Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mages, Templars, and Kittens

Well folks, after about 25 hours of gameplay I have finished my first playthrough of Dragon Age 2. After being thoroughly impressed with the demo I was crazy excited to finally sit down and play the sequel to what has since become of my favorite games of all time. Was I a tad nervous? Of course, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews of Bioware’s other big sequel – Mass Effect 2 – left me feeling more optimistic than anything else as I started the game.

Perhaps that was a mistake.

Not the kind of mistake that makes me wish I hadn’t played it – not at all – but the kind of mistake that makes me think I was a little blinded by expectations.

Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It really is. It improved on some of the weaker aspects of Origins like endless quests in never-ending areas (I’m looking at you Orzammar) and clunky controls and replaced them with (mostly) fresh and crisp surrounding and gameplay mechanics that shine on the 360. Playing as a mage in Origins could be little boring; I’d find myself just staring blankly as the Hero of Ferelden would pew pew her way through battles. Hawke the mage, however, was every bit the badass she deserved to be. I never, ever got sick of watching her slam her staff into the ground to send an enemy reeling. I also adore the re-design of the Qunari:

There is no arguing that Dragon Age 2 looks and feels better than its predecessor but does that make it a superior game?

For me, the biggest draw of Dragon Age Origins was the story. I completely fell in love with the lore of the world and the lives of characters I met. Even the companions that I didn’t spend too much time with like Sten and Zevran managed to endear themselves to me in the quiet moments of camp. Although it took me a few playthroughs before I truly grasped the depth of everything that was happening in Ferelden it only made me care about the place far more than I ever would have expected.

When all was said and done within Kirkwall I cannot say I felt the same, which is especially interesting considering you spend a decade within the city. This isn’t to suggest that I was apathetic to the problems facing me and the city, only that I never really got the feeling that the world around Hawke was really being influenced by her presence. In Orgins, you greatly impacted the lives of almost everyone you met while Dragon Age 2 kind of goes out with a whimper. It’s set up nicely for a sequel but I found the ending of the game to be very sudden especially considering that several key issues didn’t really seem to resolve themselves. Again, you could chalk that up to the preparation for Dragon Age 3 but I was really disappointed with how certain circumstances – including one very large one from Origins – never played out or hell, were even really mentioned. Considering the scale of your actions in the first game, I really expected the second to touch on it far more than it did.

That being said, Dragon Age 2 is littered with little references and cameos from the first game and I adored every single one of them. From a bartender telling me about the declining pigeon population in Ferelden to Anders talking about Ser Pounce-a-Lot and Merrill’s desire to mend the Eluvain, so many cool moments are dependent upon the player having completed Origins and Awakening before this. Which is really awesome but still leaves me scratching my head as to why larger events in the previous games were hardly referenced or brought up at all.

On the whole, Dragon Age 2 is much less complicated than the original. Party members cannot have their armor changed (though it can be upgraded), conversations with companions are limited to specific times and locations and you never spend too much time in one area though you will travel back numerous times. Funny how all the caves on the outskirts of Kirkwall look exactly the same inside, huh?

While I miss some aspects of the above overall I think the changes work well for the sequel and help the player stay focused on the actual game itself rather than getting caught up in the more menial tasks listed above.

To sum it up, Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It really is. I’m planning on starting my second playthrough as soon as I get this posted but I do feel that it was a step back from Origins; no amount of improved graphics and mechanics can make up for a weaker story.


  1. This is weird, considering one of the amazing things about Mass Effect 2 (and 3 when it comes out) is how fantastic of a job they did carrying over your actions from the previous game.

    EVERY action and decision I made in ME1 was referenced and followed-up on in ME2. And the ending of ME2 sets up some MAJOR possibilities for 3, one of them being


    that you won't be able to play Mass Effect 3 if you were an idiot and got Shepherd killed in 2. THAT is huge.

    I have Dragon Age: Origins sitting here, and I just haven't been able to get into it. I love BioWare, but I dunno. I'm just having a hard time with it.

  2. I'll admit it's a good game if you let it stand on its own and not compare it to Origins the entire time, but in general it didn't do it for me. Origins I played through 5 times, this game I might play a 2nd time and that's it.

    Aside from that, the crazy speech Sandal gives was definitely foreshadowing a 3rd game.

  3. Bill - I can't really compare the two since I've never played through Mass Effect 1 and haven't touched Mass Effect 2 but it actually seems pretty similar from what I've heard. Dragon Age 2 has TONS of little references to actions you took in the first game with one huge exception. I don't want to spoil it for you in case you get into Origins (where are you in the game, btw?) but you can choose to do something quite significant at the end of the game to change certain events and I would say 60% of my excitement for this game was to see this event's consequences play out. When I imported my save of Origins it even listed this event in the bullet summary of my save data and yet, no mention in game. The only thing I can think of is maybe Bioware is planning a DLC down the road but I'll be pretty pissed if I have to pay extra to see this vital portion of the game play out.

    Nicolene - ENCHANTMENT!!

    Alexander - That's pretty much exactly how I feel. It's a good game but it's no Origins. I also played through the first game in its entirety 4 times and could sit down right now and do it again. I'll probably play through DA2 3 times do get all the classes. I started my second playthrough last night am still very much enjoying it (played over 5 hours straight) but who knows how I'll feel given a few more hours. There will totally be a DA3 though. Absolutely. And I swear if Bioware doesn't wrap up the "dark ritual" (no spoilers, please!) plotline from Origins I'll sue them for emotional distress.

  4. Wow, I found this really insightful and excellently written. I've played through Origins on Xbox 360 and have it for PC (but its on my broken PC and I borrowed the disc, so fail). Now I'm playing 2 on PC, and while the fighting for a mage has improved, you're so right about the lack of caring about the people around you. I think what I hate most is that the party is scattered throughout town. I spent hours having my little elf mage talk to each of my companions. I knew everything about them and all of them liked me, even though I sometimes did things to piss them off. I really cared about my Origins companions, to the point where I have more of a crush on Alistair than is healthy, I suppose. I don't really care as much about the DA2 companions, and none of the romance options catch my eye like Alistair did. I haven't beaten one playthrough yet, but I will.

    Yet again, thanks for this really well written piece.

    And yes, I DO play like a girl.

  5. I still enjoyed DA2 immensely (and I'm currently on my fourth playthrough), but I agree with the comparison to Origins. I think you're dead-on regarding Hawke as a bystander. Hawke felt more like someone who was just hanging out in the wrong place at the wrong time, instead of a hero who really stepped up.

    Also... I found some of the rather large plot holes really hard to ignore. Specifically, playing as a mage created some rather awful inconsistencies in the game's story and interactions with other characters. And with the "Rivalry" system, I found it incredibly hard to believe that some of these companions would stick around despite how strongly they disagree with Hawke's choices.

    All in all... definitely more streamlined battle gameplay and better visual design, but the sacrifice of believable plot and companions really bothered me.