Dragon Age 2 Review

It’s dragons and shit, right here! It’s about time for a content update, so new articles will auto-release over the next few days, just to avoid too many things appearing on the front page in one hit. DisCONNECT updates are going to become sporadic for 5 weeks now, thanks to someone completely screwing up my roster, but never mind. It’s not like you’re all waiting for them anyway!

In general I’m a fan of Bioware. Mass Effect? Hell yeah. KOTOR? Good shit. Dragon Age: origins? Yeeaaah! The Baldur’s Gate series is legendary, and Neverwinter Nights is worth a mention as well. Bioware have missed the mark at times but in general they do an excellent job at Western RPGs. And quite frankly I can’t play Japanese RPGs which are bogged down in massive hairstyles, ridiculous turn based combat, androgynous characters and a bunch of other bullshit. Western RPGs might not be quite as inspired as JRPGs… actually that’s crap, they are, just look at Planescape: Torment. Forgot what I was saying… right, Bioware. In general Bioware do a great job and release some fantastic games, but everybody slips up once in a while, and the world was watching for DA2.

 

Numbers: Giving you a reason to care.


 

Dragon Age: Origins wasn’t particularly new. It had guys in armour, dragons, magic, elves, and dwarves. There’s pretty much nothing we hadn’t seen before, but it was very well presented, it was a blast to play, and there was a lot of gameplay in it to boot. Also, in a rare twist of favour for the PC platform (and perhaps a dose of their own medicine for the console gamers) it was way, way better on the PC, namely because the interface was exactly what we’d expect for an RPG (lots of clickable stuff!) and the graphics were superior. This is coming from someone who played DA:O on both a high end PC and the 360. It’s just a fact, DA:O was superior on the PC, and anybody who disagrees is clearly kidding themselves. Hence lots of us were a bit wary when it looked like DA2 would swing back to the console gamers and cripple our controls on an otherwise fantastic RPG just so that the console gamers could have their cake and eat it, like always. In a perfect world they’d just make an interface to applease both parties, but time constraints pretty much put a stop to that, and the consoles make more money so I guess we’ll always be out in the cold.

 

They sure like their statues.

In any event, DA2 is a bit of a departure from the previous games. I’m not entirely sold on whether or not it’s going to work out. You don’t play as The Warden. As a matter of fact The Warden is fairly peripheral to the game, at least in the beginning, save for a few references. You can import your DA:O game into DA2, including some of the DLC decisions, which takes a few variables from key moments into the new game world, much like Mass Effect but not quite as impressively. From there you start your new character, who is escaping from Ferelden along with a bunch of other people as the Blight consumes Lothering. You end up as a refugee in Kirkwall, which was a huge slave mine back when The Imperium owned it, and from there you go around doing stuff for some reason.

One thing DA2 is really bad at is giving you a reason to play. In DA:O the first 30 or so minutes firmly established where the plot was heading; you were a Grey Warden out to stop The Blight. We knew what the grand goal was, and had to figure out how to get there. I’m a few hours into DA2, I’m still in Kirkwall, and I have no idea where we’re going with this. Right now I’ve been told I’m collecting money to go into the Deep Roads to make more money, and there’s a subplot about getting back the family’s honour and money, plus a load of sidequests which are a pain in the arse… honestly I’m just wandering around without really caring about anything. The story seems a lot weaker this time around. I mean the change of setting is nice, but there’s not much going on. This “massive” city which “has no room” for refugees is remarkably empty. Does it pick up a little later into the game? Yes. The storyline does improve and it does become more entertaining, but initially you’re just dump into the game without much context, and you can forget about playing if you didn’t play the first one or aren’t familiar with the story.

 

"Blah blah blah".

