Dragon Age 2 Dreams Big, Can't Quite Reach its Own Expectations

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.

6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by mrbrooks

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.

Posted by Brodehouse

I agree, DA2 fixed a lot niggling issues in DA:O (the combat, characters who seemed superfluous), but created a whole bunch of new ones (wave-based encounters become boring 30 hours in, dungeon maps reappearing).

I actually prefer the overall story and the character stories in DA2 way more than in Origins. Although I think Awakening is probably better than both.

Posted by Catarrhal

@kolaboxer said:

…and a brooding demeanor that would feel at home in a Twilight movie.

Yeah. I've played a number of RPG's over the years (starting with Zelda II, if that counts), and Fenris is the first character I've ever declined; flat-out, refused to let him join my party.

Thinking back, none of the game's quests particularly stand out--in terms of story or otherwise… except for maybe that part where Hawke's mother is mysteriously abducted, which is memorable only for being a tawdry embarrassment.

Posted by MideonNViscera

Just having more environments would have saved this game from my hatred. It was just too blatant, having to go everywhere 3 times, plus those random dungeons and sewers appearing pretty much infinite times.

Posted by Brodehouse
@Catarrhal Kind of the point of Fenris is watching him deal with how malignant his hate is. He straight up realizes halfway through how his anger has ruined his life as much as anything, but whenever Tevinter magisters get involved, he can't control it. I'd rather a nice character study with an imperfect character than a character who is always pleased with everything, never argues with you, and has no motivation or pathos.

Also helps that he's voiced by Gideon Emery, who could probably cut glass with his voice.
Posted by Arker101

Honestly, I loved both the combat and characters in DA:O. I liked the new art style in DA2, but that's about it.

I didn't like playing as Hawke. Every time I made a choice as Hawke or heard him speak, it just made me think of how much cooler looking and sounding (giving me voice options) they could have made my Grey Warden instead of giving me this medieval Commander Sheppard wannabe. Even the dialogue options were immersion ruining. You were either Good, Bad, or a sarcastic asshole. There were symbols telling me what the text on the screen meant. No shit "Lets screw him over!" means I'm being evil, game, come on. Even then, you chose the text, and he said something different then the sentence you picked. It seemed worse to me then ME2s' system. Shepard usually did a better job of constructing longer and similar sentences then Hawke.

I could rant on about the characters and the combat, but it's all easily attributed to one thing. They changed the demographic for who they wanted to sell that game too. They certainly didn't make that game for the people who loved DA:O. At least it seems that way to me and several others.

Posted by EisforExtinction

I like the game but maybe it shouldn't have been called Dragon Age 2. Maybe Dragon Age: Kirkwall or something that advertises the shift towards a more action oriented fighting system.

A lot of people say it's garbage and it isn't. It just has a small scope.