Dragon Age 2 Review

Figuring that everyone would be writing reviews for Dragon Age 2, I had no plans to review it myself. Yet after reading all the reviews out there, I felt that there was a voice missing from the discussion. The voice of the traditional role playing game fan. A person that has rolled dice, kept a note pad handy for puzzles and loves blatant math in their gameplay. Simply put, the type of person a franchise like Dragon Age should appeal to.

The love affair betwixt Bioware and myself is a long one. For over a decade I have foamed at the mouth for the latest Bioware title and Dragon Age 2 was no different. Dragon Age: Origins was a dark horse that took many, myself included, by surprise. It is rare to see a western RPG executed so well. The class and character system had depth, the story was amazingly engaging and even the voice acting was far beyond many games on the market. With the success that Bioware had with improving Mass Effect 2, I was excited to see what they would do with Dragon Age as they attempted to “streamline” their budding franchise much in the same way.

Unfortunately, the results aren’t quite as positive when the approach is brought to Dragon Age. While the original title in the franchise might have had its problems, it was rare that I heard people say “It had too much depth.” Honestly, that is rarely a complaint you will hear about a proper RPG. From Fallout to Elder Scrolls, it is traditionally accepted that depth is desirable in a role playing game. In this respect, Dragon Age 2 is a huge step backwards.

For the very beginning you will notice that character creation, something that was held in very high regards with Dragon Age: Origins, has been completely stripped and redone. No longer can you select your race, class and unique backstory. You are now given the choice of three classes that come in two variations; mainly being that you get to select your gender. Gone are the various prologues that really fleshed out your personal story, now replaced with a single opening that has only the slightest variation based on your class selections.

Once you get into the game class building and leveling is very simple, but I found it greatly underwhelming. When it came time to pick a specialization for my warrior, I had a hard time picking a new skill set that really meshed with what I wanted my character to be. While I didn’t explore all the different skills, two handed weapons seemed grossly overpowered. Most battles ended with me using a single skill and my opponents were quickly reduced to a cloud of bloody mist. Often the game resorts to just throwing waves upon waves of the same generic enemy at you instead of giving you a legitimate challenge. This ease of play really makes it doubly frustrating on the rare occasion that you do find a challenging encounter. When you come to not expect resistance, you often find yourself diving head long into a fight which can be disastrous during these rare fights that are worth your time.

The graphics and animations are very pretty, but the user interface often feels spartan or unfinished. Everything kind of feels like a cheap imported Korean MMO. You just have a semi-transparent bar at the bottom, a couple buttons and some generic status bars next to the portraits of your party members. The UI of Diablo II would be a welcome improvement over Dragon Age 2’s presentation. I understand they may have chosen this to help keep a focus on the action on the screen, but it just made the game feel slightly cheap to me.

By far the thing that made the game feel the cheapest and most rushed was the level designs. With the exception of two areas, everything takes place in Kirkwall. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, except the designers clearly used this as an excuse to clock out early. Once you enter a dungeon, sewer, cave, or even a house, there’s an 85% chance that you will be running through a recycled map. The worst offense was when within about 30 minutes of play I went through three separate houses in Hightown that all had the same exact floor plan. The only difference is they each had different locked doors and areas shut off in an attempt to make it feel new. I’m not sure who decided that this was okay or what the reasoning was behind it, but it really comes across as bush-league and is below Bioware. I understand and accept the idea of recycling textures or models in an attempt to make the game manageable, but reusing areas like this is completely unacceptable.

After hours of wandering around the same city and dungeons with no clear mission besides “I haz to get pays,” the back end of the game finally gets a clear motivator and the plot starts to drive forward. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for me. By this time beating the game had become a war of attrition; either the game was going to give or I was. I continued to push forward out of spite and eventually finished the story.

After reading all this, you might come to the conclusion that Dragon Age 2 is a bad game. I would say that is overstating the case. In the end Dragon Age 2 is just a frustratingly mediocre game from a developer I expected much more from. A solid western RPG seems to be a rare thing these days, so if you’re a fan of them you will likely pick up Dragon Age 2, but be warned: Don’t expect the epic scale and overall depth of Dragon Age: Origins for you will be sorely disappointed.

[xrr rating=3/5]

This review is based upon the PC version of the title.

12 Comments

  1. TNo Gravatar
    Posted March 17, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink | Reply

    Good Review. You would likely enjoy the game more with nightmare difficulty. Sooner or later Bioware will get their act together and give us a true wonder. Just hope its soon.

  2. Posted March 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Nice review Carl. I am currently playing through on Nightmare mode on the PS3…while the difficulty level is higher, I too have been COMPLETELY underwhelmed. The Mage is pretty cool at first, because it feels more combat oriented…until you realize that you are just mashing buttons and there is no real skill involved. Like with the old game…find the “right” combo of spells and…YOU WIN. Between this and Bioshock 2 I’m losing faith.

  3. TNo Gravatar
    Posted March 21, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    Having played through most of the first act, I totally agree with your comments. level design is LAME. There is never the sense of place you get in titles such as Oblivion, just numerous repetitive cameos. 90% of the ‘action’ isn’t action at all, its sitting about watching the NPC’s talking in seemingly endless dialogues about nothing much, and then fulfilling some tedious fetch mission to get a rewrad and a new little dialogue cameo. Bioware seems to awe itself so much with its ability to write cameo dialogues that it forgets there are players of the game, who would like to create and tell their own stories.

