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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.


 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Don't shoot the story, it's already full of holes

 

For Dragon Age 2, Bioware tried to follow the path of Mass Effect and offers the possibility to import your savegame for Dragon Age: Origin to draw the Dragon Age 2 universe. Alas, storyline inconsistencies and player's choices voluntarily ignored hamper the process and – depending on your DA:O experience – may make the whole thing significantly more idiotic in Dragon Age 2 than in Mass Effect 2. Depending on how you played Dragon Age: Origin and Awakening the bad impact may be mild all the way up to incredibly annoying. Some people who died in DA:O may suddenly reappear in DA2 whatever the reason may be. For instance, the original Dragon Age offered the possibility to kill Leliana at one point (during the “Sacred Ashes” quest, more precisely) and even though most players didn't kill her, those who did will have a shock seeing her reappear in Dragon Age 2, no matter what. Same goes for Zevran. Unlike Mass Effect Bioware seems to have taken the most likely player decisions and implemented those instead of implementing real player's decisions which kind of defeat the whole idea of savegame import.

 

Mind you, most of the save import feature still works as expected (like who the Grey Warden put on the throne of Orzammar and of Ferelden...) but it's always the things that are out of order that get noticed.

 

Also some timeline inconsistencies are plain ridiculous. Let's take the case of Anders, for example, one of Hawke companions who was also one of the Grey Warden's companions in Awakening. Not to mention that in at least one ending of Awakening Anders may die during the defense of Vigil's Keep – and still be a companion in DA2, no matter what – even when he survived the timeline is hard to follow. Story wise, at the moment you meet him in DA2 you shouldn't be able to – according to the ending story of Awakening where he follows the Grey Wardens for some years, go teach at the Circle of Ferelden for a few months, then go back to the Grey Warden; best case of availability for him would be a few years after the ending of Dragon Age 2. Always according to Awakening ending, Justice – the spirit that got mixed with Anders in DA2 – either vanished during the final assault on Vigil's Keep or continued to serve with the Grey Warden for many years before disappearing... No matter what he will be in Anders in DA2 even when he shouldn't.

 

All these little things – and others – let you think that not only the whole savegame import concept was botched for Dragon Age 2 but that extends to the storyline too that in some respects could simply exist in a parallel universe. Obviously and added to the lack of Hawke's impact in the grand scheme of Dragon Age 2 story arc, that does not make the game any more agreeable to follow or like.

 

In short the savegame import system of Dragon Age 2 seems to be there because it's “cool” and worked great in Mass Effect 2. Unfortunately it's not because a system works great in one game that it automatically works great in all games especially when you decide to implement it “on the fly” without thinking too much about it or the storyline consequences.

 

And the story inconsistancies don't stop with the save import feature. Know the difference between Ferelden Templars and Kirkwall Templars? Kirkwall Templars are brain dead... if you play as a mage. Right at the beginning of the game, when Hawke is fleeing Lothering, the first Templar you encounter spots that you're a mage right on even though he's in pretty bad shape while in Kirkwall you spend several years running under their nose (with a party that may contain up to two other mages) without even seeing one of them give a thought about it. So OK, maybe they're just not very clever and that the "mage" robes and "mage" staff  Hawke wears and carries 90% of the time are not labeled "mage" enough but even when you find yourself forced to fight along side one of them against some abominations the guy does not even react. Yeah, he totally believes that you're just a normal citizen and that all the pretty colors you used to defeat the abominations were just a perfectly normal combat technique. It's only late in Chapter 2 that the truth finally blow their minds. "Wow! It's a mage! Can't believe we were that stupid!"

 

As far as the story goes this kind of inconsistancies does not help... at all especially when there were ways to go around the problem just by adding a few lines. For example the templar you help fight the abomination would tell Hawke "Well, I see you're an apostate. Nevertheless you helped me there so I'll let it slide. Just don't make me regret it later, ok?" That's the kind of thing that Bioware would have normally done to lighten what is arguably a plothole (as hawke is supposed to be very afraid to be caught by templars the fact that no templar is able to acknowledge a mage Hawke is absurd). But in general Dragon Age 2 is pretty far from what Bioware would normally do regarding the story. So I suppose it's not a surprise. I guess they just expected players to tune out the weird stuff and to focus on... well whatever they tried to do.

 

When Dragon Age 2 was in development, Bioware stated that you didn't need to play Dragon Age: Origin to play Dragon Age 2 and that Dragon Age 2 was a perfect entry point to the series for those new to the Dragon Age universe. You know what? They were right. In fact I would even go all the way to say that it's far more preferable if you never played Dragon Age: Origin or can successfully forget that you ever played it.

