Monday, March 21, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Game Review

By Corey Schroeder

Depending on how quickly the fervor dies down, Dragon Age II may go down in history as one of the most polarizing videogames ever released. It's been the victim of trolling, it's had devs outed for making overly positive reviews, it's inspired pages upon pages of forum posts, which got so bad that on Bioware's own site, they opened a whole new forum locked for everyone, except people who have registered their copy of the game. All for a game that, at the end of the day, is competent, fun, exciting, and flawed. It's really not worth all the hubbub.

   Dragon Age II changed the formula established by Dragon Age: Origins, a game that was an intentional throwback to a bygone era of videogames, by increasing the pace massively and also extending the narrative over ten years. That last part is what sets this game apart from many other RPGs in which a group of strangers inexplicably pledge their lives (and deaths) to a guy they've known for all of two months. The ten year narrative isn't perfectly executed (humans don't at all, unless they were children at the beginning) but it lends a certain amount of credence to the way the characters develop and that is the game's strongest suit: the characters are amazing. Dragon Age II's characters actually change over the course of the game. Their motivations are spelled out pretty clearly when you meet them, but those motivations may change, sometimes radically, over the course of the narrative and again the ten year timespan makes this seem organic rather than simply inconsistent writing. 
   The game does have its flaws and most of these can be spelled out in its incredibly abrupt and sequel-hungry ending. Without getting into spoiler territory, the game eschews the normal open-RPG epilogue of "here's what happened to everyone and everywhere you impacted" and merely drops off, hinting at things to come. The game also takes place primarily in the city of Kirkwall and the surrounding countryside, and unfortunately this results in a LOT of the maps being reused and the side-quests becoming repetitive by the game's end. Still, when you compare it to Dragon Age: Origins' somewhat generic and dull maps, it seems like a lose/lose proposition.
   The gameplay itself is vastly faster and more impactful than its predecessor. Playing on the PC means that the combat is still point-and-click, but the moves themselves have a great deal more punch and look just spectacular. The skill-tree has also been reworked, giving the ability to not only have greater customization from character-to-character, but have also given you the ability to upgrade certain abilities to change what they do and make them more useful throughout the game rather than fading into obsolescence.
   Dragon Age II changes a lot of what worked about Dragon Age: Origins, but they changed it in such a way that they work even better now. Bioware doesn't get enough credit for pushing the envelope with what they've already had success with and not simply iterating on what's safe. Dragon Age II isn't perfect, and it definitely feels rushed (and it apparently was), but frankly for a game that was made in a year, it's spectacular. Almost everything about the game was reworked and the changes mostly make the game faster without sacrificing the need for tactical thinking. Bioware is on a roll with their RPGs and in spite of everything, I can't wait to see what they do next.

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