Aug 12 2011
3.5 out of 5 stars
There are few games that I end up having literal rivalries with. My epic Fable 3 rant was one of my most cathartic reviews in history, and through hundreds of comments, I found many agreed with me.
But before that, there was Dragon Age Origins, a game that didn’t inspire anger as much as it did frustration, and it marks the only time I can actually recall where I bought a title, and sold it back to the store a few days later. I quit after about ten hours, when I deduced the game was far more work than fun, and I maintained there were just too many blatantly obvious problems with it that could have easily been fixed and made for a title that was at the very least playable.
Imagine my surprise when I saw my roommate playing Dragon Age II, a game I had purposefully avoided when it was released as it was hailed as worse than the original, and from what I saw, thought I actually might…like it.
Even when I wasn’t playing, I could see that some of my biggest complaints about the game had been remedied. Combat was no longer an armless wrestling match, the graphics didn’t look like they were using an engine made up of mud and sticks, and whoa, was that the main character actually SPEAKING?
With so many problems resolved, was it possible that I could actually like this game? As a fan of Oblivion, Diablo and a myriad of other action RPGs., I thought that if this was done properly, despite my history with the original, it might be worth my time.
Oh, you again. Where’s your hot daughter who spent all last game hating me?
And thirty hours later, here I am. I was set up to do a few journal installments when I started, but I felt I was progressing rather quickly, and heard that this title was much shorter than the original. The game felt like it was going to end on a few occasions, but then soldiered on, and I finally just said screw it, and spent the last few days plowing through it to be able to do one grand review at the end.
In the sequel, you play as a brand new hero who has survived the Darkspawn and wants to make a life for their family in Kirkwall, where many other refugees fled after the dreaded blight that apparently my hero from the first game never quite wrapped up.
Unlike the last game which had SIX separate intro storylines for higher and lower class dwarves, elves and humans, you can only be a regular old homosapien here, and just have the standard choice of rogue, warrior or mage that exists in every game like this.
As I am ALWAYS the hulking brute in these sorts of games, I decided to be way different and try my hand at magic as a mage. Furthermore, as my roommate was a male rogue, I decided to be a female to see what new plot points that might uncover, like a lesbian romance with my hot pirate wench teammate. I fashioned “Sonya” Hawke to look like my blonde haired blue eyed Commander “Sonya” Shepard from Mass Effect, but instead of being a massive bitch like she was in that game, my mage had a kinder heart and was always quick with a joke or a reassuring word.
“We can talk this out!”
Slowly but surely, I did random jobs around town to earn my entry fee into the city, and assembled a team of miscreants. There was a dwarf who was the most likable character in the game almost immediately, a white haired elf with a tortured soul meant to appease JRPG players due to his feminine looks and sword that is taller than he is. Then there’s aforementioned pirate girl who appears to have giant fake boobs in an era when they didn’t exist. There’s a butch city guardswoman who somehow is not named Helga, a skittish mage wood elf with no discernible social skills, my annoying brother who does nothing but whine whenever I save his ass, and finally a super hot humanitarian healer mage who I was destined to bone the moment I saw his blonde locks and firm chin. What? I’m just getting into character.
The fact is, this is a VASTLY improved product over the original in the ways that I’ve hinted at earlier. First and foremost, combat is far more straightforward than it used to be. My character used to bitch me out for pressing the attack button too many times as the system was supposed to be quasi turn based, but here you can mash down A all you want in true Diablo uber-clicking form. Spells are on cooldowns and area of effect ones allow you to stop time in the heat of battle to cast them. The whole experience is far more streamlined and easier to play for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time mucking around issuing orders to each party member and switching back and forth with them, though you can still do that if you wish, and may have to on a few occasions.
It was also refreshing to see that the difficulty curve had been ironed out. The original game was a rollercoaster ride, as you never knew when you walked into a room whether it would be a cakewalk or Armageddon, no matter what you level was. You still have to save every five feet due to the games woefully bad autosave, but easy enemies are easy, tough enemies are a challenge and some of the bosses are legitimately hard, but nothing ever is so frustrating that it makes you want to throw your controller through the screen after your fiftieth death like in Origins.
A similarly large improvement on the story side is the fact that your character finally TALKS. I never understood why Bioware thought it was in any way immersive to have half the conversations in the first game be silent, it does wonders to actually give your character a personality. And now that they’ve implemented their patented dialogue wheel, the whole thing feels far more like Mass Effect, a game renowned for its story and characters.
Cool as he may look, he’s a huge prick.
