To preface, this review is being written by someone who quite strongly disliked Dragon Age: Origins. It was one of my least favourite RPGs in a long time. So I was very glad to see them changing the formula for DA2. This is also the console version, specifically for the PS3. Our affiliates at CrimsonTear will be reviewing the PC version at a later date(Which has now come: http://www.crimsontear.com/gaming/reviews/dragonage2pc.html).
Story – The Good, the Bad, and the Funny
I’m going to start with the most important part of any rpg: The story. Dragon Age: Origins biggest problem to me was the lack of a good story. I felt no tie to the world, to the characters, and least of all to my character. Dragon Age 2 corrected this to an extent by limiting the scope, defining your character in a similar way to what ME/ME2 did, and creating a character-driven story. Overall, this made a huge difference in the feel of the story, making it actually interesting with relationships and characters who mattered.
The game is told through the medium of one of the game’s major characters being interrogated about the events of the game. For most of the game, it is a very effective way of telling the story. The character being a bit of a wastrel, he likes to embellish as well and some of the most fun parts of the game are told through such embellishment. Unfortunately, this isn’t used very often, but when it is it is a lot of fun. It also leads one to wonder how much else was embellished, or what else among the events were falsely portrayed that the interrogator just didn’t catch him.
The story itself, on the other hand, had its highpoints and its lowpoints. The highpoints were truly epic, while the lowpoints were particularly disappointing. The Qunari story arc and subsequent climax was particularly engaging, probably the highpoint of the entire game, while the game’s final act, and especially the end itself, unfortunately, were some of the lowest points in the game’s story. Upon finishing the game I was left wishing the had ended it at the end of act two and just fleshed out acts 1 and 2 more, with about 2/3 of the final act being entirely a waste. Disappointing, to say the least.
Certain aspects of some of the quests were really disappointing, especially when you return the remains of a guy’s dead wife, or business partner, or best friend and are met with responses that sound an awful lot like “Oh, that old thing, I just keep leaving it everywhere! Thank you for returning it to me”.
There were also some continuity errors, such as one character who was both a lyrium-addicted ex-templar begging for coins and a recently restored templar at the same time in two different regions.
On the other hand, some of the character driven quests were truly incredible. There’s one rather cute quest, if you pick the right choices, where you are trying to help Aveline awkwardly hit on one of her guardsmen. Moments like that really make the game.
I could have included this under story, but it was such a huge, and incredibly well done, aspect of this game that it really deserved its own section. The characters were incredible. Of anything you can find to praise about this game, the relationships, the characters, and the style of character development is above all worthy of praise. They took the best elements of the ME2 conversation wheel, improved it a bit, and used it to create a truly intuitive and deep relationship system.
Each character can be either friendly or rivalrous to you depending upon your actions and speech options, and most characters are available for a romantic relationship, regardless of gender or class. The characters are all believable, and react in reasonable ways. Each has their own unique personality which intertwined with the others on the party to create a truly incredible character driven experience.
The characters will have conversations with the main character and with each other, and it all feels very fitting. The idle banter they have is truly comical as well, with some of the best conversation in the entire game happening idly between some of your characters. My personal favourites were the conversations between Aveline or Merrill and Isabela.
The voice acting for all the main characters was superb, and helped to build their personalities very well. My personal favourite was Merrill. Her voice, and personality, were just so charming.
Sights and Sounds of Kirkwall
The game takes place entirely within Kirkwall and the surrounding areas. Kirkwall itself is quite well designed, and each of the major regions is very suitable to what it is meant to be. The graphics aren’t the best, and some of the character models for some of the minor characters and most of the enemies seem like they were rushed and didn’t get the polish they could have used. Most of the characters, however, look fantastic; and the dragons do as well.
Despite well designed environments within the main parts of the cities, the complete opposite is the case in the quest subzones. The quest subzones are mostly bland, flavourless, and repeated way too often. I swear I went to that same warehouse in the docks 30 times throughout the game. And worse than just recycling the zones, which I can understand if they’re on a timeline, but at least come up with a reasonable way of blocking off the areas that aren’t a part of that dungeon and update the minimap. The caves had walls that looked like they were paved from cement blocking off the idle paths which is just unacceptable; especially when you have to go to each of the subzones at least 5-10 times throughout the game.
