Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dragon Age II: Well polished sequel, or corporate cash in?

It's likely you've heard about Dragon Age II. It's even likelier that you've heard one of two things for it. You've either heard that it's a well deserved sequel to a great game that improves on many of the original's flaws in almost every way, or you've heard that it's a short, linear cash in of a game that isn't worth your time or money and smears on the Dragon Age name. So which is it? Well, sit back, relax, grab a drink or something, and I'll tell you.

First of all, if you don't know, Dragon Age II is the sequel to 2009's Dragon Age: Origins, which in my opinion is one of the best WRPG's ever made. I really like the Thedas setting, and this is Bioware, if someone can whip up a good decent story with some great gameplay, it's them. Mentioning that however, a lot of changes have been made from the original game. For one thing, your locked at a default race, human, and there is no real Origin story to pick from. This was kind of disappointing for me. I played a City Elf in Origins, and it was fun as hell. I think this is because now the main character is fully voiced, not to mention the story wouldn't make sense if you were an elf, considering your entire family is human. In DA II, you pick your gender and class, Warrior, Mage or Rouge and pretty much start off from there. I picked a Rouge, same as I did in Origins. The Rouge offers a more fast paced fighting style that relies on fighting unaware enemies and crippling them for the rest of your party to inflict major damage, so keep that in mind. Not to say a Rouge can't be a head on attacker if you spec it the right way, but I played as the sneakier Rouge rather than the powerful one. The early part of the game takes part in the same timeframe as Dragon Age: Origins, but Act 1 starts off shortly after Origins ends. You can also import your Dragon Age: Origins save file like in Mass Effect 2, but there's no real bother to do so. Your a different character in a different area, so not many of your choices carry over. The only real significance your imported save file will have is at the very end of the game, because it's foreshadowed to have a lot of significance in Dragon Age III.
Kirkwall, city of chains

While Dragon Age: Origins spanned over the entire area of Ferelden, Dragon Age II takes place in a single city, with the exception of the prologue. This leads to what I think is the biggest flaw in the game, the lack of unique areas. Once you get to Act II, you've pretty much seen every single area in the game, save for a few. It reuses a lot of the caves, and you just explore different sections of them. It's a bit of a bummer, considering the devs had a whole new area to play with. Another issue is the loading times. It reminds me of Mass Effect 1's elevators, except this time it's just loading screens with animations. The story doesn't start off too strong either. There's no real significant plot until Act II, and it doesn't really get going until Act III. However, Act III makes up for Act I & II by far. I don't want to spoil too much, but it really get serious about then.
Screenshot comparisons of Dragon Age: Origins and II respectively (PC Version shown)

One difference between Dragon Age: Origins and II is the gameplay. While Dragon Age: Origins was a slower, more tactical approach, Dragon Age II seems more of the "Hack and Slash" variety, focusing more on fast paced combat and a more action approach. This improved the game a bit, but I kind of liked the more tactical approach Dragon Age: Origins took. Another improvement that Bioware made was to the visuals. The graphics look better, but they still look a bit odd. It also doesn't help that Dragon Age II can't seem to comprehend two characters touching each other. When two characters physically interact, it looks choppy and poorly done. To the best of my recollection, Origins had this problem as well, but nowhere near to the extent that II has it.
The companion select screen (Not all companions shown)

Of course, what would a Dragon Age (Or Mass Effect) game be without the characters? Bioware has always put a focus on character interaction, and I think Dragon Age II shows that off pretty well. The only thing is, unlike Dragon Age: Origins, you can't strike up conversation with your party on he field, only at the party members home area, and even then, they'll usually only talk if they feel like it, or if they have a companion quest they want you to do. The cast is good though, I would say about equal to Dragon Age: Origins. Players who played Dragon Age: Awakening will recognize Anders, who makes a return in II, but with a bit of a personality change due to certain factors. Merrill also makes a return, she was a temporary companion in the Dalish Elf Origin, but other than by name, you'd barely recognize her. Good for that though, she was damn terrible looking in Origins. One great thing that remains is the party banters, when two characters talk to each other. I always stop and listen when one of these happens, the conversations are awesome. Also, expect some unexpected characters to make a return in Dragon Age II. Of course, what would a Dragon Age (Or Mass Effect) game be without the sex? It makes a return in Dragon Age II, but it seems really toned down from Origins. Unlike Origins, where you can bone your romance whenever you feel like it, Dragon Age II takes the more Mass Effect approach, where you can do it once, and maybe a kiss before the final battle. Also, all of the romance characters swing both ways. I guess Bioware didn't want to limit the romance options based on gender.
The Arishok and a few other Qunari. The Arishok plays a large role in Dragon Age II

Should you get Dragon Age II? It depends. While it's not a bad game, on the contrary, it's actually really good, it isn't quite as good as Origins. Storywise, it's about 20 hours long doing a moderate amount of sidequests, and has it's own story that lives up to the Dragon Age name. However, it does suffer a bit from being the middle child of the series, as Mass Effect 2 did, as it has a beginning and an end, but only to it's own story, not the grand scheme of things? What is this grand scheme? It's mostly revealed at the end of Dragon Age II, and it sets the stage for III. That being said, it's a massive cliffhanger ending, and a damn good one. Makes you wonder who you'll get to play as in Dragon Age III, because it seems equally likely you could play as either your Dragon Age: Origins character, your Dragon Age II character, or a completely new one. Personally I'm hoping to play as my Dragon Age: Origins character, but that's just me. It pulls some underhanded tricks though, DLC is already released, as well as useless weapon packs for the three character classes. It reeks of EA doing this rather than Bioware, but still, it's a bit of a cash in. Still doesn't make sense that you couldn't get the DLC free with new copies of the game as Dragon Age: Origins did with "The Stone Prisoner", considering the Dragon Age II DLC has a companion in it you couldn't otherwise get without it, as The Stone Prisoner did.

So should you buy Dragon Age II? The answer is yes. If you liked Origins, then you should definitely pick this one up as well. It's not as good as Origins, but it is more than deserving of the Dragon Age name, and the events will probably be crucial for Dragon Age III.

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