The lights are on
(Yeah, that's right....I'm holding a ball of fire in my hand)
Dragon Age II is an odd game. It sets aside many longstanding RPG conventions and replaces them with...well...nothing really. After finishing the game roughly two weeks ago I couldn't help but wonder what exactly BioWare was trying to achieve. Rather than catering to RPG fanatics and action lovers alike, they created something that falls awkwardly in the middle.
The story in Dragon Age II revolves around the central protagonist, Hawke, and a diverse crew of misfits all affected in someway or another by the blight. Overall the plot is enjoyable though it is certainly outshined by its predecessor. I will never get sick of saving the world. In DAII your task is much more personal, but it lacks the epic flare that gave Origins its place among the generation's best. After you find yourself in Kirkwall you find yourself in a struggle between several factions all competing for supremacy in the limited confines of the city (and a few surrounding locales). You will meet many interesting characters and, eventually, the fate of the entire city will rest upon your shoulders.
There are two or three main storyline threads that will continue to pop up over the course of this forty+ hour adventure and, obviously, these make uo the main driving forces pushing you forward in your quest. Being an RPG, your shirt sleeves will be constantly tugged on by struggling Kirkwallians desparate for help. The sidequests often tie in the main story arc in some way but I found them lacking personality. Perhaps this is due to the repeating locations (seriously, this cave again?!), or lackluster voice performances, but I felt little sympathy for the citizens of Kirkwall.
Where the sidequests fail to elicit an emotional response, the companion quests and the central plot make their mark. Each of your companions has two or more main questlines that I found very intriguing and you will want to see how each plays out. These side-stories wouldn't mean much if the main storyline wasn't interesting and, thankfully, DAII succeeds on this front as well. The game consists of three or four main set-pieces and I found these to be very good if not great. The tension leading up to these scenese is handled very well and your importance in these matters is portrayed wonderfully. My only small gripe is that I found the conflict handled in the middle of the game to be significantly more engaging than the final conflict, but that might just be personal preference. Overall, the main storyline makes up for the lackluster side-quests.
(I could pause...but...is that really necessary?)
The gameplay of DAII plays out similarly to Origins, but this time the combat is less strategy based and much more action-oriented. I personally loved the battle system in Origins and it made every victory feel like a well-earned reward. In DAII combat is much easier (aside from area bosses) and I found myself easily tearing through hoards of enemies without breaking a sweat. The battles are certainly a joy to watch and seeing your enemies explode like a guts-filled water balloon never gets old, but I never felt the same level of satisfaction that I received after every battle in the first game.
Aside from the battles, you will find yourself picking up a lot of loot, most of which is useless. I've never picked up more worthless crap in a game than I did in DAII. After each level you will look through your inventory and realize that most of the items you picked up are either A. junk B. lower level gear or C. gear that you cannot equip because your stats are too low. You've also probably heard the complaint by now that you do not have the option to equip armor on any character besides Hawke and, frankly, sorting through so many rings and belts that have near identical stats becomes extremely annoying.
Related to the tedium of loot-sorting is the utter samey"ness" of the environments you will encounter. The city of Kirkwall is huge and there are many areas for you to explore but after the half-way point (twenty hours for me) the game simply has nothing new to show you. You will once again be bombarded with side-quest opportunities but they will send you back to the same locations you saw in the first half of the game. You will find the most valuable treasure in the same nooks and crannies and you will fight bosses in the same open areas. The game does not do enough in other areas to make up for this poor design decision and I hope that the inevitable third installment does, in fact, take queues from Skyrim and other open world RPGs.
Aside from these major complaints I must say that I absolutely loved the dialogue options. For most conversations you will be able to choose from three types of replies: Harsh/Stern, Comedic/Sarcastic, and Kind/Sympathetic. This elements of choice was my favorite aspect of the game and I never got tired of choosing to be a total ***, a complete smartass, or a kind soul always willing to help. This aspect of the game alone had me considering a second playthrough and, when the inevitable third installment drops, I'll be looking forward to making these decisions again.
(Enough talk! Have at you!)
When all is said and done, I found DAII to be an enjoyable experience. If a game can keep me playing past forty hours it must be doing something right and, fortunately, DAII does enough to justify such a lengthy playthrough. I found the characters to be entertaining, the storylines to be engaging, and the gameplay to be enjoyable. If it weren't for some major setbacks DAII could have been a great sequel, but because of the above-mentioned shortcomings, it is relegated to the seemingly endless second tier of solid titles that will be forgotten before this generation is finished.
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