Dragon Effect

22 03 2011

It’s always a  big deal when we get our hands on a new Bioware game, and this weekend I was able to get mine on Dragon Age 2.

The question everyone seems to be asking, though, is : Is This Dragon Age?

Well, yes and no.

About 10 hours in and the answer is : in terms of world, lore and myth, this is Dragon Age. Thedas is lovingly rendered, and the game is replete with all the darkness and violence that made the first game so popular. If you, like me, loved the world of Dragon Age but were frustrated by the implementation, Dragon Age 2 might be exactly what you’re looking for.

If, on the other hand, you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins’ tactical, stop-start micromanagey combat, Dragon Age 2 may dissapoint. It suffers somewhat from the Mass Effect 2 syndrome, where a deep, rich predecessor is ‘dumbed down’ to make it more accessible to the masses.

The difference is that Mass Effect 2 was, first and foremost, a console game. Even the first one was essentially a 360 core title. Dragon Age 1, on the other hand, was clearly a PC game that had been ported to the Xbox.

But Dragon Age 2 feels like some kind of… middle point. It both is, and isn’t, a PC game. It both is, and isn’t, a console game. The interface and graphics are slicker, but the engine still feels a tad like Dragon Age 1. You can still directly control each character like DA1 as opposed to Mass Effect where you always control Shepard and simply issue teammates commands… but in 2 you might not find yourself actually bothering to do so, since the AI appears to be much better and the overall difficulty taken down a notch. You can still modify tactics, but you probably won’t do so because the presets actually work well, as opposed to the first game. And while you can still carefully construct all characters’ attributes and skills, your companions are now preset – you can’t train Bethany to be a Blood Mage for example. And outfitting your teammates is a little more limited.

There’s a fair amount to be said about the actual storyline too, which feels a little disjointed and not quite up to the starting experience of Origins. Early impressions are that Hawke is purely out to make a bit of spare change, which isn’t quite the same as trying to stop an Archdemon and his army from obliterating an entire continent. Perhaps things will pick up. I’m certainly hoping so.

Thing is… I welcome some of the streamlining and simplification. What I enjoy about RPG’s are 3 things:

-Story
-Characters and development
-Murdering baddies

And ‘Dragon Effect’ nails the latter. It’s too early for me to tell how the story pans out, but it looks promising. And the characters..well they’re a mixed bag. Some are brilliant – Merril for example is a must-have in your party. She’s an adorably naive elf mage, and when you hear her wondering why they call the Blooming Rose a brothel – ‘does it have something to do with broth?’ – in her absolutely endearing accent, you’ll probably fall in love with the character too. But others are a bit drab. Your sibling, for example, appears to serve purely as a placeholder. Whether that be Carver or Bethany, I never got the feeling that Bioware injected any heart into them.

My first impressions are that Dragon Age 2 is the better game in terms of  combat (which is really fun, whichever class you play) and playability. There’s less painful minutae to micromanage. But some people liked that minutae. So it’s worse as a ‘PC’ game, compared to it’s predecessor. If you enjoyed agonizing over stats, spending hours space-pausing and co-ordinating your party rather than rushing in headlong, and fiddling with making potions and poisons and managing inventory and all that jazz, you might feel hard done by this simpler, cleaner game.

As a game that’s a little but deeper than your average console RPG though, it’s a clear success. If you feel that there was nothing wrong with Origins that needed fixing, though, then DA2 might be a victim of it’s own success.

But if you can enjoy it for what it is and enjoy it on it’s own merits, rather than pick it apart compared to it’s daddy, you’ll find a great CRPG.

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