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Dragon Age 2 Review

Review; Mar. 23, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Edward Kaczynski
Bioware's Latest Release a Step Above its Predecessor

Dragon Age 2 is solid. This is not a surprise. 

The original Dragon Age: Origins was a solid game. It suffered a few annoying flaws – a weak inventory system, unbalanced skill trees, a bland and uninteresting world design, etc. These, however, weren’t enough to detract from a solidly designed combat system, a rich (if slightly contrived) game world and a cast of characters who (except Wynne) drew my curiosity and solidly captured my interest.

Dragon Age 2 Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

When Mass Effect 2 was in production, Bioware took all the criticism (and praise) for the original Mass Effect and used it as a guideline for the development of the sequel – keep what works, retool or eliminate what doesn’t. What resulted was a sequel that far surpassed the original in every conceivable way. Assuming the development team at Bioware kept that mentality, I was hoping for a Dragon Age sequel which did the same thing. Especially when Bioware announced  DA2 would be developed along the same lines that ME2 was – I don’t feel that this was an unreasonable expectation. 

Let’s start with what they got right. 

Dragon Age 2 is a load of fun. Combat didn’t need a facelift, but it got one anyway, and it’s (frankly) superior to DA1 combat in every way, to the point where even auto attack is fun to watch. Your NPC party members aren’t as massively stupid as they were in the original and set up tactics by default as they receive new abilities, reducing the need to micromanage.

Bioware created a gorgeous, unique landscape in the city of Kirkwall and the surrounding areas. That said, the game felt smaller in comparison to the original Dragon Age which had you trekking all over Ferelden. While the game itself doesn’t seem shorter, the scope of it feels slightly less impressive. 

Several of the races got a (much needed) redesign – specifically, the Darkspawn (which now resemble the corrupted and tainted humanoids they were supposed to, instead of orcs and goblins) and the Qunari which, despite the fact that Sten from the original Dragon Age basically looked like a tall muscular human, really are a different race. The individual characters took a while to warm up to (except Varric, who is fantastic from start to finish). That said, most of them wind up becoming interesting in some fashion, even if it’s only in having to deal with the consequences of their (repeatedly stupid) actions.

While Bioware has managed to fix several of the talent trees, in doing so, it screwed up others, to the point that I had trouble figuring out which talents I wanted to take. I felt, because I was given a specialization point, it was necessary that I choose said specialization and invest heavily in it. I wound up regretting this choice several times and had to drink respec potions in order to “correct” it, only to have to come back a few quests later and respec again

Inventory management is … different. It’s better in that there isn’t a garbage load of useless crap sitting around, taking up precious bag space. It’s worse in that your ability to equip your party members is all but stripped from you. Yeah, you can give them weapons, but many of them wind up sporting stuff that levels with them and winds up being better than anything you can give them. Sure, you can put on belts and rings and whatnot, but you wind up getting so much of it that it becomes just as big a chore as the original Dragon Age inventory system.

While the specific areas in DA2 were well designed (Kirkwall, Sundermount, The Wounded Coast, etc.), I took real issue with the sub-dungeons in each of these areas. Bioware’s level design team really phoned it in. In fact, “phoning it in” might actually be too generous. They “Alaskan sled-dogged-in-the-middle-of-winter-in'd” it. Because you only get one dungeon per setting before the snow gets too thick and we have to eat the messenger Eskimo to survive the harsh winter ahead. Because Bioware got drunk, ate all the emergency rations, and refused to share the cold-weather clothing. 

Basically, they all look the same. 

Please note, I don’t mean they look similar. I don’t mean they share design elements among them. I mean every cave has the exact same “cave” layout. Every house (with the exception of Hawke’s house) has exactly the same “house” layout. Every abandoned cultist hideout carved within the confines of a hidden passage is exactly the same. Every foundry, every dock, every secret gang hideout, and every abandoned dwarven tunnel hidden within the confines of the magma-filled earth is exactly the fucking same! 

Bioware “changes it up” by having doors between rooms. Sometimes those doors are closed, forcing you to take a different series of tunnels, but the layout never changes. There will always be a set of stairs leading to a firepit, which leads to a room which may or may not have a door open. If the door is open, go through it. If it isn’t, then the dungeon is over. This becomes a real exercise in futility when you know exactly where the ambush is going to occur every damn time – because you’ve been in this cave before. Dozens of times, in dozens of different places. 

I actually thought the game was broken at first and was loading the same dungeon over and over again due to poor programming or something. 

Lazy level design aside, Dragon Age 2 is great. Not amazing, not breathtaking, and certainly not the second coming of the RPG, but worth a play through and several replays after. It’s a promising step in the right direction, and hopefully, Bioware can tighten it up and pull it all together before Dragon Age 3.



darkstar2380 - Mar. 30, 2011 at 2:22:19am

That might cause confusion later. Just sayin.


JCXanirus - Mar. 29, 2011 at 2:44:13pm

Yeah, I'm not too particularly fond of Aveline's "warrior princess" doo, but good thing there's mods! She looks like Leiliana now.

Nadorade - Mar. 23, 2011 at 7:21:26pm

Aveline and Sebastion are contenders for the blandest characters ever.

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