Publisher: EA (Signature Edition contains ‘online pass’ for Black Emporium DLC)
Released March 11th 2011 (UK).
‘So…you wanna know about the Champion of Kirkwall, eh? Well these days, who doesn’t? Maybe greasing my palm with a few sovereigns will jog my memory…?’
Taking the reigns from Dragon Age: Origins, DA2 is similar…but oh so much better. BioWare have essentially taken some of the things we loved about DA: O, and injected it with awesome. The end result, being DA2.
The story of DA2 is cleverly conveyed through framed narrative, with a little help from a smart mouthed Dwarf, Varric. DA2 tells the story of Hawke aka ‘The Champion of Kirkwall’, and his or her rise to power over a decade…
The game opens with Varric, the lovable storyteller, being held captive by Cassandra Pentaghast, the Chantry Seeker. She is insisting that Varric tell her the story of the Champion. Varric of course, dutifully obliges…
Basically, the entire game is set in, and around the city of ‘Kirkwall’ – an interesting, if confusing concept, due to the world of Dragon Age being so vast. The previous title had you running around many different areas. That’s not to say that Kirkwall isn’t a brilliant place. There’s the colourful, tall buildings of Hightown. The dank sewer-esq Darktown, and of course the lively, poverty ridden Lowtown. There’s also the ‘Wounded Coast’, which offers a truly stunning view of the sea, which has been rendered beautifully. Just stopping to have a look at all of the small details that have been put into the various locations, really is worth your time.
The story of DA2 is really quite intriguing, once you get past a rather slow, political sort of start. The first hour or so of playing, will sadly lose many players – as it’s not just a case of throwing you into fight, after fight. There’s quite a bit of wondering around, trying to become a citizen of Kirkwall. As a Ferelden refugee (you’re fleeing the Blight, with your brother, sister, and mother), Kirkwall is less than hospitable towards you. Once you’ve became a resident however, then the fun (and the story) can really begin. You can now recruit companions, kill any number of bandits, spiders, shades, angry angry blood mages, a very worthy rival…the list goes on. All the while, progressing your rise to Champion. In-between each act (of which there are 3), you cut back to Varric, and the Seeker – who will basically just encourage Varric to continue his tale. There’s a secret, and conspiracy afoot…but you’ll have to play the game, in order to find it out!
Back to the Champion. As with DA: O, you choose between playing as a mage (with some reworked spell animations, which look fantastic), a warrior or a rogue. The rogue being my personal favourite, this is not the rogue class we were introduced to in DA: O! The combat in DA2 is far easier, than that of DA: O, but far superior in that it’s faster, and more action paced. Sadly, fans of tactical gameplay may be disappointed, as enemies tend to go down rather fast, without much effort at all – if you have the correct character build. Kicking up the difficulty can help though, nightmare is painful, literally. The character classes, and their subsequent class talent ‘trees’ are a far superior idea than that of DA: O. You recieve 3 attribute points (to spend on willpower – stamina/mana, consitution – health, magic – power/resistance, etc) each time you level up, along with 1 attribute point (to spend on talents/spells/abilities). While many people, who aren’t familiar with RPGs, may be daunted by the idea of leveling, and spec’ing a character, DA2 makes it a very simple element to the game.
One of the best things about DA2 is that our Champion actually has a voice (and isn’t afraid to use it!). The brilliant thing about our voiced main character, is that his or her voice changes depending on the dialogue options your choose. You have 3 options – green/blue for diplomatic/helpful, purple for funny/charming, and red for direct/aggressive. For instance, my initial playthrough was as a diplomatic/helpful mage, so my characters voice obviously took on the diplomatic tone, and her dialogue was…actually, kind of boring, in a very diplomatic sort of way. My second playthrough was as a funny/charming rogue – the voice tone, and dialogue change were quite drastic (as were other characters reaction to her!). You of course don’t have to just stick to one dialogue option, but being consistent will set your characters personality type.
The characters of DA2 are quite simply put, amazing. Each of your companions are unique in their own little way, they have their own personality, and struggles. Truly, my favourite part of the game, was being able to talk to my characters during or after their personal quests (of which, I would have loved to have seen more). Your companions don’t just sit around a campsite or stand about Vigil’s Keep, they each have their own homebase. Aveline, the guardswoman, can be found in the guards barracks, while Isabela, our pirate queen will be found propping up the bar, at The Hanged Man. While in DA: O, you could pop back to your campsite, and chat with the characters, until you ran out of dialogue options, DA2 does companion interactions differently. You’ll receive a quest, with the objective being to chat to Anders (rawr) or whomever. Depending on how you interact with each character, depends on if they will become your friend or rival.
The friend/rivalry bar is your way of knowing how each companion feels about you. If you favour mages, with a mage in your party, said mage will like your more – thus giving you points towards a friendship. However, having an anti-mage in the party will have an averse affect, thus giving you rivalry points with them. The thing to remember here is, you can’t please everyone…and you may not want to. Whether you gain friendship or rivalry, each character will unlock a special passive ability, on their personal ability tree. Friendship may offer the character a speed boost, but rivalry may offer them extra damage – so don’t just go for friendship every time. (The relationship bar works on a 200 point scale, when you meet a new companion, the pointer will be in the centre – so you can choose to take the relationship either way.)
As I mentioned earlier, the characters in this game are amazing. Some of whom (Isabela, Varric) will literally have you giggling for hours. The interactions between each character, is delightful to listen to. Some characters will get along (Varric loves everyone), while others will clash badly (Anders, and Fenris). Play around with them, and visit their home bases often, to progress your relationship with each, it really is a worthwhile endeavour.
I’ve thus far managed to play the game to completion 3 times, simply because of the excellent banter between companions, and how different the dialogue can be, dependant on how you choose to play your version of Hawke. That’s n0t to say that this game is perfect, it really isn’t. The game recycles environments, constantly. Each mansion is the same, but given a different name. Each cave system is the same, perhaps with a boulder blocking your way in one instance, and not the next. While that aspect becomes tiring, seeing the same area time, and again, it’s still fun to play. Another problem of course is the odd bug, and glitch. My Isabela companion randomly stops moving during combat (even though I have a complete set of tactics set for her), she’ll stand there motionless and eventually be put down, unless I switch to her (LB/RB on X360). But overall, I can look past the odd annoyance, and appreciate this game for what it is – brilliant.
In Conclusion: as far as I’m concerned this is BioWare’s best RPG to date. It offers a good 30-50 hours of play, excellent dialogue (with some fantastic voice acting), and a great combat system. Everyone simply must try playing as a rogue Hawke, at least once. Also, Anders. Sexy, tortured Anders.
Dragon Age 2 scores a Blighted 9/10
This was written for a website that I was a reviewer/writer for, said website no longer exists…and yea, now this BS is here.