I was not a huge fan of Dragon Age: Origins and when I got the sequel in the mail I was a bit circumspect as to how this game will turn out. The biggest issue I had with Origins was that the game did not have an identity of its own and given the fact that a lot of great role playing games were already released before it made that task more difficult. However the sequel introduces some solid features in the franchise which will hook you up for hours and give you a story that is worth losing your sleep over.
Dragon Age 2 tells the story of Hawke who has now arrived at Kirkwall as a refugee. The game reflects on how Hawke rises from a nobody to the Champion of Kirkwall. The story is told via a number of flashbacks narrated by a dwarf rogue known as Varric Tethras, who is apparently captured by a Chantry seeker named Cassandra. Cassandra wants to know what actually happened in the life of Hawke and how he grew to glory from a refugee to a Champion. The game takes place after the events of the first game wherein Hawke has fled the country of Ferelden, along with his brother, sister and mother. The story takes an interesting look at the life of Hawke as they seek help from their Uncle who is supposedly a noble of Kirkwall. It is only later they found the truth that he has illegally taken over Hawke’s mother’s property. Due to this Hawke and his family are left behind as refugees and the only way to survive is to get work from various notorious people in the region. The game also takes a closer look at the struggles of the Mages as they look to hide from the Templars, which results in to some interesting choices that the player has to make. The game is pretty long and it will take 50-60 hours to complete. It’s safe to say that Dragon Age 2 is another colossal game by Bioware representing how good they are at storytelling.
When you start off the game, you will be given the option to select the class you want. There are three classes available with each having a distinct advantage over each other. More precisely speaking each class is characterized by specializations and abilities. For example a warrior will have the ability to yield a dual handed weapon whereas a Rogue can be more experienced with Archery. Mages are much more powerful in my opinion due to the magic they bring to the table, but again it all depends on what the player is comfortable with.
Combat is a pretty important element of role playing games and Dragon Age 2 does not disappoint here. There is a fine line between an out and out hack and slash combat game and a game that involves strategy and tactics, and Dragon Age 2 fortunately manages to avoid being a button masher, but only by a bit. The player has access to a wide variety of weapons in the game such as daggers, long swords and crossbows, with each of them having specific parameters such as penetration level and the amount of damage it can do. You can also pause the game and issues commands for each of your party members; however I would have preferred a more direct approach for this. You can assign various abilities and magic to the quick select system and as usual the meter should be full before you can perform that action. Overall the combat system is pretty simple and at the same time extremely satisfying.
One of the features that the game really shines in is its levelling system. For each of the party members you can earn specialization and ability points. The specialization points system is pretty deep and gives the option to the player to go to the next level in various categories such as entropy, creation and elemental. Now this may result in more enhancements in battles with upgrade in abilities like fire, freeze and attack speed. Obviously the more time you spend with the game and party members, you will be able to earn more specialization points and unlock more abilities. You can also earn ability points which will help you to increase your overall strength, magic, dexterity and will power. Again just like in the case of specialization points, you will have individual ability points that you can assign to each of these attributes.
The conversation chain that Bioware are known for is hassle free. Obviously the choices that you are going to take will impact how the story goes forward. You can either be harsh in your replies and take on unnecessary fights or totally avoid them by being agreeable and tactful at the same time. You can also act like nice boy and do what your opponent says or simply ignore them in a witty manner. The choices are vast in Dragon Age 2 and ultimately it boils down to the player on how you can take a particular situation ahead.
One of the points that I noted in the sequel is that the enemies and your party members are much more agile. Their combat speed are atleast a couple of notches up compared to Dragon Age: Origins which ensures that players will be facing some challenging enemies in the game. You will be fighting against powerful mages, the brutal qunari and oh so irritating dwarfs. You will also be facing off against Dragons although they make appearances later in the game.
The surprising element of Dragon Age 2 is its super deep inventory system. In long games such as this you will be picking up (or looting!) a lot of items and you can only collect so much equipment. However if you can buy a backpack you will be able to pick up more items at will. One thing I noted is that the amount of items you carry does not affect how fast you move or your combat speed, which was a huge factor in other famous RPGs like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The inventory also gives a lot of details about the weapons which are indicated as stars. Now these stars tell the player how appropriate that specific weapon is, depending on the characters class and level. It may also happen that if you level up, the stars for weapons may decrease, which indicates that the weapon should be replaced. You will also come across items that will be required to make potions and poison. Now instead of carrying them, like you did in Origins, you will just need to discover and all vendors in the game’s world will stock it. This will save space in your inventory if you are carrying a good chunk of items.
The presentation of Dragon Age 2 is slick. Attractive menus can get even amateurs to understand the levelling and talent tree structure. The mission structure is divided into three parts, the missions that you will face in the day, in the night and a general overview of all the missions. The good thing about this is that you can hop from any mission to another which makes things much easier. The visuals do a great job of getting the player involved with solid close up facial models and animations which are complimented by some of the best voice acting I have witnessed in a role playing game. Every class has a different look and nature to it, some are stubborn and some are downright cool and fortunately the developers could have strayed away from the actual representation of these characters, so kudos to Bioware for getting this right. Having said that, the world and the environments within the game feel lifeless. A classic example would be the trees, they don’t sway at all or a river that actually does not have the characteristics of being one. The game also suffers from some really long loading times and can be a real downer in tense moments. Given the fact that how modern games are avoiding in game loading, I would like to see RPG’s take a new direction as far as loading is concerned. Also, visiting the same places over and over again might mar the experience for some players.
The game also has the ability to import your saved game from Dragon Age: Origins which I think is a nice touch although we all know where this idea hails from. Dragon Age 2 is game with some faults, but the good news is that the pros heavily outweigh them. Bioware have made this game easily accessible with a simple control and mission structure, not to mention some great story telling. If you are one of the gamers who is missing out on some great RPG action then Dragon Age 2 deserves your time and money.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Flexibility to hop on any mission at any time is a nice change, combat is fun, character levelling is complex but is extremely rewarding, excellent facial animations, voice acting is superb, engaging storytelling.
Environments feel lifeless, you will visit the same places again and again, long loading times.
Dragon Age 2 is a solid successor to the original, featuring a unique mission structure and character levelling.