Dragon Age 2 – New Features, What Does And Doesn’t Work, Does It Live Up To The Hype?


Dragon Age 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to Bioware’s critically acclaimed epic dark fantasy of 2009, Dragon Age: Origins. Prior to its release, DA2 received no small amount of attention and hype, largely in part due to Origins’ sustained popularity and success.

Dragon Age 2 is presented as a recollective narrative, told from the perspective of Varric Tethras while under interrogation by Chantry Seeker, Cassandra Pentaghast.

Story

Set alongside the events of Origins/Awakening and further spanning the course of the next ten years, DA2 follows the rise to power, wealth and prestige of one Garrett Hawke, a Ferelden who flees to Kirkwall following the darkspawn destruction of Lothering during the Fifth Blight.

As a newly arrived refugee with nothing to his name, Hawke is forced to carve out a pittance of a living in an unforgiving new environment, undertaking various quests at the behest of numerous individuals and entities within Kirkwall. With each passing year, Hawke’s adventures and accomplishments bring him no small amount of fame and wealth, garnering him the adoration of the people and the attention of the upper echelon of Kirkwall.

As our hero climbs up the social ladder of the City of Chains, the nature of the challenges he faces grows significantly dire, pitting him against the likes of blood Mages, rogue Templars, demons of the Fade and most notably, the Qunari threat, By the end of the decade, the newly risen Champion’s troubles are far from over as tensions between Kirkwall’s Circle of Magi and the Templars grow highly volatile, eventually escalating into a city wide war that foreseeably threatens the stability of all of Thedas.

For my first playthrough, I experienced DA2′s storyline from the perspective of a male Mage, adhering to what I believe serves as the game’s true canon. Throughout the course of its early and mid game content, DA2′s storyline seemed especially slow, uninteresting and lacking in direction. Additionally, due to the manner of which Varric’s narrative unfolds, the game often takes liberties with ‘skipping’ through plot points over the course of the decade, resulting in a storyline experience that I found to be erratic and somewhat detached.

As DA2 approaches the final act however, many of its early subplots begin to come full circle, often culminating in hard hitting revelations or outcomes that strike close to Hawke and his companions. The game reveals as well that many early and mid game plot devices are in fact related and contribute towards the nature of its climax and conclusion.

Dialogue Mechanics

Dragon Age 2 is built on what has been billed as a technological upgrade of the very engine that supported Origins. It comes as no surprised then that while DA2 has been toted by many as an experience vastly different from Origins, it actually does retain many of its predecessor’s gameplay features and routines, with a number of significant improvements to boot.

For starters, one of the biggest changes that everyone should be acquainted with by now is the new dialogue system, featuring fully voices male and female protagonists and a Mass Effect inspired dialogue wheel.

It goes without saying that having a fully voiced lead protagonist lends towards a more immersive experience, effectively creating for the game character focus that is engaging, relatable and most importantly, human.

As for the dialogue wheel (and its accompanying tone symbols), it is but one of DA2′s many new features aimed at streamlining the Dragon Age gaming experience. Although DA2′s dialogue system might strike many as shallow or excessively simplified, it doesn’t exactly steal from the game’s conversational depth. In fact, the dialogue wheel and its tone symbols provide a more accessible and straightforward mode of gameplay without any additional hassle.

Classes and Specializations

Class wise, I found DA2 to be very balanced. Gone are the days where a player could simply wipe any given dungeon or encounter with either a lone buffed character or repeated usage of a power build and/or spell combination. Co-ordination and pacing within a player’s team is paramount, especially so for DA2′s boss encounters, even on lower difficulties.

Much like its predecessor, DA2 offers players a selection of three primary classes, namely the Rogue, Mage and Warrior, each of which boasts a sizable array of talent sets and class specializations. As with the dialogue system class mechanics have been significantly streamlined, so much so that players will like it find it considerably easier to choose and build their characters according to very specific molds.

Additionally, players will be further required to deeply consider the strategic and tactical elements of their chosen character guilds as active skills come few and far between (heals especially), some of which require the activation of specific sustainable modes, not to mention their lengthy cooldowns.

On a rather negative note, DA2′s class mechanics don’t quite allow for a very customization character route of advancement or combat experience. Of particular note, I was rather annoyed at the omission of the option to Dual-Wield as a Warrior (my most played class/weapon mode in Origins) and the Arcane Warrior class specialization.

Combat

As I’ve mentioned in my demo review, combat is DA2 is a vast improvement over that of Origins. Though the underlying mechanics and routines remain largely similar, DA2′s combat system is by and far more graphic, stylish, hard-hitting, action-oriented and most importantly, measurably faster. While it doesn’t exactly come anywhere close to the brutal nature of modern hack-and-slash games, DA2 definitely provides for an experience far more exhilarating that its sluggish predecessor.

Enemy and Boss Behavior

Enemy and boss behavior have too been given a much needed overhaul. Unlike the static and one-dimensional nature of Origins’ mob distribution, enemies in DA2 now take the offensive in successive waves, spanning mobs of varying ranks. As such, players will not only be required pace themselves and their ability usage, but to also watch for additional and increasingly difficult spawns in the midst of battle that may conceivably cause a party wipe.

