Monday, May 09, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Review

For those of us who love Gaming, especially RPGs, Dragon Age 2 was a game we anticipated for many, many months.  The sequel to Bioware's most successful game of all time, Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age 2 was expected to be even better, and even more successful, than its incredibly impressive predecessor.  An upgrade to the graphics, an all new story with new characters and places to visit, etc. it was quite possible it could even be the Game of the Year!  Sadly, something happened on the way to that GOTY award, something less pleasant than having to walk the Deep Roads for hours on end.

First a note about which version to play.  Just like DAO before it, DA2 is definitely better on the PC, where you have access to mods, like the ones you're seeing in action in the above picture.  Merrill, the Elf who is closest to the camera, has tattoos covering her face, making her much less attractive than she otherwise would've been.  A mod took care of that.  Hawke, the middle character in the photo (and the Main Character of the game), has a custom hair color in this photo.  Finally, Isabella, the character farthest away from the camera, has a weird thing on her face, again needlessly taking away from her beauty.  That too is gone here thanks to a mod.  Happily, both the women in this picture (other than Hawke of course, who is the Main Character) are Romancable, Hawke can have a meaningful relationship with either one (however its worth noting that if you romance both at the same time, you don't end up choosing between them, you simply end up with Merrill by default, one of the many small mistakes DA2 makes that DAO did not).

Dragon Age 2 implemented a surprisingly large number of changes from the incredibly popular original.  Some changes are unquestionably for the better, such as an improved Crafting system, and better graphics.  Combat is faster paced, and the Skill Trees are updated, although they did remove certain popular Skills in an effort to 'streamline' the combat, skills such as Dual-Wielding for Warriors, and Shapeshifting for Mages.  Combat is indeed streamlined, gone are the 'Finishing Moves' of DAO, Dragon Age 2 now features enemies that explode when killed, a clear step backwards for the combat.  Another important change, which many see as for the better while others disagree, was adding Voice Acting for the Main Character.  This of course adds a cool new element to the game, but at the expense of the wide range of dialogues choices that you had in DAO, so is this an improvement or a step in the wrong direction?  That's a matter of personal taste. 

Certain other changes are obviously for the worse, as they actually removed the ability to have conversations your teammates in most locations.  You can talk with them in their 'home base' location, and that's it.  Of course in DAO you could talk with them anywhere, and there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to in DA2 either.  However the restrictions don't stop there, far from it.  You can't change your teammates weapons, or even their outfit!  Remember how you used to switch Leliana between a Bow and her Daggers?  Isabella can use Daggers, but not a Bow, even though Rogues are allowed to use either.  Likewise, Varric can use a Bow but not Daggers, it's simply absurd.  Of course customizing their appearance by changing their outfits was one of the more fun aspects of the original game, and that too is simply completely gone in DA2.  These changes were presumably made to make things 'simpler', and perhaps also to make the game feel more like another, less popular Bioware game, Mass Effect 2. 

So a lot of changes were made to the way the game is played, some for the better, many for the worse.  But how about the story, probably the single most important part of any RPG?  In the above picture we have Bethany in the front, and Hawke in the back.  Bethany, despite being the most attractive character in the game, was actually made Hawke's sister, and given a fairly minor role.  Despite the fact that the game was marketed heavily as having a major role for Hawke's family, Bethany is the only interesting character of the three (Hawke has a brother and mother as well, both of which die no matter what you do, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the game, of your decisions having no impact whatsoever on the story.  However just as inexplicably, the brother can live if you play as a Mage, but if you do that then Bethany is the one who dies no matter what you do, so in order to keep her alive you're actually not allowed to even play as a mage at all, simply unfathomable). 

The 'storyline' of the game, such as it is, involves Hawke escaping Lothering, an early target of the Blight, and travelling to Kirkwall, where she (or he, if you prefer playing as a male character) spends the vast majority of the game within the city limits, slowly amassing wealth and power, but all to no real meaningful impact whatsoever.  As Hawke gains in status and wealth, acquires a mansion, a servant, etc. she still is unable to actually protect her family or impact the story in any meaningful way, with the single exception of Bethany, who will live or die based on your actions.  Your actions do not, however, impact the main storyline, which, aside from Hawke gaining in status by doing certain quests, centers around a 'Mages vs Templars' feud.

Spoiler alert for this paragraph:  Sadly, the Mages vs Templars feud is incredibly uninteresting, because the Mages and the Templars are each mostly evil or crazy, or both.  The end result is you don't much care who wins, and that's a good thing in a sense because once again, your choices don't matter anyway.  Do you like the Mages?  Sorry, you've got to kill the head mage anyway.  Side with the templars?  Too bad, you still have to kill the head templar also.  And after killing both, the war simply goes on, as the game comes to an end.  You've accomplished nothing, your actions were mostly meaningless, there were some interesting side-quests that are far more satisfying than the Main Storyline, but by far the best part, and the reason you should play the game, is that despite the fact that Bethany is kidnapped for a large portion of the game (and that's if you've managed to keep her alive) you can finally get her back near the end, have a moving reunion with her, then have her around for those last few battles, before walking off into the sunset with her and the rest of your crew (most of whom you probably won't care about anyway, but thats OK because the game doesn't even tell you what happens to them at the end like DAO did). 

For all its flaws, Dragon Age 2 is still a lot of fun at times, and interesting things do happen occasionally.  It would be nice if, like its predecessor, your choices had a real meaningful impact.  Instead the main storyline plays out about the same as a typical Final Fantasy game, you watch it, you don't really influence it.  That's a shame, because most Bioware games get that part not only right but VERY right, your choices typically have a huge impact on the story.  Not so in Dragon Age 2, and that's too bad.  But when you can make a difference, most notably in saving Bethany from the various ways she can die horribly, its incredibly satisfying, and for that reason alone I would reccomend the game.  I would not reccomend paynig full price, but if you can get it for around 35 dollars or less I would say go for it, you'll have a lot of fun, just not nearly as much fun as the original.

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