kirkwall for almost the entire story, save for the first half hour and brief trips to the outlying roads and mountains. This wouldn't be an issue if the city didn't consist of four districts and a few buildings, all of which feel confined. The result is a story (which rapidly loses steam after act two) that paints Kirkwall as expansive and monolithic, but feels drastically undersized.
When it comes to actually playing the game, Dragon Age 2 is as solid as they come. The combat has been sped up from the previous entry in the series, and as a result, conveys a sense of organized chaos. You and your four companions will rush into battle far quicker than the clunky shuffle dance of Dragon Age: Origins, and the various attacks they perform have been exaggerated to almost ridiculous levels. Like Origins, however, you can pause the game at any time and issue individual orders, then unpause and watch as Hawke and company carry them out with bloody efficiency.
Like all Bioware games, Dragon Age 2 boasts some of the strongest characters and voice acting in the industry. Those familiar with high fantasy will get a kick out Varric, a clean-shaven dwarf who sports a crossbow named Bianca, and Frenris, an elf with a hulking two-handed sword and a brooding demeanor that would feel at home in a Twilight movie. Conversations and missions involving specific members of your crew are, without a doubt, the best part of Dragon Age. And the one positive of the narrative structure of the game's story is that you get to see how the relationships of these characters evolves over a decade.
Overall, Dragon Age 2 is a game that shows flashes of brilliance only to be sabotaged by its own ambitions. Thankfully it possesses the Bioware hallmarks of great characterization and solid gameplay to support the shortcomings. For all its faults, Dragon Age 2 will still provide hours of entertainment, it just stands a hair below the elites of the genre.