Dragon Age 2 Review
16th Mar 2011
Dragon Age 2 reviewed on Xbox 360 by Allan Walsh. Game supplied for review by Electronic Arts
It was an inevitable sequel. Dragon Age was- in my humble opinion - a flawed gem of a game with fantastic storytelling that could have benefited from a few more months of spit and polish before being released. And here we are, two years later, which seems like a short amount of time to create a deep role playing experience. Have they managed to create something special in that time? Read on and see what you think dear readers.
Dragon Age II begins with you and your family running from Lothering (a town well known to those who played the first game) as it gets destroyed by the Blight and ending up as unwanted refugees in the coastal city of Kirkwall in the Free Marches. To keep the story tighter this time around Bioware decided to limit your choices with regards to character creation and customisation and while it did gall to have so little choice in the beginning I am thankful for the depth it brings to the storytelling.
Unlike its predecessor, Dragon Age II is much easier to begin with, allowing those less able to handle role playing mechanics to enjoy, or at least learn how to win, the sometimes epic battles.
Things have certainly been simplified with regards to the fighting mechanics too and I know there is some debate online about how this has made the game seem dumbed down and therefore more friendly to the casual gamer and less so to hardcore RPG fans. I don't believe this to be the case here and find that the faster, simplified fighting married with the deep, personal stories makes for a very exciting game where you really do worry at times about how your choices will affect your relationships in Kirkwall. I don't believe RPGs need to be slow, methodical marches all of the time and it's refreshing to have some excitement injected into the genre once in a while.
That's not to say it all works perfectly, because like any game of this magnitude there will be glitches or irregularities with plot or characters or even the game itself. Apart from the odd abnormality in conversations I have found few problems with the game, one of which is the long loading times between areas which you will have to endure often as you hop from place to place completing the numerous quests thrown at you by the local denizens of Kirkwall. As you complete said quests your notoriety increases and passing comments change according to your social status which adds to the charm of living in a city where people slowly get to know you as you get to know and recognise them.
Kirkwall itself, like any city, has a nest of vipers all intent of making easy money and robbing and/or killing anybody to get it. You can make many friends or enemies as you climb the social ladder from refugee to Champion of Kirkwall and your choices do seem to make a big difference to many sections of the story, sometimes not to your liking. That's what I like about DAII: It pulls no punches with regards to your choices and consequences therein.
Of course, like any other RPG, kitting your characters out with the best weapons and armour as they level up is part and parcel of the experience. Unfortunately, while weapons are available for just about every character according to class, armour is only available to Hawke (your given name), so when you choose your class all of the armour suited to the classes you could have chosen is useless to you and needs to be sold for coin. I must admit I did miss this part of role playing games and wish it had been kept in but you can tweak armour somewhat with the addition of magical runes, allowing for elemental or physical defensive boosts; even that of your comrades-in-arms. It's hardly deep though.
You can also personalise your character's fighting ability to quite a degree with a glut of styles and moves available to you as you level up, as well as adding points to your strength, cunning, constitution and the other staples of RPG life. If you overlook the armour problem there is a lot for you to mess around with, including potions, poisons and explosives.
Graphically it's a mixed bag. Yes, everything has been upgraded in terms of overall quality and texture but it all seems a bit sterile at times. There are some personal touches to add a bit of life to the backgrounds, but not many that work. Quite a few areas have been copy and pasted with different enemies thrown in without even a tree or shrub added to show that your travels take you anywhere but the same locations when outside the city walls (or in some cases when you are still within them). It makes the game seem a little cheap at times and shows a lack of passion that the first game had.
What really shines in DAII is the voice acting. They all do a sterling job of bringing the characters to life - especially Merrill - but can get drowned out by the music unless you tweak the sound settings. The conversations your companions have amongst themselves are precious things to be savoured and give great insight into their personalities and are often better than the ones you have yourself. Ambient sound is also of great quality and gives an identity to each area.
Overall Bioware has created a good (but not a classic) RPG-lite game that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people, but in doing so will alienate others. If you let the simplified underlying structure slide a little and get into character for your role as the Champion of Kirkwall you will have a great adventure. It's certainly worthy of a purchase and if you are anything like me with regards to completing all side quests (it's a curse) it may well take you a dragon age to complete.
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