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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RPG

 

Publisher

Bioware

 

Developer

Electronic Arts

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

March 2011

 

 

- Storytelling is very well presented

- Character interactions

- Lots of abilities to choose from

- Streamlined combat improves pacing

- Good voice acting

- Nice graphics

 

 

- Lots of reused art assets and areas being constantly revisited

- Some awkward animations

- Some behavioral inconsistencies during conversations

 

 

Review: Drakensang: The River of Time (PC)

Review: Dragon Age: Origins (PC)

Review: Borderlands - Game of the Year Edition (PC)

 

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Dragon Age 2
Score: 8 / 10

 

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With Dragon Age: Origin, Bioware made a game that felt very much like a last hurray into the world of traditional computer RPGs. There were highly tactical battles, an epic story, and branching conversation paths (staples of Bioware's games). It really brought together a lot of elements that long time fans of the genre loved, and polished them until they were nice and shiny. So, after winning over quite a few RPG fans with the first Dragon Age game, Bioware has done something extremely risky with the sequel by drastically changing or tweaking a number of things in the game, making it a noticeably different experience from its predecessor. The question then becomes whether they did a good job in making the transition, and the answer is yes and no. There are plenty of good points to the game such as the streamlining of the combat, the way the story is presented, and the character interactions. However, one has to wonder if some of the streamlining that has taken place here will also alienate fans of the first game. Moreover, there are a lot of art assets and settings that are constantly being reused, which adds an element of tedium to the experience.

 

Starting out during the events of the first Dragon Age, players take on the roll of a member of the Hawke family (either Miriam or Garrett depending on gender, and of course this changes further if you choose a different name). The family is escaping the destruction of Lothering during the Blight invasion. Eventually they make their way to the city state of Kirkwall, where Hawke's mother's family has roots. From here Hawke starts to build a new life. As simple as this sounds, it turns out that he has quite the epic adventure ahead of him. We know this because the game is being narrated by one of Hawke's friends, Varric, explaining Hawke's adventures in hindsight as he is being interrogated by a Seeker of the Chantry. It turns out Hawke would go on to be a great champion, and do great things. This is all hinted at, and the player is presented all of this over time. It's a refreshing change to how stories are usually told in RPGs where players are told that some terrible evil has swept across the land, and it's up to a group of brave adventurers to strike it down. In Dragon Age 2, Hawke starts off just trying to begin a new life for his family in Kirkwall, and slowly gets involved in more and more of the city's affairs until there's turmoil everywhere by the end of the game. It's a well laid out build up that focuses far more on a city and its troubles instead of the typical, and all too overdone traditional epics that we see in a lot of other RPGs.

 

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Helping with this storytelling is all of the character interaction one will do in the game be it with quest givers, Hawke's family, or other members of his party. Compared to a lot of Bioware's previous games, the options during conversations seem a lot more cut and dry with a good response, and an evil response at either end of the spectrum, and smarmy jerk filling up the middle. These 

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can still make for some interesting exchanges, but it did seem that Hawke's mannerisms often lend themselves more to being a nice guy. I rolled one character specifically to be a mouthy little jerk, and sometimes he would still come off far too prim and proper in conversations, especially when choosing to "investigate". When he started to ask additional questions Hawke suddenly talked and behaved in a much more polite manner than he normally would considering I was pushing him hard down a far less friendly selection of conversation responses. So, unless you're playing a good character, many conversations can feel jarring as Hawke swings back and forth in his mannerisms.

 

Despite this awkwardness, it's still fun to talk with people, and Hawke's party members are generally an interesting lot. Players will come across about eight different people to team up with during the game. Standouts include Varric, a dwarven rogue who is very easy to get along with, and loves to tell stories. He has a lot of witty comments during your travels, and seems very real, and believable as far as video game characters. There's also Merrill, an elven mage who is feared by her people because she insists on using blood magic. She's a very naive, nice girl that is hard not to like as she tries to get used to city life after living as a nomad. Characters are also very interesting when they interact with each other, not just the player. For instance there's a pirate named Isabela that you'll meet who doesn't get along with another party member, Aveline, at all (largely because Aveline is the captain of the city guard, and looks down on Isabela's lack of morals). Varric can hold a nice, light conversation with just about anyone, and Anders, a former Grey Warden sharing his body with a spirit, usually has something interesting to say. The level to which players can interact with their party members, and the way these characters interact with one another adds a lot to the game, bringing extra little layers to the game's storytelling. Origins had this too, but Dragon Age 2 does it better. It should also be noted that the voice acting is top notch throughout, making it a pleasure to do all of these conversations multiple times while exploring what may happen depending on what Hawke says.

