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