Stormborn. (beyondugliness) wrote,
Stormborn.
beyondugliness

Dragon Age II No Spoilers Review

 Dragon Age II (No Spoilers) Review
 
Hawke 



I loved Hawke. Hawke made the game for me a million times over. I attribute this almost entirely to the new dialogue system. Having a voiced Hawke was a brilliant decision. Don't get me wrong, I love games without a voice character, but a voice just gave Hawke a personality and life that the Warden didn't have for me. Jo Wyatt is very good, with a lot of range in tone; she can do sad, happy, angry and snarky very well. (Male Hawke's voice is inferior, IMO, but I'm never going to play a male Hawke so it's inconsequential to me.)

I was hesitant about the new dialogue system when I first heard about it, because I HATE the one in Mass Effect. I found that my Shepard would say things that the line of text didn't imply at all and overreact in a way I didn't want, but I didn't come across this in DA2. I thank the symbols in the center of the wheel for this: it's a little hold-your-hand, but it implies what your Hawke is going to say much better. I know she's going to be aggressive if I choose the option with the fist icon, unlike in ME where I found that Shep threw someone against the wall when the option didn't seem that aggressive. It mostly boils down to Nice, Good Hawke, Snarky and Charming Hawke and Aggressive and Direct Hawke with only some variation, which is a little restrictive, but I didn't mind it when I varied my responses. I love snarky Hawke with Wyatt's voice. She's just fantastic. I read a couple days ago that Hawke's voice tone changes if you go for a certain personality over and over again, to match that personality no matter what option is (it resets itself on each Act, as well). I actually didn't pick up on this at all, I'll see if I do next playthrough.

There's more choices in appearance for your Hawke this time. Nicer darker skin tones, more eye colours, prettier hairstyles, etc. (I was very disappointed that default Lady Hawke is not customisable. Why, Bioware? Her hair is awesome and I want it for my other Hawkes nao.) It's great that Hawke's family change to match your appearance, particularly for those who want to play Hawkes who aren't Caucasian and who hated that your family in Origins was white. There's a bit of fail with this, though: there's pictures of your family members in your home who are clearly white and at one point, Hawke mistakes a white woman for her mother, which makes zero sense if your Hawke and Mama Hawke aren't lily-white.

How it looks

 



The graphics are a significant improvement from the console versions of Origins. I've complained about it before, but I'll do it again; horrible texture blur, a colour palette of shitty browns, greens and reds, uninspired and dull locations, etc etc. DA2 looks a lot prettier. No texture blur, a very varied colour palette and some pretty fucking nice locations. There's nothing that really inspires awe, except for the beautiful lyrium 'trees' in the Deep Roads and some great distant environments, but I thought it looked great. The character models and outfits could do with more detail and variation. IIRC, Bioware changed the lightning, I believe to having light come from the characters as well as the environments, which makes the environments look less dank and dark. It's nice. Oh, and the spell effects/attacks from magic staff: lovely. Made a great change from the blandness of some spells in Origins.

There is one big problem with the visuals. Environment recycling. It's constant. Once you've seen one cavern, mansion and undercity path, you've seen them all. The maps do come with some variation... in the form of minor props and blocked doorways. Despite areas being blocked-off, they still show up on the mini-map and larger map. It's lazy as hell and it makes exploring get fairly tedious by the time late Act 2 and 3 rolls around, because you know where all the good loot and the battles are going to be. I don't believe for a second that EA didn't rush Bioware to get an early release date. The game could have done with a little longer for more environments and bugs (which I'll expand on later).
 
Another complaint is that Kirkwall looks the same throughout the ten years of the game. The city-state was begging for some aesthetic changes to match the feel of time passing. Some visual indicators that years and years have passed, like, I dunno, holidays or buildings changing because they're abandoned or something. It's all a bit too same-y for an environment that you spend the majority of the game in. While there's major differences between areas of Kirkwall, they just don't change. 
 
Story
 
I was very pleased with the direction DA2 took with the story. It's on a far smaller scale than Origins' was; no wandering around an entire country to recruit armies, no saving the world, etc. It allows for a much more personal story. The center of the game is Hawke, undoubtedly, compared to The Blight being at the center of Origins. I love this. I love personal stories in RPGs, where your character and companions are the lifeblood of the game, a la Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment. Because of the story, I cared about Hawke where I couldn't give two shits about the Warden in Origins. The story was too epic, too big, for me to care about the Warden because she's carried along by events that aren't at all personal to her, whereas Hawke is at the very center of the events Seeing the Warden's life being torn apart in an origin did nothing to me, but certain traumatic events that happened to Hawke sat with me for days. 
 
