Dragon Age 2 was always going to have a lot to live up to. While Dragon Age wasn’t perfect, nor quite as innovative and different as it had said it was going to be, it made a big impact, created a more adult vibe in many other CRPGs and set a standard – as BioWare has with many of its previous games. Dragon Age II doesn’t really manage to live up to the promise of the first game, nor does it match up to the level of development and advancement that went with Mass Effect from its first to its second game. Though it’s still good, compared to the previous it’s still a bit of a disappointment, albeit a slight one.
The story in DAII is not as grand and sweeping as the first game and this is part, perhaps, of what makes the game suffer relative to its predecessor. The action is largely limited to a single city – Kirkwall – and its immediate surroundings and is a much more intimate and claustrophobic story. Rather than dealing with a big threat, the Darkspawn, it deals more with the background issues of the game world, specifically the conflict between the mages and the templars.
While the racism issues of the background raise their heads again it’s less to do with the plight of the elves and more to do with the presence of the Qunari and their peculiar religion and the threat it and they represent to the established order and religion. This ‘sub plot’ takes up the majority of the game and seems like the dominant storyline until things are switched at the end. It seems a touch crude compared to the relative subtlety of the plotting of the first game but it’s obviously a topic that still touches nerves and interests people – for obvious reasons.
The racism issues also come about with the status of your character as a refugee from Ferelden, fleeing from the disaster in the first Dragon Age. You and many others have fled, hoping to escape the Darkspawn but you’re not welcome. The city of Kirkwall can’t cope with all these refugees and people are looking to their own defence and lives, rather than dealing with the troubles of others.
You have to start at the bottom, with nothing, building up from refugee status to reach the top of the pile once more.
A major difference in the game from the first one is that you have much less control over your character, your background and how the story unfolds. This does simplify things but after having so much more choice in the previous game it does diminish your involvement in the story. It becomes how you act and the choices you make that determine your character, rather than decisions about your character that determine the choices you might make.
Eventually you become a glorious champion of the city, respected and even loved, in a position to intervene one way or the other between the opposing mages and templars.
Similarly to Mass Effect gameplay has been simplified (or dumbed down, depending on your point of view) but where Mass Effect didn’t suffer and, perhaps, gained from this, in DAII it feels like the simplification is to the relative detriment of the game. Lacking the third-person point and shoot mechanic of Mass Effect I think you need a bit more ‘crunch’ to draw you into the game and make you care about the decisions. Not having full control over the equipping of your comrades was a particular niggle, especially as it means you end up with a hell of a lot of unusuable junk. Combat is hectic, but also somewhat niggly with more and more enemies simply spawning – seemingly out of nowhere – around you to continue the fight. It really makes little sense and has no real rhyme or reason to it.
Controls are fairly standard for a third-person game. You use the thumbsticks to run around and shift your view, locking onto enemies or objects with direction and proximity. Basic attacks are made with the bottom button and you access (some) of your other abilities with the other three buttons and swapping to another three abilities with a trigger. You can access other, less often used abilities, by pausing and selecting from a wheel of options.
Sacrifices for gameplay stop the city of Kirkwall feeling quite as cramped and claustrophobic as, perhaps, it should. The streets also feel somewhat empty and the city feels more like a ‘set’ than a living city. Normally this wouldn’t be that much of a problem but when you look at other games like, say Assassin’s Creed or GTA, it does seem more lacklustre. Expectations are simply higher these days.
The set pieces and voice acting are good, but are still somewhat wooden. There’s not much noticable improvement over the previous incarnation of the game. While the plotting and writing is good, some items that should take more time and have more emotional impact don’t and others that aren’t so important to the plot and character development do – or take too much time.
Overall I just didn’t feel as drawn into the game world as I was before, perhaps because my emotional connection to the main (or at least final) plot was taken away, removing emotional context from later decisions. Another part of this is that the conflict was so local, it didn’t feel like there were high stakes or that my decisions were as important, another barrier to getting involved and drawn in.
Disappointingly these haven’t really recieved much of an upgrade – if any – since the first DA which was already somewhat dated looking. Mass Effect doesn’t look this dated or even ‘crude’. This also detracts from some of the cutscenes which end up looking wooden and reminiscent of a Gerry Anderson production, rather than a current generation game. Story makes up for a lot, but a bit more polish would make the game a diamond rather than a zirconium.
A good game that suffers from comparison with its predecessor and with the – similar but different – Mass Effect. It also suffers from not being quite up to snuff graphically with other modern games. The writing is still top notch but compared to the first DA, DAII feels unpolished, somewhat incomplete and ‘small’.
On the Plus Side
- Fantastic companions with great dialogue.
- Great writing.
- Rounds out the DA world a great deal.
On the Minus Side
- Crude graphics – by current standards.
- Nonsensical battles.
- Disappointing compared to its peers.