Reviewing Dragon Age 2 has been a mixed bag for me. We snagged the game late after the PAX weekend. I’ve poured all of my free time into the title over the last week to get the most complete picture of the game that I possibly could. I’m going to put this out there immediately; there were tons of times when I wished I was playing Mass Effect 2 instead.
There are positive things to be said about Dragon Age 2. I will get around to whacking this one pretty good by the time this review is over, but just remember that this is still a good RPG. It’s made by a company that’s consistently strong with characters and storylines. So, keep reminding yourselves that, through all of my hate, there’s part of me that really enjoyed this game on the basis of it being a sound western RPG.
With that said, also know that BioWare is capable of so much more than this effort.
We’ll start with the positive notes. Dragon Age 2 streamlines the experience of the original, much like Mass Effect 2 did for that franchise from the same development studio. Combat, inventories, exploration, tactics and leveling have all been worked down to their base elements in order to present an experience easily digested for console gamers. I played this one on the 360, by the way.
It’s worth noting that more hardcore RPG fans will likely see the dumbing down process as one that keeps DA2 from greatness. The original title was an RPG nut’s wet dream. So much crap to customize, tweak, collect, sort and discard. Diving into my inventory for any real length of time in the original made my head explode. Now it’s all about grabbing crap that falls on the ground, glancing at it and deciding where to stick it. Leveling is as simple as adding attributes and selecting abilities. It’s quick, easy, friendly and intuitive. I like to focus on the game and story at hand, not the menu system. With that in mind, I saw these streamline changes as more than welcome fixtures.
In terms of combat, Dragon Age 2 is almost too simple. It’s button mash city as you spam the A button for general attacks. You’ll use the face buttons, the triggers and the skill wheel to do everything else. The bumpers let you cycle through characters. If you want the game to remain straightforward, everything you need is within quick reach during battle.
However… You can, and would be better served to at times, head into your character screen and select tactics for each member of your party. You can designate a tank, choose his or her specific actions depending upon scenarios and let the computer do the dirty work. This applies to every member you earn.
Now, keep all of that in mind as I embark on a mini-rant to close this review. Strap in.
The problem with Dragon Age 2 is that, when compared to other BioWare offerings, it has no soul. The game feels empty, flat, deserted. It feels lackluster.
And that starts at about four hours in when you notice something pretty irritating. This game repeats locations over, and over, and over, and over again. The only variance in the same cave, beach and sewers you’re visiting are the enemies and the amount of locked doors. That’s it. You’ll be trekking through the same exact spaces constantly, from start to finish with hardly any divergences from locales. It’s bland, stale and hollow. Especially given the fact that BioWare is so damn capable of constructing some of the best environments in RPG gaming.
Towns and cities feel flat too. Normally, locations are packed with people interacting and doing completely unique and interesting things. Here? It’s the same set of folks standing around the same locations pretty much constantly. There’s no hustle and bustle, even in the "crowded" areas. Instead, you’ll see NPCs standing around and waiting until their time to give you a quest is upon them. The resulting effect is this feeling of lifelessness.
Finally, arguably the largest and most enjoyable part of games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect is the assembly of your team. You find party members and add them to your ranks. But, by building a team you’re also building relationships. These are the bread and butter of BioWare’s recent RPGs. You pack your camp or your ship with friends and spend time talking to them between missions and learning about their pasts while acting on offers to engage in a bedroom tussle. It’s awesome.
Dragon Age 2 has no hub world. There’s no base camp between locations for you to hang out with team members and chat. The only way you can get to know your friends is by heading to the map screen and loading up their house or hangout. Then you can talk to them. It’s not natural, it’s not fluid and it’s downright annoying.
Dragon Age 2 feels flat and rushed, there’s no way around it. You may enjoy it for its solid story and streamlined RPG elements. But, in the end, you’d be better served replaying the original as a different class or race.