3.0: This Dragon Age sequel tries to maximize on the popularity of God of War games and its ilk by including more "exciting" action in this role-playing game and tries to make the series more accessible to mainstream audiences who don't like the already simplified Dungeons & Dragons type system of DAO or the multitude of choices offered by Dragon Age Origins. In trying to streamline and gussy up this game, the developers have doomed it to fall far short of the original: fewer choices (for example, race), smaller scope (one city), less grand story, inconsistent with DAO - just plain LESS, unfortunately. Continue on for an in-depth review.
I have played Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition (three times through), Awakening (twice), and all the downloadable content available. I really liked the high level of customization, the simple interface, and the options available to get to know other characters. It was probably closer to perfect than any other game I've played. With this in mind, I played through Dragon Age 2.
My review has a fair amount of comparisons to Origins, but as the second installment, I think that needs no explanation - a sequel inevitably gets compared to its predecessor. I by no means am looking for an Origins continuation, but a game that matches the quality DAO provides or even excels expectations.
|||General first impression: Nice graphics, interesting opening The idea of a story within a story already pulled me in from the first couple minutes. The game begins with the story of "the Champion" being demanded from Varric. It leads me to ask, what's the disaster going on right now, that this story is so sought-after? And also, what happened, who is the champion, why is s/he important?
***(+ for pro, - for con)*** |||Character Creation: Less Customization than Origins
- You cannot modify the first two presets. I like being able to take a preset and modify it to my liking. Unfortunately, if you use the first or second preset for male or female, you cannot change it at all. The rest of the presets you can modify.
+ You can't choose your voice, but both the male and female voices are great.
- You can't choose a race like in Origins. You can only be human. This is already the first sign that DA2 is more limited in choice and scope than DAO, but okay, I'll let this one go.
- There is no origin story choice like in the first game - everyone gets the same one. Once again, this is not DAO, so while it's more limited, I gave it a chance.
+ Choose your history. I did like that you get to pick what happened historically. You get the option to load a save from your Origins game if you want history as you played it! This is pretty much expected of a BioWare title, but I am grateful nonetheless.
|||Story: Interesting, but not as epic in nature as Origins
+ First impresions: This is going to be epic. The search begins for not just a champion, but THE Champion. Sounds important! Additionally, my fiance and I both started new games yesterday, I a female rogue, and he a male mage, so we both got to see a difference right off the bat.
+ Cameos. It was great that we got to see/hear about some characters from the previous game.
+ Brutal. While Origins had its tough moments, from the get-go, this game presents you with impossibly tough scenes and some real bada$$ characters (NPCs included).
+ Saving the world? No, this game so far does not seem to be about saving the world from the Blight. The story has centered around betrayal, both in the main and side stories. I may be alone on this, but I was pretty much done caring about the Archdemon after my third playthrough of Origins, and I was eager to fight a new kind of Big Bad.
+ First impression... Fast-paced. You don't really get a chance to catch your breath between the battles and scenes. The excitement the developers were going for is clearly there, and they at least succeeded in this much.
- Mass Effect-type dialog mechanic. Because up & down was not awesome enough, instead, you get to rotate your stick for dialog choices (and the Start menu)! Some may like it, but for me, it was a needless aesthetic change with a more difficult control. What was the point other than "it looks cool"?
+ Speech icons. At first, I thought this "dumbed down" the speech system. I didn't like that Hawke didn't say verbatim the option I would choose. However, after about 20 hours of playtime, I have come to appreciate the speech icons. Where some people might have had trouble in Origins saying the right thing (tone can be hard to decipher in writing), this trouble is completely avoided in DAII. The icons indicate exactly the tone in which your comment will be delivered. It's unlikely you'll find yourself saying, "But I thought that was going to be sarcastic!" (DAO players, you know what I'm saying?)
- No speech challenges. That's right. As a rogue, I put all the precious points I got from leveling up into dexterity and cunning, and I noticed no "skills" (ex: potions, traps, coercion, survival, etc.) section, just attributes and talents/spells. I was expecting, when talking to the guard, to have a Cunning speech option. Nope.
- Talent/Spell Trees. If you're like me, you enjoyed having all your talents or spells on one page. You can look through everything quickly and compare skills to decide which one you want to spend your points on. DAII has abandoned the sensible one-page system. Instead, you get multiple skill trees you have to select to see what skills do. And oh, you want to compare to another skill on the fly? You have to exit out of the skill tree you're in, flip through the others, find the one you're looking for, click on that, find the skill... Oh, forgot what the first skill you wanted to compare it to was? Here we go again, flipping back through...
+ Skills. The skills themselves are great - backstab, in particular, I enjoyed. The Rogue got some very interesting new skills.
+ Talent/Spell animations. They're great - this game is a thrill to watch. I also like the toughening-up they gave the mage class.
+ Jobs! If you were hoping for something like the Mages' Collective or Blackstone Irregulars, that seems to be present in the game.
- Setting. The city exploring kind of feels like Assassin's Creed in a small way; the atmosphere is pretty interesting. That said, "Seen one, seen them all." I've found that if you've been to one cave/cavern/house, you've seen them all. Many of the areas seem to have been reused. Additionally, some sections of an area will just be blocked off, even though they appear accessible on the mini-map.
+ Characters. They're interesting enough. I really liked Aveline - she has my sympathy from the start, and I like that she's moral without being an old lecturing biddy on a soapbox. Each character seems to have his/her own motivations and depth. The character building they did for this game was obviously top-notch. Your companions' stories have depth! Each companion has their own specific quests (nothing new there), but I do like that BioWare took it a step further and made them much more interesting. There seem to be several waves of companion quests, and I've enjoyed every one. This aspect was definitely a step in the right direction.