Each Act, at first glance, has little to do with each other until it all comes together at the ending. The first two are stories on Hawke's rise to power and the third is where it all ties together, when Hawke shifts the balance of power in Kirkwall and becomes the most important person in Thedas. Secondary quests carry on throughout the Acts; if you don't do one in Act 1, you'll likely never see the consequential secondary quests in Act 2 and 3. Something meaningless that happens in Act 1 can come to have great impact in the following Acts, for example. It gives a real feel of time, of having made an impact on the game.
 
There are some issues with how the story is done. In the first Act, especially, you may feel a little lost, a little aimless. What your Hawke does may feel inconsequential because the story is on such a small-scale and, at first, feels distant from the larger events of the world. There is a sense of 'What the fuck am I supposed to be doing?' because Bioware ditches a sense of an overarching narrative until the third Act. There's remarkable hints to one, but it doesn't really come together soon enough. Keep playing, though, because Act 2 tightens the story up and Act 3 will show what it all lead to. The end game inspires such a 'OMGWHAT' response, at least in me.

Also, the time jumps can be jarring and it's a little disappointing that such a large amount of time goes by without you seeing what happens. The cutscene and conversations at the beginning of each new Act detail what has happened, but it still feels odd that the dramatic events just suddenly happen when you get to play again and loose threads sometimes aren't tied up over those three years. As an example, a companion may do something unpleasant to you at the end of Act 2 but waits three whole years to resolve it. I feel like they could have either had more in the game or cut down the timeline by a couple of years.
 
 
Combat




I loved DA2's combat. Loved it. Origins' combat system was not great on the Xbox; I found it horribly clunky, dull and infuriating because of borked tactics and the lack of a camera to zoom out. The new action combat system on the console is a breath of fresh air. The lack of an auto-attack feature is annoying (please to be getting on that asap, Bioware), but I don't mind the reliance on button-mashing to attack at all; the combat animations are a lot smoother and more exciting. Dual-wield rogues are just awesome, jumping all over the place and carving their way through enemies and mages don't just stand there, looking pretty while pointing a staff at enemies any more, there's some serious exertion going on with that staff. Bodies get carved up and decimated before your eyes. Yes, it's "Press a button and something awesome happens", but I don't give a fuck, it makes combat a lot less tedious than Origins was on console. YOU HAVE NO IDEA, PC PLAYERS.
 
Abilities have also been improved upon. Instead of trees of four abilities, each group of abilities/spells (like Dual Wield, Creation, etc) is laid out like so:
 
 
This allows for much easier customisation. The trees of each skill are seperated by similarity, unlike DA2; you very rarely have to choose a skill you don't want to access others you don't want. The abilities also come with upgrades, which are very handy if you like particular spells and want to make them more powerful. For the most part, abilities/spells have been improved on, like archery, which isn't useless any more and is actually pretty good for DPS. They are both more useful and more awesome. A couple of them have been changed for the worse, though; I was very sad to see Haste be activated instead of sustained, Backstab could have done with a shorter cooldown and the Spirit Healer's sustained mode that needs to be used to use the abilities limits your ability to use offensive spells, which sucks.

The damage in combat has been increased. Bosses have much more health and abilities do much more damage to fit. Twin Fangs and Assassinate are particularly awesome: I've done over 3000 damage. There's also cross-class combos: where you use one class to do an effect and then manipulate it with another class. For an example: you can make an enemy Brittle by using a cold spell, which makes them much more susceptible to damage and have your Warrior use Mighty Blow to cause 300% more damage. There's a lot of them and it makes battles more interesting and it can make a particularly difficult battle easy.

Tactics have been expanded on. You can now set more options for the target of an ability/spell, like specifying a particular companion, and can set a tactic to be removed under specific conditions. Etcetc. It seemed to me like the companions were more willing to listen to tactics than in Origins, but I still came across problems. Anders frequently refused to cast Heal and Haste when it was available and direly needed and sometimes Isabela would just stand there and look pretty.
 
Other complaints -- the cooldowns. The goddamn potion cooldowns. When Heal's cooldown is painfully long, a potion cooldown is not needed at all, Bioware. It doesn't make combat any better when Hawke has just died on me because she had to wait for a cooldown to reset. I also wasn't a fan of how warriors are reduced to either two-handed and sword-and-shield. I miss dual-wield warriors.
 
Companions



 
The companion system has changed, mostly for the better. The approval meter of Origins has been replaced with a friend/rivalry meter. This means you don't have to suck up to your companions; you can completely disagree with them and get the same benefits of companion quests, more dialogues and loyalty as you would if you were omg BFFs. Being friends or rivals changes the dynamic of the relationship/romance and offers a lot more variety in playthroughs. Bioware decided to reduce the amount of gifts from a gazillion to one or two, if any, for the companions, meaning this system can't easily be borked. There is a drawback to this system, though -- once you're on a certain path, it's hard to get it towards the other meter. E.g. dialogues and gifts will give you rivalry if you're on the rivalry part of the meter. It's good for getting as far as you can along the meter, which is very important in the late game, but if you want it to change it, it means having to switch that companion out and back in for quests/responses that will give them rivalry or friendship with them. 

