Saturday, 19 March 2011

Dragon Age 2

Ok, so I've had Dragon Age 2 for just over a week now, I'm only about halfway through my 2nd playthrough but I feel I'm in a position to review it by this point, so here goes...

BioWare games generally begin and end with the story, and you can usually expect it to be well written and pretty epic, and this is no exception. The characters have depth and substance, and all of them have widely differing views from eachother, leading to conflict if you bring the wrong combination out with you on a quest, because not everyone will agree with the choices you make. Unlike Mass Effect, the sci-fi counterpart to Dragon Age, there is no Paragon-Renegade scale. BioWare's writers have chosen to roll around in the morally grey mud, possibly to make a point: there is no black and white right or wrong choice. This can lead to a lot more emotion being invested in the game, and in turn when certain characters may choose to betray you, it can be hard not to take it personally.

One of the things I wasn't so keen on story-wise was the lack of effect you have on the world. The main outcome of the story remains the same (obviously in preparation for Dragon Age 3) no matter what you do, and this bothers me. The first installment, even though you inevitably kill the dragon and stop the blight, allows you to have many possible endings, and it's not even necessary that your Warden survive the task. The choices you have made greatly effect the world around you, and continue to effect the story in Dragon Age 2. I fail to see how any choices made in the second installment will make a difference in DA3, because it seems to play out just the same.

I was disappointed at the scale of the game. Interviews with the creators stated that the timeline would cover 10 years (the first Dragon Age only covered 1 year) which left me feeling cheated when I finished the third act, after 7 years, and the credits started to roll. The whole game felt like a prologue to something bigger, and when I felt like I might be reaching the main story, it finished. It felt like a really long demo, an advert for Dragon Age 3.

The voice artists were well chosen, though I couldn't understand why some returning characters had new voices, especially when the original actors were credited with bit parts. There was only one line that I felt was read out of context; when the female Hawke (I've not played as the male Hawke) says "Such as?" it's spoken as a statement rather than a question. This is something that Dragon Age has taken from Mass Effect. In Origins the Warden is only known as the Warden or the Hero of Ferelden, although if you take the noble human origin story your surname is Cousland, and if you are the dwarf noble you hail from the Aeducan family. Your character never speaks in Origins, aside from battle cries. Drawing on Mass Effect's Commander Shepherd, in Dragon Age 2 your character has a voice and a name, though you can still change the first name, everyone will refer to you as Hawke.

One of the things that has set BioWare RPGs apart from the others is the romance and of course, the sex. Lionhead Studios' Fable series has allowed for love, sex, marriage and families, but in a cartoonish way much closer to the relationships in the Sims. BioWare instills the thrill of the chase in its romances, which take time, tact, and being a good listener. Romances will generally lead to sex, which, in the case of Mass Effect, led to some side boob and a little bit of bum. In Dragon Age, they keep their underwear on. Origins gave us some very stiff, sickly sweet love scenes, that were the same no matter who you were with. This time the writers, actors and animators have given us some passion and some humor, and some individuality. There's a lot less nudity than before, even with the perma-pants, which is a shame because the graphics for the naked body are a lot better than last time around, the girls don't look like lollipops and the guys don't look like twats in their knickers. The underwear looks a lot more flattering now, particularly the male underwear which looked like a nappy (diaper, for any american readers). In the DLC The Exiled Prince, female Hawkes can romance prince Sebastian, who is also a priest, in a chaste, non sexual way.

On to the gameplay. The main attack button is now a hit-response type button, rather than an order ("go attack that person until he's either dead or I tell you to do something else") so you can hit an enemy more often in a fight, but you ave to keep hitting that button in order to keep attacking. This means that even though the game boasts a choice between hands-on action or strategically pausing the game and handing out orders to your team, you can't just pick your tactics, hit the attack button and watch how the fight plays out, you have to actively take part.
The inventory is different, because you can no longer choose what your party wears, aside from accessories and their weapons (except Varric, who has an attachment to his crossbow, Bianca, so you can't change his weapon either) so all the armor you find can only be used on yourself, giving you a dilemma when you find a new pair of boots that are better in every way, but you really don't want to take off that enemies drop more coin rune.
The new codex is a MASSIVE improvement on the Origins codex. I don't think the entries give XP anymore, but the codex is organised in a much better way. The only real thing that has gotten my back up in terms of gameplay is the use of the start button for the inventory, level up, codex etc instead of the select button, as it was in Origins. The select button now opens up a map, and the only way to get out of it is by pressing select again.

The main drawback on the amount of time and effort BioWare put into their stories is the lack of freedom allowed to the player. Instead of being given a country to roam around in freely like Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series you are given a great big map of the country with only a few parts of it that you can actually visit, and you aren't free to move around within it. Every time you are in a cave, it is the same cave, just with certain doors made un-open-able, the same goes for every house, every dwarven ruin, every dark alley, every undercity passage. This problem was evident in Origins but I'm sure it's worse in DA2.

Even with its failings, Dragon Age 2 is definitely worth playing and I really enjoyed playing it. It lasted a lot longer than Fable 3 (I finished that in one weekend) and it has replay value. Try playing it once as a mage and once as another class, it changes things quite a lot, though I don't see it making a difference at the end of the story.

Overall: I'd give it an 8 out of 10.

If this has made you want to get the game you can go straight to the Amazon page here: Dragon Age 2 (PS3)

1 comment:

  1. Great Review! I'm a big fan of Dragon Age, and I completely agree with your assessment of DA2. It makes me wonder what DA3 will bring to the table, since I wasn't satisfied at the ending of DA2.