30 Days of Gaming : Day 15 + Dragon Age II impressions

I really should update these during the day when I have plenty of free time as opposed to waiting at the very last moment :( Fuckin' late again, how embarrassing.

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Dragon Age II 

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I guess now is a good time as ever to talk about Dragon Age II, huh?  
I'm 30 hours into the game and I'm in the last act, probably a mission or two away from completely finishing it. I'll keep away from spoiler business and some of the end-game stuff since I haven't beaten DA2 yet, but also because remotely hinting at what the game's end has in store would be incredibly dickish of me. Instead, I'll just go over what I absolutely adore about it and what absolutely bugs the shit out of me. Luckily, the latter is comprised of only a few minor issues, of which are hardly anything to put a dent DAII's resilient armor.  
If I stare at you long enough, maybe a plot will develop 
If I stare at you long enough, maybe a plot will develop 
After playing through both games in the series now, I'm still unsure if Bioware has a greater sense of direction that they want to move Dragon Age in. Mass Effect, of which DA2 has taken heavy influence from, established in the very first game an immediate threat. Despite sharing different antagonists in each separate title of the franchise, said threat persists throughout the entire series. It made each game feel unique in it's own right while still belonging to the same universe, one you began to deeply care about when you know who the greater enemy was. Dragon Age, however, lacks this. The first game immediately set up the Darkspawn as the enemy and the Blight as the bigger threat, but this has all but been abandoned in the second title. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can count Darkspawn encounters in Dragon Age II in one hand. Literally. I understand the caveat of the Blight only happens every thousand years of whatever it is, but if that is the case, then I feel like some more forward-thinking plan should of been put into place. Dragon Age II doesn't have an actual antagonist until the last few hours of the game and that makes absolutely no sense to me. The vast majority of the story lacks any driving direction what-so-ever in terms of plot development. For a game that relies on fiction so heavily, this is nothing short of a major oversight. 
The other problem I have with the game is the ... well, it lacks scope. The first game had an absolutely massive world that could be explored and had a variety of major cities and towns that you could visit, each one more different than the last. I felt like it was a defining characteristic of the game and it baffles me that they took the complete opposite direction in Dragon Age II. You're now in an area called the Free Marches, which consists of the incredibly large city of Kirkwall and it's surrounding areas which... is two mountains and a beach area. Oh, and a few dungeons that you will have the pleasure of re-visiting over and over because the game recycles dungeon environments like a motherfucker. There's no Orzammar, no dalish elf village (well, there's a camp but it's so barren that calling it so is a little generous), no gigantic winter-grounded churches that hide a high dragon boss fight... there's literally -nothing- to explore anymore. Everything is triggered by quests-- even the secret bosses. The High Dragon, Hybris, Xebenkeck, Varterral... none of these are found by simply exploring and that's a huge bummer. I can completely understand why the need to make a more focused game is important to something that relies on narrative so heavily but I find it upsetting that this would be the way they'd go about it. The upside is that the more focused region allows them to seriously center the story of the game on the conflicts they present and that's where the game shines most, but there was a sense of adventure that accompanied the first game that is completely lacking in Dragon Age II-- and that's an honest shame. 
Even the menus look gorgeous. The layout, the type, the colors... just perfect.
Even the menus look gorgeous. The layout, the type, the colors... just perfect.
Luckily, the game more than makes up for it's flaws by giving you some of the best story-telling, writing, voice acting, characters, art, lore, combat, quests and interaction. Sound familiar? ... Yeah, didn't think so, considering Dragon Age: Origins lacked all of those. While I greatly appreciate what Origins did, I had absolutely no interest what-so-ever in anything it had to peddle to me. I hated all of the characters and the story had me completely uninterested. The quests were just as much of a bore, the combat was laughably poor (on consoles, I'm unfortunately incapable of playing it on my current computer) and the entire game reeked of a generic tone and style that, as an artist, drove me insane. Nothing stood out. Nothing had an image. Origins embodies generic to a point that I never want to see it again.  
I don't know if they hired a new art staff or if they just felt more inspired but whoever was in charge of the art direction for Dragon Age II, I salute you and would give anything to have an apprenticeship under you. The design of the characters, the loading screens, the concept art, the symbols for the different factions, the architecture... it's all so inspired and creatively distinct. I can't think of another game like it and that's so much more than I could ever say than it's predecessor. I absolutely adore every bit of visual prowess DA2 has to offer and I hope they stick with it because, like they wanted, Dragon Age II now has a defining style. And it's one that I love from top to bottom.
The combat is also something I hope they stick with. As stated above, I didn't play Origins on my PC and didn't with DA2 either, so my experience is strictly from the PS3 version's standpoint. On the PS3, the combat in Origins was complete ass. Managing tactics was absolutely impossible thanks to the inability to queue up commands and the radial menus in which I tried to do so were poorly designed and beyond complex. Rings upon layers upon sub-sections upon rings... fucking... gross. Just gross. Controlling all of that stuff in real-time was also a pain-in-the-ass. I really wish I could of played the first one on PC, as I think I'd of enjoyed it a lot more. Thankfully, DA2 made some substantial improvements with combat that makes the first game essentially obsolete. You now have full direct control over both movement and your main attack, making it play much more like a hack-and-slash. Skills don't have casting times, they just cast instantly and managing your various skills is now perfectly doable thanks to the radial menu pausing during combat and the ability to queue commands for your entire party in said menu. There are no misses or dodges, everything happens in real time and you can avoid any attack by simply moving-- something the game takes advantage of in many instances. It's a much more engaging experience that I sincerely hope they keep and tinker a bit in the next game to make it even more enjoyable. 
But what's kept me coming back for 30 hours? The narrative. I don't want to say anything specific because I want everyone to enjoy this, in the fullest, by themselves but I'll say this: I think I may like Dragon Age II's main lore more than Mass Effect's. To those who know me personally, you know how fucking huge that is. While the story lacks any form of serious direction for it's first... well... 15 hours, I was glued to the screen thanks to incredibly sharp dialogue and voice acting that accompanies the absolutely fascinating fiction Bioware's crafted for the game. The history of the world, city and characters have so much more breath and imagination to them than anything the first game ever had. There's conflict in the characters in DA2 that's unlike anything else I've played and it makes me fear the end of the game. I don't want it to end. I want to know what happens to Kirkwall and Hawke, even long after the game's events have finished. 

