Bioware has churned out so many competent RPGs in the past few years, it’s almost not fair. They’ve been consistently producing quality content for so long, it seems like they’re about due for a clunker. And folks have been slightly apprehensive about Dragon Age 2, and after the release of the demo, complaints surfaced regarding the new direction in art style and the more action-oriented approach. However, Bioware has delivered another gem. This iteration is just as engaging as the last title, and the game has managed to retain its charm, while adding a nicely polished finish.
In Dragon Age 2, you play as Garrett Hawke (unless you decide to change his name), champion of Kirkwall, though you‘re not sure why he’s champion when you begin. You set off as a refugee, fleeing hordes of Darkspawn to the city of Kirkwall. Upon reaching Kirkwall, you’re tasked with earning some coin and restoring your family’s name to its former glory. Dragon Age 2’s narrative approach is a more focused affair than that of Origins. The entirety of the game, excluding the introduction, takes place in or around Kirkwall, so you’ll become well acquainted with your environment. You would think this would lead to repetition, but the atmosphere works well because everything you do seems to affect your immediate vicinity. You can explore Kirkwall’s surrounding area’s, as well as visit certain areas within the city during daytime or after dark, and certain quests are only available at certain times. It’s a nice compromise between variety and limitation. Some RPGs invest so much of their time into creating vast, sprawling worlds that they neglect the characters that inhabit them. Dragon Age 2 uses its massive lore as a backdrop for a more focused exercise in storytelling, spinning a tale about political struggles and racial tensions, rather than a simple fable about a heroic battle against evil.
The strongest aspect of Dragon Age 2’s story is its characterization. The cast is compelling, and each companion has a distinct personality and back-story you’ll want to explore. And you are given plenty of opportunities to get to know these characters. The party you choose not only affects gameplay, but some conversations will only occur if certain characters are included for a specific quests. As a result, I found myself constructing my party based on which characters I found most interesting, instead of creating a team that was the most tactically proficient. In addition, background banter produces interesting and insightful conversations, which helps to prevent travelling from becoming a chore. Romance options are available for pretty much every character, but I had a small grievance with how this aspect is handled. At times, I found that an opportunity for romance would supplant realistic characterization and dialogue. In one such case, a companion flirted with my character unprompted and got all defensive when my character had to let him down easy. The whole conversation reeked of middle school melodrama, and I had trouble taking said character seriously after that. It’s good that Romance options are available, but they should enhance character depth rather than diminish it. That said, this is a minor grievance, and most of the time characters are presented superbly.
The gameplay in Dragon Age 2 is a bit more action-oriented, in that combat is faster and more thrilling. While some fans might have qualms with this, all of the number-crunching, stats and leveling that RPG fans crave is still there, but its presentation is more streamlined. Damage is no longer represented numerically, but by a simply health bar. When you level up, you’re allotted attribute points, which you can put into categories like strength and cunning, and skills points, which allow you to learn active abilities, passive buffs, or temporary buffs. Skills are largely the same as they were in Origins, but the system has been reorganized into a tree-like progression that makes more sense and is easier on the eyes. For the most part I enjoyed the faster combat, though some minor drawbacks from the first game reemerge. For example, it’s annoying that you have to redo all your buffs if one of your characters dies. That sort of thing should be handled automatically. Questing is paced and balanced well, in that you’re introduced to a lot of quests early on, but they don’t feel like they interrupt each other. You can move through quests fairly quickly, so it feels as if you really are rising in the ranks and making a name for yourself in a new city.
The character models look good; not Mass Effect 2 good, but a sight better than the ones in Origins. I won’t say anything about the ridiculous size of breasts in this game (they’re big) because that topic has been covered extensively. I will say it is evident that the more concise setting allows for more graphical polish, and the city of Kirkwall looks really good as a result. In Origins, the main character’s lines were not voice-acted, and this has been remedied. No longer do you select dialogue options from a numbered list for a silent protagonist, as a Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel has been introduced. Though your character is still something of a blank slate, the new system lends to more depth. The music works well, ranging from bouncy tavern tunes to haunting wilderness melodies, but this sort of soundtrack has become sort of typical of the genre. In Dragon Age 2, lore is presented in a way that makes it relevant to your current situation. The game gives you the option to read about points of interest by presenting information before it’s added to your codex. Of course, you can just skip over this if you like, but the background information greatly enhances the world you’re exploring. In addition, the series hasn’t abandoned its quirky sense of humor for an overly epic tone (there’s an area called the “Red Lantern District”), and I chuckled more than a few times at the clever dialogue.
In Dragon Age 2, most of the mechanics carry over from the last game, but everything is presented in a way that makes more sense. In addition, it’s not big deal if you didn’t play the first game. There are some nice references, and certain characters from Origins make an appearance, but a newcomer to the series would have no problem understanding what’s going on in the main campaign. In this iteration, the story is interesting, the characters are compelling, and the gameplay and presentation have been polished. If you’re looking for more of what made Dragon Age: Origins great, then look no further.
Genre: Role-Playing, Action-Adventure
Release: March 8, 2011
Available On: Mac, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Dragon Age: Origins: Loved
Mass Effect 1 & 2: Loved
Neverwinter Nights: Loved
Baldurís Gate: Loved