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Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power PDF Print E-mail
Written by Starfox   
Sunday, 24 April 2011 02:28
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Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power
Don't shoot the story...
Don't talk to me unless I want t
Don't hurt me... much
I'm Hi-Tech
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Dragon Age 2 logo

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Average Price (at review time): $40

Demo: Official Page

Official Site: http://dragonage.bioware.com/da2/home/


ESRB rating: Mature (Blood, gore, sexual content, violence)

PEGI rating: 18+ (Violence, gore)



The first point to be noted about Bioware is that it's like a good student with a a steady level of good notes. A, A+, B+, A, A+... you get the idea. Then suddenly the good student drops a C. In itself it's not a very bad note but it makes you wonder suddenly, WTF went wrong? Summarizing Dragon Age 2 goes about like that. It's an average game. Developed by any other studio, especially a new one, it would even be an "above average" game... But it's Bioware. And one thing is sure, Bioware never used us to a C. But before going into details about the feeling I had and why I had it, let's build a little background and set the game story regarding the whole Dragon Age universe as started with Dragon Age: Origins.


Let me tell you a story.


Before we go any further and talk about the main character and his/her story, it's better to point out first how the story is actually told because we have here a whole narrative effort playing in the background. The events depicted in the game are past actually and the one telling them is Varric, a Dwarf that is going to be one – if not the main – companion of your character during the game. Varric is, let's say, a businessman, loosely speaking, and he's arrested right at the beginning of the game by Cassandra Pentaghast, a Seeker of the Chantry (Seekers representing in the Dragon Age universe a new twist as they are kind of the secret services of the Chantry while in the first game the Chantry did not seem to have such a paramilitary organization, aside of the Templars).


The poor Varric was arrested because of his relationship with the Champion of Kirkwall (the title that your character will bear at some point). The Chantry is very interested in knowing the true story of the rise of the Champion and his/her exact role in the events that conducted to the gigantic global screw up that seems to affect the world of Thedas.


And Varric tells the story – not that he has a real choice in the matter – starting by the legend which of course only marginally corresponds to what really happened. It's the occasion for the player to take control of the main character for the first time. At this point you just get to choose your class but that's not important as Varric starts with a pack of bullshit. Pentaghast being midly pissed about that, he switches very soon to the real story.


This whole story spans over ten years divided in three chapters. Each chapter has a main quest that once completed leads to a jump in time to the next chapter, the transition being assured by a dialog between Varric and his *interviewer* Pentaghast. The narrative approach of the story is well implemented and doesn't come at the expense of the main storyline (which sadly has its very own problems). The narration of past events by a character who was one of the hero companions is a new twist in RPG and works nicely in Dragon Age 2 without disturbing the game (from a player point of view). This narration trick is one of the most brilliant aspects of the game.


Alas there are flaws.


Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power


I don't want any more darkspawn


The name of the central character of the game is Hawke (first name, you're free to choose... it defaults to Garrett for male and Marian for female). Hawke can be either a soldier (warrior or rogue) or a mage which modifies the story somehow (but not by much). If you start as a warrior or a rogue, then Hawke was with his/her brother at the ill fated battle of Ostagar which of course is the same battle than the one in DA:O where king Cailan and the Grey Wardens were defeated. If you start as a mage then Hawke is an apostate and as such was not at Ostagar for fear of being tracked down by the Templars. No matter the case, you don't get to relive the battle as the real story begins after it in a ruined Lothering as the whole of the Hawke family is fleeing the Darkspawn. It's at this point that the real game begins and that you can customize your character as in any other RPG.


This part of the story is described at leisure in the demo so there's no need to explain what happens. The important thing is that Hawke and a part of his family escapes to rejoin the city of Kirkwall in the Freemarches, across the sea North from Ferelden.


In the process, Hawkes looses either a brother or a sister (that depends actually on the class you choose to be. If you play a warrior/rogue you'll loose the warrior brother Carver and if you choose to play a mage, you'll loose the mage sister Bethany).


The fact above is worth mentioning because there begins the whole “shit happens because the story wills it and there's nothing you can do about it” trend of the game. If it was only for this particular event, I wouldn't mind but alas it's far to be the only one and further along up to the very end of the game, you'll notice a lot of bits that for story purpose can't be modified even if your character is in position to directly influence them. The number of times I replayed a part of the game differently just to finally meet the same outcome (or a very similar one) is quite ridiculously high for a RPG, especially a Bioware production.


And that's probably what bothers me the much about Dragon Age 2. During my playthroughs I was constantly reminded that my real place was on the back seat and that I was not meant to be the driver which is a bit weird for a RPG because this is normally the kind of game where your character is supposed to make a difference. Each time that I was in an apparent position to influence a particular outcome... BAM the game slapped me in the face and put me back to my rightful place, which of a spectator. Some of the story elements seem to be there just so that a NPC can place a comment about them later (comment that wouldn't have the same impact if Hawke was allowed to modify some outcomes). I agree that any RPG story needs a backbone to prevent players from wandering aimlessly but in Dragon Age 2 I was confronted to a whole skeleton with flesh attached. A book of sorts. The game felt that rigid to me with very little room to maneuver.


Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power


I don't know about most gamers but when I role play a character in a game, I expect it to matter and not just to be a helpless spectator to the situation that is evolving around him/her. If I wanted that I could always turn on my TV and watch the news, which sometimes depict events that affect me but over which I have no control other than the fact that a new tax may be voted because I helped – or not – to elect the current government.


In the end, Hawke appears to be a character involved in very big events which are about to affect the whole world of Thedas but over which he/she has very little to no control. Hopefully one can imagine that the rightful place of the hero will be restored in the third game as Hawke will be possibly called to stop the mess he/she didn't started but participated in but as far as it goes for Dragon Age 2 the main story feels more like something you have to endure, pretty much like your common FPS. In all you'll have to make a couple of major choices in the game, each that may or may not have an impact in Dragon Age 3 but that are of no real consequence in Dragon Age 2.


By comparison, DA:O had a more involving storyline as the game had only one loose string the player had to follow – gathering allies, defeating the Blight – but other than this string you were pretty much free to gather the allies any way you wanted and doing so to create outcomes that would be felt long after the end of the Blight (by putting a new king on the throne, deciding who was going to be the new king of Orzammar, retrieving/destroying the Anvil of the Void, killing the Dalish elves or the werewolves or solving the situation peacefully... etc.). Even if you didn't witness the results yourself, you knew that your decisions were going to have long lasting consequences. In Dragon Age 2, this feeling is gone with the wind of craziness that blows over Kirkwall. No matter what you think or what you're trying to achieve, the storyline stubbornly follows its own route making of Hawke possibly one of the least needed main character in a RPG ever... At most he/she is a vessel that serves to transport the player through the storyline.


The whole game reflect pretty much this "you're welcome to try but... whatever" up until the two possible endings that only differ depending on your previous choices in... well, nothing actually. You have a side to choose you fight the two same bosses no matter which side you chose and... that's pretty much it. As it is Dragon Age 2 story is worth a prologue, certainly not a full game. And that's probably what Dragon Age 2 is anyway, a mere prologue to Dragon Age 3.


In the end it's pretty amusing to see that some of Hawke's companions are the ones who shape up the great events in Kirkwall and that they just allow Hawke to tag along like a faithful mabari and to witness the progression of their own schemes.


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