Review: Dragon Age 2
With Mass Effect 3 fresh on the shelves and Bioware's name on everyones lips (and because I only finished it last week), I thought it might be time to remind everyone that great companys still make mistakes - that even titans can fall. And so, to inject a little humility into smug Bioware fans everywhere, here is my review of Dragon Age 2.
Now the first Dragon Age game was a bit of a love/hate affair for me - so you can see that the franchise got off to a rocky start in my book. On the one hand it was superbly written and crafted like only Bioware knows how. On the other hand, there are only so many Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy games which have elves and dwarfs and a middle-earth castlebound setting that I can play before I assume that the RPG genre is one big excuses to put on fake pointed ears and go play LAIR.
That being said, after forcing myself on the third character or so, I didn't hate Dragon Age: Origins. The story developed well, the companions were memorable and the climax delivered on the journey. All you really want from a game.
Dragon Age 2, on the other hand, demonstrated everything that can go wrong when you begin to play with that format.
In DA2 you are put in the shoes of Hawke, a sexually ambiguous (since gender is the most important detail you can choose about him/her, I'm just going to call him him) human fleeing the blight in Ferelden who ends up in the city of Kirkwall across the sea. Immediately he is forced to spend a year with either smugglers or mercenaries, after which the blight in Ferelden ends.
And if he returned to Ferelden after that year, maybe this game could have turned out alright.
But he doesn't. He stays in Kirkwall for nine more years. And you feel every one of those years as you play through the game.
Dragon Age 2 takes the freedom of movement and scale that were present in Dragon Age: Origins, and condenses them down to a rinse/repeat of the same environments - namely a large city and the mountain and beaches nearby. There are dozens if not hundreds of quests, but all of them involve the same locations, the same caves, the same alleys, the same beaches and the same enemies. I think I can honestly count the combat models on one hand, I fought mages, templars, spiders, demons and darkspawn (dragons were so rare that they barely count).
As you can see, all the improved combat and talent trees in the world couldn't save us from this one.
While were on the topic, the combat is marginally improved by adding a touch of cinema to the battles. The sporadic cinematic moments of the original are replaced by the ability to control your attacks manually and some classy new blood spatter and gore effects. And that's about it.
But maybe I could forgive the repetitive setting, enemies and quests if the plot was amazing. Maybe even if it was just substantial.
But it isn't. It reels from distant plot hook to plot hook, filling the gaps with dozens of unrelated quests and the occasional cut to a cinematic which tries to vainly reassure us that there is an overarching story at work. I played the whole game, and believe me there isn't.
By the time you get to the inevitable templar vs. mage resolution, a tension so transparent in the game that you find yourself siding with templars or mages on every second quest, the monotony of it has built to the point that I was wishing for a "torch the city and salt the ground" option to finish on. But there was none. Instead I had an anti-climatic end boss encounter which mainly involved killing waves of adds and then a semi-unrelated cutscene which did little, if anything, to resolve the ongoing cinematic story which had been referenced from time to time during the game.
In short, I didn't like it. I don't know what the writers were thinking, I don't know what the designers were thinking and I kind of hope Bioware saved money on it. I wouldn't have bought this if it were an expansion pack to Dragon Age: Origins and that's basically what this felt like. A long, tedious expansion pack.
Chin up Bioware, hopefully you learned your lesson.