Release Date: Out now!
Dragon Age 2 is one of those sequels that will doubtless cause arguments amongst hardcore fans of the first game. Having undergone a transformation akin to Bioware’s other big title -Mass Effect 2 – Dragon Age 2 has been “streamlined” to create a more action orientated RPG. So have these changes been for the better?
Dragon Age 2’s story is a more linear affair that in Origins as you follow and control the games lead character – Hawke – over several years of his life in Kirkwall after escaping from his home town. Over the years you’ll take part in both a political and religious battle for control of the city, but the overall story is only ever hinted at during the first three-quarters of the game, and only during the final hours will you really begin to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
In an unusual twist the entire story is told by Varric, one of your companions during the game, sometime in the future. He starts by telling the legend of Hawke, in which you control a very powerful version if your character, but soon he restarts and tells the real story which see’s you as a significantly less powerful character. it’s a good way of showing you what you can become later in the game and keeps you wanting to play until you become the bad-ass again.
The tale kept me hooked until the end, and while it doesn’t offer quite the depth of choice as Origins it’s more than good enough to make up for it.
It’s an interesting way to tell a story, and it’s all backed up by some hand-drawn backdrops.
Key to the story is Hawke himself. Unlike Origins Hawke has a voice, and isn’t afraid to use it thanks to the new dialogue system which is pretty much ripped straight from Mass Effect 2. You can choose whether to be nice, mean, funny, charming or just neutral if you wish. While it does take away the feeling that Hawke is you, it also helps inject a little more personality into the game.
However, no matter what choices Hawke makes the story is rarely affected. Unlike Origins there is only one beginning to the game which differs slightly depending on which of the three character classes you picked at the beginning, and during the story your decisions never seem to have as much impact as they could. This is more notable at the end.
The real star of the stories are the characters themselves though, such as dark Fenris, or nervy mage Merril. These characters bring the stories to life and each has their own set of personal quests you can embark on to strengthen your relationship with.
Considering the strength of personality these characters exhibit it’s a shame that you can’t interact with them more. However, the conversations your friends have as you venture around town help flesh out their personalities, and you’ll quickly get an understanding of their likes and dislikes.
It helps that each and every character, not just your friends and Hawke, are very well voiced.
Side-quests that you can choose to take part in also have little stories to them. Dragon Age 2 easily outstrips most games when it comes to side-quests, not so much in amount, but in sheer quality. Each one is an interesting little adventure filled with good characters.
No matter how good the story or characters are, it can’t be denied that Dragon Age 2’s first few hours aren’t it’s strongest feature, and may even put off many players from continuing as quests are basic and little of the plot is revealed until a good while in.
All these words in and I’ve not even touched upon gameplay.
The streamlining effect can be found and noticed most in one element of the game: combat. Combat has received a radical overhaul since Origins and the result is a more visceral and fun system that goes more down the button mashing route than the tactical.
“A” is used for basic attacks and special abilities mapped to the other buttons. Simply tap A and your character attacks without the shuffling around that Origins was infamous for, and warriors now have a small dash in their basic attacks that see’s you blast into combat giving it a much quicker pace.. The result is a system where sword swings feel pretty hefty, and magic looks fantastic and is fun to wield, but Dragon Age 2 almost feels like a button-masher, especially at the standard or lower difficulty settings.
However, level up your character and combat does a good job of making you feel pretty damn powerful with enemies losing limbs or sometimes just exploding into a shower of blood, and mages in particular feel nice and powerful with some great spells at their disposal.
Orders can still be given to team-mates, and you can set-up tactics for each of them – which lets something which is recommended as they can be pretty stupid – but it’s not the easiest when using a controller.
The end result is a fun and engaging combat system, but one that feels a bit brainless at times.
Of everything changed in the game, it will doubtless be the combat that causes the most arguments amongst die-hard fans.
Outside of combat other area’s of the game have been changed.
When you level up it’s now a much easier experience to understand for those not attuned to RPG’s and the skill tree is nice and clear while offering plenty of scope for different character builds.
The inventory system has undergone changes as well. It’s easier to navigate and compare items.
While Origins saw you venturing to many different parts of the world, Dragon Age 2 takes place entirely within one city and a small surrounding area. The city itself is split into small sections and acts more like a hub-world than anything else.
The city isn’t that interesting to wander around, partially due to the graphics which, while improved from Origins, still aren’t that great. Environments feel rather flat and bland, and Kirkwall isn’t a bustling city to venture around.
it doesn’t help that environments get repeated far more often than they have any right to. Almost every cave or warehouse is the same as the one before it, and this gives the game a sense of laziness on behalf of the developement team. Surely you could have put in a few different designs?
Bioware may not have crafted their best title in Dragon Age II, but not once did I feel the urge to put down the game and I thoroughly loved my time with the game. While the streamlining of the gameplay may anger many fans I can’t judge this game on what it is not, instead it must be judged on what it is: and that’s a damn fine action-RPG.
+ The story
+ The Characters
+ Feeling all-powerful!
– The same damn cave again. Who knew nature only had one design?
– It’s lost much of Origins branching story in favor of a more linear tale.
– Combat will split many fans.
Occasional pretty moments don’t make up for a rather bland looking game. The art-style does help save it to a degree, but it’s still nothing special. A leap up from Origins, however.
Great voice acting, bar the occasional oddity, and good music. Some sound effects are a little off though.
An intriguing tale of politics and religion that’s well told through Varric the dwarf. It’ll keep you hooked, even if it’s fairly linear.
Major changes may rile fans, but the new Dragon Age feels fun and engaging to play.
Around the 20- 22 hours mark to complete the main story and a few side quests, but to do everything will take the 35 hour mark, and replay value comes in making different choices, character builds, and trying out the three different classes.
While fanboys may be baying for my blood at this score (That’s a lot of 8.5’s) and demanding I lower it, I simply can’t do that. While it may have lost it’s more tactical combat, and is a more straight-line adventure, I loved my time playing Dragon Age 2. It’s not Biowares best, and whether it’s better than Origins is not a call I’m willing to make, but for what it is – an action RPG – it’s a fine game.