 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Keep your friends close, your rivals even closer

 

So what is it that you can do in the game if not being busy resolving the global mess (because the main quest could pretty much evolve alone even if your computer was playing the game on autopilot – if such a thing existed in computers – your presence being appreciated but not required). To give you the feeling that Hawke's decisions have a real importance, there are companions and there are the side quests you'll do with them. That's the big thing about Dragon Age 2 because the only real impact Hawke has during the span of the game is on the various companions met. The system there is not different from Dragon Age: Origin with an appreciation system with “friendly” on one side and “rivalry” on the other. When I say Dragon Age: Origin, it's clearly a mistake, excuse me. Let me rephrase that: the companion system is about the same than the one featured in Dragon Age: Awakening (the official expansion to Dragon Age: Origins). For me that was not without real unpleasant consequences.

 

Each companion features a set of quests spread across the 3 chapters of the game. Some of these quests are even tied to the main events of the game (this is true in particular for Varric's, Anders and Isabela). So let's introduce Hawke's companions:

 

Aveline: she's the first companion (aside the brother and/or sister) that Hawke meets in the game. She was married to a Templar – who dies early in the game contaminated by Darkspawn blood – and is a true born soldier with honor and justice as motto. If your character is the “paladin” type, then she probably will be your favorite character.

 

Varric: as already mentioned, he's a dwarf, and he's also kind of a jack of all trades with an ear to the ground and an infamous crossbow named Bianca. Varric is also a bit on the edge morally. He's a good character but doesn't mind going into a nasty business if that serves a purpose or if a profit can be expected. However he hates things that involve unnecessary brutality and prefer to talk his way out of situations, only fighting as a last resort.

 

Isabela: beside the fact that she was already featured as a minor character in Dragon Age: Origins, Isabela is a pirate lady who lost her ship in some unfortunate circumstances. As she cannot sail anymore and that Hawke gave her a hand (no pun intended) in some matter, she decides to stick around at least until she can find a new ship. Being a pirate and a rogue, Isabella is clearly on the wrong side of the law. She also has a sexual appetite unusually developed which makes of her quite the easy choice as a romance option – if that word can be applied to her case.

 

Anders: yeah, Anders is the same Anders from Dragon Age: Awakening except that you get two for the price of one as for some reason, Anders melted himself with the spirit Justice (also from Awakening) resulting in a guy even more crazy than he previously was. The rebel mage turned into a possessed guy a bit nasty. Technically he is an abomination but most of the time he doesn't really behave like one.

 

Merril: is an elf. She's also an avowed blood mage and doesn't have two brain cells to rub together if we are to believe her numerous comments and (in one of my playthroughs) the lovely way she had to blow up one of the few persuasion attempts my sarcastic Hawke was allowed to make. As with Isabela, Merril comes directly from Dragon Age: Origins (that is if you started the story as a Dalish elf – she was the one that accompanied you during the prologue). First to the keeper of her clan, she's trying to restore the infamous Eluvian (mirror) that was the cause of the initial corruption of the Dalish Elf Grey Warden by the Darkspawn. Trying to restore the mirror led her to take advice from a demon and to become a blood mage. Aside from that she seems a nice girl though, that is if you fancy the "so naive that I don't know what's going on most of the time" type. Just don't go say anything bad about blood magic under her nose.

 

Fenris: is an elf slave that comes from the Tevinter Imperium. Submitted to the whims of his former Magister master from the claws of whom he escaped several years ago, Fenris is a broody character who hates magic and mages. For him every single bad thing that happened in the world and in his life was the direct or indirect result of magic and its use by mages. The amusing twist is that he uses magic itself, his lyrium tattoos giving him increased performance in combat. No matter what he still hates magic and mages. If you play as a mage don't expect a friendly attitude unless you spent your time to tell him that he's right, that all the mages should die and that you're so vile and dirty yourself that you should jump into the nearest lava pit. If you're not the kind to apologize for being what you are then you should target the rivalry with him.

 

Carver/Bethany: Hawke's brother/sister (depending on the one who survived). Carver is a dumbass that considers himself overshadowed by Hawke and want to achieve his own destiny preferably far from his siblings. He also harbors some kind of hatred for mages which is probably due to the fact that magic runs in the family. Bethany is more agreeable... At least you don't get the feeling that you're about to kill her at her every single word unlike Carver.

 

Those are about the basic companions for Dragon Age 2. One already popped up as a day one DLC (surprise surprise) but won't be discussed here even though he should have been (as I see it) part of the main game. But that's EA marketing to you; It sucks which is not surprising.


