After finishing Dragon Age 2 not so long ago I have to say that I am somewhat disappointed, but not by the aspect of the game that I initially thought I would be. The combat in DA2 was attracting some heat for the shift to hack-n-slash combat as opposed to the tactical combat of the first game. After completing the game and having started my second play through I can say with confidence that the combat, with the exception of the writing, is the best part of this game. Sure the combat is different from that of Dragon Age: Origins, but it feels more like an update of the old system rather than a complete overhaul. Instead of auto-attacking you have to press the attack button instead and you move around the battlefield much quicker. Besides those two things the combat is identical. You can still set up tactics to add some layers of strategy to your encounters, you can still pause combat and take command of allies and you still hotkey abilities for easy use. Overall the combat is great, and Bioware did a great job at realizing how the combat needed to evolve while still keeping the good aspects of Origin’s combat.
However, the rest of the game seems kind of lost. Honestly to me it seems like Bioware just took too many risks. When they modified the combat it paid off, but when they decided to do an experimental narrative about a refugee’s rise to power in one particular city in the Dragon Age universe, it didn’t. The story is broken into three chunks, the first of which is just doing quests to raise money. Playing through DA2 doesn’t feel like I am playing a full game. Rather it feels like I am playing three completely different episodes that are loosely connected before the game ends with a lackluster climax. The epic story of the first game, rallying a nation to your cause and fighting off a darkspawn invasion, while at the same time waging a political battle to win back the throne was its greatest strong point. Another strong point of the original were all the great characters that accompanied you. DA2’scompanion characters just do no resonate like the originals. Bioware shoehorns in characters from the original, Isabella and Anders, for no real reason at all, other than that they were apparently too lazy to come up with new character concepts. The only two companions that actually stand out to me are Varric, the merchant dwarf, and Aveline, the female captain of the guard. Aveline in particular is a great character as she breaks all the stereotypes of female characters in video games and feels like an actual person. It seems like the other characters didn’t get the same amount of love.
Perhaps the one thing that ruins Dragon Age 2 the most is its setting. Bioware decided to focus on one particular city in the Dragon Age universe, Kirkwall, over a 5-10 year period, with the choices you make in one act rolling over to the next. This is an interesting idea, but ultimately one that doesn’t work too well. Because of the focus on one particular city and how it changes over the years according to player choices, you are forced to literally play 80% of the game exclusively in the city of Kirkwall. I hope you enjoy stone walls, because you will be looking at them for the next 30 hours. Perhaps even worse is that when you do get to go outside the city and explore a cave or dungeon, the game rehashes the same four or five dungeon layouts. The lack of diversity in environments is actually somewhat amazing. Bioware keeps claiming that Dragon Age is about the setting and universe rather than one particular character, but if that is so why don’t I get to explore ANY OF IT IN THIS GAME.
The game isn’t terrible, I will give it that, but compared to the incredible RPG experience of DAO it just seems as if Bioware lost sight of what made the first game popular in the first place. DAO was created as a love letter to old school fantasy RPG’s, and it delivered on all fronts. What we get in DA2 is a game that attempts to capture a wider audience but in process alienates fans of the genre they set out to please in the original. Good luck on Dragon Age 3 Bioware, you are going to need it.