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24 March 2011 @ 10:09 am
Dragon Age 2 (PC / 360 / PS3)  
So last night I finished Dragon Age 2, on the PC. I figured this would be as good a game as any to review, and considering it came out roughly 2 weeks ago this is also something relevant! GASP! Now a quick warning. This review will contain SPOILERS! Lots of them. If you want to play this game spoiler free, then I advise you ignore this review. Unfortunately, to talk about some of the good and bad points of the game I have to talk about the plot, and that will contain, well, spoilers!

You have been warned.

Dragon Age 2 is a game by Bioware, and is the sequal in a sense to their other games Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age Awakenings. Now, I have played Origins but not Awakenings, so a few things that occured in that game which do effect this game (Anders, for an example) were unknown or new to me.

You are Hawke (first name doesnt really matter, no one uses it) a man who is apparently the Champion of Kirkwall. This comes out during the opening cutscene, where Varric is talking to a Seeker of the Chantry.

Apparently something happened, the world is now on the brink of war, and the Champion (YOU) had someting to do with this. Thus, the Seeker brought in Varric, a companion who was with the Champion during all the insanity, and demands to know his story. So Varric tells her.

The game plays out in 3 acts, each Act having a main focus or goal, and there is a introduction as well. The primary story of the game is basically just Hawkes life in Kirkwall, and the things he does to help the city.

I am not really explaining this well, so lets go over the gameplay while I collect my thoughts.

The gameplay and controls are slighty different between console versions and PC versions. For the consoles, the primary gameplay mode (Combat) is handled in a way very similar to a hack and slash game, like God of War. You use the shoulder buttons to bring up small hotkey menus where you can find your spells or abilities. You then press the correct key to use a power. Otherwise you are spamming one key to attack. The PC controls are more like an MMO. You right click to run up and autoattack (but there are some annoyances to this) and you have a large hot bar where you can put numerous attacks, correspondering to the 1-0 keys on your keyboard and beyond.

The problem I had on the PC is this. When you are in melee some of your attacks knock your opponents back. Its pretty badass looking honestly. HOWEVER, your character will NOT follow up on them. If you run in with your warrior and hit a guy, and he goes flying off, you will stand there like an idiot not chasing him. I discovered MUCH later that if you press the R key you will chase him until you knock him back again, but its damn annoying and completely breaks the flow of combat. I ended up starting over as a Mage to avoid this as Mages do things at Range or in Melee.

GIBS AND LIGHTNING WOOOOOO

Combat feels very satisfying beyond that, but sometimes gets a little silly. In alot of fights enemies will come at you in waves, and where they come from is downright bizarre. Suddenly from the rooftops some TEMPLARS will drop in, like Ninjas in platemail. It happens frequently and is just...strange. Also, eventually I got so many AOE attacks that enemies just could not stand against me. The only challenges were the MMO Styled Boss Fights. In fact, alot of the game felt very MMOish, but not in a bad way. I grasped the game right away, and if you have any experience with an MMO you should be fine. Also combat is INSANELY Bloody. Lots of Gibs flying around, blood spraying EVERYWHERE, and your characters do stay bloody after fights. Its very visceral.

Your Party AI for the most part is fine, and they brought in the Tactics system that was in Origins. Your party members can be set to follow specific instructions based on a predetermined style (controller, healer, defender, ect) or you can tailor their abilities. SImply putting at the top of the tactics the following line (HP < 50% then use Healing Potion) makes fights MUCH easier to handle. I used the tactics system myself to tailor my chosen party to do exactly what I wanted. Advancing your character is simple to. They use a talent tree system (another MMO thing!) where you unlock powers by spending points in it. Here is an example of the Warrior Trees:


Examples of Talent Trees




The problem I had here was alot of talents felt...pointless in the melee classes. Even with my companions, who have specific trees based on their abilities (Varric for example is a ranged rogue, so no melee trees), felt like I ran out of things to spend points on. Also, you gain access to 3 specializations at level 7, and your companions get access to their unique companion tree at that level.


The final part of the gameplay are the quests. You have Primary, Secondary, Companion, and Side Quests. Secondary Quests are like minor storylines, the Primary Quests are what move the main Chapter arcs along, Companion quests are things that advance your party members plot arcs, and Side Quests are little one shot things. For the most part, the quests are varied and interesting...but you run into yet ANOTHER problem here.