- Companion armor. This is purely subjective, but I rather liked being able to equip whichever armor I wanted to on my companions in Origins. Not so in DAII - you must buy specific "Companion armor upgrades" and cannot equip whatever you want on them. If you've played Guild Wars, this is familiar to you.
+ Unique Companion Specializations. As I've unlocked talents/spells in the unique companion specializations, I really do appreciate them. This makes the characters less interchangeable and more fun to have along. OTOH, I noticed some "standard" skill trees missing from certain characters - for example, Merrill cannot learn "Heal."
+ Jokes. There have been some hilarious moments in DAII that I've quite appreciated! There are a couple letters that appear on Hawke's writing desk that should bring a smile to your face, and there is a rather humorous quest of Aveline's that breaks up the serious tone of most of your quests. Merrill also has quite a few funny things to say.
+ Post-game save. This means there will be some DLC in the future if the game does well.
- Inconsistency between the two games. I waited till the end of the game before making a comment like this to give DAII a chance to win me over on it. You may have noticed some changes in the races of DAII, as well as in the characters you used to know. Take, for example, the qunari. DAO's Sten was a big guy from a different culture, but still looked human. The qunari of DAII are horned giants, humanoid but not human. The Elves (DAII "Elvhen") became far more "fey," as my fiance put it, in their appearance. While in DAO, they appeared as smaller humans with some minor racial differences, DAII has further differentiated them. This game is about differences, the tension brought by the boundaries groups have drawn between each other, and this change in the races symbolizes it. However, due to the inconsistency with DAO, it bothered me. You don't just change fundamental things and then pretend that's the way they always were.
- Inconsistent character appearances. Now, by far, the worst of these inconsistencies, were changes to individual characters. While you may remember Isabela as a fiesty redhead in the The Pearl of DAO, in this one, she is quite different. While I liked the new version of her, it was still taking a known character and completely changing her. This already was a sign of the things to come. Zevran reappeared and looked completely different! His face, but for the tattoo, looked like that of a different character. To take a major character and remake his face in DAII annoyed me greatly. This was not the same character at all. [***Spoiler alert*** A certain ex-templar also appeared looking like he got plastic surgery and became addicted to meth. This was not the same character we all knew in DAO. Yes, 7 years passing means some changes, but we're talking crow's feet and NOT a jaw replacement and eye transplant. ***End Spoiler***] In short, I hated this change, and I wish they hadn't done this.
- Bugs. I've encountered a couple annoying bugs. I'm not sure if they're present on other platforms (I'm using PS3).
1) Hawke's arms have frozen in the weapon-holding position when she no longer has weapons equipped. I ran around and zoned, equipped and unequipped, and even had cut-scenes where she looked like she should have been holding weapons. (My fiance repeated, "I'm an airplane!!" and made airplane sounds as I had Hawke run around.) I was curious just how long it would last, and it lasted about an hour before I tried reloading. That didn't work. I had to exit the game and then load my save before the bug corrected itself.
2) There is a key you must find in a certain mansion to unlock a door. Without it, you cannot proceed in the quest, and you are also unable to exit the map. I reloaded several times and turned up every rock looking for the key. I was just about to give up when I did a search online - apparently a specific enemy had it, but you have to kill him LAST and IMMEDIATELY pick up his loot or it disappears. I followed these exact instructions and was able to get the key.
3) Some quests were bugged. The last quarter of the game or so, I ran into many quests in my journal that were not indicated on the map, neither by the general map indicator, nor on the mini-map. I went to the locations and scoured them entirely and could not complete those quests. All this, by the way, happened as I did everything while using the game guide - not much guidance there, I guess. My assumption is that perhaps quests had a certain order, and if you put one off for later, it became unavailable without the journal updating it or removing it.
+ The game ending (I replayed the ending to see the other outcome) was exciting and made your Hawke essential to its outcome. While it wasn't as epic as Origins' ending, it was brutal, full of drama, and while the two opposing sides both did wrong, there wasn't really a completely "good" side: each has its own shortcomings, its own problems, its own shades of gray. This added a layer of complexity to this second installment beyond "doing the right thing."
I finished the game two days ago. I took my time and did every side quest I could find (that weren't bugged, anyway), putting my game time to about 35 hours.
Ultimately, if you haven't played Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition and are looking to try something with an RPG flair, you may like this game. While it has some shortcomings mechanically and is inconsistent with the first game, DA2's action is fast-paced and impressive. There were also plenty of skills to choose from, even if the skill trees went for flashiness instead of practicality. I'm disappointed that a lot of the details, like different playable races and origin stories, have been abandoned in favor of what appears to be a bid for a more mainstream action-loving audience and that several things that worked in Origins have been left behind for bells and whistles that don't quite make the cut anyway.
It is painfully obvious that the redesigning of the races and characters from DAO was not for the veteran players' benefit, but for the big "general" audience out there EA is hoping to lure in. These mainstream new players won't complain that characters from the first game they didn't play looks completely different, and they won't care if they can only play a human... because they didn't have the pleasure of playing as a City Elf out for vengeance in DAO, for example. For these new players, DA2's offerings might be great, but for the DAO players, all this sequel does is narrow your options.
If you've played DAO and want to have a more positive experience with DA2, go into it cold, and evaluate it on its own merits, without comparison to DAO. I'm sure you'll then find a decent game. If you go in having played DAO several times, hoping for something that stays true to its predecessor, you will likely be disappointed, as I was. As for me, I will not be replaying this game. In fact, I think I'll go put in DAO instead. :)
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