Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II is a brilliant example of just how relative “awesomeness” is. One man’s awesome is another man’s slight disappointment. In the run up to the game’s release we were told by the developers that, “when you press a button, something awesome has to happen” and we can say without a shadow of a doubt that in Dragon Age II that is the case. While combat may be less of a ponderous, tactical affair than in Dragon Age: Origins,  its more visceral action orientated feel is brilliant. As a warrior just pressing the basic attack button over and over unleashes swirling sword movements that feel… well… awesome. As in the last game you can switch between your different party members at will, so while you must pick between warrior, mage and rogue classes and within those specialise down to using certain weapons and skill sets, you’ll get to try them all out by switching between differently spec’ed characters in battle. While Origins was a great success it’s clear that EA and Bioware have worked hard to make the sequel appeal to a wider audience who are less hung up on the grind and inventory management that hardcore RPG fans like to mire themselves in. The ratcheting up of awesomeness means that every facet of the game has had a bit of an overhaul. Rather than adding more and more elements to what was already an excellent format however, Bioware have trimmed a little in every area so that the game feels less turgid and traditional and things move along at a swift and engaging pace, just as the same developer did in the move from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2.

While Dragon Age: Origins was set from the beginning against a backdrop of war and the death of a ruler, this adventure is a little less grand in scale. Your character Hawke, can be male or female and you can give them any first name you like but they will be the Champion of Kirkwall and Hawke’s backstory and destiny are set as you carry out the hero’s story in flashbacks. That’s not to say the game is linear, far from it. Every decision you make, every conversation you have, the attitude you strike, the company you keep and the those you save or slay can affect the branching paths of your quests. It’s just that the quests themselves lack the epic scale and grandeur that we’d expected and hoped for. You’re a refugee in a foreign town trying to make good and keep your head above water.  Many of the missions you undertake involve little more than sorting out the petty squabbles and the political hoodwinkery of the townsfolk although often the sorting out will be done by the pointy end of your sword, arrow or staff. As scaled back as the plot is, it doesn’t mean that the missions lack heart or worth. You’ll learn a lot more than you did in Origins about the world of Dragon Age, its various races and factions and the depth of their suspicions of each other as well as their ability to rise above it when it matters because the stories are more personal. You also won’t be exploring a whole continent this time round. The game takes place in one city and its outlying areas. Even within the various dungeon crawls you undertake you’ll often see the same scenery over and over. There are plenty of different environments within the city though and in reality the game is probably as big as the last one and a lot easier to navigate but the way it’s presented does make the scale of your adventure feel a lot smaller than the first game and in fact a lot smaller than most RPGs.

You’ll assemble your party fairly quickly and they’re a diverse lot. They come from very different backgrounds from one another and it’s almost impossible to keep them all happy. Making the right call on proceedings is harder than you might think. Whilst your options may seem clear, they take so many twists and turns that ultimately you can’t have everything turn out just as you’d like. You can romance a few members of your party too should you want to get it on. In Dragon Age: Origins pretty much as soon as your journey was underway you realised that you weren’t playing as one character but in fact had as much control over every other party member as you did your starting character. This isn’t the case in the sequel. You cannot outfit your party with armour as you could before. You can still change out their weapons and accessories but you really feel confined to controlling Hawke alone which is a big shift down from eight characters to one. A wealth of armour in both shops and dropped from enemies simply isn’t useable in the game at all. As you’re confined to a class and pump points into particular stats you’ll find all armour that isn’t specifically for your Hawke’s class is useless to you or anyone else in your party. That isn’t just some mage robes you have to sell, it’s every helmet, pair of gloves, boots, breastplate, robe or hood. The way the inventory is set out makes it particularly frustrating too since when you look through each character screen so much of what you see is greyed out. The good thing is that less time spend trawling through your inventory and comparing armour stats is more time spent running around bashing mercenaries and monsters and doing awesome things.

The pruning back of Dragon Age has made it a more accessible game so that even someone with a passing interest is bound to find themselves caught up in it once they start playing. RPG fans and Dragon Age veterans will still be compulsively exploring every quest and plotline the game has to offer and carefully carving out characters to exact specifications. It’s a great achievement of balance and bringing high quality games with superb production values to a wide, appreciative audience is something we can all celebrate. There is however a small group of inventory obsessed, stat jugglers out there and what for others is pure fist pumping awesomeness, for them is a vague sense of disappointment, mumbled under their breath. I’ll hold my hands up now and say that I am one of the mumblers. We can’t help but feel a little betrayed. This was our game and Bioware gave it a haircut and let all the other boys and girls play with it and we are in a bit of a huff about that. Deal with it.







3 responses to “Dragon Age II”

  1. GraeXZ avatar

    Friday can not come fast enough! GIVE ME DRAGON AGE!!! 🙂

  2. ScreamngSilence avatar

    Good review… I Loved the first game, and both ME’s… likewise… Friday… HURRY UP!

  3. Dean avatar

    I got a press copy of this too and am a good way in. I love all the changes to the menus and tactics. Its all so elegant and refined now, and the combat is a lot more visceral.

    I’m really torn between whether i think the one city setting is a cop out or really focused storytelling. I think the quality of the writing can’t help but lean you towards the latter, though its sometimes frustrating to read about some far flung land in your codex and realise you can’t go there!

    I think in many ways Dragon Age 2 is following in Final Fantasy 13’s footsteps, forcing the player to feel a sense of oppression that is its main theme through the limited setting.

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