Dragon Age 2

Review

posted 4/12/2011 by Shawn Sines
other articles by Shawn Sines
One Page Platforms: PC
The change in storytelling is probably the least damaging change. Building Dragon Age 2 around a strong central figure, giving that character a distinct history and voice to play on – these are techniques that make Mass Effect stand out so it's nice to see them employed here. The limited options might rankle some but this is more a storytelling game than a freeform “make the story up in your head” sort of adventure like past Bioware outings.

Gameplay for Dragon Age 2 also experienced quite a few tweaks, not all of them for the better. Since the series has a broad following on PC and consoles it's fairly clear that the computer version would not necessarily stay mouse and keyboard focused. With the console version of the game players now have to smash buttons to attack enemies, unlike in Origins where combat was more passive and tactical.

The PC version luckily avoids this convention. Once players target a foe and initiate a basic attack, the game knows to continue whacking the enemy until another command or special ability is employed. This version of the game also carries over the PC-centric control interface instead of the analog stick design used in it's console counterpart. The camera still allows some zoom-in or out function but feels more cinematic and does not pull back to the same extent as Origins allowed.


Combat can still be paused and players can easily switch between party members to issue commands and micro-manage. The tactics scripting returns as well, though frankly it's not hard to play the game on any platform and survive all but the toughest battles without setting up tactics.

Bioware games are often told through massive dialog sections. While Dragon Age: Origins felt like an upgraded Neverwinter Nights approach, DA2 is full on Mass Effect 2 in its handling of morality and dialog. One nice change even from the rotating dialog choice interface of Mass Effect 2 is the addition of “mood” indicators. The game displays a general approach related to a dialog choice – for instance an aggessive response displays a closed red fist or crossed swords. Polite or respectful dialog is labeled with a peach frond, etc.

Visually Dragon Age 2 is quite a large boost from the original. Bioware has even included a DirectX 10.1/11 engine to polish the images even better. This support for modern graphics hardware and a free download of the high resolution texture package for PC users leaves Dragon Age 2 shining with visual fidelity. New clothes however come with new problems it seems as many players with high-end video cards are experiencing quite few gamestopping problems with the title.

Those who played the Dragon Age 2 demo noticed a lot of strange problems visually, but the full version of the game launched out of the box with completely different issues – some of which make the game unplayable using the DX11 renderer. Workarounds exist for Nvidia and ATI users including dropping back to the default DirectX 9 settings, but be warned if you're expecting a smooth experience out of the box that your $400 dual video card rig might stutter and stall during the game's cutscenes and dialog moments.

Dragon Age 2 tells a very interesting story and overlaps and reacts to certain decisions players make during Origins, but it often feels like an unfinished game. Not because of flaws in plot or characterization, but in its environment and dungeon designs.

The choice to make Dragon Age 2 an urban adventure is bold. There are some great templates to follow in fantasy fiction – like the Hawk & Fisher Haven books or Discworld, but the key to making an urban game is exciting locations and distinct characters that make the city feel alive. Dragon Age 2 fails on both these requirements. Instead of a large diverse urban center, Kirkwall is distilled down into a few sparsely populated zones. You never feel like there are more than 20 or 30 people in any area of the city at one time, which is depressing.

Scenario design also suffers because it's obvious that by about 10 hours into the game you've experienced the same 15 maps over and over again in place of distinctly different environments. The mines have doors that in one instance may be open or lead to enemies but in others are blocked by solid stone and impassible. However, the map display is exactly the same and the environment even has the same set dressing. It's depressing and leads to problems for me in believing I'm actually venturing to a new place or experiencing something new.

There are moments of genius buried in Dragon Age 2's approach to storytelling, it is a good chance to return to a popular and familiar franchise, but it just feels a bit shortchanged thanks to the technical and game design limitiations. Just because Bioware makes great story-based games doesn't mean they should get a pass for the things they chose to shortcut in this title.


C+
Despite some advancement in storytelling approach and liberal borrowing from Bioware's Mass Effect approach to gameplay, Dragon Age 2 on the PC has a lot of bugs and is populated with re-used settings that make this feel like a play performed on a stage with two sets.


Page 2 of 2