  4. D3vils x s0nNo Gravatar
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    I would like to put in the Champion of Kirkwall was a farmer in Lothering, Human inhabitant, which eliminated the need for you to choose a race, the class choosing is basically the same as Origins, and if you are still in Act 1 shut your mouth because Act 1 is back story and set up to enter the game. You can create and master your chosen role, I have a lvl 21 Rogue on Nightmare setting completed the game, and I was able to have the Champions full armor, 2 high leveled daggers and a bow of amazing sorts. A rogue can choose to be a bowman or assassin. Magi can be elemental, dark, healers, or weakeners. Warriors can be meat shields and Have the power to destroy a team of people with a swing. Yet again play the entire game before Rating it. The story makes sense and from 2 playthroughs i have found that the ending can be very very different and in depth. But remember it is a dwarf telling a story to a Seeker, there is more to come and it will bring together origins and 2 to show the entire picture.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink | Reply

      Actually, I played through the entire game before writing this review. If you had read the entire review and not just skimmed it, you might have seen that. By the end of the game, all I wanted to do is reinstall Origins and play it again.

      As for race and origins, I understand the Champion’s backstory. That’s great and all, but like many other people I enjoyed the various introductions that came along with choosing your origins in the first game. The different openings was especially nice when it came to multiple play throughs.

      I didn’t want to give away too much of the plot, but having Varric tell the story was a pretty cool story idea and worked pretty well. Unfortunately, the story itself was limp and uninspired.

      As far as loot, a good game it does not make. If I was interested in phat lewt I would go play WoW. Speaking of WoW, the class skills in DA2 seemed to be even less inspired and more restrictive than the MMO giant. The game felt and played like it was dumbed down for WoW players and that’s why I take offense.

      Now of all the things people can take issue with in my review, the one thing that can’t be argued is the recycling of environments. I am a reasonable man. I understand that textures and models will be reused. Frankly, I prefer to see the same five boxes over and over if it means the developers get to spend more time working on the important stuff, but that’s not what happened in the case of Dragon Age 2. They didn’t just recycle elements, they literally recycled the maps. You say that in DA:O that they recolored and turned things around? Well, I didn’t notice it… but… even if that was the case, at least they made the effort to hide it. In Dragon Age 2 it’s just a lingering fart of an insult to the gamer. A fart so bad that every time you take a deep breath you can actually taste it.

      Dragon Age 2 is a fart.

  5. D3vils x s0nNo Gravatar
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink | Reply

    Also I would like to point out that Origins had a very recycled map base, everything was just recolored and turned around slightly. DA2 is the same way, and DA2 is just the gateway to the next installment which it already hints towards in the beginning. MA3 and Skyrim are awaited expectantly.

  6. Posted March 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I greatly enjoyed your review and I would have to agree with you on pretty much everything you said. My biggest issue, and this likely goes along with lacking depth, are the characters. While Varric and Anders are both pretty dynamic characters with their own set of values and bad-assery, the others left something to be desire. I felt total apathy for Merill and Bethany. I cared very little about what happened to them. The other side of that are the warriors. Fenric and Avaline are the worst characters I’ve seen in an RPG in years; Fenric being the absolute wrose. He whines incessantly throughout the entire game. I couldn’t even bear to have him in my party unless I absolutely had to. Thinking back to Origins the characters just seem a lot more real and it was easier to get emotionally invested in them. I would have to say that playing DA2 simply made me want to reinstall Origins and play it for the fourth time.

    Oh, also there is no excuse for level recycling on this wide a scale especially given the small map and area size. I would have preferred Bioware to release the game six months to a year later in order to have more variety. It really cheapens the whole game play experience.

    • Posted March 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Sorry, meant Fenris. That’s what I get for typing angrily 🙂

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted March 23, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Well, I never got Fenris in my play through. I was trying to be a lawful good guy and ended up not doing the quest because it sounded fishy. From everything I can tell, I really didn’t miss out…

      Sebastian is a straight up doucher. His quests, which again recycled all the environments, seemed more like a punishment than a reward for me pre-ordering the game 😛

      I thought Merill was fun to have in the party because she was just so clueless and it really led to some hilarious exchanges, but overall I feel you. Dragon Age 2 is a bad game for Bioware, but that’s still a pretty decent game outside of that context. If I directly compared it to their other work such as DA:O or Mass Effect, I think the game would have gotten a 2 out of 5 frankly.

      • Posted March 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

        I definitely agree with that: Bad for Bioware but overall playable and at times enjoyable. I’m still a fan of Bioware’s decision based gaming and most of the time, that’s what really makes the experience for me.

        2 out of 5 seems fair when compared to other Bioware games. On an overall scale I’d probably give a 3 out of 5 as well.

  7. trevNo Gravatar
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    3/5 stars? Wow that’s being generous to this dissapointment.
    BioWare use to be my favorite developer, but if the DA series continues to be Mass Effect, I will avoid their games like a plague.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Not going to lie, I also feel I was being generous. I easily could have given it a lower score… but… What I ended up doing was comparing the experience to other titles. Overall, I think it was a pretty average game. I think what makes it seem worse is that it’s Bioware and many of us have come to expect a lot better from them.

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