Well it’s finally here, Dragon Age 2, the game you have to devote weeks out of your life to play while your loved ones are constantly pulling on your sleeves and shouting, “We need sun on our skin, let’s go out please” and you saying “Wait, just let me finish this bit”. Three hours later you’re openly cursing (this is for the benefit of your loved ones hehe) the PS3 for ever being created but on the inside you’re really thinking, “I won’t be long, bye pretty PS3, I’ll be back soon”.
Was BioWare the company that has given us ground breaking and multi-award winning games such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1 and 2 and how can we forget Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? In a word, yes. Now EA (who’s CV is as equally impressive as BioWare’s) has published the eagerly awaited sequel that is worth the weeks locked away and suffering vitamin D deficiency for.
Within the Dragon Age universe, Fereldon has a found another reluctant hero called Hawke who, like Shepard in Mass Effect, gets his or her first name from the player. You can also, if you choose, to import your game save from Dragon Age Origin but not the character. In doing this it changes some of the conversations, cut-scenes and quests.
Dragon Age 2 tells Hawke’s story through a series of flashbacks as a mysterious Chantry Seeker named Cassandra interrogates a dwarf named Varric about the current location of the protagonist Hawke.
Varric begins the yarn with Hawke, escorting his or her (depending on your choice of character you have chosen at the creation screen) family through rough terrain as they flee from Lothering as it becomes over run by the hoards of Darkspawn.
If you have not played Dragon Age Origins, (let me explain) this is the actual invasion in the original game mere days after the betrayal of the king Cailin by Logain (a supposedly trusted ally) whose army should have been the reinforcement at The Battle of Ostagar.
As Lothering was no longer safe Hawke’s family had no choice but to make a run for Kirkwall (one of the only places that had not yet been affected by the Darkspawn/ Blight), where they should be safe as your family is of noble stock and owns the Amell Estate.
A little way into the journey, Hawke’s family run into an injured Wesley and his wife, Aveline (in strength alone she could well double for Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Wesley is a Templar and as a Templar he is sworn to capture or kill all Mages. (A brief heads up as to why Templers hunt and kill Mages).
Magic is a natural phenomenon like air pressure, gravity, or anything else. Some people are born with the ability to interact, control, and shape it.
Magic originates from the Fade, the realm where Spirits dwell and humans and elves visit when they dream. As such, using it can draw the attention of the beings on the other side of the Veil, leading to an increased risk of demonic possession.
A possessed mage becomes a distortion of their former self, a twisted monster known as an Abomination and this was how the Darkspawn/Blight entered the kingdom of Fereldon. Whoops! I’ve digressed slightly… back to the review.
Initially Wesley is aggressive towards Bethany (Hawke’s sister) for being an apostate (Mage), but the situation they all find themselves in forces the two groups to work together for the greater good.
Once your party reach their destination, Hawke finds that the family’s wealth and status in Kirkwall has been squandered (or should I say gambled away) by their Uncle Gamlen and the only way Hawke’s family will be allowed to stay in Kirkwall is if Hawke and Bethany work for a well-known Mercenary for a period of one year.
After the year is up Hawke and her sister having honoured their agreement with the mercenaries are free to live and work in Kirkwall. One day while in Hightown Market Bethany is robbed by a pickpocket who is then captured by Varric.
He returns the stolen goods to Bethany then tells them of an expedition that would make them all rich. The expedition Varric tells them about is to the Dark Roads, a deadly and dangerous place which is infested with Darkspawn and other terrors, but they needed 50 gold pieces to convince Varric’s brother to take on Hawke and her sister as partners. Hawke agrees to this and has to take all kinds of side quest to earn enough gold coins, thus sparking off a decade-long journey where Hawke must rise from lowly Fereldan refugee to heroic Champion.
One thing that struck me as the game progressed was how Dragon Age 2 focused more on the politics and prejudice between the Mages and Templers, Kirkwall and a race known as the Qunari.
In Dragon Age Origins you were more focused more on hacking and slashing the Darkspawn/Blight into oblivion and the politics played second fiddle, (I’m doing it again, must stick to the review).
BioWare has seen fit to make this game appeal to both hard-core and casual gamers. This is evident when you see and feel the changes compared to Dragon Age Origins.
BioWare has indeed kept thing simple this time around whilst maintaining the complexities of Dragon Age Origins.
Dragon Age 2’s combat is both enjoyable and fast-paced. Having said that, it is not quite an improvement on Dragon Age Origin as both games need to be treated on their own merit. For instance Dragon Age Origins was an intensely tactical game, where the position of every character and close management of every skill completely changed the outcome of combat.
None of this is present in Dragon Age 2; in fact a big gripe of mine is the inability to equip armor and weapons to your companions which was possible in Dragon Age Origins.
A good RPG is supposed to let you get totally involved in every aspect of the character and companions, from changing the appearance of your companions to looking up and changing the stats of each individual character which in turn affects the effectiveness of your team to suit the current battle situation. This is and must be a minimum requirement feature to any successful and truly compelling RPG.
RPG’s doesn’t just succeed in adding depth, but it should also help the player feel more connected to their companions.
Much of Dragon Age 2 will be spent in dungeons but unlike Origins, variety is not the spice of life. The number of genuinely different dungeon designs in the game is disappointing; at one point I thought I loaded up the wrong game save as I got a feeling of dejavu. In the different levels I played, I saw similar caves, a mansion, thieves’ hideouts and mines.
These maps are repeated several times, with only minute changes to the layout on each new quest. It’s incredibly repetitive but this will need to be overlooked or it could break up the flow of the game and story as you ponder to yourselves “haven’t I been here before?”.
The quests are standard RPG barring a few exceptions, which are at best forgettable. Luckily, the few that are memorable have great impact, thanks to a good script and talented voice acting.
The way the combat plays has dramatically changed to give you more control over your character. Combat is simple. Pressing the X button repeatedly serves as the basic attack, while the circle, triangle and square buttons deploys the special attacks or abilities and this makes your character feel like the hero that you know you will become (brilliant stuff, I feel invincible).
Your inventory can be found in the start menu which is an RPG player’s dream as it offers you a deep statistical analysis from which you can decide how to play things out. From your skills tree to putting on and taking off armour, equipping different weapons and using various items.
Levelling up your character also comes with its own rewards and after applying your points to the usual attributes like strength, dexterity, constitution etc. You enter a skills tree for each class which will allow you to advance your special skills through a tree system.
Each class will have its own skills to apply dependent on where you want to take him or her, utilising and unlocking special attacks that you can apply to your combat radial.
Dragon Age 2 is much shorter than Origins; the main storyline can be finished off in about 25 to 50 hours or so if you include the entire side quest (I finished it in a little over 40 hours as I had to play it in spurts).
Dragon Age 2 is RPG gaming at its most compelling, try as you might to relinquish your grasp on the joy pad you’ll find it hard to do so as there are so many unexpected twist and turns within Dragon Age 2 that will keep you more than adequately transfixed. Also the conversations between your companions as you travel throughout the game will make you chuckle (really).
It was a pleasure to play despite suffering some technical issues but fans (like me) will still enjoy this latest foray deep into the realm of Fereldon.
All in all Dragon Age 2 is an improvement over Dragon Age Origins in the sense that this is an entirely new game and not a continuation of the first game. It is a separate story within the Dragon Age Universe.
True, it had not made the technological and visual leap forward that was expected. But, make no mistake that Dragon Age 2 is both a deep and involving experience that will undoubtedly devour huge chunks of your spare time and will leave you drooling for the inevitable downloadable contents that’s sure to follow.