On the audio side, however, the game was very well done. The majority of the voices were well done, the background music was fitting and not intrusive, and the sound effects were near-perfect. I really have nothing negative to say about the audio, except that a few of the npcs had really annoying voices.
Red Light Green Light?
The game plays with a very action-rpg style at first glance. You’ve got your basic attack, and your special attacks. The special attacks are assignable, and you have 6 hotkeys. But the part that really makes it different is the pausing. You can pause the game at any point, bringing up the command wheel which has all of your potions, spells, auras/forms/modes, and allows you to assign commands for other characters as well. This adds an element of strategy, but without making the game feel like a giant poorly made turn based strategy game, which was what DA:O felt like to me. The adjustments to pacing make the game flow well on its own, but give you the option to, for difficult fights or moments, assume more direct control. A definite improvement. The spell effects are interesting for both the rogue and the mage, I didn’t play as a warrior, but I’d assume given the effects available to rogues that warriors would be as well.
The talent trees are thorough, well thought out, and varied leading to the ability to have very unique builds for each class, and the addition of a character specific tree for each of your other party members that contains a benefit that is dependent upon whether the player is friendly or rivalrous with you really allows them to feel unique as well.
As far as difficulty goes, the game didn’t seem to really strike parity in terms of difficulty. Certain parts felt a little overtuned, other parts felt undertuned, and certain regular enemy types seemed to be universally too powerful. Rogues of both types felt like they did disproportionately more damage than they should for the health they had. Casters who used area of effect spells felt much the same – while the ones who used direct damage spells mostly felt insanely weak.
As to the bosses, most of the bosses felt really weirdly tuned. The big bosses felt like it was impossible to keep others, even a relatively well-geared tank, alive… so I ended up just kiting the bosses in circles for a half hour to kill them. It worked on pretty much every boss which was definitely discouraging. It just isn’t fun to do that over and over again. I would’ve liked to have seen a more dynamic balance not just abusing bad AI and game mechanics.
Assorted Ups and Downs
A few other points that just don’t quite fit into the other categories. First and foremost, on the PS3 version the loading times were bordering on unacceptable. I probably spent a few hours looking at loading screens over the course of my play-through. The game’s length, however, was very good. Not long enough to start to get boring, but not so short that I felt ripped off. My play-through took me approximately 45 hours to complete, taking my time and trying to see nearly everything. A solid length for an rpg.
The Haunted House mission, which I won’t go into details about so as to avoid spoilers, was awesome. It really did feel a lot like a good horror movie with enough creepy things happening to keep you distracted, but not so much so as to overwhelm the fear.
The game doesn’t change enough over the course of the acts, even when disaster strikes certain regions, in the next act they’re back exactly as they were before.
They also open up all of the game’s regions too quickly with nearly every major region available in act1. This leaves you with nothing really new to see since most of the new dungeons, caves, and buildings are rehashes of older zones as well. Not all, but most.
I’m of mixed opinion. I certainly had a very good time with most of this game, but I definitely can feel the rushed aspect to it. I would have to say that overall it was a satisfying, yet very flawed, RPG experience that definitely improved upon the first game in enough ways to be a worthy direction for the series to take; and if Bioware is listening, I hope you take the same style for any sequel you do, but just take the time to polish it properly and give it the love and care to make it a truly exceptional rpg experience.
- Combat felt fluid, dynamic, and fun for most of the game.
- Story was well-crafted for most of the game, and told through a very unique method.
- The second act and it’s conclusion were truly epic.
- The character interactions are spectacular.
- The audio and voice acting are great and the graphics within the primary zones and the main characters of the game are stellar.
- Good solid length RPG
- Some of the game’s sidequests are amazingly well-made
- Good dialog tree system, and coming from me – that says a lot ;)
- Loading times are very long
- Very, very, very repetitive and very poorly crafted subzones.
- Sloppy graphics for side-characters, some monsters, and subzones.
- Game opens up all regions too quickly, leaving little new to expect from later portions; and doesn’t contain important changes to landscape after major events.
- Sloppy sidequest design for many of the sidequests.
- Some continuity errors.
- Terrible, terrible ending.
Review written by: Sean