|System: PC, Xbox 360, PS3|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: March 8, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Andrew Groen
The original Dragon Age released in a gaming market that, in hindsight, was incredibly apt for its arrival. There hadn't been any epic console games released in years. The other games of its ilk were lackluster at best, and their titles were synonymous with mediocrity. Therefore, despite its many flaws, Dragon Age: Origins sold well and was critically well-received.
The sequel doesn't have that luxury. In part this is because it's releasing so close to its own predecessor. Just twelve months have passed since the expansion pack to Origins (Dragon Age: Origins Awakening) was released, and thus it's essentially its own competition. There was also the recent improvement in the Two Worlds franchise and 2010's Divinity 2: Ego Draconis. With the competition, it's harder to let Dragon Age 2's faults slide. The bar has been raised.
The first thing Dragon Age fans will notice is the improved combat system. Bioware has gone to great lengths to make the system more accessible to new players rather than stalwartly focusing on RPG-buffs. Dragon Age 2 marks perhaps the first major enhancement to the Bioware style of turn-based combat since 2005's Jade Empire (a game with which Dragon Age 2 shares more than a couple similarities).
For all intents and purposes, this is still the same combat system you know and love (or hate) from the last game, but it's been sped up so you may never even notice that it's technically turn-based. The behind-the-scenes dice rolls and Dungeons-and-Dragons mechanics are so well hidden that you might think this was an action game. That is a high compliment for a game of this type. Very few epic RPGs have even had the resources and will to craft an engaging battle system.
The fighting system doesn't seem to have suffered at all from the abbreviated development time. However, the same can't really be said about the storyline and characters. What starts off as a grand adventure with characters speaking in hushed voices about the mythical "Champion" (read: the player) quickly devolves, growing boring in a hurry. Bioware used an experimental type of storytelling in Dragon Age 2. In all of their other games, you control the main character every step of their journey. In Dragon Age 2, the story skips around from focal point to focal point. Near the beginning of the game, there's a chance that you'll need to join up with some foul people in order to get inside of a city.
Their terms dictate that you must work for them for a full year once they get you inside. Rather than making you sludge through a year of busy work, the story skips forward to a scene with characters essentially saying "phew, that was a rough year." It sounds great in theory, however I'm not convinced that it's successful. Immersion is a fragile thing, and in this case I think that having control of the character yanked away from you (then subsequently having them live by themselves for a year) breaks your connection with the character.
However, the connections aren't all that strong to begin with. The new characters aren't engaging, paling in comparison to the companions from Bioware's two previous games, Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins. I definitely liked a few characters from Dragon Age 2, particularly Aveline and Anders, but the complex tapestry of personalities from Dragon Age: Origins just isn't really there anymore. The collective just gets along a bit too well. I really missed Morrigan, Leliana, and Alistair trading quips back and forth throughout the journey. Obviously, we can't know for sure, but this seems like another casualty of the extremely short development time. It's hard to imagine how they managed to create any RPG at all in eighteen months, let alone one of considerable overall quality like this one.