Dragon Age 2: An Honest Review

Available on Pre-Orders only

Game: Dragon Age 2
Released: March 8, 2011
Developer: Bioware
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC, PS3, and reviewed on 360
Rating: M for Mature

Have you ever wanted something that you didn’t really need and loved something you didn’t think you would?  I have and Dragon Age 2 (DA2) possesses both these universal anomalies in one package.  Join me my fellow champions as we follow Hawke, the fighting Ferelden.  For those who choose not to read, you can listen to the audio review here.

Accompanied by a warrior brother, a mage sister, and a desperate mother, you play as mister or miss Hawke, a Ferelden refugee fleeing from a darkspawn-infested Loithering. In addition to gender, the player can choose from one of three classes; warrior, rogue, or mage. Each class grants various fighting styles and abilities governed by talent trees. This talent dispersion ensures that one feel feels completely different from the next. In games stressing archetypical class structures, this is a very good thing. 

Your objective is to reach, reside, and prosper in Kirkwall, your mother’s birthplace.  In true Bioware fashion, your journey introduces you to a cavalcade of qualified and interesting party members. Along the way, between the multitude of missions, you learn just as much about your party members as you do about Kirkwall and it’s social, political, and cultural idiosyncrasies.

The story involves the omnipresent tension between the Chantry and apostate mages, elves and humanity, dwarves and gravity.  Political tension grasps the reigns and permeates every conflict within Kirkwall. Hawke fulfills missions for various non-playable characters and how those missions are handled determines how these figures view Hawke.  This dynamic expands upon typical Bioware style because everything feels correlated.

Speaking of relations, Dragon Age 2 has many great characters with whom you want to share said relations.  Isabella, Fenris, Varric, Aveline and host of other members all add great variety.  Not only are personalities different but weapon load-outs and skill trees are different for your party.  Dragon Age 2 upholds the Bioware pedigree of giving you care-actors (actors you care about). Hawke’s party fights mercenaries, templars, darkspawn, and any enemy threatening Kirkwall. 

You earn XP by winning fights and completing missions.  As you gain experience levels, you fill in various talent trees that focus each character’s abilities.  So Archery and close-quarter rogues have different focuses all the while making dual-rogue party configurations a benefit and not a hindrance.  At levels seven and 14, Hawke unlocks class-specializations that make you more powerful, elusive, or any other adjective describing your class of choice.

Graphically, those who survived the first joining will be glad to know this game looks much better than the original. The art style is more compatible with the game’s universe and engine strengths. Some loved features of Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) returns.  The user interface is eerily similar to that found in DAO and the sound continues its march toward excellence.
Bioware screens their voice talent impeccably well. Each and every character felt alive and suited his or her respective role, even the tranquil mages. Echos and footsteps played extremely well in my gaming headphones. Unfortunately, spoken dialogue did not fair so well. When playing on a Dolby-Digital 5.1 surround system, the sound felt extremely uneven. Forums suggested that degraded the signal to stereo addresses the problem but I found that untrue.  I absolutely needed headphones to level the sound output.

When I could hear it, I enjoyed fighting in Dragon Age 2. The expeditious and smooth combat system made my rogue into a fearesome killing machine. The pause, plan, and play style of combat is still available for those field generals who want to micromanage. The difficult battles requiring more strategic combat felt exactly the same as it did in DAO.

As it turns out, I wanted more of DAO than I realized. I wanted the party camp system to access my comrades between missions.  All the loading and reloading involving in moving around Kirkwall just seemed redundant.  DAO felt more finished that its buggy successor.  I found repeating dialogue loops, floating enemies, delayed attack animations, erroneously locked achievements, and the ending cinematic occurred two consecutive times.  Bioware is synonymous with polish so it astounds me to encounter this issue. 
Dragon Age 2 taught me to temper my expectations. I wanted a faster combat system but I wound up ignoring all the lore and journal entries so I could find the next scuffle. Unfortunately, my connection to the characters, story, and universe directly suffered. I also expected an enhanced dialogue wheel that would more accurately enunciate my commands. I received a dialogue system that was inconsistent and often resulted in the opposite response. Expectations for a simpler inventory system were met with armor restrictions for party members.  Finally, I expected graphical improvements and received more appropriate art style accompanied by a litany of technical bugs.
The most prevalent bug, surprisingly, was the delayed input response.  Numerous times while attempting a backstab, it took the rogue multiple attempts to execute the input.  It would be different if DA2’s combat pace slowed slightly to account for this.  But it does not and rogues rely on speed to operate.  Any input delay could be the difference between leveling up and reloading a save. 
Who makes loot-gathering a chore? Gathering loot in restricting confines required ordering my troops to hold their position while I walk over my defeated foes.  If I failed to do this, the cursor would automatically highlight my party member and question them. If I hear one more “I’m with you Hawke” response I’ll yell.  Earning loot must be fun but picking it up should not be a chore.  In the year 2011, quality-assurance teams must be more diligent in identifying these issues. 

Bioware promised an enhanced experience.  Dragon Age 2 delivers in combat, visual fidelity, and simplicity.  However, it feels like Bioware tried to fix some things that were not broken.  The lack of armor options for party members and prevalence of inconsistent dialogue responses discourage even the most stalwart DAO fan. Despite its niggling issues, Dragon Age 2 should be experienced by fantasy, Bioware, or role-playing fans.  I simply cannot say it will meet all your expectations. 

Get It Scale:  4/5
Recommendation:  Get It