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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Dragon Age 2: Is it's roar worse than it's bite?

3 comments
Well I've finally finished Dragon Age 2 so it's time to clarify my thoughts on the game. It's been an interesting experience, and the game is both better than I originally thought and also a little more frustrating in certain areas. Overall, I would still recommend it highly to anyone interested in a party-based single-player RPG.

This post will probably be full of spoilers. It's the kind of game that is difficult to give comprehensive thoughts on without spoiling some things, as it is so story-driven. I'll drop the biggest ones into spoiler tags, but you may well read the odd thing outside of those that might spoil some of the story for you if you haven't played the game.

Having issued the warning, read on for my final thoughts on Bioware's latest. You can find my original, spoiler-free review of the game here.

So then, where to start. I'll start with the strongest parts of the game; the characters and the story.

It has been interesting watching my wife play the game. She has taken quite different choices to myself on her playthrough, deciding on a much more aggressive character, and it has been illuminating to see how her story has played out differently to mine. Sure, her Hawke still became the Champion of Kirkwall, but along the way she lost one of her companions permanently, and her family and companions had different lives and experiences to mine.

Big and ugly. But which is which?
The story to Dragon Age 2 is very different to that of the original game, being more focused on a character's tale and adventures than an epic, world-saving plot. It's the story of Hawke (the main protagonist and player-character), his family and companions. It is also the tale of a city torn between political, religious and racial factions, told over a ten year period.

The longer time frame to the game really allows the character and companions to evolve and grow. Lots of spoilers follow!

The storyline to the game, by it's nature is much less focused than the original. I have seen some complaints that the story lacks focus, and I can see how this could be an issue for some. The story is more about the city of Kirkwall and its inhabitants than it is about Hawke. You never have a clear aim in the game, but rather just manage the best you can as you try and make a better life for Hawke and his family, and negotiate the huge political upheavals that rock the city over ten years.

One thing I did like is that many of the stories within the main tale are of a much darker nature than those in Dragon Age: Origins. More spoilers ahead!

I really got the feeling playing DA2 that important decisions would have very long-lasting effects, and this proved to be the case.

There are three main plot lines in the game, one for each of the three Acts. The first is for Hawke to reclaim his heritage and ancient family home in the affluent Hightown. The others concern political and racial struggles within the city, and how Hawke effects them.

Spoilers ahoy!

So, overall I loved the story, despite it being very different to that told in Dragon Age: Origins.

I still have a few issues with the game however, mainly centred around the combat, inventory system, re-use of areas and the ending.

In my original review I commented that the re-use of area maps was disappointing. It became a little more annoying however as I continued to play the game. By the time I hit Act 3 I must have visited the same cave, same warehouse and same mansion many, many times. The areas became less of a minor irritation and more of a major annoyance. This is one area where the shorter development time of the sequel really shows and it does smack of cutting corners to get the game released on time.

The combat is still fun, even after 40 odd hours of hacking my way through hordes of undead, hurlocks and Qunari. Playing through the game at higher difficulty levels definitely makes it more strategic and there have been several battles that have taken me a few attempts and different tactics to get through. I do have issues with the combat system however.

First of all the use of waves of enemies (which in it's own right is a justifiable and challenging tactic) becomes a bit of a grind once you realise that just about every single fight will have new waves of enemies showing up from nowhere. The waves become less of a challenge and more something that you plan for before the fights even start.

Secondly, whilst I do like the more visceral combat animations, at higher levels my character seems only to have to glance in the direction of an enemy combatant for them to fly apart in a shower of bloody chunky giblets. Towards the end of the game it just steps over the line between visceral and exciting to become slightly silly.

Too much blood?
I really enjoyed the ending to the game. It rose above the political and did become more epic, with a great final battle. There were a few twists (betrayal by one of my companions and Anders' actions) that I really enjoyed. However, the story does not finish.

The ending is like the end of a chapter, not the end of a book. To see the end of the story you will have to buy the sequel (or DLC if they go that route). I did get a sense of closure with the ending, but I also got a sense of being hooked on a line and knowing that I'll be asked to part with some more cash in the future if I really want to find out how things turn out.

After playing the game through and watching my wife's playthrough as well I'm sure that the game does have good replayability due to the branching nature of the quests and companion relationships, something that many Bioware titles can boast (I'll soon be on my third play through Mass Effect 2). My wife is playing through the game again already in order to explore other story options, and I'm sure I will do so as well at some point (though I have Mass Effect 2: Arrival and EQ2 to get back to first!). The game may not offer real choices (the basic story will be the same whatever you do, but the journey through the story and the companions you take along will be different depending on your actions), but it does offer possibly the best illusion yet of real choice within a roleplaying game.

Part of this is down to the excellent conversation system. At first it seems like a simplification from Dragon Age: Origins, but it is in fact a much deeper system, and this is easy to overlook. Your character will change depending on how you roleplay him - if you are constantly aggressive then the character will automatically take aggressive tones and actions, and different dialogue, companion reactions and even events will open up compared to a character that you roleplay as regularly sarcastic for example. It offers much more branching than the original did in fact.

Overall Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic game. Sure, it has some flaws (whether these will be a big enough problem to spoil the game for you will depend on what you want from it), but the story and characters are more than strong enough to impart a real sense of experience. I loved playing the game all the way through and then chatting about it to my wife, comparing stories about what happened. This is a game about stories (hell, the whole thing is a tale being told in retrospect by Varric) and how one persons actions will effect the characters and events of the story.

Varric tells one hell of a good tale.

3 comments:

  1. I'm constantly amazed by but very glad that Voltaan & yourself write these Blogs Merecraft.

    I'm in no way attempting to be patronizing nor am I typing this because of the immense respect I have for both of you, but because of both of your respective abilities to write & offer insights into what you're playing, reading, and/or experiencing is a gift that I admire on a very high scale.

    That was well written & I now plan on going out & buying an PS3 simply to play this game at some point.

    I'm also ( due to you & a peer at my place of employment), seriously considering buying SW:TOR because of what I read here from you here & that friend's constant positive chatter on that game.

    This review could & should be in a gaming magazine, It's THAT well written & I thank you for taking the time to post it.

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  2. Thanks Jahf, that's really nice to read :)
    You should know that the PS3 version is a little different (I understand there is no autoattack on the PS3, which means more button mashing), but it is an great game!

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  3. Wow. Err, can't think of anything else to say!...What Jahf said! For sure. I tell ye, those reviewer dudes at MMORPG or PCGamer should watch their backs mate!

    Game has just made it on to my 'must buy' list coz of that write up. Thanks man.

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