- Embark upon an all-new adventure that takes place across an entire decade and shapes itself around every decision you make.
- Determine your rise to power from a destitute refugee to the revered champion of the land.
- Think like a general and fight like a Spartan with dynamic new combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior.
- Go deeper into the world of Dragon Age with an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go.
- Discover a whole realm rendered in stunning detail with updated graphics and a new visual style.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Dragon Age: Origins seems like a fluke now, a sneeze at best. Don’t get me wrong, Bioware put in the work on that game and it shows. When it was released I was pretty certain it was the best RPG to come out in a decade… right up until I played Mass Effect. At the time, I wasn’t aware that Bioware was taking one step forward, two steps back in regards to game development.
While Mass Effect was a true achievement in RPG storytelling, Dragon Age: Origins (unbeknownst to me), was a throw-back to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic style of mute gameplay. Still, the game didn’t disappoint. It didn’t take long to change that however, thanks to the release of Dragon Age: Awakening.
To be mercilessly blunt, Dragon Age: Awakening felt half-assed and almost insulting to the gamers who had hoped to see their stories continue in the expansion. Complaints filled the forums and eyes were rolled. Dragon Age seemed to have lost its identity.
Bioware decided to regroup, batten down the hatches and from the chaos forge a new flavor to their fantasy title. When I caught wind that Dragon Age 2 was coming down the pipe, my interest was passing at best. But as news began to grow that Dragon Age 2 was going to be something all new with some of the features we have seen in the Mass Effect series, I began to turn my attention its direction and upgraded to a “wait-and-see” policy.
Let’s cut to the chase. The wait was worth it. Bioware’s labor of love paid off and Dragon Age has come back with a vengeance. In comparison, Dragon Age: Origins felt like a sleepy release when held up to Dragon Age 2, what with its soon to be released Web series starring Felicia Day (in which I got to play a doomed extra) and the marketing campaign they launched to win back the disappointed fans of the franchise.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0F2LKlCXF0?rel=0&w=475&h=297
In my decades of being a gamer, this has to be one of the most ambitious RPG’s I have ever played. Why? Because of the scale of the story. There is no cross country journey to defeat some super ultimate earth shattering evil that will end the world for all time. Instead, Dragon Age 2 focuses on the personal journey of its hero, Hawke, and his or her rise from low class Blight refugee, to uber bad ass, game changing savior of the imperiled city of Kirkwall.
The scale is therefore, purposefully small contained and the more containment, the more intensity. Until now, games of this genre have insisted on repeating the tired cliché of “save the world”. It’s gotten so cliché in fact that it’s lost just about all meaning an impact in story-telling. Now the theme is “save your family, save your friends, save your home.”
One thing that has always ticked me off in the past is when choosing a path in these RPG’s you had to either be a very clearly defined self styled Captain America, sparkling with chivalry and goodness, or you had to be the douche bag from the depths of hell who would make fun of someone’s mother before callously decapitating your own party members (did anyone else make Zaalbar kill Mission in Knights of the Old Republic)?
In Dragon Age 2 however, the lines between good and bad blur past the point of recognition and it left me second guessing almost every choice I made–could you ask for more in a choose-your-own-adventure game? Bioware’s signature dialogue system has come with some upgrades this time around and aside from a different set of consequences arising from your choices in talking with NPC’s, you also begin to see a change in your character’s personality and attitude. From battle cries to side comments, your choices literally sculpt who Hawke is deep inside.
Yet another interesting addition is the romance/friendship set up. In this incarnation of Dragon Age you could have a party member that utterly loathes you but will still fall in love with you. The system of party loyalty is now called “Friendship or Rivalry” and opens the door to a much more dynamic experience with your party fellows. This becomes more apparent than ever when Hawke’s brother joins the party. I can’t say much more because I refuse to give more spoilers than I must in this review, but let’s just say things get reminiscent of the American Civil War at one point.
Item collecting and crafting has been streamlined and barely takes time out of the story at all. In fact it’s pretty easy to say that every mechanic in this game is designed to either drive the story or make itself subtle enough that it becomes nothing more than a spice in the grand feast. The pace very rarely ever slows and thus, like a good book, you want to turn the page to find out what happens next even if it’s way past your bed time.
Some other additions that I thoroughly applaud is the ability to respec your characters skills and appearance whenever you wish, the ability to hide the ridiculous looking helmet you might be wearing via the game play options and the upgraded, mercifully well timed auto-save feature. Combat has also been changed up and now moves at the speed of a wuxia Hong Kong action flick.
In Dragon Age: Origins, combat seemed ponderous and slow (a result of realistic pacing). Now if you choose to attack someone with your shield from ten feet away, Hawke clears the distance with blurring speed and follows up the crash of metal with an avalanche of impossibly fast sword strikes that cause enemies to literally detonate in a storm of blood and body parts.
Things that still bug the crap out of me: party members not drinking their friggen healing potions when you tell them too and the missing “delete game” feature from the game menu. Mass Effect has it, Dragon Age never has. So it’s off to Xbox Dashboard to dig through your memory files and select (hopefully the right one) which save game to clear out. Another unfortunate blemish is the bizarre blink/shrink that takes place during dramatic cut scenes. It’s a bug that makes characters look like they are being rapidly folded in half by a warp in space time…or something.
Also, it’s a huge stretch to over look the mage class issue in this game. With the plot focused on the rising moral and ethical conflict between Mages and Templars, it can stretch belief that Hawke (if you chose a Mage as your class) goes unnoticed as he/she calls down a rain of fire on a small city block, despite the fact a Templar might be standing idle not six feet away. He’s either really smart to stand there saying and doing nothing, or it’s a suit of armor stuffed with straw to scare off the birds.
This is the down side to making your games as gritty and real as this one has been made. When you set the tone to such a dynamic and complex level as Dragon Age 2, little things like that cause an eyebrow to rise. This leaves you having to find your own rationalization as to why you’re being ignored despite the huge “APOSTATE” sign you have glowing in neon lights right above your head. It might be splitting hairs but tough Bioware! You deserve this criticism if you’re going to have Aveline notice I sold her dead husband’s shield from my Inventory. When the hell has that ever happened? How could I have seen that coming?! Party members aren’t supposed to be this aware, damn it.
Suffice to say, this review could be about eight pages long, but it’s like this: Bioware composes opera when it comes to RPG’s. Love them or absolutely hate them, they are still a work of art and a terrific innovation in gaming. Each new title this company puts out, it gets just a little bit better (well… Awakening aside that is and NO Bioware technically didn’t make that craptastic sequel Knights of the Old Republic 2).
Dragon Age 2 is so entertaining it actually shames itself a bit, making Dragon Age: Origins look like a mulligan in the timeline. If you’re looking for a good, gritty bloodfest with smart writing and a relentless story, you just found your game.
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