Warning: Review May Contain Spoilers
Dragon Age: Origins was a very solid game to enter the market for all the old school RPGers. Sure, it was a tad watered down compared to the classics like Baldur’s Gate (I & II) and even the streamlined Neverwinter’s Night 1, but it made some lasting appeal with its epic campaign and endless hours of gameplay. Dragon Age II, however, was something that, in comparison to the first, was a vast departure from the tried and true of its predecessor. The Main Character + 3 party system remained intact, but other than that, the game held little resemblance to what many returning gamers were expecting.
Let’s start with the combat in the game: on the plus sides, combat was sped up immensely to make the game feel more interactive and responsive to the player, and, as some might even say, more fun. However, the biggest thing that veterans will notice is missing is the tactical view, earning, from this reviewer, a giant “WTF Bioware?” As a result, the game feels watered down. Sure you can leap from character to character setting up their queue, but you could do that in most games, and sure you can nuke a target still, but the feeling of synergy present in the first feels sterile and unloved now. Instead of feeling oh-so-witty when you came up with some amazing combo in the first game, like my personal favorite of repulsion into a paralysis within an entropy cloud (at least I thought it was pretty cool…), the combos now feel like they are premade with the cross-class-combos. Sure they’ll help you maximize your DPS if you’re into power gaming, but they just don’t feel the same in my opinion. Once again on the plus side, you see that your teammates now have unique skills that make them valuable in combat, incentivizing you to take them for utility over aesthetics, something which I fell prey to in DA1, however, once when you realize that they took out most of the specializations for your allies, you no longer get the feeling of customization that was in the previous where you could specialize your party to something you saw fit for supporting the main character, but are now forced to simply take the characters that already compliment how you play, almost backfiring the intended purpose.
But enough about combat; being a fan of traditional RPGs that was not what mattered to me most, what did was the story! DA1 was epic, on all counts. You were gallivanting across the world boning hot women, saving each city from itself to ultimately save the world, the definition of epic. However DA2 feels almost schizophrenic in its story telling. For the first 2/3 of the game, you’re chasing phantoms. The game makes no pretense that they’re almost completely unrelated to the climax. Except for a slight link with the first part of the game (you finding the idol that eventually drives the oh-so-generic self-righteous bad-guy insane), the section about you being a refuge and trying to find your place in Kirkwall with the Qunari seem as if they’re just there. You could take them out easily and the third chapter would still make sense. It’s almost as if the same feeling the player gets, stumbling around the world doing random shenanigans to somewhat push around the vaporous plot, is what the game itself is experiencing, just stumbling through until it picks something up and runs with it. The crew at Bioware even stated that they were trying to do something out of the ordinary with the plot and trying to avoid the “big bad guy is introduced in the beginning and you work your way through the game to stop him, (not the exact quote but you get the point).” But did it work? In one sense, yes. They achieved their goal, it most definitely feels like a more real recounting of some hero’s rise to power etc. But does it work for a good gameplay experience? I say a resounding: kinda… There is most definitely tension in the plot, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing to give the same epic feel that was gotten within DA1. In retrospect you realize that literally the 2nd part (the Qunari part) is game fluff to pad out the time. There is literally NOTHING connecting it to the overarching “evil” of the game. Yes, Qunari were terrorizing the city, but so what? Why did I care in the end? Well, I didn’t. I felt bad when I killed the Arishok because I actually empathized with him and understood his point of view. However, I felt nothing emotionally when I killed Meredith because she was simply not in the game for most of it. I didn’t develop a hatred of her because I’d only spent like 5 hours dealing with her whereas with the Artishok I spent about 15 up until his death. Because the whole plot is centered around Hawke killing Meredith and eventually collapsing the Chantry, when I finished the game I felt confused. That certainly couldn’t be the whole game could it? No giant war with the Qunari? Because they had set it up to make the Qunari seem like the biggest bad guy, I felt robbed. Ultimately, the game is very anti-climatic. They try to avoid clichés in the game, but end up falling into a bunch of them, mainly the billion stage FF-esque ridiculous final boss fight.
So where does this game end up. Whereas DA1 ended up as an eighteen on the D20 Meter, (90% for you shooter players) DA2 lands a 15 (75%). It’s not a bad game, not in the least. It adds many fun things to the franchise like excellent characters and fun gameplay, but as an RPG and plot go, it falls very short. If you like action games, you’ll love it. If you’re a deeper gamer, you’ll be left, like I was, feeling that it came close but nowhere near where it should have landed.