Review:Dragon Age II
Let me start off by saying that Dragon Age 2 works just fine as a stand-alone game; meaning you don’t need to play Origins to understand any of the goings-on in Two… This is a bit of a disappointment to me. Being a huge fan of Origins, I was expecting an upgraded version of the original, with a new story that was closely related to the actions you took during the first game (assuming that you loaded your old save file). Instead we get a completely new game. Sure, there are certain elements that stay true to the original title (e.g. similar UI, same lore, etc…), but like I’ve said before, it’s a whole new creature on its own; think of it as switching your current car for a newer model from the same line. It’s essentially the same thing, only not.
Dragon Age II Developer: Bioware Publisher: Electronic Arts Platform: PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360
At first glance, the visuals of DA2 are stunning; even on the lowest possible visual settings, the game still manages to look miles ahead of its predecessor. From the character models, to environment details, up to the spell details, DA2 offers some of the best graphics compared to other games of the same genre. With all that said there is one major flaw; recycled environments. Sure the environments are nice, but one can only go so long till they get tired of the same old scenery, over and over again. In fact, if I wasn’t such a huge fan of the franchise, I would have thrown the game aside due to the sheer monotony. It’s a whole lot like the first time you saw something in 3D; the first couple of times is cool, but everything past that is just “meh”.
Nothing breathtaking in this department, what I really like about it is the fact that it doesn’t get in the way of anything. It’s there to set the mood, nothing more, nothing less. What I did find funny was the fact that they decided to change the accents around (The Dalish now have Irish accents)… The Dwarves still have an American accent though (I always found that odd).
Oh god, where do I begin? Remember that thing I said about DA2 and DA:O being like trading in your old car for a new model of the same line? Well, let’s add a change from an analog dash to a digital one, and changing from stick to automatic. Yeah… That’s about right. Bioware managed to keep the old layout of the UI, making a few changes to “revamp” the system. Players familiar to the old UI should be able to pick the game up with little to no effort at all, but the similarities end there.
Apart from the sudden disappearance and emergence of new spells and abilities, the new skill system features revamped tech-trees that are reminiscent of the Civilization V tech tree, albeit much smaller. Each school has its own separate tree (as opposed to the old “spell book” layout DA:O had) that would branch out into two to three separate veins, some of which may converge at some point. Some spells now gain “upgrades” which can be accessed just as if you were learning a new spell (e.g. Fireball can be upgraded to increase its blast radius, Horror can be upgraded to inflict spirit damage, and Chain Lightning can be upgraded to bounce off more targets).
A new combo system has also been introduced. The new “cross class” combo system creates a deeper synergy between party members. For example, a Warrior can “Stagger” a target, leaving it vulnerable to certain Mage spells or Rogue abilities. Rogues can “Disorient” enemies, garnering the same effects as “stagger”, and Mages get “Brittle”. They’re essentially the same de-buff, but caused and used by different classes. The CCC will make players think twice with regards to both their party lineup and tactics.
DA2’s difficulty across classes is insane. On my first run-through, I chose to make a mage, playing on normal difficulty. It was hard. Mages are no longer the “glass cannons” that they used to be. They now require “stagger” and or “disorient” effects to deal decent damage to elites and bosses. Sure, Cone of Cold was buffed and can kill normal enemies in one shot, but without the help of other characters, mages simply “gimped”. For my second run-through, I decided to run with a Warrior on Hard/Nightmare difficulty, and it was a cakewalk. The 2h Berserker-Vanguard build (plus party tactics) pretty much blows everything out of the water. I steamrolled right through the last two bosses in nightmare with little to no difficulty at all (I had to kite at one point, but that was it…). I’ve yet to finish my Rogue run-through (hard), but even so, it’s easy to see that the classes are not on equal footing. Another concern would be the Zerg-fest. Depending on the class you choose, Crow Control only becomes important on either Hard (mage) or Nightmare. This gives the game a “hack and slash” feel that I just can’t get used to. I can’t help but think that Bioware just got greedy and wanted to get more casual players to come in and buy their game by “dumbing it down” a notch.
Don’t take “spans a decade” seriously, it really isn’t any more longer than DA:O…
Since this game and Origins are technically different games, it really wouldn’t be fair for me to say that Origins had a better story… But it does. The story of DA2 lacks the cultural diversity found in Origins; if any at all, it would have been left to a bare minimum, and not as intriguing as the situations in Origins. The story of DA 2 follows the exploits of Hawke (I’ll be referring to Hawke as a man to make things easy) and his companions as they go about doing odd jobs, fixing both social and political problems, all while looking out for his family. It would have been great, only if the choices you made throughout the game actually meant something, and changed the outcome of the game…which it doesn’t (not in a major sense anyway). But my biggest problem would be the fact that the old save file that you’ve loaded during character creation does little to influence the game as a whole. People could argue that it is held in a different continent, but I’d like to see more than just a few cameos happen. Don’t get me wrong, the story of DA2 is pretty good, I just wish that there was more to it. All in all, the game just feels like it was rushed, not really polished all the way, and released just to make the pre determined release date.
Score: 75/100 - Good game, just not up to par with its predecessor.
Pros and Cons (for all you impatient nug-humpers)
+ Improved graphics
+ Better character models
+ Paced faster than it's predecessor
+ Tidy UI (HUD, character sheets, inventory, options menu)
+ Good musical score
+ Lots of easter eggs
+ Introduction of the "Cross-Class-Combo" system
- Recycled areas
- Can't play around with the preset "Hawke" faces
- You practically never miss
- God-aweful voice acting (besides Varric)
- Mages are TOO dependent on "CCC"
- Limited to being a Human
- VERY linear compared to it's predecessor
- Inability to "gear" your companions