Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Game Review – Dragon Age 2

Formats: (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Dragon Age 2 certainly has a lot of weight on its shoulders. Following on from the terrific Dragon Age: Origins is by no means an easy task and you would be making a mistake if you chose to simply compare this sequel to its predecessor. A direct and simple answer for you impatient ones is that no, Dragon Age 2 is not better than the original, but this is largely because of the unbelievable standards set in Origins. Dragon Age 2 is a great game in its own right and you will surely agree once you finish traversing gorgeous lands and slaying demons and dragons. Unfortunately the story doesn’t live up to the glorious heights you would expect and the somewhat simplified fighting mechanics make the game feel a little stripped. On the other hand, these changes help speed up the game-play, meaning you sacrifice some technical assets in exchange for arguably a more enjoyable action experience. Whichever way you choose to look at it, Dragon Age 2 is another great role-play game from BioWare.

Immediate changes over the predecessor come as soon as you begin the game and start creating your own character. You will find that Dragon Age 2 now has a fully voiced protagonist but as a result, forces you to play as a human and pick only from three classes – the mage, rogue or warrior. This lack of customizability may shock fans of the original at first, but the variation in abilities and powers as you level up and the great voice acting and narration will win you over to see these additions as viable changes to the series.

The story certainly doesn’t have the same dynamism or impact that the original had, but that’s not to say you won’t have a great time going through Dragon Age 2. Your ambitions of being the Champion of Kirkwall are harbored by a lack of a clear goal, but many missions and side-quests still engulf you into the world and you inevitably become attached to certain characters you meet and events you participate in. It’s just a shame that the main story itself is poorly intertwined with the majority of your objectives and it never really feels like all the available loose ends are brought together in a satisfying manner. Dragon Age 2 also suffers from the inevitable climactic build up and then the all-of-a-sudden cliffhanger that is sure to irritate some fans.

As you would expect, Dragon Age 2 sets a new standard for the choice-mechanic in the role-play genre. Developers inevitably find it harder and more challenging to come up with intuitive ways to fill their adventures with consequential events that make up the world around you. The story, while not that deep, gives you plenty of opportunity to question your morality, the morality of others and shape people, guilds and whole cities around you. There are plenty of different paths to choose and ways of going about completing Dragon Age 2, creating plenty of replay value for those eager to see how events would pan out from different perspectives.

The characters that join your party throughout Dragon Age 2 also unfortunately succumb to the inevitable comparison of the prior team you assemble in Origins. It is really difficult to not compare the two games but if you do, you will once again realize that this assortment of entertaining and rich characters are, to put it simply, not as entertaining, nor as rich as the Origins cast. Again, this does not mean that your party is dull and lifeless, you will become engaged in their plights and goals and those new to the series will have a blast, but those moving on from the original will have a hard time adjusting to the new group travelling with you. Fortunately what Dragon Age 2 continues to impress with, is the fantastic dialogue and narration, which is present throughout all characters, party members and citizens alike.

Moving swiftly onto the combat in Dragon Age 2, this is a double-edged sword. Combat has been simplified and with this comes shorter times between moves and faster attack-animations. The game feels much more action orientated. The downside is this simplification does diminish the role-play element somewhat and does feel like a guns-blazing experience now. I personally think its for the best, as action is fast-flowing and exciting, but it is down to personal preference and you really have to experience it before you can make your mind up. PC players have even more issues to contend with as camera control has been taken away from you, meaning no more tactical movement and scouting the battlefield.

Another issue that I feel is never really properly acknowledged is that your party members seem to be stuck in a strange world where they want to be in an action-role play game, but don’t act all like they are in one. What I mean by this is the action-orientated combat doesn’t really play out with the rest of your party members unless you go into the menus and set up specific instructions and combat strategies for them. So I guess you could say that for traditional Dragon Age fans, there is potential here to slow the pace of the combat down and revert back to a more subdued fighting style that rewards tactics rather than button bashing and spell throwing. This is especially apparent on higher difficulty levels.

From a technical perspective, Dragon Age 2 is hit-and-miss. In comparison to BioWare’s recent outing Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2’s graphics suffer in almost all departments. Facial construction isn’t up to scratch, environments can look quite dull, low resolution and long load times all hamper the experience. However, on consoles the game looks better than Origins, so is there really scope to complain? The enemies do look amazing it has to be said, the demons, dragons and ghouls you encounter are all very menacing and are exactly what you’d expect from a Dragon Age game. The soundtrack is quite good, nothing to go particularly crazy for, it suits the game well but never really jumps out at you like a Final Fantasy score for example. The difficulty curve is quite jumpy as well, with the game being relatively easy on the PC especially, so jumping to higher difficulty levels is recommended from your first play-through.

To conclude, it is fairly obvious that there are two stances you can take when looking at Dragon Age 2. As a sequel, it is inferior, but I feel like that is such a harsh word to use because I cannot stress enough how good the original was. As a stand-alone title, Dragon Age 2 is a very good RPG that draws you in and keeps you invested throughout it’s long and exciting time-span. The story might not be as magical and engulfing as one might of hoped, but the incredible use of morality and plenty of missions and places to explore, it really is worth your time. Ultimately game-play changes I feel have been made for the better, but the game’s story and coherency is greatly overshadowed by its predecessor.

Technical presentation – 7.0

Graphics – 7.5

Game-play – 8.5

Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 8.0 / 10

Igor, CeX UK Contributor.

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