 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Don't talk to me unless I want to

 

Taken separately, those companions show some promise. So why weren't I able to really care for any of them – Varric being somewhat the only exception? The reason lies in the way the whole companion thing is handled. As I stated previously the system is about the same than Awakening and I didn't care for any of the characters there either (except for Oghren and that's because I already knew him). It didn't really bothered me for Awakening though as it was an expansion, not a full game. Had I known that the system would be implemented in Dragon Age 2 I would have said: “Stop right there!”.

 

What's the problem? Basically it is that you only really get to converse with your different companions when the game tells you to do so, not when you wish to. Conversations is even handled via quests. Basically when the game wants you to speak to one of your companions, it creates a quest especially for that purpose. It's really one of the worst way to handle relationships ever, far worse than DA:O and even worse than Mass Effect 2 (and despite the fact that after a while ME 2 companions have nothing new to tell you). Outside of those special “go talk to them” quests, the only thing you'll get out of your companions are basic comments about the situation.

 

For me the whole thing didn't work in Awakening and it doesn't work in Dragon Age 2 either. Consequently I felt emotionally detached from the characters, only accomplishing their quests because there was a point in making the story progress -- the way Dragon Age 2 is built if you decide to ignore companions quests then you'd better not play the game at all. It's the very first full game by Bioware (if I set aside the Awakening expansion) where I felt that way. In their other games I was able to love or hate characters but there... just about nothing.

 

Varric is somewhat the exception because he's the only companion that has a real presence during the whole game as both a companion and the story narrator and as such he finishes by imposing himself to you.

 

I love you... or not

 

Romance is possible in Dragon Age 2 though given my personal grip about the companionship system I hardly cared for that. It is worth mentioning though that all the characters that can be romanced are bi so the gender you choose to be is irrelevant (simplification is the keyword of this game; why bother with sexual preferences?). Characters that cannot be romanced are Carver / Bethany – for obvious family reasons – Aveline and Varric (for story reason... I guess).

 

Due to the companionship system already mentioned, even romances are awkward anyway. I romanced Isabela during my first playthrough and that was just because it fell right in my lap without me having anything special to do for it. But then we never talked about it again for several years (game time). There again the companionship handling is the culprit. Why even having romance when the only feeling you get from the game is just "screwing around" (forgive my expression).

 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Do you like my persona?

 

In Dragon Age 2, Bioware introduced a new twist to the conversation system and I'm not talking about the obvious conversation wheel. You may like this one or not. Personally I do not dislike it. It worked well in Mass Effect and it works as well in Dragon Age 2. No, the real twist is what Bioware calls dominant persona. So what is it? Well, in the game depending on your answers your character can be diplomatic, sarcastic or forceful. After a while the dominant persona of your character will be the one you use the most. So for example, if you chose mostly sarcastic answers then your character persona will stick to sarcastic introductions and comments when meeting new characters or situations. This will also open some new dialog options that will allow you in a few cases to defuse some situations.

 

On the paper the thing seems to be very nice. Between the paper and playing the game there is a huge difference however. First of all, for the thing to work, you have to stick to a chosen persona, not to spread your answers all over the place. If like me you like switching your style depending on the situation or the character you talk to the whole persona thing impact is considerably reduced. Second of all, even when the persona works (which was the case on my second playthrough where I decided to be exclusively sarcastic denying myself any kind of flexibility which I never do even in real life) there are problems. Sometimes your character may sound like a downright idiot depending on the situation.

 

The whole thing is aggravated by the fact that diplomacy, persuasion and intimidation options have been mostly eliminated. Rather than basing those options on your character attributes, Bioware chose to base them on your character persona effectively taking out any kind of peaceful resolution from most situations. After 2 playthroughs you quickly discover that some situations can only be solved peacefully with the right persona. If your character persona is diplomatic then you'll be able to defuse some situations but not the same ones than if your character persona is sarcastic. The wrong persona for a given situation will automatically result in a fight, unless you have a joker in your party (and that is only in a few cases).

 

That's another thing. The joker companion. Now if you're confronted to a situation that is seemingly unsolvable by your character because of a wrong persona, you may be able to call in a companion to talk your party out of the issue if and only if the right companion is in your party. For example, Varric can help you in situations involving a sarcastic solution (if your character is sarcastic you can do it yourself). That doesn't work in all cases however and in some particular instances only your character can do the trick with the right persona. In case of wrong persona and if you don't have any suitable character to assist then you're screwed which in most cases means that you'll be forced to fight. Which conveniently leads us to the combat system.


