Dragon Age 2 Review
Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins was a hit with fans. Does the sequel live up to the lofty heights of its predecessor?
I just finished my first playthrough of Dragon Age 2 and I can say that I truly enjoyed it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Overall I was pleased with the game, even with my many complaints.
The Techy Stuff
Generally speaking the game looked and ran pretty well. There was some flickering with the graphics throughout, the occasional hitching up of cut scenes but nothing I couldn’t deal with. I got lucky in that all (if I recall correctly) of the flags from my Dragon Age: Origins import were correct. Things mostly went to hell once I entered Act 3. This was where it became really apparent that Dragon Age 2 was a rush job. There are things that are just sloppy. In act 3 my combat started glitching constantly to the point where I couldn’t even attack sometimes. There were quests I couldn’t finish because they simply weren’t there. Things just didn’t work properly, and it was increasingly frustrating.
The Gameplay Stuff
Combat in Dragon Age 2 at first seems very button mashy and boring, especially at the lower levels when your protagonist doesn’t have any activated skills or spells to really sink their teeth into yet. As time went on, however I started feeling like a total badass working the hotkeys and radial menu like a boss while my rogue ninja owned everything around her. The boss battles were nice and challenging, requiring some real strategy to win. Plus everything just looked really beautiful. No complaints about the combat, inventory, menus and all that other good stuff.
There was a lot of stuff that felt like mindless grinding, I have to admit. The amount of sidequests in the game is ridiculous. I am a fan of this as normally I am a sidequest whore. Some of them could have been completely done away with though. There were quests I didn’t even know I was on because no one really gave them to me. Suddenly I have some random item in my possession and some random person to give it to. Great for XP, but that’s all it was. There was no conversation, no validation that it was an actual quest, nothing. A lot of fetch quests. I would have preferred that they added more to the main plot and skimmed down the sidequests, but again this is where that whole rushed, somewhat lazy writing comes in.
The Story Stuff
I enjoyed the characters of the game. I didn’t fall in love with them the way I did with the characters from Origins, but they were pretty well rounded as far as being flawed, believable people. At worst they suffered from some bad writing on occasion, another reminder of how quickly this game was finished. The party banter was particularly enjoyable and invaluable in getting to know my companions. I sort of wished I could have had conversations with them whenever I wanted like in Origins though, because as a result by the end I still felt really disconnected to them for the most part. I understand that you’re supposed to infer that Hawke has been getting to know these characters in the “off camera” time and passages of time, but it didn’t really work for me.
Neither did the passing of time. The passage of time was handled poorly. Which is a shame because it could have been amazing. It should have been amazing. I was really excited for this because it was something no game had ever done, at least not well. Aside from people saying “well three years have passed since [insert climactic event here]” there was no feeling of passing time. From the moment Hawke defeated the Qunari Arishok to the jump to three years later might as well have been over night for me. They could have at the very least changed the outfits of the main characters. I understand that people have a favorite shirt, but come on.
As for the main plot – there really wasn’t one. As a person who appreciates a grand narrative, I was disappointed, but I enjoyed playing the game enough that I was able to sort of shrug it off and go with the flow. In the end though everything felt a little meaningless. There was no Big Bad. No Blight to conquer, no grand adventure, no heroic main quest line. Basically Hawke is just…hanging out…in her house…in her robe…occasionally fixing other peoples’ problems.
In the end there was no real payoff for my protagonist. The end of the game left me feeling hollow with a bitter taste in my mouth, mostly because there was nothing I could do to prevent any of it. None of my choices mattered, which is a huge disappointment for a Bioware game. My Hawke lost everything that ever mattered to her, everything she ever loved. There is no happy ending here. Her brother Carver? Dead in the first act. Mother? horrifically murdered. Anders, the man she loved transforms into a psychotic terrorist. Then certain friends leave in a huff as well depending on who you side with in the end. Hell, even Bodahn and Sandal leave Hawke. She has nothing but her big empty house and bittersweet memories of family, friends and love lost, all amidst a backdrop of an infuriating political SNAFU that’s left hundreds of people dead. Umm….Hooray I won
And to make matters worse, all of this stuff happens no matter what you do. You cannot prevent the death of your sibling, the murder of your mother or the psychotic break that Anders has. This leaves little desire for replaying for me. The annoying thing about it is that Bioware goes to great lengths to make you think that you can affect the outcome of events. Where is the big “choices matter” aspect, Bioware? There is no choice. There is a set story that never changes. For example, Hawke’s mother is brutally murdered by a serial killer no matter what you do, but before this happens there is an entire time consuming questline where you make decisions and take actions that make you think Hawke will have an effect on the outcome. Why would I want to replay that if nothing I “decide” affects anything? It feels manipulative, like Bioware is presenting the illusion of choice even though there are actually no real choices in the game. You can only choose how to react to the events that are already set in stone. But your reactions have no real consequence. They just want you to feel like they do.
If I were going to give Dragon Age 2 a score from 1-10, 1 being “piece of crap” and 10 being “best game ever made” I would have to go with a 7. Enjoyable, playable, likeable. I really enjoyed it and will probably force myself to play it again. But it was rushed, and it was very clear that Bioware simply didn’t have their hearts in it. Bioware can and has done much better. In fact, this is not really a Bioware game in any of the ways I’ve come to love from Bioware. Nothing that I have ever loved about Bioware games was present. Good game? Sure I guess. Epic awesomeness exemplary of what Bioware can do? Not even close.