Instead of your companions sitting around a camp, your companions each have a home base in Kirkwall easily accessible through the map. It's clear that they do their own thing in the game, when not travelling with you; one companion has a job in the guard, another works as a healer for the poor, etc, and they do their own thing with each other without Hawke being there. This is much more realistic than Origins. Also, dialogues feel more realistic too. Hawke and your companion won't gawp at each other in the camp, they'll have a drink in the inn, they'll discuss what they've been doing in their base, you'll see them interacting with NPCs and each other when you come to visit. There is one big negative to the dialogues -- instead of Hawke being able to talk to them whenever, your journal tells you when your companion wants to talk, which is dependant on time, quests and how much rivalry/friendship you have with them. Again, it's more realistic, but there's just not enough dialogues and waiting around when you just want your Hawke to bone her LI is a pain. Maybe that's just me.

Companion quests are definitely better. There's more of them, one every Act -- most of the companions have a storyline behind their quests, like a companion's dealings with their former master, which gives more substance and it's great to see a continuing subplot and resolution from something that started in Act 1. Some of the quests are just great. Seeing a companion try and fail to woo an NPC was just gold.

It's personal preference, but I ultimately preferred DA2's companions a lot more. I thought they had much more to them, mostly because of the new system. They're more interesting when you don't have to be in love with everything they say and do. I found some companions to be outright dull and uninteresting in Origins, like Sten and Oghren, but I loved all of them in DA2. I'm leaving talk of romances for my more spoiler-ific post, but I must say that there's a lot more variety to them thanks to the friend/rivalry system and all LIs (aside from Sebastian) being for Hawkes of all genders fills my queer heart with glee.

Performance
 
You can easily find out the extent of DA2's bugginess yourself, so I'm just going to list the problems I came across.

Importing was fucked. Completely and utterly broken. I imported a save where post-Landsmeet Origins spoilers my Cousland married Alastair, neither died and she became Queen. In the game, I got no expected references to Alastair being King, one reference to Anora being Queen, a reference from a cameo to my Cousland being Queen and very mild cameo spoiler alert Alastair just didn't show up in the game at all (he appears in different ways depending on what happened to him), as if he'd been executed. I was PISSED. I did that save on Origins JUST to import it. It doesn't always break and there's a save creator for the PC players, which is of no fucking use to me, but goddamn. Bioware, you made a hell of a deal of the importing and for it to be so borked is disappointing. I want a patch and I want it NOW.

Frequent crashes. I've had my 360 since last July and it's only frozen twice (ironically, with Origins and ME2 demo). DA2 froze about 8 times. Half of the time it didn't actually freeze, but it just... stopped. It was still running, but the performance shuddered to a halt and I had to return to dashboard. Not something very irritating, but I understand that this is quite a problem with the PS3 version. I also noticed occasional severe frame rate drops. Companions and enemies got stuck a couple times in my game. I've had two bosses stop moving and attacking while the rest of the game is fine. In one of the same battles, Isabela was behind the rest of my group and couldn't get past an invisible wall to get to the boss. I'm assuming this invisible wall was to stop me from running away in the fight. I was pretty happy that the boss glitched because my goddamn DPS couldn't do a thing but walk into an invisible wall. 

Others... a side quest involving saving some noble's daughter from bandits that's completely broken for everyone. A companion breaking a quest-related possession just before wondering why it wasn't working and asking me to fix it when she's supposed to do it afterwards. The Exiled Prince DLC achievements failing to work. I think I got lucky because I've heard of so many other bugs, some game-breaking. I believe EA hurried Bioware so that game-testers didn't have enough time to work on the bugs. You can tell.

Conclusion

I loved it. I think it's a great game and is far superior to Origins. I was not a big fan of Origins. When I first played it, I thought it was complete garbage. I have a more positive opinion of it now I've completed it twice, but it doesn't get to be on a list of my favourite RPGs. DA2, however, is one of my favourite ever games. Some of the bugs and other changes detracted from the game minorly, but I think Bioware made a step in the right direction for the franchise. DA2 very rarely felt like a drag to me, whereas Origins did, and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. I'm dying for DA3.

If you hated Origins, I would say don't bother, depending on why. If you hated certain technical aspects, like the combat and graphics, give the demo a try, as some things have been made for the better. If you hated the whole thing, then DA2 isn't likely to change your mind. If you liked Origins even a little and you like fantasy RPGs, try it out. 

(I'm going to do another review full of spoilers and fangirling for those who don't give a crap about spoilers or have played it already. Stay tuuuuuuuuned.)
Tags: dragon age 2, gaming, review
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