The game doesn’t do a bad job of making you relate to its characters, but the writing overall isn’t quite at the caliber of Mass Effect, nor do the characters seem as deep. There are a few nice moments sure, but it’s not the kind of bonding you felt with your crew aboard the Normandy, even if it is leagues above the last game. Bioware, for all their storytelling prowess however, still has an issue with making “paragon” characters sound like complete pussies and “renegade” characters be giant dicks. The disparity is too extreme often creating an unlikable lead with either option. I will credit them for getting rid of the actual point system for morality, which gives specific rewards based on how “good” or “bad” your character is. You can just make decisions and the only result is the consequences. You’re not worried about personality points unlocking different dialogue options or rewards, and you have much more freedom to play the game as you see fit, as you don’t always have to choose the same type of choice every time just to make sure your character doesn’t lose his angel wings.
Still frustrating is trying to bond with your teammates. There’s a system in place that has them judging you for every conversation you have or quest you take, and they will approve or disapprove of many of your actions. Sometimes it makes sense if you say, slander mages in front of your healer, but other times you’ll invoke anger from someone who wasn’t even involved in the conversation, nor has anything to do with its content. Funnily enough, the solution to this was to make being “rivals” with you in your party give them an added bonus the way being your friend does. But it’s an all around awkward system, and one that doesn’t seem necessary when values are added or subtracted for arbitrary reasons.
The plot is strangely paced, and often feels like one giant collection of submissions as the over arching plot keeps changing every few hours. It’s about a treasure hunt, no wait, just kidding, it’s about a foreign uprising in the city. Nevermind, it’s a conflict between mages and templar. There’s no world ending disaster coming, just a bunch of petty squabbling politicians and I swear my character rolled my eyes about as much as I did when dealing with these problems. It just feels small scale compared to the sorts of stories you normally find in games of this genre.
Despite the plot’s issues, one thing I appreciated was the individual quests. After 30 hours, you would think that they would skimp on a few of them, or run out of material. But no, each and every quest you take has its own unique characters and mission objectives, and they rarely feel repeated. This is opposed to say, an action RPG title like Borderlands that has a great many quests, but almost no dialogue to go with them, and 80% of them end up being “go here , find this, kill that” with no more story or reasoning past that.
Gee, are the guys with giant horns going to turn on us?
However, for as non-repetitive as the quests themselves are, the exact opposite is true for the levels in which they take place. I can accept having a non open world map for a game like this. Those are hard to build and take loads of time and money to craft and what not. But for a game that spans thirty hours, you need to build far more environments for the game to not be boring. There are only three sets of areas, but two of those are the same parts of the city, with one being a night version, when bandits and gangs roam the streets after the shops are closed.
There are only four or five city environments you’ll run around in (which aren’t particularly big), but even worse, when you start question in dungeons, there appear to be only four or five of those as well. Even if a mission takes place in an entirely different area, you will absolutely see the same architecture repeated over and over everywhere you turn. By the end I swear you’ll see each dungeon no less than ten times, with the only difference being slight different enemies and a few corridors that are open or closed. For a game that spends so much time on dialogue and diverse quests, it’s unclear why they put so little effort into the levels, which turns the game from a fun improvement over the first title to a drag by the last ten hours or so.
Improvements have been made to the graphics, as they really couldn’t get much worse than the last generation look of Origins. They’re not quite on the caliber of most AAA titles out these days, but they’re not terrible. The only notable exception are characters weapons which hover on their backs like they’re attached with some sort of space age magnets. It was not uncommon to see a full eight inches of air between my mage and the staff on her back.
This image is misleading in two ways: A) The graphics are nowhere close to this good and B) All onscreen romances are completely PG-rated.
Dragon Age 2 has many, many improvements over its predecessor, but is still lacking much to make it a truly great game. The levels are horribly repetitive in a way that anyone would point out as a major issue. Unfortunately despite its improvements, combat grows boring eventually as once you pick your six moves halfway through the game, there’s very little incentive to switch up your tactics for the remaining fifteen hours, and each encounter starts to feel the same no matter which enemies you fight, and compounded with the respective levels and the stutter stepping main questline, the game feels about twice as long as it should be.
I didn’t rage quit this time, thanks to improvements in gameplay, story, and a correctly proportioned difficulty curve, but there’s also really nothing that stands out as being particularly innovative. It’s like it caught up with what it should have been when it was first released, but doesn’t really have anything that’s going to blow us away. Maybe that will change the next time around
3.5 out of 5 stars
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