Every once in a while one of those games comes along that you just can’t put down. For this reviewer Dragon Age 2 (the newest RPG from the creators of the Mass Effect series) is such a game.
We are the Champions…of Kirkwall
In Dragon Age 2 you play as the walking solution to everyone’s problem Garret Hawke. Right off the bat you are tasked with rescuing your family from the blight (Dragon Age’s answer to the zombie plague) and escaping your ruined home town to start a new life in the city of Kirkwall and ultimately become its Champion.
Similar to the Mass Effect series you start by picking a character class here you have Warrior, Rogue and Mage to choose from. This may seem sparse but you can specialise within each class so no two warriors ever have to be the same.
You also have some simple character customisation tools to work with but in my experience you’ll never create anything that looks as good as the default character model.
Once you’ve chosen the appropriate gender and face type for your Hawke you’re ready start hacking and slashing!
The combat in this game is fairly accessible to most players. The A button is your standard attack which differs depending on your class. For my warrior the A button resulted in huge swings of a two handed sword that could hit multiple enemies. For archers and mages this button is where your standard ranged attacks are.
The rest of the face buttons can be assigned to the various abilities you can learn via leveling up. My warrior’s abilities ranged from a battle cry that would give all party members a combat boost, to a tornado sword swing that disembowels everything around you. The specific attacks you learn are completely up to you as you can choose which talent tree to follow. I found that in the long run sticking with a specific talent tree was beneficial as the later powers were often worth the few extra ability points.
We Have Ways of Making You Talk
The story is told in a fashion similar to Call of Duty Black Ops. One of your party members is recounting the events of the games plot to an interrogator. This allows for some humorous moments where you play exaggerated versions of certain battles because the Dwarven story teller wanted to spice the story up a bit.
The story follows a three act structure in which you will return periodically to the interrogation scene after any major plot point.
During the cut scenes you are given some control as to what your character would say in any certain situation. Mass effect fans will instantly feel at home when a familiar conversation wheel pops up.
In a typical conversation you will be given three options: a nice statement, a sarcastic statement and an angry statement, the latter of which usually results in a fight first ask questions later approach from your character. The statements you choose effect how some scenes play out and also how some characters feel about you.
A favourite story arc of mine was the Templars vs. Mages, both sides make a compelling case and in the end you are given some tough choices to make but saying much more would spoil it.
Dragon Age 2 really immerses you in its world. Over the game you can pick up codex entries so if you feel the need to brush up on Elven politics in Lowtown the option is there for you.
I feel this is one of the games biggest strengths it can be enjoyed in a variety of different ways. The story and game mechanics only go as deep as you want them to.
The Master Quest
As with most RPG’s you can choose which side quests you want to do and this is the part that had me hooked. The quests blend seamlessly into one another. The way I played was to take on as many quests at the same time as I could that way there was always multiple things I could do in every area. On top of that you will find items during some quests that can start off a completely different quest line.
Also there are almost no throwaway quests; every side quest will take you on an interesting journey and often characters you help out early in the story will show up later with more quests for you so it’s in your best interest to do as many as you can before moving the main plot forward. In my opinion Bioware have almost perfected their quest design which makes me very excited for what they’ve got in store for future titles.
A Family That Slays Together…
Over the story you’ll assemble a rag tag group of followers from all different backgrounds to help you on you path to becoming champion. My advice is to find a balanced team and stick with it for most of the game. During my playthrough as a Warrior I chose to bring a ranged attacker, a healing focussed mage and a damage focussed mage. This format seemed to work well in most situations but experiment and I’m sure there is a combination to fit everyone’s playstyle.
Companion characters will move around the battle field themselves; each one comes with a preset list of tactics so they know for example to only use an a huge area of effect spell when there are a good amount of enemies grouped together.
Now all of these tactics are fully customisable but I found that you can get through the game fine with everyone just using their default tactics but the option is there for those that want to delve deeper.
You will also be able to do quests that focus on your various party members which will further your relationship with them. Ultimately this can lead to you perusing a romantic relationship with that particular companion.
There seemed to be a lack of romantic options for a straight male Hawke basically I had a choice between a socially awkward blood mage and a pirate hooker. Whereas there were no shortage of advances from a certain manly mage no matter how many times I turned him down.
All of this extra time you spend getting to know your party culminates in a ‘sex’ scene that’s about as emotionally engaging as rubbing an Action Man up against a Barbie Doll.
This seems to be the one hurdle no game developer can clear. So if you’re playing Dragon Age just to see sex scenes then you may be disappointed.
However these companion quests were for me, some of the best parts of the game. They really help you to care about the characters you’re travelling around with, which is something every game should be doing.
Enemy types are you standard video game enemies. You’ve got the melee attacker, the ranged archer and the evil mage who summons demons and skeleton warriors to fight for him. None of the enemies really stand out and they all attack in the same way whether it’s a human warrior or the undead variety. There are also a lot of reused character models. After a couple hours into the game I didn’t really notice what enemies I was fighting, I felt like I was just cutting through featureless hoards as fast as possible to get to the next cut scene.
Boss enemies help to break up the action somewhat but even then most of them can be defeated by having everyone throw their strongest attacks in its direction till it stops moving.
There are a few exceptions such as a fight with an impressively sized dragon where he will retreat to where only you ranged attackers can hit him while he keeps your melee fighters busy with waves of dragonlings.
Once you have killed everything in you path you can then loot all of you fallen victims for money and items.Why the giant spider is carrying pocket change is never explained I guess it’s just something we gamers accept at this point.
Money Money Money?
If you want to get the most out of your characters you should be constantly upgrading their armour and weapons which means you will be visiting Kirkwall’s various vendors quite frequently. Which wouldn’t be a problem in most RPG’s but Dragon Age 2 has the most confusing money system I have ever seen in a video game. I never knew how much money I had. For some reason they decided to split the money into three different types of coin which each having a different value. Luckily I never had a problem affording any items so this never became much of a problem. It did make money feel pointless as I never knew if I was rich or poor.
There are however a good variety of weapons for you to spend your confusing money on but I felt the armour left a lot to be desired. If you’re like me then when you buy a new piece of armour apart from the stat boost you want to see what it looks like on your character. That’s the problem; a lot of the armour is identical in appearance. There is no difference between the plate armour, the superior plate armour and the enchanted plate armour. They all look exactly he same which was a big disappointment for me.
Haven’t I been here before?
On a similar note there are a lot of re used interiors. Every time you enter a cave it’s exactly the same they may lock off certain paths to you depending on the quest but you’ll still tire of revisiting the same room that spawns a similar battle every time you walk in there. This also applies to the many mansions, basements and underground passageways you will visit on your travels.
Overall I can honestly say Dragon Age 2 was a very enjoyable gaming experience. The problems I had never took anything away from the story the game was trying to tell.
If you’re a fan of the Mass Effect series I would definitely recommend you pick this up but there is nothing in this game to stop new fans enjoying it just as much.
I got a good 25-30 hours of gameplay out of my first run through the game so in my opinion you get plenty of value for your money. There is also a promise of future downloadable content so you may want to hang on to your copy once you’ve finished the main quest.