The roommate and I picked up Dragon Age 2 day one, and that’s all I’ve played since we got it. I finished campaign number one and have been slowly working my way through a second. There were a few disappointments, but overall I enjoyed it more than the first. I found it quite a bit more accessible and the graphics were much improved. Some of the accessibility took away from certain aspects I liked in the first game, such as party customization, but that was fairly easy to look past. Everything I noticed as a change in gameplay was primarily there to make the experience easier, which some people approve of, and some don’t. For those looking for a hardcore RPG, it might be wise to look elsewhere. Dragon Age 2 is designed for people who want a fun story, but don’t want to spend much time on little details. The improved graphics is something I’m sure most people who played the first one can appreciate. They are far smoother and improved graphics have also led to prettier characters and designs for armor, weapons, and such. The change isn’t monumental, but it is pleasantly noticeable.
Dragon Age 2 takes place during and after the events of Origins, but involves a different set of characters, with minor crossovers. Without spoiling much past the first act Isabella (or Dirty Pirate Hooker) and Flemeth are both returning characters. Isabella joins the game as a party member and Flemeth plays her role as an ominous presence throughout the game. Also available to the party is Anders, the escapist mage from Awakening. Many might know him as Alistair 2.0, though I still personally prefer Alistair. Several other characters from the first game make appearances, but mostly only in side quests with no real effect on the rest of the story.
The main character, Hawke, can be male or female, and rogue, warrior, or mage. The story is being told by the dwarf, Varric (also a party member), as he is interrogated by a woman named Cassandra. The story unfolds over three acts, and we really don’t know why this woman is looking for the Hawke until the end. All we know is that the world is on the brink of war and Cassandra is trying to find the location of the Champion of Kirkwall, aka, us. Bits and pieces of story are hinted at along the way, but writers tried extra hard to make sure everything remained vague until the very end. Instead we work our way up from a fleeing immigrant of Lothering, a town destroyed by the Blight in the first game, to wealthy champions embroiled in a battle between Templars and mages. The darkspawn from the first game are still a threat, though they seem to be only minor inconveniences and only pop up on occasion. The main enemies in Dragon Age 2 are magic-based. We see the return of abominations, shades, and demons and they are a common theme through most areas.
As is customary with BioWare games, choice determines the game. Almost every choice players make will have some effect on the game, as well as inevitably piss someone in our party off. Not all choices are game altering, but many quests will have reaction events depending on how we decide to act in a given situation. I would definitely recommend saving often and keeping several different save files, just in case you play like me and speak to important people with the specific goal of making them angry. ProTip: Characters will hate you for this, and that is bad. Unfortunately, Varric is the only easy-going person in the game, so picking other party members with similar sensibilities is a wise move. For example, putting a mage character and either Fenris or Sebastian (only available The Exiled Prince DLC) is a recipe for rivalry for one of the characters. Of course, as with the first game it is possible to have a relationship with the characters, and with the exception of Sebastian, all potential love interests are available for either gender Hawke. Note for those interested: Sebastian is absolutely beautiful, but starting a relationship with him is a pain, and if you’re like me, will end in throwing the controller down and cursing chaste marriages.
Another returning feature is the class specializations. Based on the class players pick, they will have three specializations to choose from. They will get one specialization at level seven, and another at level fourteen, leaving the third out in the cold. However, unlike in the first game, Dragon Age 2 does not offer this specialization for party members. They come with their own special set of skills which are unique to the character and can be accessed at level seven. Players can still pick and choose amongst party member attributes and abilities, but they can no longer change out character’s armor sets. This is only a minor change, and is just one of those aspects that make it less necessary to pay attention to the other characters.
The game takes place almost entirely within the city of Kirkwall, with a few quests venturing to the nearby mountain area, but travel is much improved over the last game. Rather than a set “Party Camp” location, players can interact with teammates at a base of the character’s choosing. For instance, Varric and Isabella camp out at the local pub, but characters like Sebastian would not be found there. It is important to check up with characters periodically in order to build relationships with them so when the time comes to choose, they will choose to stay at the player’s side. I lost some good characters on my first play through because I didn’t bother to stop and chat with them occasionally.
Fans of Dragon Age: Origins will appreciate many of the changes, but fans of the hardcore RPG might find themselves disappointed by how easy it has become. Based on the number of side quests completed, the game can take anywhere from twenty to thirty hours. There have been some complaints that this is too short for an epic RPG, but unless you sit down and power straight through it, it can be stretched out quite a bit, and in true BioWare fashion there is plenty of replay value.
Dragon Age 2 is available for PS3, 360, and PC for $59.99 new, or $44.99 used at Gamestop.com. The Signature Edition comes with all The Exiled Prince DLC as well as The Black Emporium, several in-game weapons, and a download code for the soundtrack. I’ll be posting a separate review for the DLC in the next few days.