The voice acting is a bit hit and miss. Actually you know what gets me? People use Morrigan as an example of excellent voice acting in DA:O. I thought Morrigan’s voice acting was pretty poor. It was overly dramatic in many places, sounding like an amateur trying to rehearse for Shakespeare or something. Leilana wasn’t that good neither. Alistar was one of the best out of the entire game. Anyway this time around the game goes for a decidedly Mass Effect angle; the main character speaks all his lines, and the conversation wheel from ME has been ported into DA2, so you instead select various responses with upper responses generally being diplomatic, and lower responses being more renegade. Actually screw it, call them paragon and renegade if you like, that’s what it boils down to. Unlike ME however every single paragon or renegade choice is made clear by an icon in the centre, which also points out other ambiguous things like questions, flirtatious lines, and when your response is supposed to be funny. Really, guys? I think I can figure it out for myself, but thanks anyway. Also some are pretty ambiguous and are easily misinterpreted; often I’ve picked a dialogue choice which I assume means one thing, while the actual dialogue goes off in a completely different direction! The stand-out character this time around is Merrill, an elf mage, who has decent dialogue, good voice acting, and a fair bit of backstory. Actually on reflection I’d say the acting is an improvement from DA:O… lots of things in DA:O sounded pretty strained and forced to me, but DA2 seems to be a bit better. I haven’t cringed nearly as much.

The combat is the one I want to talk the most about though. It’s a step back from DA:O in one big way; the camera is ABYSMAL! It’s utter shit! You need to hold down the RMB to swing it around, and getting it in a comfortable place is ridiculous, especially since RMB also uses auto attacks. And since combat speed has been drastically increased, it’s less about thinking and more about battling the terrible camera so that you can click on something. I chose to play a rogue for my starting class, which has a bunch of new moves like a backstab that jumps you behind the target, or a move that rushes towards the enemy, or dodges back. I tend to play combat in real time, but it’s friggin’ impossible sometimes with the speed that things move. Trying to click on an enemy often results in nudging the camera to the side, or simply doesn’t work for some reason I can’t figure out. The camera doesn’t swing out too far either, so it’s not easy to get an overall view of the battlefield. Often I had to simply pause the combat just to select a new target, otherwise my character would just stand there, taking damage, doing absolutely nothing. I’d press an ability button only to realise that my original target died, and now I have no target, so nothing will happen.

Well at least it's a change of scenery.

At times the combat is very fluid and fun. At other times though it becomes a mess of particle effects, a camera that refuses to cooperate, and a mouse interface which is hampered by the camera and the speed of the combat. Not cool, guys! Most combat events are arena-style things where the enemy is standing around in a large space, waiting for you. Then, when you beat them, they jump out of walls, or appear randomly behind you or out of alleys or something, and you fight that round. Then you do it again! How the hell does any of that make sense? It’s like Call of Duty and their velvet rope system where there’s an endless stream of enemies just waiting to pop out of a doorway until you hit the magic trigger, except here it’s a magic number of waves. YAWN.

The menu system is pretty dodgy too. It’s not quite as bad as I was expecting but console elements have leaked in. Inventory, character statistics, the map, it’s all on separate screens instead of separate tabs like the old interface. At least the inventory interface works somewhat similar to DA:O in that you can drag things into slots. I didn’t see a way to have multiple weapon sets though. Not sure if I juts missed it, or if it doesn’t exist. NPCs in the party don’t have selectable armour, or if they do I haven’t come across them. You can’t dress them up in just anything, but you can find a few things to augment their armour. Not sure why they’d do that to you. You can change their weapons, give them rings and amulets and that crap, but don’t touch their armour!

The art style has changed quite a bit.

Graphically the game isn’t too bad. I was running it on Very High in DX11, and on my 5850 I couldn’t run it at with anything more than 4x AA/AF and without SSAO and the other options without low FPS. Even then on High I get random FPS drops for no apparent reason. A lot of people have this problem though and driver updates seem to fix it; the latest beta nVidia drivers fix the issue, but ATI are sitting on Cat 11.3 like a pot of gold, so I’m out of luck until then. Preview Cat 11.4 does help in some cases, but I run into another annoying issue that it doesn’t solve: random pauses. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is here; the sound and gameplay apparently continues (or at least doesn’t lock up) but the graphics freeze before suddenly jumping ahead, interrupting the game. It’s most often seen in cutscenes but I’ve even had it happen while trying to load the menu. It’s like the game stops to load textures or something, but I don’t see it happening in areas where I’d expect texture streaming to occur. This happens with or without the high def texture pack, so I’m at a loss as to explain what the problem is. Supposedly 11.4 solves this issue, and it did reduce it, but it still happens for me.

