Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Review

So I finally broke down and played Dragon Age 2, a game I was fully prepared to hate. I heard so many negative reviews from both fans and critics, it seemed to me that Bioware had lost their flair. I was disappointed in Mass Effect 2, not to say it was a bad game, just that it was lacking in several key areas. However, Mass Effect 2 was receiving stellar reviews across the board. Dragon Age 2 was not. Is Dragon Age 2 really as bad as the reviews may lead you to believe? The answer is a firm and definitive no.

Dragon Age 2 follows the exploits of the Champion of Kirkwall, a Fereldan refugee fleeing the Blight. Hawke is either a man or woman. Unfortunately, players are not allowed to choose their race like they could in Dragon Age Origins, which is honestly not a bad thing. It would have taken away some of the novelty of DAO if you could. DA2 is a different game completely. Instead of having a silent protagonist, Hawke is a fully voiced character with dialog options ala Mass Effect. I actually liked having a talking protagonist, but I can see why some people don't like the idea of stripping away customizability in favor of cinematic value.

For the most part, you spend your time in the lackluster city of Kirkwall, running simple errands for about 40 some hours. Quests break down into a few categories. Main Plot Quests focus on building the overarching story of the game. Companion Quests are jobs you assist your friends with, such as helping Aveline, one of the city's guards and a companion since Fereldan, to expose corruption within the ranks of Kirkwall's finest. Secondary quests offer some spice to the taco that is Dragon Age 2's story. Many quests start in this category but the graduate to full on main Plot quests in a fine example of the Malignant Plot Tumor Trope. Secondary quests usually involve secondary characters from DA2 or old friends from previous installments. My personal favorite Secondary quest involved good ol' Nathaniel Howe from Awakening. Dude's a bad ass. As interesting as these plots are, the idea of a game's story being told almost exclusively through side quests is highly unappealing. If DA2's cliamx wasn't as solid as it was, I may have added this as a negative. Fortunately, all these minor plots come together to a dramatic and epic conclusion that is sure to please anyone with half a brain or at least understands how to tell a story. I think a lot of people don't get what Bioware was doing in DA2, and that's fine. In fact its better than fine. It makes me feel like I'm a part of this inside joke that nobody understands but the people who deserve to know.

The story is actually the highlight of this game. Its almost psychological in a way. It explores such themes as oppression, power, corruption, paranoia, suspicion, desperation, and how to deal with these emotions and mindsets. Through the story, the mages and templars are at odds with each other. Meredith, the knight commander, is a particularly hard woman who believes that mages a far too dangerous to be kept under anything less than constant scrutiny. This causes mages, in the desperate attempt to achieve any semblance of freedom to resort to drastic measures. Frequently in the tale, you will wrangle up blood mages and other apostates desperately seeking a new life away from the highly oppressive templars. It should be noted that Kirkwall is notorious for being tougher than any other land in Thedas on mages, outside of Par Vollen. The story is great, but it takes a long time to get going. The first act is particularly hard to get through, focusing on earning money to take a rather disappointing journey through the deep roads. Once you get to act 2, you won't be sorry. Its during the conflict between Kirkwall and the Quanri where the story really picks up.

Combat is more fun this time, allowing the player to be a bit more involved. Special moves are pretty fricking awesome. I played as a rogue, and the hands down best power you can get is Assassinate. Though the combat is better, its very flawed. If an enemy, no matter how weak, gets you cornered, you're dead. They'll just knock you down over and over again, preventing you from ever standing up. Enemies spawn in like crazy. Insignificant tasks take way too long thanks to stupid enemies spawning from the sky and dropping down into the battle. Exploration seems a little nonexistent, and the inventory is a mess, but due to the short development cycle for DA2, I can forgive Bioware this once these minor shortcomings.

Overall, Dragon Age 2 may not be a definitive RPG by any stretch of the term, and its not as good as its preprocessor, but it holds its own, despite its flaws. When I visit the forums, its hard for me to take the fan base seriously anymore. I see them and think that they are clearly a bunch of spoiled little brats who are complaining because Daddy didn't take them to Toys R Us. I look at the reception of Dragon Age 2, and the complaints over the endings of Fallout 3, and Red Dead Redemption and I realize that Ebert was right. Games probably will never be art. Its not because they don't have the capacity, but because gamers won't allow it.

Dragon Age gets a 8.5/10 from me.

Great Story.
Excellent Companions with lots of depth and emotion.
Even Secondary and minor characters are deep and compelling.
Voiced Protagonist.
Combat is faster and more involving.
New abilities and skills rock!
Tough choices throughout.
Friend/Rivalry system is better than the approval system.
All classes tweaked to be more powerful and individualized. Mages especially benefit from enhancements.

Combat needs work. Too many enemies. Fights too long. Not very tactical. Unavoidable death if cornered.
Kirkwall is small and boring. 40+ hours in this town is frustrating.
Story told through side quests. Bleh.
Level design sucks. 3 maps reused over and over again.
Inventory is confusing and borderlines on being dysfunctional.
Very little exploration.

Again, the pros highly outweigh the cons here folks. Dragon Age 2 is worth your time. And this is coming form me! I was insulting the hell out of Bioware just a few posts down! I guess I owe Bioware an apology...

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