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Oh fuck, and I haven't even mentioned how fucking great it is to have a main character that's voiced. Female Hawke is so brilliant. Completely on par, if not better, than female Shepard. 
I can't wait to finish it tomorrow just as much as I fear doing so. Dragon Age II has it's fair share of problems but it makes up for it in so many other areas that calling it a disappointment or anything similarly negative is just out-right nuts. DA2 is an absolutely brilliant game and if you're still hesitant on playing it, forget your worries and ignore the elitist fans. You're missing out on one of the best modern RPGs by doing so. 

Days of Gaming Recap!

Feb 13th, 2011 - Day 1: Your Very First Videogame
Feb 14th, 2011 - Day 2: Your Favorite Character 
Feb 15th, 2011 - Day 3: A Game That Is Underrated   
Feb 16th, 2011 - Day 4: Your Guilty-Pleasure Game     
Feb 17th, 2011 - Day 5: Game Character You Wish You Were  
Feb 18th, 2011 - Day 6: Most Annoying Character
Feb 19th, 2011 - Day 7: Favorite Game Couple    
Feb 20th, 2011 - Day 8: Best Soundtrack  
Feb 23rd, 2011 - Day 9: Saddest Game Scene  
Feb 26th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 1)  
March 11th, 2011 - Day 10: Best Gameplay (Part 2)    
March 12th, 2011 - Day 11: Gaming System of Choice    
March 13th, 2011 - Day 12: Game Everyone Should Play  
March 15th, 2011 - Day 13: Game You've Played Over Five Times   
March 16th, 2011 - Day 14: Current Gaming Wallpaper