If you don’t have a DX10/11 card, you can only use Medium settings. If you’re using XP, you’re mad, and you’re also stuck on medium. High (DX10/11 mode) comes with better dynamic lighting and effects. Very High (DX11 only) is much more subtle. The main advantage is tessellation on environmental surfaces, such that each individual stone in a paved road pops up from the ground, and walls are actually pockmarked as if they were 3D. Does the performance hit justify it? Not sure, it’s only really noticeable in cutscenes, so make of that what you will. I’d strongly recommend getting the 1.1GB high resolution texture pack if you’ve got a modern video card with 1GB of VRAM. Character models don’t gain much in the way of resolution, but the game environment does. If you’ve got the VRAM you should get it. Note that it works on DX9, DX10 and DX11 despite what the forums are saying, it’s just that DX10/11 will look better due to lighting and tessellation (in DX11 mode).

 

 

GAMEPLAY: 3/4

The gameplay is pretty good and it’s entertaining when it wants to be, but at other times it’s a total pain in the arse. The camera is terrible, the interface is occasionally bulky and annoying, and clicking on enemies that jump all over the place gets frustrating at times. The arena fight mechanic is annoying and I’m getting sick of games doing this. Stop spawning enemies in waves, for crying out loud, this isn’t Space Invaders! The story starts slow but picks up afterward; you’ll need to be patient with the first hour or so. After that the game becomes entertaining, and I’d be tempted to give it a 4, but the issues with the combat and camera stops me from doing it.

GRAPHICS: 2/3

Graphically the game is quite good, and I was tempted to give it a 3/3 but these performance issues are a bit odd. I know that drivers fix or help the problem which seems to suggest a driver issue, but I have to wonder if nVidia/ATI aren’t just building custom profiles to bypass issues with the game. And why didn’t they include the high res pack with the game? I suppose size constraints is one possible theory, but I seriously doubt they did everything low res and then worked on it again to make it higher res; normally you start with the high res content and scale it down. Doesn’t matter either way because it’s free, but still, it’s curious…

SOUND: 2/2

Sound is fine, no major issues. Some of the voice acting is a bit off but it was the same in DA:O and doesn’t detract too much. Actually on the whole I’d say it’s better than DA:O, and it’s way better than “Get out of here STALKER” or something of a similar level.

LIFESPAN: 1/1

It’s a big game. There are lots and lots of sidequests, and you can be guaranteed to get a bunch of DLC too. Whether or not the game is interesting though will vary from person to person.

TOTAL: 8/10 = GOOD

Dragon Age 2 isn’t a bad game. It’s actually a very good game. It’s enjoyable, the story isn’t bad, the characters are okay, and it’s fun to play. The opening hour is uninspired and vaguely confusing at times, but it picks up quickly after that. The interface has changed and some of the menus look like they’re modified from the console release, but they’re not broken and mouse control works as you’d expect. Except for the camera. That camera is complete bullshit. I think the main problem people have with DA2 is that it’s different from DA:O. Bioware have taken it in a different direction, and whenever there’s change, people will rage.

Do I feel like Bioware slipped in a few places? Yes. The combat for a start. It’s far too fast and at times difficult to control. The performance issues are absurd and not what I’m used to from Bioware. The opening hour is pretty bland and uninteresting. Some side quests are little more than FedEx quests without any sort of preamble (there might as well be no journal entry for them, they’re that uninspired). But in spite of all this, it’s still a great game. DA:O was uninspired and had all the fantasy clichés that Tolkien and Company came up with; magic, elves, dwarves, big underground cities, rogues with blades and bows, demons, corrupt mages, a power struggle, woodland, castles, the whole lot has been done before, and in some cases done better. I don’t think you can accuse Bioware of originality with the DA series thus far, hence I think some of the criticism DA2 is getting is a bit unfair (referring to fans here).

But at the end of the day, the fans decide whether the game is a success or not. The fanboys will never relent, but nobody cares about fanboys except other fanboys, and they’ll buy and play it regardless before raging on a forum somewhere. In any case if the fan doesn’t enjoy the game, then the game isn’t for them, and no review will change that. DA2 will polarise people in that some will like it, while others will hate it, there’s going to be very little middle ground here. Kind of like Napoleon Dynamite; I find that it’s a boring movie about absolutely nothing at all, while someone else considers it avant-garde or some shit, and on and on it goes.

Is it for you? Give it a shot at a friend’s house if they have it. The demo doesn’t really stand up to the full product (especially on the PC) so look at the full game in action if you get the chance.

 

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