This place is used at least 3 times

Repeatative areas. I mean just more then spending your time in the same place (which you do by the way. Kirkwall is the primary hub AND Questing zone in the game) but the maps dungeons use are completely reused NUMEROUS times. I mean insanely reused, and the worst part is that the game doesnt even hide the fact in the minimap or map. You will end up seeing the same cave system at least 20 times. To make things different thought the game locks off different parts of the map depending on the quest. Does this help? No. In fact in some cases it makes things confusing if you are a person like me, who explores every nook and cranny. I will think I can go out one exit, head that way, and find myself at a dead end DESPITE the map saying otherwise. To the left is an example, albiet a small one. This little mountain pass is used 3 times by my count. Its the least of the offenders in the repeating

And lets not forget the bugs. I missed the ending cinematics thanks to the images suddenly going apeshit last night. Before that, I had to reload my game because I could no longer target anything. There is a quest that is literally uncompletable in the Third Act (a side mission called "Who needs Rescuing!") and there was another quest that, even if you finish it, it stays in your log as if you had not. Those are the ones I ran into. There are numerous others.

Finally, and probably the worst part of the game sadly, is the plot.

To put this in perspective, before I get into this: I had more fun completeing side missions and companion stuff then I did completeing the main plot arcs. I am going to just break this down by Chapter, to make things easier.

BE WARNED THERE BE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT. MAJOR ONES! WARNING WARNING DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER! BEYOND THIS CUT THERE ARE DETAILS OF PLOT!

Prologue / Tutorial Level:

You start off in a fight against a bunch of Darkspawn, and then a dragon swoops in. Then you find out that was a joke (it was just a tutorial) and the game starts. You find out that you are on the run from the Darkspawn when they attack Lothering (in Dragon Age Origins) with your Mother, Brother, and Sister. You meet Aveline while on the run, fight some Darkspawn, get rescued by Flemeth, and end up in Kirkwall.

YOu then have to whore yourself out for a year thanks to your uncle to get into the city, and can choose to help either a Mercenary Band or a Smugglers Ring. Here is where my first complaint comes up.

No matter which side you choose, you do one quest inside the Gallows, and then the game advances a year and starts Act 1. You never really find out what you did during that year other then make a name for yourself, and other then some dialog changes and a side quest, this choice has little meaning. In fact that is a prevelent point in the game that I noticed. You only have an illusion of choice for most of the game. Things happen whether you want them to or not, you just change how people view you slightly.

I finished this section in about 2 hours.

Act 1: The Deeproads:

This act starts with you and whichever sibling didnt die in the prologue arguing with a dwarf who is planning an Expidition to the Deep Roads. You see, while you were being a jobwhore, the Hero of Fereldan defeated the blight (IE you did stuff in Origins here as another dude), and now that you have made a bit of a name for yourself, you are trying to get your family out of the slums. After the dwarf turns you down, you meet his brother Varric after your pocket is picked.

Varric then proceeds to suggest that you join him, and with his help raise 50 gold pieces to become a full partner in the expidition.

How are you to accomplish this? Considering you have next to no money at the start? By doing jobs for people! Thats right, its time to side quest! Most of Act 1 is made up of recruiting party members (one can actually be missed entirely) and doing side missions for people. A few plot arcs start here as well (blood mages for one).

Now, granted, I had alot of fun doing most of the side missions, but really it was just a way to stretch the act out. In the end, after you get your 50 gold and make friends with Anders the Psycho mage (and thus getting his Deep Roads Map) you can go into the Deep Roads. YOu have the option of taking your sibling with you or not, but it doesnt matter. Regardless of what you do they leave at the start of Act 2. It just changes how they treat you.

Once in the Deep Roads you fight through a couple of Hallways (yes, Hallways) to find a bizarre Thaig (Dwarven Ruin). Its actually really cool looking.

You fight some more stuff, find a Lyrium Idol, and Varrics brother betrays the party and locks then in a room, leaving them for dead. You then walk through some more hallways, fight a giant Rock Wraith who felt very much like an MMO Boss (hide behind pillars lest you get blasted by magic rock missles! Oh and kill the adds) and then you escape with a shit ton of treasure.

Congrats! You have made it out of the Slums, and into Hightown! Guess what? You are still gonna be a glorified errand boy!

I finished this act in about 10 hours, so total playtime at this point was about 12 and a half.

Act 2: The Qunari Problem:

Act 2 deals mostly with the threat of the Qunari, who have a "boogeyman" presence in Act 1 (ie you never see em save for 1 quest). 3 years have passed since your adventure in the Deep Roads. You have become a known explorer, but not super respected. You have your old home back (your family apparently was noble) so you have a nice home base like all your companions.

Oh I forgot to mention that. The only time you can actually talk to your companions is when you go to their homes, and they will ONLY talk to you if they have a mission for you. Otherwise, you get a single line of text.

Anyway, you spend most of this section doing more side quests and trying to solve both a serial murder mystery involving blood magic along with dealing with the Qunari issue. In the end though the Qunari decide to attack Kirkwall, and you have to save the town.

