Gaming on a Timer

Dragon Age II: Impressions Part 1

Dragon Age II box art.

This will be a two, or possible three-part post regarding BioWare’s latest release, Dragon Age II. As there are quite a few points I can only illustrate by giving away plot info, here’s the mandatory spoiler graphic to warn off those that don’t wish to read anything regarding the game’s plot. You have been warned.

Having found myself with some free time over the weekend, I finally got started on Dragon Age II, the sequel to 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins – a self-titled “dark fantasy” RPG by BioWare. What was apparent from the start, however, was how much of an effort had gone into this game to differentiate it from it’s predecessor.

Default Hawke’s appearance.

Gone are the charming “origin” stories that set some sort of character basis for what was essentially a tabula rasa approach to the main character. In it’s place, a Mass Effect-esque system which locks the main character to the surname “Hawke” (regardless of gender), while the first name is chosen by the player – and then is mentioned once or twice (?) in some form of in-game correspondence. Granted, this allows for much better dialogue interactions with the rest of the non-player characters in the game, but it’s spectacularly mishandled on a few occasions where characters that are otherwise close to him/her should by all accounts be on a first-name basis (prime example: the love interest); this is however a very small (and otherwise unnoticeable) blow to suspension of disbelief.

Quite a big blow, though, is dealt whenever Hawke and co. venture into any of the quasi-dungeons of the game’s main and secondary quests. This happens primarily due to them being copy-pasted versions of one another, with different enemies, entry/exit points and either enabled or disabled doors to slightly alter the path the player has to take. The main level architecture is the same, though, and there seems to be no effort to hide this: the mini-map constantly displays areas you have no access to, the textures/loot-containing crevices/enemy spawn points are always the same.

Expect to see this cave again,
and again, and again…

In particular, the caves in this game are guilty of this behaviour, with no less than ten off the top of my head being based in that abysmal series of corridors, in relation to various quests that Hawke undertakes. This strikes me as a particularly distasteful habit they’ve picked up (and sadly, built upon) from the first Mass Effect game, which also shared the one-area-fits-all design philosophy (at least there it was limited to the side missions, whereas the main story ones had distinct level designs).

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Follow-up posts will elaborate on the story discrepancies between the game’s three acts, as well as the framing device(s) used. Finally, some impressions on the combat philosophy BioWare seems to have followed in this instalment and a few thoughts on the game’s voice acting.
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As a point of interest, I played as a male warrior Hawke that favoured Diplomatic/Helpful dialogue options, romanced Isabela (and defended her in a duel with the Qunari Arishok), sided with the mages in the finale, tried to complete as many side missions as possible and spared Anders after his betrayal.

Resources
=========
* Dragon Age II Wikipedia Entry
Dragon Age II Official Site
BioWare Official Site
* Dragon Age Wiki

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