The Rise to Power begins...
I was a big fan of Dragon Age: Origins and I devoured that game over nearly 100+ hours, spent between the core story, side-quests, numerous explorations and every bit of story-based DLC that I could get my hands on. I actually played the console version and I loved every minute of it, it evoked a yester-year of Baldurís Gate style PC love and I was enthralled with my Wardenís journey.
Flash forwards now to Dragon Age 2, my Warden is elsewhere and I have a new hero to look after Ė Hawke, a refugee from the Fall of Lothering, one of the few to escape the Blight and find themselves on the shores of the Free Marches in the City of Chains, Kirkwall. Dragon Age 2 has been on my mind for a while now and Iíve finally gotten to play a good chunk of the game on the Xbox 360 on a retail disc. Warning, this review is quite indepth and if you donít care to read the following, you can skip to the end for a summary.Story
Dragon Age 2 uses a storytelling trick known as: framed narrative, itís been used a couple of times, in games like Alpha Protocol for instance and it is used to excellent effect here in Dragon Age 2. Your characterís story is told through the tales of one of your companions, Varric, a rather dapper dwarf who is clean shaven and has a silver tongue. In each segment Varric chronicles the rise to power of the Champion of Kirkwall with a little vignette and interactions with a Seeker from the Chantry.
The framed narrative trick is perfect for this, you get to play the events that Varric is obviously talking about and the choice is yours how you progress through each time-period. It doesnít feel jarring at all and it has been masterfully used to create a compelling and well-designed narrative that lets you experience a rise to power where your character actually means something to the world.
I wonít say anything else upon the story, because I loathe spoilers.Save System
Edit: a late addition to the review, this system is quicker and faster than Dragon Age. Upon loading it's quicker too. What's a lot better about DA 2 is the autosave system, which is seamless and happens in the background without spoiling the flow of the game.Gameplay
Dragon Age 2 has taken the gameplay from Origins and smoothed it out, refined many of the features and given an overhaul to the first game, rather like Bioware did with Mass Effect 2 and to my mind, Dragon Age 2 doesnít suffer at all for it. Now I know there are probably Dragon Age vets out there that are upset by the changes, but if you donít give the game a full chance, youíre doing Bioware a disservice and missing out on a truly good game. Change isnít always bad, and it isnít always good. There are numerous reasons for evolution of something and if it remains the same, well, it stagnates. That said thereís a few changes that Iíd like to bring to light in this review:
1. Character generation. Since Hawke is rather like Commander Sheppard, and fully voiced this time around (Male or Female Hawke), human is the only default choice and there are 3 classes to pick, mage, rogue, warrior. You can fiddle with your Hawkeís features and change quite a few parameters like you could in Mass Effect 2. You can change the first name and pick one of 3 starting backgrounds that shape the world for Dragon Age 2, if you never played Origins. If you did play Origins, you can import a save game character and Dragon Age 2 will adapt the world to the choices that you made in the first game.
One interesting thing to note, your Hawkeís features affect those of your family members...just play around and you should spot that.
2. Combat: Combat has changed quite drastically from the first game; it feels more intuitive and definitely more visceral. It is first and foremost an action-rpg combat system and thereís actually a deep layer of tactical option remaining if you choose to look closer. You can mash the A button to do basic attacks or trigger any of your mapped powers at any time, as long as you have the mana or stamina. Thatís all well and good, but even on Casual there are some very tough fights if you donít know your way around the combat system.
Cross-class combos are a must in that case, where you can set up an effect like Brittle with a Mage, and a Warrior can smash them. Or you can Stagger a foe and have Mages deliver a Chain Lightning. There are a few combinations to experiment with and Cross-class combos do amazing amounts of damage. Then you can pause the game and issue specific orders. I actually recommend using this option in quite a few of the bigger fights, picking out dangerous magic users and boss characters and setting them up for some tactical takedowns.
You get out of this system what you put into it. So if youíre after a Fable style combat experience, just mash the A button. If you want something deeper, pause, think and plan your battle tactics. Why not have Varric fire a Hail of Arrows into a crowded mob of lesser foes and then target a main boss with something from any of the other companions that does highly focussed damage against a single foe?
Experiment, itís not just a pure action game.
3. Inventory: The inventory has changed since Dragon Age, youíre no longer battling with it and itís simple to use. Youíre not mix-matching every set of armour for every character. Each NPC has their own unique armour set and you can find upgrades for those if you explore around the various city and wilderness locations. NPCs can equip a variety of weapons and youíll change those quite a lot as new gear pops up from various places, you can also manage their amulets and rings. Hawkeís armour is broken down into chest, hands, feet and head. You can mix the right armour for your character if you so desire as long as you have the stats to use it.
All loot objects are now classified as Junk and appear under that tab in your inventory, allowing you to sell them en-masse at the various shops that are littered around Kirkwall. Crafting resources are listed separately and weíll talk about Crafting right now.
Comparing items is easier too, you can see at a glance what the benefits and drawbacks are to each piece of equipment against that piece you have equipped.
4. Crafting: Another change to Dragon Age 2, a smoother craft system. You find resources that go into a central stock pile and you can order various runes, potions, bombs so forth from the crafters in the game. You have a character base that also has these craft stations. Each item costs a certain amount in coin but requires a specific set of resources; theyíre not consumed once the item is made so you donít have to keep on replenishing the resource.
Enchantment is another part of crafting and thatís changed, you can put runes into your equipment once again, however, the runes are destroyed if you replace the old rune...so you canít pull them back out.
5. The ability menu: The power wheel is back and itís easier to navigate than before, you can very quickly pick the power you want to use and holding down the left trigger (you can change this option to toggle it in the menu) and selecting it from the radial menu. The icons are easier to read and thereís all the information you need right there to choose the right power for the battle at hand.