 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Don't hurt me... much

 

The combat gameplay is oddly enough the part of the game for which I have mixed but good feeling except for one or two specific complaint. That's a pretty unusual fact for a Bioware game where generally the storyline is much more brilliant than the gameplay. Sure despite the claimed fact that difficulty was decreased compared to the insanity that was DA:O, it is still challenging at times, especially during some of the boss fights. However, the combat dynamic itself is much more fun that it was especially for classes like mage, or a 2 handed warrior.

 

As for the complaints, the biggest one would be the constant and often ridiculous enemy spawning. Most fights actually go that way: you enter a room with enemies, you fight and defeat them then another wave comes down – and when I say “comes down” I mean literally, sometimes they just fall from the roof – you defeat them again then a third wave arrives... And so on. In any case you may expect a minimum of 3 up to 4 or 5 waves. In general the enemies spawn around you (which would effectively make of friendly-fire an utter pain in the ass if it was implemented on all levels of difficulty like it was in DA:O). Where it becomes really ridiculous is when you see the enemy spawning right under your nose out of thin air.

 

All in all the combat is much more dynamic than DA:O, and less tactical even though the use of tactics is still enforced. Some will have hard time to get over the lack of any “top-down” tactical view though it's not my case as even in DA:O I barely used this view at all.

 

However there's for me a definitive no go as far as gameplay is concerned. Enemies that become invincible while using some abilities. Let's say, you're targeting a rogue and go for a backstab. But the rogue at this same moment activate stealth. No matter, your strike connects before he disappear... but with no result at all. Visually the guy is still there. Visually your blades are right through him but the game decides that the guy was already in stealth when your hit occurred, even if he was still visible on the screen, denying any damage done by your attack. That goes for other enemies as well, notably enemy casters, rage demons... pretty much every enemy that has the ability to go out of view at some point. It's confusing and unnerving. Being unable to target and hit an enemy that is concealed is normal... Being unable to hit an enemy just because an animation is playing is confusing and unnerving especially because your spell/ability is lost for nothing.

 

And the traps... What about the traps. There are traps in the game (like there was in DA:O) but the amusing thing is that most of the time you cannot even detect them. If your character is a rogue your chances of detecting a trap before stepping on it are slightly better. The trap detection distance has been so much reduced that even when you have a rogue in your party if he/she is not in point he/she will fail to detect most of the traps before you step on them. That's certainly an amusing trick especially because one of the perks of being a rogue or of having a rogue in your party is being able to detect traps.

 

What's in my backpack?

 

As far the character progression goes, you still have full control over the attributes already present in the first game as well as your own inventory and to a lesser extent to the inventory of your companions.

 

The way the attributes influence the game has been somewhat modified. For example the percentage of critical chance is no more determined by the weapon used but by the dexterity attribute. Rogues are especially favored with the new attribute distribution as their two main attributes (dexterity for the amount of basic damage/attack and cunning to disarm trap and open locks) are also used to calculate critical chances, critical damages and defense. The end result is that rogues represent the class the most likely to deal quickly the most critical hits with the most extended damage while having a very decent defense while other classes need to distribute some points in those attributes that are not their favored ones hence sacrificing some points that would go to their favored attributes otherwise. In the other hand, warriors are favored as tanks as their main attribute (strength) beside determining the basic damage done also serves to calculate the chances to ignore or reduce some disabling effects like knock back or stun.

 

Although you remain in control of the whole inventory for your own character, the biggest twist about your party management is certainly the fact that you can't anymore change your companions outfits. These ones are defined for each companion  à la Mass Effect 2 and evolve with them the only customize option you have being to find (mostly buy) upgrades for each companion armor. Those upgrades cannot be fitted to any companion, each of them is specifically tailored for one companion. This was supposed to allow each companion to have his/her own defined style tailored to his/her own personality so in fact they were supposed to increase the personality impact of each companion. Unfortunately, companion personalities are not all about how they look. To put it simply, the personalities of your companions in DA:O were more marked despite the fact that they could all be dressed in the same standard armor.

 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

Recycling is good... for the environment

 

I had the obviously wrong idea that Bioware definitely abandoned area recycling after the first Mass Effect. As a matter of fact in both Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origin it was impossible to find a new area that looked exactly like one you already explored before. Sadly this is no longer true in Dragon Age 2 where recycled areas make their big comeback, at least as far a side-quests location are concerned.

 

In all, there's no more than 2 basic cave designs, 2 mansion interior designs, 2 Deep Roads designs, a couple of outside area designs and you spend your time exploring those. To make the thing a bit more intriguing, Bioware changed the entry points, the furniture, in some cases the lighting and open or close some door/passages in an attempt to trick us into thinking that it is not the exact same area we already explored a gazillion times. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. The feeling of dejà vu is already there the first time you go to explore a second cave that is supposed to be distinct from the first one you explored previously but however looks amazingly similar and it only gets worse after that.

