Dragon Age II review
BioWare strike gold again?
Following on from the success of Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare have yet again come through with another, frankly, remarkable game. Dragon Age II will take players through a 10 year journey with some of the most memorable moral and ethical decisions presented to gamers in the past few years. Rest assured, you are in for one wild ride.
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Hawke Family Theme
Dragon Age II sees player take on the role of Hawke, a refugee fleeing from Lothering after the spread of the Blight that occurred during the opening of Origins. From the beginning we can see that BioWare has elected to take a new route in their storytelling, adopting a "framed-narrative" approach. This is a welcome change from BioWare's previous formula of "4 main quests/planets before a final confrontation."
The story is being told from the perspective of Varric, a Dwarf and friend of Hawke, 10 years into the future. He has been captured by a Chantry Seeker, Casandra, who forcibly encourages Varric to recite the tale of Hawke's exploits over this 10-year period. From these opening moments we learn that the world of Thedas is on the brink of an all out war, following the collapse of the Chantry. We learn that Hawke was the catalyst of these events. Casandra hopes that Varric's retelling of his story will help her to understand why Hawke took the actions that he did, and allow her to stop the oncoming storm that is soon to sweep through all of Thedas.
And with that, the player's story begins. The plot is broken up into three "Acts" which take in Kirkwall and the surrounding areas over a 10 year period. Each Act has its own plot and context which will effect the over-arching storyline. Throughout the story, DA2 seeks to draw emotion from the player, in which it gloriously succeeds. Player's will share Hawke's triumphs and sorrows encountered throughout his tragic lifetime.
As the game takes place over 10 years, players will encounter the repercussions of their actions in a much more satisfying way than in Origins. Players will no longer face an epilogue screen dictating the effects of their actions, à la Origins. Your actions may have some unexpected and shocking conclusions. Many decisions will require you to really think about their repercussions and how they may impact not only Kirkwall, but also your companions, which brings us on to the next section.
Dragon Age II introduces the player to a band of 9 different companions, all of which can proudly stand toe-to-toe with any of Origins lovable squad. It is through the companions that BioWare really shines.
Each companion brings to the table their own skills, morals and personal beliefs. Over the course of the game, expect to forge both close friendships and rivalries as you tackle many problems throughout Kirkwall. Companions have a stark range of views and opinions on how various circumstances should be handled. Examples include the audacious, rebellious, and occasionally reckless Mage, Anders, to the alluring, captivating Rouge, Isabela.
Each character has received the care and attention you might expect from BioWare. They are all voiced to perfection and exceedingly well-written. The only companion voice-over I have issue with is Anders, who you may recall was a party member in Dragon Age: Awakening. For reasons that BioWare did not wish to dispute, his voice-actor was changed. While the new voice-actor holds his own, it took me quite a while to adapt to his new voice. Rest assured however, that Anders and his fight for Mage-freedom is one of the most intriguing parts of the game.
As in all BioWare games, the player is able to romance 5 of the companions. All but one romance (Sebastian) caters to both sexes, so as not to discriminate. Players are spoiled for choice. These romances will develop over the 10-year period and add to the emotional experience that BioWare strives to create.
A new mechanic introduced is the "Friendship/Rivalry" system, which takes the place of Origins "Approval" system. Friendship points are awarded when the player agrees with a companions "cause" or "beliefs" no matter how outrageous or unethical they may be. Friendship may not always be the best choice. Rivalry points are awarded for disagreeing with a a companions "cause" which in some instances may actually be the best course of action, preventing the companion from harm. In essence, Friendship does not necessarily equal "right" and Rivalry equal "bad." In many instances they may be the other way around. Unlike in Origins where romance would only take place when a character had a high enough approval, in DA2 a companion can be romanced regardless of their Friendship or Rivalry stances.
Overall, BioWare has yet again delivered a stellar cast of characters.
Importing From Origins
Players are given the opportunity to import saves from Origins, Awakening or the Golems of Amgarrak and Witch Hunt DLC's. In doing so, you are able to hear tales of The Warden's exploits and you may run in to characters that The Warden has previously encountered. These range from small one-time characters right up to Origins companions. Your decisions from previous games may have a direct impact on your game, the dialogue or questlines.
You may occasionally hear tale of events you previously helped shape and the outcomes of such actions.
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A big change introduced in Dragon Age II is the the combat mechanic. Rather than the slower, tactical route seen in Origins, DA2's combat is much faster and immediate. Unlike Origins where certain spells or talents would have a delay before activating, spells/talents are unleashed almost instantly, providing a quicker pace and an overall better flow to combat.
