BlueReview: Dragon Age 2on March 23, 2011 at 5:05 am
Over the last couple of years my favorite game studio has slowly drifted from Square-Enix to Bioware. Years of Final Fantasy Fandom has slowly degraded into little more then a puppy love, while at the same time games like Dragon Age: Origins and the first two Mass Effects have been flirting with my affections. The transition has been gradual, and not complete.
But this could be the year.
With games like Mass Effect 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Dragon Age 2 all in the queue, Bioware was ready to steal the show (and my heart). So, when Dragon Age 2 came out it was with a rabid excitement I dove headlong into Bioware’s comforting arms once more.
Dragon Age: Origins created a world and then let you create a legend. Leading the tattered remains of the once glorious Grey Wardens, you managed to rally a kingdom in disarray to destroy a demonic invasion known as the Blight and save untold millions. Dragon Age 2 is a cluster of sidequests from that first game that your original hero wasn’t able to get around to while saving the world.
The hero of DA2 – Hawke – ran from the Blight with his or her family to a port town called Kirkwall. Over the course of the game you progress from an evacuee and indentured servant to the “Champion of Kirkwall.” While your Origins hero stops an army of demons, you save a port town from a few minor disasters over the course of a decade. I would, in fact, suggest that when the game ends you create more problems for the whole of the Dragon Age realms then you solved for Kirkwall. While that leads to more games in the Dragon Age series, it leaves Dragon Age 2 in an uncomfortable “waste of time” zone.
What makes it worse, and yes it’s worse, is that you’re stuck in Kirkwall. The story locks you in the city all the way through. Hawke’s rise to Champion of Kirkwall means he or she must actually stay in Kirkwall. Still, that might no be so bad except for one painfully glaring issue: ten hours into the game you’ve seen all Kirkwall has to offer. Every street. Every tunnel. Every house, cave, sewer, beach, alley, and warehouse. You’ve seen it. ALL of it. Many times. Many MANY times. Too many times.
There are about ten zones in the city and the outskirt of Kirkwall. When you’re sent on a mission, for example take out a gang of thugs, you’ll go into a small ‘instance’ zone – maybe a cave. You’ll kill the thugs and leave. Ten quests later, you’ll be on an unrelated mission to find a blood mage and go into the exact same cave. Oh, and to go along with it you’ll probably be fighting the same ten enemies (thugs, mages, skeletons, spiders, qunari, darkspawn, shades/wraths, and drakes) on every single quest. There are, at best, twenty zones and they are used, at least, forty times each. You will have these maps memorized better then the most twitchy first person shooters by the time you’re level twelve. I suggest giving each map a pet name and pretending like it’s a person and having a fake conversation with “Goobers” every time you raid that map. That is about the only way you don’t lose your mind. Or, maybe I did lose it and what I just wrote is proof?
Lack of epic-level substance and the mind-numbing re-zoning are the major complaints about Dragon Age 2, but I do have a couple of minor complaints to tack on as well. Why is there only one healer in a game that requires a healer? Companions get no new armor during the game, but instead get small upgrade packets. That really limits the use of gear in the game as well as hurting the general visual appeal. While I understand the idea behind the conversation icons (gold heart for flirt, fist for angry, swords for violence, etc.) I really think it takes away from the thought process of conversations. It’s to easy to flirt or be mean or start fights. By the end of the game I wasn’t even looking at what I was saying anymore. It’s a good idea that ends up hurting one of the games most appealing features.
Okay, so, if you’re still with me you might think “Wow, this game sucks.” Well, hold on a moment! Despite the issues I just mentioned Dragon Age 2 is a solid and powerful game that will draw you in and hold you tight as you barrel through the game. Every day at work, Brian Sparks and myself would talk about the game and very VERY rarely did we talk about what was wrong with the game. Glaring issues? Sure, but only if you can see past the pure AWESOME on the screen.
Visually, the game is amazing. One of my major complaints in Dragon Age: Origins was how bland and unoriginal the game design was. Dragon Age 2 has no such problem. You can tell the staff spent a lot of time on design. The characters look great, the armor and weapons are bounds above Origins designs, and the city of Kirkwall has the genuine feel of a fantasy world port town. Along with that, the battle animations and the spells are brilliant – and you’ll never get tired of blowing enemies into tiny bloody chunks.
The gameplay itself, in my opinion, is smoother and faster. It feels like Diablo to some, but while playing my rogue I honestly kept thinking God of War. Either way, it’s fast and furious and massive. Your party doesn’t take on one big enemy very often. Most of the time you’ll be dealing with swarms of mobs, and as you clear a wave you’ll likely have another group pop out of the ground or drop from the rooftops or run around a corner. There’s something raw and invigorating about tearing through waves of enemies at high speeds that makes you feel epic. That said, you’ll still encounter a few ‘boss’ fights where you’ll need to take your time and direct your team – but it’s easy to pause the game with the radial menu, issue a few commands, and jump right back into the fray.
As for the story itself, I’m not going to lie and say it was inspired or even gripping. It was good. It had some strong points, and there were a few emotionally moving parts of the game. However, before I’d gotten very far in the game, I already was able to figure out exactly what was going to eventually happen. Nothing surprised me, and that might be because I’m a critical thinker but I got the feeling it’s just cause I was paying attention as I played the game. It certainly kept me entertained, but overall I’d just say it was “alright.” What I found most interesting was the way Varric relates your tale during the game, and if anything I’d have liked to see that played up more. It’d be nice if some of your major choices caused a short discussion between Varric and the Inquisitor rather then limited to (mostly) chapter recaps. Still, the style itself had a nice effect that was unique and fun.
So, what kind of score does DA2 get? That’s the tricky part. There are some rather large flaws in the game, and even overlooking those flaws I just didn’t feel Dragon Age 2 was as on the same level as previous Bioware games. I’ve heard reviews that tore the game apart. I’ve read a couple that suggested it was an early favorite for Game of the Year. I don’t know that I agree with either. While I can’t just overlook the problems I also can’t deny that I was really into the game and it was rare that I didn’t play for several hours at a time and enjoy that time. That said, it might be the first Bioware game I really have no desire to play through a second time.
Final verdict? 3.5 Dragons.
If you like the RPG genre or need a good action game with a decent story then you really should give Dragon Age 2 a chance, flaws and all. I think in the end you’ll enjoy it, but you probably won’t fall in love.