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[Quickie Nr. 001]: Konjad and Dragon Age 2
Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Thu 11 August 2011, 07:24:38Tags: BioWare; Dragon Age 2
[Quickie Nr. 001]
subject: Dragon Age 2
A Dragon Age 2 Review
A Long Time Ago...
Bioware is a controversial company. They started developing cRPGs in the late 90s, and have come a long way since then. Their first role-playing game – Baldur's Gate – is both praised and hated by many. In the following, I aim to describe why this is so, because it applies for all Bioware games, in my humble opinion, including Dragon Age 2.
Role-playing games have existed for a long time, but their audience has always been narrow. Not only because most people did not have a computer back when RPGs started sprawling forth, but also because the games weren't seen as interesting by the average gamer. They were behind action games in graphics and often required more thinking, while most human-beings prefer their entertainment to be brainless activity. Of course, RPGs did not require higher intelligence or anything, but you had to spend some time learning gameplay, and sometimes think about how to cope with some challenges, even if they weren't as complicated as in some of the tactical or strategic games.
But back to Bioware. Baldur's Gate was released in 1998, following Fallout's success, and it convinced many new players to try out the genre of RPG. Bioware's game was streamlined however, so as to appeal to a wider audience (it was actually supposed to be a strategy game in early development stages). The game had pretty graphics, combat was real-time and the game was set in a popular Dungeons & Dragons world: Forgotten Realms. The game's mechanics were easy to learn and many players may have already known the rule-set if they ever played D&D. The lack of turn-based combat made it full of action, so that you could follow the outcomes in real time. You could actually see the warrior swinging the sword at the enemy, while the same enemy was trying to finish casting a spell – it was a lot more human-friendly than arbitrary turns which lacked action.
It was always Bioware's intention to make a role-playing game mixed with an action game. People who enjoyed more tactical cRPGs criticised Bioware for causing decline in the genre, while many others liked their games, especially people new to the genre. The action elements of the gameplay were slowly taking over role-playing elements in each of their games. This becomes clear if you move from Baldur's Gate on to Neverwinter Nights, onwards to Jade Empire and ahead to the newest Mass Effect.
Baldur's Gate.Editor's note: frankly, this looks more like BG 2.
I Want To Be A Dragon.
Dragon Age was a bit different. With it came a return to an isometric camera-angle and fully controllable party members, while the rest of the game stayed true to Bioware's trend of putting action front-and-centre. Dragon Age 2 abandons the throwback to earlier times that Dragon Age: Origins represented, going closer to the action genre like Jade Empire, but still remaining a role-playing game in some aspects. The camera is now fixed on the player's character (or any chosen party member), and while it is still possible to fully control the entire team, it's a bit clunky and inconvenient, and the game definitely lacks the free camera mode and ability to zoom out, so as to get an overview of the battlefield.
Guess who's the party-pooper.
Bathing in the Blood of Your Enemies
Just like in all the Bioware games, the combat is real-time, but you can pause it any time and give orders to your party members and your own character. This game requires use of the many skills each characters has, which are quite different. You can't win most of the fights by just clicking an enemy with your warrior and waiting until he slashes everyone to death like in Baldur's Gate, where fighters were a mindless class. Here you have to use skills with every class. You can choose between three different professions: a mage, a rogue and a warrior. You can have up to four people in your party (plus your dog). The most common team-composition since the beginning of role-playing games is – of course – to have at least one member of every different class. You probably did it in Baldur's Gate and you'll do it again. Al right, now you know how it works, but how is the combat in practice? Fun or not? Challenging or not? There is less filler combat than in the first game. However, there are dozens of enemies running at you and spawning out of nowhere all over the place, and with one swing of a weapon you can kill up to several of them resulting in a huge bloodbath. It looks ridiculous and terrible, and quite embarrassing if someone looks over your shoulder to see what you are playing. Most of the fights aren't challenging at all. Moreover, they are tedious. Perhaps there are a lot less of them than in the first Dragon Age and they might end much faster, but at least Dragon Age: Origins had challenging enemies from time to time, which is a rarity in the sequel. Even when they are challenging, you usually just wish that the encounter would end.
Many adventurers suffer from backache.
Another Fantasy Again?
Fortunately the game is much better in many other aspects. The story told in the game is about a champion of the capital of Orkney, Kirkwall. It begins during the blight, an invasion of Darkspawn. The blight ends soon after the game starts however, and it leaves a wave of destruction in its wake, Kirkwall being greatly affected by it as well. The story is actually about conflict between mages and templars, and about barbarians coming to the city in large numbers and refusing to leave. These are the two story-lines which evolve during the gameplay. However Hawke – the protagonist – is more interested in his or her own problems for a while: one of them being the acquisition of wealth. You will later try to resolve the problems of the city, but fortunately you do not have any great impact on an entire world; instead you actually influence the future of a single town just a little, which is an improvement over all the world- and galaxy-saving heroes in all the previous Bioware role-playing games. It should be mentioned however that the game is linear, and while you can do many side quests whenever you want to, you cannot influence the outcome of the vast majority of them, just as you cannot determine how the main quest evolves.
I smell some moles nearby. Time to pop.
