Dragon Age 2 Review

Despite the 'push A for awesome' PR plan, Dragon Age 2 is still a Bioware RPG at heart. The problem is that there just isn't enough variety in it.

There's a lot to be said about Dragon Age 2, good and bad. I hate to say it, but the too often used idiom “mixed bag” really does apply here.

Despite some of the conclusions I had probably drawn from some of the preview material and trailers, the combat had changed very little in the end. It's generally paced faster, while still retaining all the tactics options from Dragon Age: Origins that I need. The biggest missing thing is the tactical/bird-eye view, but who uses that, I mean really. The only time I used it in Origins was at the very beginning just to see how it looked, chuckled at the novelty of it, and zoomed right back in. The farthest zoom you have in Dragon Age 2 is quite far enough for me to see everything I need to see during combat.

The combat is still as bloody as ever.
The voice acting is mostly excellent. All the main characters are consistently handled with care, with Varric (Brian Bloom), Merrill (Eve Myles) and Isabela (Victoria Kruger) standing out as the best of them. This is also partly because of their dialogue of course, which is generally quite good. Some of the additional voices are not as good, and there are a few really bad accents thrown in there every once in a while, but they don't drag the game down too much. And I can't even begin to tell you how pleased I am that the protagonist isn't silent anymore. I think that in Origins one of the biggest flaws was the silent and quite expressionless protagonist. Always staring at whoever was speaking with a blank stare on his face, just took me out of the game right away.

The tech of Dragon Age 2 works okay. I knew before I started that it's just an updated version of the engine they used in Origins, and it clearly is. So I managed my expectations accordingly. However, the character models and environments look quite alright, as long as you don't zoom in too close. Certainly some work has been done on the engine after Origins. I installed the official high resolution texture pack, and it made a lot of the environments look quite sharp. It's unfortunate that the same can't be said about armor and clothing. For a game that has so much dialogue during which the view is often very close to the characters, the texture work on all the clothing is quite abysmal. Combine that with some strange things on the character models themselves and, well, it's not always pretty. This game could have really used a separate set of character models and textures with higher detail for all the dialogue scenes. For example, Isabela's necklace looks like it's just painted on her neck. Better textures would have helped, but it would have been even better if it was part of the character model instead. I'm almost positive that someone somewhere in the mod community is already working on models with higher detail, certainly a texture pack. I should also mention that it looks a bit weird when steel armor bends with character movement. It's like they are wearing shirts that look like steel but actually are not. It's really unfortunate that this is the case because some parts, like the character faces, are well detailed with plenty of expression to go around.

Another tech related thing is Bink. Please developers, please. Stop using Bink. Especially when there's no real reason not to render the scene in-engine. The transition from Bink video to in-engine is always jarring, especially with the quality that these Bink videos are. If you must use video for whatever reason, surely there must be better options for you to use. This is especially apparent early on in Dragon Age 2, and I believe this was in the demo as well. The very early part where the dragon swoops in and kills a bunch of darkspawn is really badly compressed Bink video for some reason. Then later in game you actually fight dragons. Clearly it's not a problem to render the dragons in-engine. So what the hell is the problem?

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!
Overall the game feels a lot smaller than Origins. Most of it takes place in the city of Kirkwall and some surrounding areas, but that's it. By comparison, in Origins you traveled the land, went from city to city. There's a lot of dungeon crawling, and that is most certainly the weakest part of this package. Cookie cutter dungeons. If you choose to do all possible side quests, be prepared to haul your ass around the same few dungeons over and over again. There's almost always small differences, like a path that was open in another dungeon is now blocked. But it doesn't help at all, you can clearly see that it's still the same dungeon, even if it's supposed to be a completely different location. If that wasn't bad enough, they didn't bother to change the mini-maps for these cookie cutter locations, so you'll always see the map of the full dungeon, only to run into the stone walls where a door should be according to the map. It's amazing that after they got so much shit about this kind of thing on Mass Effect 1, and pretty much fixed it for Mass Effect 2, they would then regress back to it.

The story of the game is okay. The story of the Champion is not as interesting as the Warden's story from Origins, not by a long shot. It's tied to Origins very loosely, with a few nods here and there, with couple familiar characters making an appearance. Almost like they wanted to remind you that “hey, remember this guy from the earlier, better game? yeah? okay, good, he doesn't have any role in here but we thought to mention him anyway.” It's weird. There is a definite resolution to the main story arc in Dragon Age 2, but the way it ends clearly paves the way to the sequel. Very typical for a second part of a trilogy, and that's what it feels like.

So all in all, the main feeling that I'm left with is that the game feels very rushed. And looking at the time that it took for them to roll this out, I'm not surprised at all. It's not a bad game as such, but could have definitely used another 6 months of development time, if only to create more varied dungeons, bunch of higher detail character models and just general polish.