Dragon Age: Origins won game of the year here on e-AAGH.net in 2009, so I was really looking forward to the sequel. I played the demo like most everyone else, and was impressed. However, a demo does not a game make. Did Bioware blow their budget on the demo, or is there more fun to be found within the walls of Kirkwall?
When I say, within the walls of Kirkwall, I’m not kidding. After the introductory escape sequence, almost the whole game takes place inside the city. There’s the occasional foray into the wilderness but by and large your tale is an urban one. That winds up being a double edge sword – on one hand, it’s the same locations over and over, while on the other you develop a familiarity and comfort level with the surroundings, and they almost feel like home after awhile.
Unlike in Origins, you’re only allowed to be a human. You are allowed to choose between three classes – mage, warrior and rogue – that not only change how you fight, but how you and the world around you interact. Your choices and dialog options vary depending on your class and how you play them. However, it is the combat that sells the show in Dragon Age 2.
I started with a two-handed weapon-wielding warrior since I’ve always been a melee-centric player and the physical combat between you and your foes was stunning. Blows felt like they had weight and you could literally cut a swath through your enemies. A sword and shield warrior plays differently and usually focuses their attention on one opponent at a time. Mages have a number of schools they can specialize in, like spirit, primal, elemental, and entropy, and which one you pick determines how you play. You can heal your allies, weaken your opponents, trap them, protect your party or deal massive amounts of damage. The elemental school is the first one your introduced to at the start of the game and is probably the most straight-forward, but not always the best. Rogues can pick from dual wielding, ranged or stealth combat for their area of expertise, and as you expect they all play differently. Archery is great for crowd control and doing damage from safety, while stealth leads to a slightly slower style of combat that requires thought and precision. Dual wielding is my favorite and involves you leaping and darting all over the battlefield. While your not as powerful in short bursts as a warrior or mage, you can seek out the weak and finish them off with ease.
You get allot of potential party mates, but choosing an optimal party is key to your survival. My favorites were Varric the dwarven rogue and Merrill the dalish elf blood mage. I especially like having them in my party together since their back-and-forth banter was really funny. Merrill is extremely naïve while Varric is pretty street-savvy – hence the entertainment. At one point we were in a brothel trying to do some quests when someone mentioned the services provided. Merrill asked innocently for details and Varric said, “I’ll tell you when you’re older, Daisy.” Daisy being his pet name for her – he seems to have nicknames for everyone. Unfortunately, having a solid party means that I usually can’t have them both in the group. You can only have four party members, yourself included. My main character is a damage-dealing warrior and I usually need someone else to keep the bad guys busy and a rogue for trap detection, so Varric and one of my two warrior allies usually get to come along, but Merrill just isn’t useful enough to bring along in place of my healer. Occasionally I’ll sub out my melee ally for Merrill but that’s usually on a quest-to-quest basis. Because quest results change depending on who’s in your party, having Merrill along when dealing with blood mages is usually a good idea.
The game’s graphics are solid if not spectacular. I like the detail in the world, but it doesn’t look nearly as good in my eyes as Mass Effect 2, with the biggest culprit being blurry armor in close ups. The spoken dialog is usually good but sometimes there are really odd hitches in the speech to match up with the character lip syncing. I’m not sure which influenced which – if the recorded speech had the hiccups or if the animations had the pauses and the actors had to match up with them – but they can be very distracting. I’ve not had any crashes or freezes so the game is pretty darn stable and runs smoother for me then Dragon Age: Origins did on the same hardware.
I sometimes wish the game had more places to go, less errand-running or fewer loading screens (I hate loading screens), but then another combat sequence kicks in or I get to flex my diplomatic skills again and I forget the other issues I had with the game. Dragon Age 2 would be a very subpar game without the dynamic fighting system and great characters, but with them it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. I can’t give it a max score since it is lacking in the some areas, but don’t let that stop you – go and get Dragon Age 2 and revel in it’s good qualities. Alphasim out.