Bosses in DA2, notably the major storyline encounters, have been given somewhat of an MMO treatment. Simply put, non-dynamic, tank-and-spank, and DPS-race boss encounters are but a thing of the past, making way for phased encounters, conditional adds and spawns, boss specific ability usage and long endurance battles (especially so for highly ranked bosses with copious amounts of health).

Personally, as an MMO gamer at heart, the boss encounter overhaul is definitely a much welcomed feature in DA2. I find that it adds a great deal of gameplay dynamic, challenge and fluff/lore credence to the game’s major bosses and encounters (I.E. bosses living to the hype of the storyline).

Quests and Content

With regards to quests on their associated content, I wasn’t all too pleased with the game’s general lack of direction and innovation. A large majority of DA2′s quests were designed in adherence to seemingly standard and overused quest archetypes, most of which involve package deliveries and/or retrievals, slaying specific targets or simply a full blown dungeon crawl/clear.

The game doesn’t reveal much in the way of Hawke’s end game beyond the unspoken need to ‘support his family’ and ‘to rise up to social ladder of Kirkwall’. There isn’t a central focus or objective for players to anticipate or work towards, not to mention any cause to fight for, not until the later portion of Act 2 at least. As such, beyond the primary campaign leading up to DA2′s climax, most of the game’s side and secondary quests struck me as aimless filler there were an all round chore to complete.

Companions and Romance

As with the trend of pretty much ALL Bioware games, Dragon Age 2 features player companions along with the added option of interacting, romancing and fornicating (off-screen) with members of your motley crew.

Hawke’s companions’ classes more or less mirror that of the game’s three primary classes. Unlike the player character however, companions do not receive full access to the three specializations for each respective primary class. Rather, each companion possesses a single character specific specialization that is uniquely designed to fit the companion’s lore and personage. While this adds to the depth, uniqueness and character of each individual companion, it is highly inflexible and greatly limits the customizability for companion and party alike.

Yet another issue that stifles companion gameplay lies in the inability to customize a companion’s armor set. At best, players are granted free reign over their companions’ main weapons and accessories while armor largely remains a constant, save a handful of applicable upgrades obtainable via quests and merchants.

Essentially, class and gear mechanics considered, companions in DA2 are forced into painfully narrow progression tracks, with little wiggle room to explore or experiment with character and/or party builds.

Mechanics aside, each individual companion possesses considerable depth in terms of character, personality, beliefs and back story. The companions’ strong sense of individuality is further accentuated by DA2′s friendship/rivalry system in which a player’s actions prompt responses that further highlight their personal attitude and beliefs towards key storyline elements, a considerable and more dynamic improvement over Origins’ static positive/negative nett approval system.

Unfortunately, opportunities for players to initiate conversations and/or deeply engage their companions, romantically or otherwise, come few and far between. Mostly, said opportunities are limited to companion quests and events that may either or are conditionally triggered.

Regardless, a little romance (and implied romping) never hurts.

Graphics

Graphically, Dragon Age 2 comes as quite the improvement over its predecessor, albeit not by much. As a whole, DA2 boasts a rather distinct change in art direction, featuring stylized character and weapon models, better lightning, greater graphical detail, increased gore effects and textures of higher resolution. Of particular note, auto-attack, spell and skill animation have been significantly expanded upon and embellished.

Despite all this however, DA2 not only still largely looks and feels like Origins, it also seems to have inherited some of its predecessor’s flaws. As a quick example, DA2′s character animation sequences out of combat still look as unnatural and rigid as the first game. Simply put, all improvements considered, the game doesn’t break new aesthetic ground and will likely come up short when stacked up against other leading titles in the market.

Conclusion

Does Dragon Age 2 live up to its pre-release hype and anticipation? Well, suffice to say, I was pretty disappointed. Still, it wasn’t a total blowout. As with all games, it has its fair share of positives and negatives and all things considered, I (kind of) liked it.

Compared to Origins, Dragon Age 2 has been significantly streamlined, simplified almost, in favor of ease of use and accessibility. As a whole, the game feels faster, cleaner, smoother and is by and far more exhilarating and enjoyable to player. On the downside, the game sorely lacks in terms of mechanical depth and potential customizability.

DA2′s storyline definitely leaves more to be desired. As mentioned, the game lacks a great deal of direction and focus, especially so for the first couple of Acts, resulting in a detached, artificial and somewhat tiresome gameplay experience. However, as we approach the final Act of DA2, the story manages to salvage itself to a good measure, topping off with a ‘cliffhanger’ epilogue that reveals just enough to leave players yearning for more.

In closing, Dragon Age 2 does bear the burden of a good number of striking flaws and certain game features that I highly disagree with. Regardless, I generally enjoyed the game. It definitely wasn’t as awe-inspiring as I’d thought it’d be, but it gets the job of continuing the franchise done. As far as my opinions go, it makes for a pretty solid modern RPG, albeit with massive room for improvement (here’s where them community mods come in). Despite being a sequel, DA2 holds up considerably well as a standalone, though I firmly believe that my experience was further heightened in lieu of my experience with Origins and knowledge of the franchise.



Source by Michael Lim Han Kwang
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