 

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The game isn't non-stop idle chit chat, though, of course. One will spend a lot of their time in battle against the horde of enemies lurking in and around Kirkwall. The fights do feel noticeably faster than the first game, but this comes largely from Dragon Age 2 being easier than the first at default settings. Players' characters hit a lot harder, and tend to tear up enemies quite a bit faster, which speeds up the pacing of battles. Dropping enemies faster is probably for the best when one considers that many times battles consist of multiple waves of enemies, so once a player defeats, or is close to defeating, a group of enemies, it isn't uncommon for another group to swoop in and continue the fight. This stretches out the fights, and does require players to be careful with their mana / stamina usage, as it's quite possible to run out of either by the end of the first wave if one isn't paying attention. Boss fights are interesting as well, and feel like something one would expect from an MMORPG. There's lots of times where players will have to take cover, kite the boss, or take down adds during these fights, which require a good amount of thought in order to win. The game's difficulty is also quite scaleable ranging from Casual to Nightmare, with the former being useful for quick second and third playthroughs where people will likely be more interesting in exploring other conversation paths, story choices, et cetera without spending too much time in combat. Meanwhile, Nightmare mode will really push a player hard in battle, especially if you choose to turn on friendly fire, as this will cause most spells and special attacks to inflict damage on party members if you're not careful where you aim those things.

 

Itemization has also been streamlined for this game. Only Hawke equips a complete set of armor, while everyone else keeps the same armor all game, while being able to acquire specific items (four per character) that will enhance their stats in some way. I wonder if it would have been just as well to do this to Hawke's character as well. Most armor found in the game was pretty obvious if it was well suited to Hawke's talents, so there wasn't much thought needed as to whether or not a piece of equipment should be put on or not. Real choices would come far more often when trying to select accessories, as there were a lot more interesting stats on them, and they would have to be shared with the rest of the party members as well.

 

Character development also feels very straightforward as players select stats and talents to enhance with each level up. Generally it's pretty obvious which stats one will want to increase depending on the class of a character, and it's the talents that will be the toughest to choose from with each new level. There are quite a few specializations, many of which are specific to each character. The mage class in particular has a lot of interesting choices in terms of the abilities that one can unlock via the talent tree.

 

Visually, Dragon Age 2 is quite nice looking in terms of the level of detail in everything. Whether it's environments, NPCs, or monsters, everything looks quite nice with a high level of detail to it. While the game does look good, some of the animations aren't all that great. Facial expressions sometimes come off awkward, and the way that characters walk, especially when pacing while giving dialogue, is actually pretty bad (it looks like they have a large, metal rod shoved up their rear ends). What really hurts the visuals is that so many areas look the same. There's a lot of reused art assets in the game. Most of the dungeons, mansions, warehouses, and so forth look very similar, and after visiting these places for the umpteenth time one simply starts to lose interest in them. Players are also sent to the same areas repeatedly for various reasons which further exacerbates the problem.

 

As mentioned earlier, the voice acting in Dragon Age 2 is quite good, but so is all of the other audio. There are some neat wooshes and explosion sounds as spells are cast, and the usual mix of thuds and metal clashing among the melee fighters. Music too is quite well done. Some of the incidental pieces would have also been nice if they were more pronounced, and fleshed out instead of wafting by in the background, but they weren't unfortunately.

 

Despite the reused art assets, and being forced to revisit areas again, and again, the game is still quite a lot of fun to play. Dragon Age 2 could have benefited from being in development a little while longer to prevent this, but here we are. Nonetheless, the character interactions, how the story develops, and the general streamlining of the game are both enjoyable, and welcome. It does seem that Bioware is shifting gears in how they approach RPGs, and from what there is to see in Dragon Age 2 they have some interesting ideas worth exploring.  Just give us a little more variation in settings and it'll be a lot easier to swallow.  Ultimately, Dragon Age 2 still manages to be a good game, but it will also be a VERY divisive title among RPG fans.

 

Mr. Nash
March 20, 2011

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