Now mind you, I am still having fun at this point. No major bugs, the companion quests are still my favorite part, and the Qunari actually seem badass. You also get some revenge on Bartrand (Varrics Bro) during this part if you are friends with Varric. Oh yea almost forgot this. Your choices in dialog can effect your parties approval of you via a Friendship / Rivalry bar. From what I understand as long as you push it to one side or the other they are fine, it just means they like you and support you or want to be better then you.

This act is also where most of the Romance options can REALLY begin. I do have a problem with the romance options as well. Its simply this: WHY IS EVERYONE BISEXUAL! Seriously. Every option can be romanced by a male or female, and in the case of Anders he tries to activly get in your pants. It kind of grossed me out as a guy when I have another guy hitting on me when I am trying to just be friends. Now don't get me wrong, I have no problem with gay / bisexual stuff, but it seems odd to me that EVERYONE in the game it seems would swing both ways. Seriously, just doesn't seem right. The characters in Origins didn't do that.

Anyway, you end up confronting the Arishok in the final battle, and you have the option of fighting him one on one. NOTE: if you do this as a mage like I did, be prepared to run alot. The Arishok hits like a tank.

Yay! You have saved the town...OR HAVE YOU!?

This act took me all of 6 hours to complete. Total time at this point: 18 hours

Act 3: The Finale!

The final act is the shortest of all of them, and this is where I ran into bugs. I also ran into a few time waster quests that did nothing but serve to level me up (find a bunch of missing Qunari swords). In fact: If I had not done anything BUT the primary plot quests in this act I could have been done within 2 hours of starting it.

Anyway this act starts 3 years after the Qunari events. You have spent 7 years in Kirkwall at this point, and after the Qunari incident you were named CHAMPION OF KIRKWALL! Now people respect you, fear you, admire you, and generally worship you. Well, everyone but Meredith. Meredith is the psycho leader of the Templars in Kirkwall, and she is opposite Orosini, the head of the Circle of Magi in Kirkwall.

This act focuses on the tensions between the 2 groups, and eventually you must pick a side. This is what made me stop liking the game. No matter what path I took, no matter what choices I made, the finale would play out roughly the same. All events leading up to the finale can in fact be ignored.

You see, Meredith believes that ALL Mages used Blood Magic (demonic magics). My character was a Mage, and an Apostate (unregistered mage) but Meredith could not touch me now because of my Status. So I of course, decide to side with the mages to help prove otherwise.

Of course this plan is ruined with Anders BLOWS UP THE FUCKING CHANTRY! Thats right, one of my own party members does a terrorist action and starts a bloody war. It pissed me off so much. Worst was the fact that you are tricked into HELPING HIM in Act 2. He claims he is trying to remove the demon he has living in him from himself, but instead is just building a super bomb.

So then I end up siding with the Mages anyway to defend the people who are being wrongly accused of practicing Blood Magic. But hey, guess what happens? OROSINI PROVES THE BITCH MEREDITH RIGHT AND USES BLOOD MAGIC IN THE END! I about Facepalmed at this point. Not only does his use Blood Magic, but he uses the same kind that the Serial Killer who KILLS YOUR MOTHER IN ACT 2 uses, and creates a horrible Corpse Monstrosity around himself. You then are forced to kill him and believe me that was satisfying as all hell, especially when I curb stomped his ass. A bug occured here were the cutscene played twice in a row as well, which was annoying.

So after you first defend the mages and then are betrayed by them (fuckers) you then try to escape. Only to be confronted by Meredith and the Templars. She demands that the Templars kill me, they refuse and then SHE GOES APESHIT! Granted, part of her issue is that Bartrand (Varrics brother) sold her the idol he found in the Deep Roads, which apparently has the side effect of making people BATSHIT INSANE. Guess its that pure lyrium.

So then you fight in another MMO type fight. You fight her for a while, she runs away and summons adds, kill adds, she reappears, leaves, fight adds, comes back and fight her PLUS respawning adds.

After that, you discover that the Champion has left Kirkwall with his love interest, and Varric is the only person the Chantry could find. Apparently after that the Templars and the Mages of the world are now in a full blown war, and the Chantry believes that only the Champion, who was there when it all started, can stop it.

Total Playtime: 22 hours.

Thus ends Dragon Age 2. Of course I couldnt SEE this ending due to a graphical bug, but at least I could hear the damn thing.

Overall the game was...decent. Part of the issues above stem from the development time, which was roughly 8 Months. Bioware was basically forced to rush this game thanks to EA and thus it is no where NEAR as polished as it should be. 22 hours to beat this game (and EVERY side quest I could find) is a joke, especially at a $60 price point.

Would I recommend this game? Only in the following cases:

The game drops in price, down to about $30. And even then, only if you are a diehard RPG Fan or Dragon Age Fan. Also make sure that you wait for some patches. Otherwise? Steer clear, its not worth the price as it stands.