I’m not gonna lie, this has been one of the best weeks I’ve had in a while. Released on March 8th for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, Electronic Arts and Bioware’s latest Action RPG Dragon Age 2 had me glued to my PC pulling a Cartman a la Make Love, Not Warcraft. After the epic tale told in Dragon Age: Origins in 2009, I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on this and see what was going to happen next! I know a lot of gamers out there were greatly disappointed with this title and I’ll touch on that, but I thought the game was amazing, despite some of its shortcomings. So let’s get into it, here’s Dragon Age 2.
Dragon Age: Origins brought us an epic tale of love, adventure and mystery in a hopeless struggle against all odds to save the world as seen through the eyes of several different characters; each with their own story giving you massive amounts of replayability and drama. Dragon Age 2 takes a different approach by telling a story of one man or woman through events that take place both during and after those told in Origins. Overall, the story really is about the political and religious battles fought over those who would be leaders and their ideals on the moral implications of slavery.
You play as Hawke, a man or woman simply trying to save their family from the blight in Lothering. Right away something terrible happens and you and your family are forced to relocate to the city of Kirkwall, where the Templar and the Chantry have a strong hold over the circle of mages; and have well defined classes of people, from the extremely wealthy to those that must scavenge simply to survive. Hawke and his family want nothing more than to just live peacefully, but are pulled into all kinds of adventures as they rise from poverty to eventually become the Champion of Kirkwall.
The game’s events take place over a period of something like 10 years and you’ll see both Hawke and the entertaining cast of characters that will accompany you in your adventures gawk and bicker back and forth over their extremely different views on what is right and wrong. You’ll even run into some familiar faces from Origins.
The story is actually told by one of your companions – a dwarf named Varric – as he is interrogated by the Keeper of the Chantry some time following the events of the game. She is obviously passionate about Hawke’s story, but you don’t really find out why until you complete one of the game’s two endings. Without getting spoiliery, we are very likely to see a sequel that builds on this title.
While not as epic by any means as the story told in Dragon Age: Origins, I still really enjoyed what was presented in Dragon Age 2. It wasn’t until the third act of the game that I really understood what was going on; and once I got that I thought it was wonderful.
Dragon Age 2 took me about 35 hours to complete the game on the normal difficulty with all the side quests that I could find which isn’t that much shorter than what Dragon Age: Origins took me. I’ve heard of players spending significantly more time in Origins and to them, the length of this game may feel short. The story is also based entirely around Hawke, who is a human, so you don’t have the ability to select which race you want to play and as such, won’t have stories tailored to your race. What you do have is a selection of 3 classes: Warrior, Mage and Rogue; each of which will provide different story options in addition to their varied game-play mechanics.
You’re able to customize the look of your Hawke, but not from the beginning. Varric likes to fib a bit on the way that he tells his stories, so initially you play as the default Hawke. Like the other Bioware games, character customization is pretty extensive giving you plenty of options to get that perfect badass look. You also have the option to import the story events from your play-through of Dragon Age: Origins or you can choose one of the three pre-defined sets to start with.
Each character has 6 – 9 different skill trees available to them so you can fine-tune exactly how they want to play that class. You gain a skill point per level that will unlock a single skill so in a single play-through you won’t be able to unlock every skill. Even selecting the same class in another play-through can present you with an entirely different game-play experience because of this. Being that you control a group of 4, the characters outside of your party will level up automatically with you, so you never have to go back and catch them up. I found 8 total characters in my play-through, though I primarily stuck with a Tank and 3-Mage combo when available for maximum pwnage!
For me, the game-play was equal parts entertaining Action, Exploration and Dialog. Being that I played the game on the PC, I can’t comment on how button mapping works on the console version. On the PC, it works very nicely with your spells and skills mapped to 1-0 on the keyboard and you can add additional spells to the bar beyond that to click to activate. The zoomed-out tactical view has been removed from the PC version of the game in favor of a more in-your-face action approach that is likely going to upset a good number of PC gamers. You can zoom out a bit and pause the battle, but it’s nothing like it was in Origins. On the normal difficulty, I never found myself having to pause the battles to issue orders beyond simply drinking healing and mana potions, as the AI is competent enough to do as they are directed via your instructions in the Tactics menu. Health and Mana are also automatically replenished after combat.
Like in Origins, you’ll be presented with a massive amount of dialog choices that have real consequences to the way the story plays out for you. Who knows how many possibilities you could play through and experience a completely different game. The overall game-play is semi-sandbox, that is, you can pick up lots of quests and do them in whatever order you wish, but you can’t openly explore the world. The levels are instanced and you fast-travel between them via a map screen where some missions are only available at certain times of the day.
The ways that you interact with your companions has changed a bit. There is only love and rival and upon reaching these peaks, the character will gain a special ability or stat boost. You can’t openly engage in dialog with the companions any longer unless you have a quest to do so. Gifts are still in the game but come in the form of quests essentially. Sex is still here as well, though I didn’t find it quite as satisfying as I had from the other Bioware titles… except for maybe a little elf fetish I may or may not have.
I think my only complaint as far as game-play is concerned had to deal with companions’ armor. I’m guessing Bioware decided to streamline the process of inventory management by not requiring you to purchase and equip it for your companions. You still decide what weapons and accessories they wield, but you never get to handle their armor. Some characters will change their armor automatically at key story events, but you are not in control of it.
The graphics in the PC version of Dragon Age 2 have been SIGNIFICANTLY stepped up if you download the optional High Definition Textures Pack and are able to run the game on DirectX 11. My rig (listed below) was able to play on Very High with all of the goodies enabled; 4x AA and AF turned off and averaged around 28FPS with DX11 and the High Def Textures. Dropping to High, 4X AA and 2AF with DX11 and High Def Textures, I was able to maintain 60fps at 1080p. With these settings I was blown away at some of the detail that was put into the game, though there was still a lack of flora and water still pretty much looks like shit.
One thing I wasn’t too happy about was that the exact same caves, buildings and dungeons are reused throughout the entire game, over and over. It’s not just the looks; it’s the exact same layouts! Every time you enter a cave, it’s the exact same cave. Every time you enter an underground dungeon, it’s the exact same dungeon. Bioware could have at least changed the colors or the lighting or something to differentiate them a bit. To me, this was the biggest letdown of the game. I would have also preferred to have some more destinations outside of Kirkwall as the entire game takes place in and around this city. There really isn’t a lot of variety in the levels at all, though it makes sense as the story is contained here. It’s just a letdown when compared to the epic nature of its predecessor.
Someone left a comment on my Facebook Page stating that they thought that Dragon Age 2 was a huge disappointment, as it was simply a mindless action game. I think it’s far from mindless… Dragon Age 2 is equal parts Action, Exploration and Dialog. While I agree that the tale is not as epic as Origins, it is a good game in its own right. Only when compared to the original does it appear to come up short. When reviewed on its own merit, the game is quite good. I had a wonderful time playing through the PC version. The graphics have taken a significant step forward if you have a rig capable of playing them and the game-play is action packed, exciting and just fun to play! I know a lot of you have played this already… What are your thoughts? Leave your questions and comments below!
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: March 8th, 2011
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