 

Recycling may be good for the environment but definitely not for games.


 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

I'm Hi-Tech

 

Technically, Dragon Age 2 applies a scheme that to some is utterly curious. In the facts, the game only support DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 but allow playing with DirectX 10 cards (as DX10 commands can be sent via DX11). That is not going without some effects depending on what OS version and card you possess. So here's the deal:

 

For Windows XP/Vista and 7:

DirectX 9 (Windows XP/Vista/7) plus any supported card = play with low or medium quality settings

 

For Windows Vista and 7:

DirectX 11 plus supported DX10 card = play up to high quality settings

DirectX 11 plus DX11 card = play up to very high quality (max) settings

 

So if you still run XP you'll be limited to low or medium quality, no matter the card you have as XP is DX9 only. If you have Vista or Seven and a DX10 graphic card you'll be able to play with up to high quality settings, very high quality settings being only achieved with Vista/Seven AND a DX11 card (AMD/ATI HD5xxx or HD6xxx series and Nvidia 4xx and 5xx series).

 

Additionally Bioware released on the same day as the game a HD texture pack (that curiously wasn't included on the game DVD and must be downloaded separately even if you bought the retail version of the game). Officially though, this texture pack is only working if you run the game in DX11 with a DX11 card. Too bad because without this textures pack, vanilla textures looks like crap, especially when playing in high quality mode.

 

But running the game in DX11 with very high quality settings engaged is not necessarily worth it anyway. The only real big change between high and very high setting being the use of DX11 tessellation capability (DX11 creates polygons from textures, instead of just having “flat” textures). But that has a cost. On current middle range hardware such as the Radeon HD6850 card, your framerate is cut in half, the visual gain not really compensating the framerate loss. If your computer is powerful enough, the game is still playable but may become sluggish in some areas.

 

Dragon Age 2: Rise To Power

 

So what do you make of that Sherlock?

 

It's not that Dragon Age 2 is a very bad game. Would it have been developed by a newcomer on the video gaming scene I would have qualified it of “promising albeit quickly wrapped with significant room for improvement”. But this is Bioware we're talking about. They are not newcomers, they are some of the best in the industry when it comes to RPG and Dragon Age 2 just does not meet the bare minimal expectations I have when I put a Bioware product in my drive. I was replaying Mass Effect (the first one) the other day and it is just so much better when it comes to characterization and storyline handling. Mass Effect 2 was even better in these areas.

 

But after having replayed (yeah I am that masochist) the game a couple more times I decided to go and play the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, and I realized something amazing: Dragon Age 2 storyline barely accomplishes anything more than the story-bridging Arrival; it's just an over-sized story bridge between the Dragon Age: Origin universe and the probable Dragon Age 3. It sets most of the stuff that will play a role in Dragon Age 3 but does not let the player be really involved in it -- indeed some of your DA2 companions have more impact on the storyline than your own character (despite his big -- and over-hyped as far as I'm concerned -- "Champion" title). Whereas Arrival lasts about 1 hour and a half however, Dragon Age 2 roughly average 38 hours. 38 hours for a story-bridge; was it really worth a game? Why not a book instead?

 

Finally it's this feeling to just get a fourth of a real Bioware game that is probably the most disconcerting , especially for a story that is supposed to last about 10 years. Dragon Age: Origin lasts just one year and the possible combinations were endless when compared to DA2.

 

With Dragon Age 2, Bioware just offers us some kind of hack and slash sub-product that they shouldn't be proud of. It's obvious they tried to build a more enjoyable and accessible gameplay but doing so it's like if they dropped the ball on the aspects that always make their games successful to me. And that is seriously worrying. Those of you who read our reviews of other Bioware products on the Foxhole know how much we generally appreciate Bioware games and for what reasons we do. It makes the very average note of Dragon Age 2 even more painful. So let's make that a warning... Wrong move Bioware. Just let it be the only one you make.

 

 

Review summary 5.0/10
Pros Cons
The narration of the story by Varric is a nice trick
*
A more enjoyable combat system
*
It could be much worse... I guess
General storyline inconsistancies that may be aggravated if you import a savegame where you made choices that are contrary to Bioware "canon"
*
Bad companionship handling that may make players emotionally detached from the NPCs they should care about
*
Lack of participation of the main character in any big decision making of the player a spectator to the big events more than anything else
*
The persona concept denies all kind of flexibility to the player regarding how a specific situation could be handled.
 

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