Some may be put off by the fact that instead of an auto-attack, DA2 requires players to press the A/X button in order for Hawke to attack. (In a future update BioWare has promised to include the option to enable auto-attack). However, despite these changes, DA2 still feels oddly similar to Origins. The game requires the same amount of tactical thinking, especially on the higher difficulties. Spells and talents are still mapped to the face buttons, companions can still be ordered around directly through the command wheel and their tactics can still be edited to the player's liking.
Each class has their own feel and brings a number of different tactical options to the field. Warriors focus on diving head-first into battle, being able to dish out and take the most damage. They are can go down the route of wielding either Two-Handed weapons or a Sword & Shield. Rouges focus more on "zipping" around the battlefield, bringing down enemies with their agility. They are capable of dual-wielding or archery. Mages focus on dominating the battlefield with their large array of spells.
Each companions has a skill-tree that is exclusive to them, which provide a number of unique abilities, as well as bonuses depending on their Friendship or Rivalry scores.
To conclude, DA2's combat feels more empowering, brutal and much more satisfying.
Dragon Age II introduces a voiced protagonist. As such, a new method of conversing has been introduced through a dialogue wheel, similar to that used in the Mass Effect series. In conversation, the player is shown 3-6 paraphrased options from which to can elect to say. In most conversations, there is an "Investigate" option, that opens a new branch of the dialogue wheel in order to facilitate players with more information. However, unlike the Mass Effect series, each dialogue option displays an icon which details the tone or intent of the given response. These range from tactful, witty, aggressive etc.
As the game progresses, the dialogue options "stack." If one where to continuously adopt a diplomatic or helpful tone, this will become Hawke's "Dominant Personality." This allows for a consistency in Hawke's delivery of lines throughout the game. At the start of each Act, Hawke retains his Dominant Personality, however, the "stacked" number for that personality is reduced, allowing you to gradually change Hawke's Dominant Personality if you instead decided to adopt a different tone.
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Qunari On The Rise
Inon Zur has yet again delivered an epic soundtrack. The musical score is simply fantastic. Scores such as the "Hawke Family Theme" are particularly moving. The music fits perfectly with the tone of the game.
As previously mentioned, the voice-acting is excellent. Each character, no matter how small, was given extreme care in regards to audio. From the friendly Welsh/Irish accents of the Dalish to the commanding voice of the Arishok, the voice-acting is amazing.
The Rock Wraith
The graphics in DA2 are definitely a step up from Origins. Whilst they are not up to the standard of BioWare's other series, Mass Effect, they are still quite pretty to look at. Kirkwall is nicely designed at is quite detailed. Each area has it's own look while still maintaining a familiarity throughout.
Character models are nicely rendered, as too is the armor throughout the game. One area which needs special mention is the Character Creator. This is a huge improvement over Origins. I was able to create a character that I was satisfied with quite quickly.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, Dragon Age II reused environments frequently. While attempts were made to disguise this, such as a change of scenery or blocking off certain paths, it is still an issue. This is expected of course, considering the relatively short development time in comparison to Origins. However, this is a slight niggle on an otherwise fantastic game.
I also encountered some small glitches whilst playing. In one instance, a scene repeated itself, whilst in another Anders was marked as an enemy due to a slight clipping error with an enemy spawn.
During my second playthrough there were two instances where the graphics were untextured. In one, a boss was untextured. In the second, the entire Hightown area was untextured. Both were easily fixed by reloading a save, however.
The only potential major glitch I suffered was towards the end of the game, where I received an error stating "unable to load area." If you encounter this error, simply restart your console.
One final issue I had was that the ingredients for potions, runes, poisons and grenades are sometimes so well hidden that you are likely never to find them without outside knowledge. The problem with this is that some of the ingredients can only be found during certain quests. If you were unlucky enough to not find it, then that ingredient is gone forever. This results in you being unable to craft certain items.
My first playthrough of Dragon Age II took 57 hours to complete. This was without skipping any dialogue and completing most of the quests, bar 2 or 3.
The many decisions throughout the game, the Friendships and Rivalries that you can forge and the number of different ways to play each class will captivate players for hours. The ways in which Origins influences the game is also sure to add hours onto the game. DLC is a sure bet and will again add hours onto the games length.
BioWare continue to amaze me and has yet again solidified it's position as one of the best developers around.
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