Nerd Alert: Dragon Age II Review
I am a HUGE fan of Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s epic fantasy RPG that was a stunning entry in the gaming world for many reasons: strong storyline, memorable characters, easy to master gameplay, and more. Like many of the other rabid fans out there, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the new game when it arrived earlier this month.
Once again, you are in control of an epic hero, this time “Hawke” (you can be a male or female version of this standard archetype), a Lothering refugee who has washed up in the city of Kirkwall and must re-gain the family pride. Now that I’m a decent way through Act I as far as plot and story are concerned, here’s my quick snapshot review…
It’s hard to beat the first game’s companions as far as overall variety and interesting back stories. My personal favorites were crazy bad-ass mage Morrigan and charmingly virginal Alistair. None of the characters seemed randomly generated and all were relatively useful depending on how you chose to map out their various attributes. The “romance” angle lent a fun air to the normally staid RPG hack and slash atmosphere, and the specializations such as Duelist and Champion allowed for your “tank” or average mage to have more adaptability to unique situations.
In Dragon Age II, Hawke (mine is a Rogue) starts off far more capable of reducing enemies to rubble (beginning with the prologue) skill-wise, and in a welcome change is actually voiced. Still, his/her background story is far less compelling than the original, being offset by companion Varric’s story within a story fable. Your companions are a capable but so far relatively bland bunch, including “tank” Aveline, metro hip mage with a “bad side” Anders and meek elven wunderkind Merrill. So far, no major enemies stand out as intriguing or memorable, most of them fit into the category of “fighting against the ranks of the status quo”, whether those ranks be Templars or demons. “Romancing” and inspiring character feats is limited to visiting characters at their “home base”, which can be inconvenient when you have to back track during a string or series of missions.
OVERALL GAMEPLAY/CONTROLS/LANDSCAPE : 3/5
The standard potions/activated powers wheel is back in action with little change, although the graphics and font of the sequel are often distractingly dark and narrow. For those of us NOT playing on a super size flat screen, this can prove irritating. The mood and color scheme of II is notably a darker palette, mostly grays, blacks and reds. Even the landscaping and location is bleak and harrowing.
Gameplay moves faster than the original, and it is much easier to target and move your character in real time versus the original. The skill trees are also more manageable this time around, with the next stages of each power/ability clearly outlined in a logical progression.
Most annoying, however, is that you are not allowed to upgrade or change out your companions’ armor. The only upgrades available are when you max out that character’s friendship level.
On the bright side, crafting and buying weapons, potions and upgrades is much easier in II, with easy stops and one-click shopping never too far off the map. No more having to worry about only one character being able to produce 18 health potions, for example.
On the negative side, the maps for each location are annoyingly re-used constantly, with only minimal changes in the landscape. Also, there are relatively few areas to explore. In contrast with Origins’ different and unique locations such as the Brecilian Forest and Circle Tower, here you are limited to the city of Kirkwall and its immediate outskirts, with one minor trip to the Deep Roads in Act I. This leads to having to traverse the same maps over and over again with “new” missions. What a drag.
Battles are often overwhelming in the first stages of the game,with waves of enemies spawning as if out of nowhere and blood flying furiously from enemies’ cuts for seemingly no purpose. The graphics are much improved when it comes to seeing your mages actually damage the foes, although targeting long-range weaponry and spells is a bit more nerve-wracking thanks to the overall increased pace of game play in general.
OVERALL GRADE: 4/5
Although I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the original, Dragon Age II is an effective and engrossing sequel that will please most RPG fans and lovers of the world so painstakingly created by Bioware. Although the characters are not as sentimentally pleasing or well-rounded, and the landscape is a bit bleak, the overall excitement of game play and investing in a storyline remains.