Explaining To People Why They Should Leave You Alone
As in every role-playing game you encounter a lot of NPCs with whom you will have to talk to many times along your path. Some of them will also join your party and help you bathe in the blood of your enemies. There are a lot of party-members to choose from, and you will surely find something fancy for your own taste. As for myself, I found most of the party members to be terribly whiny. Merril and Fenris, for example, are both annoying, insecure elves, who will take up a lot of your spare time just to complain about the fact that their lives are senseless and that they themselves are useless. Fortunately, some characters hit my spot and I could travel with members whose presence I enjoyed. Most of you probably will as well. Non-party characters are rarely at the centre of the events, but they happen to be well-written and I did not have a hard time pretending they had real motivations, except perhaps at one point in the game in which some sort of material was making people mad, which pretty much seemed too much out of place. In dialogue you nearly always have three different ways to respond: Nice/naive, joking/sarcastic and mean/intimidating. I found the nice and intimidating options pretty dull, since you're being either too naive or just a mean bastard for no apparent reason. I must admit however that I greatly enjoyed the sarcastic comments and answers of female Hawke (the male voice-actor unfortunately fails at sarcasm). Sometimes it happens to be silly, but most of the time it is pretty witty and funny. In my second play-through I was always taking the sarcastic option automatically, knowing it was the only choice I would enjoy. Oh, and when it comes to voice-acting: it is excellent. I have to laud nearly all the voice actors, especially Jo Wyatt for the great voice of female Hawke, and once again: for clever sarcasm. Unfortunately I did not enjoy male Hawke at all; he was reading the text too slowly and, due to that, his acting seemed artificial.
Dialogue wheel. You have options here, although your character doesn't literally say what you choose.
The Reason You Wear Glasses
Bioware's games have always been technically good-looking, and the art direction has always been a bit above average. It's a similar thing with Dragon Age 2. First of all I would like to praise the look of the characters. They are simply beautiful and well-made. Most of the armours look good, with rare exceptions, although unfortunately weaponry is often over the top and too unrealistic. Some weapons are just too large to be practically used in battle, others look like they came out of some Japanese game, which causes mixed feelings within me. The surroundings are generally pretty good, but sometimes you happen to see a terrible landscape with nothing but really low resolution textures. I understand they had to do it for console versions, but why must the superior PC version suffer?! It doesn't end here: there are also NPCs in the town with low textures just as bad! Sure, they might be unimportant and play the role of mannequins to fill up the town, which would otherwise be empty, but they could easily be replaced by any of the other character models and textures in the PC version. Fortunately you don't see these often and if you do, you barely notice them, so it's not as bad as it sounds. In general the game looks pretty both technically and in the case of art direction.
Some armours are inspired by real armour, like the one on the character on the left. They look both practical and great.
Others are designer's imagination (in the centre) and show big boobies.
The Bird's Song
The main theme is okay and so is the music in the game. However, there is nothing that stands out or that I'd like to listen to separately from the game. It generally fits the game, both in combat and everywhere else, but it's not a good score on, for example, the level of Baldur's Gate's. In many situations you barely notice the music. It's like they made the soundtrack simply because one has to be in every modern game, but they didn't want to spend much on that. I don't criticise it overly, because it's not so bad, but that doesn't change the fact that I am disappointed. I already wrote about the voice-acting, but what about rest of the sounds? Fights don't really sound like what they are, which is the case in so many games. They put in "fake" sounds to act as the sounds of combat, but crossing swords or hitting an armour will not give a real sound of metal struck by metal. Many people don't notice it, because it's very popular in many games to do it this way, but I often do. Fortunately surroundings sound a lot better. When in a town, you hear noise coming from all over you, dialogues between random people and sometimes a scream. While in the wilderness or in caves you hear a wind howling. I do believe I never heard a single bird or wild animal in the game though. Perhaps it's just me, but I find sounds just as important as graphics. It doesn't bother me much if the sound is bad, but it's so much better if it's good.
Most of the time you'll spend along with this camera angle.
Cut the Crap!
So is the game good or not? It depends on what you expect. Do you like a sandbox to stroll around in? Perhaps you enjoy solving quests in many different ways, or great combat? The game is definitely not for you if you seek any of the above. However if you are willing to sacrifice these things for well-voiced and well-written dialogue and an interesting story, you may find Dragon Age 2 a very enjoyable piece of entertainment. It lacks strength in many departments, but it builds up a good experience if you like interactive stories and if you're willing to give it a chance.
Dragon Age 2 – Legacy
Legacy is a DLC for Dragon Age 2 priced $9.90. Is it worth that money? The DLC adds a statue in your house that teleports you to a new area if you click it. That's right, you just click the statue and then find yourself in a new place out of nowhere! Silly. It's just the beginning though. The adventure is about three hours long during which nearly all you'll be doing is killing hordes of enemies. The add-on has very little dialogue. Sometimes you'll be reading some notes along your path and that's it. There are exactly three challenging fights in the expansion. The rest are just mindless slashing through masses. The last of these three encounters that you'll try to survive gives you a hard time, but only because your enemy uses cheats – he cannot be harmed most of the time, during which you'll have to run around clicking statues with enemies spawning next to them. On top of that you will have to repeat this running around two more times: Bioware needs to make sure you're going to have all the "fun" your dollars bought you. The environment is mainly ruins, not really different from what you've already seen in DA2. The storyline is about finding your father, but honestly – it's just plain shallow and bad. The content this DLC adds is worth $1 at best, and even then I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Chances are there are probably fan-made modifications much, much better than this DLC. $10 for this is a joke.
What? I just touched the statue!
PS: Many thanks to Grunker for a great job he did with proof-reading my review!