The first noticeable change will be the narrative in which the story is told through. Unlike the original, Dragon Age 2 is told through a narration by a party member, Varric, while being interrogated. This story telling device is used very well throughout the entire game with the story teller often humorously exaggerating certain aspects of the story. This style of narration was quite popular last year with several games telling their story in past tense through an interrogation (Splinter Cell: Conviction, Alpha Protocol, Call of Duty: Black Ops). The character of Varric and his particular brand of storytelling make Dragon Age 2’s use of this story telling device the most successful in recent memory.
Another change that will be immediately noticeable is in the graphics department. Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic looking game while running on the Xbox 360. The city of Kirkwall and the vistas that appear throughout bring the world of Dragon Age 2 to life. The character models in the original Dragon Age were never bad by any means but in Dragon Age 2 each party member’s facial features and clothing look much more detailed and living than its predecessor.
The combat in Dragon Age 2 has been given a significant overhaul and now straddles the line between a traditional RPG and an Action RPG. The semi-turned based style of Origins has been replaced by a more fluid action combat system. All of the dice roll results and hit damage counter are no longer on the surface of the game. The ability to set up tactics for your party members still exist but is given less emphasis than in the original. Many of the default tactics are strong enough to make it thought the entirety of the game on the normal difficulty setting.
Bioware has reduced the number of menus resulting in a streamlined inventory and leveling system that makes Dragon Age 2 that much better on the Xbox 360. The leveling system is structured as a series of skill trees that points can be put into. Unlike the first Dragon Age, some skills are upgradeable, leading to greater damage or less power cool down times. A major area of the game that has been reduced and made “less hardcore” is the ability to customize your party members. No longer can you customize every aspect of their attire. In Dragon Age 2 party members have a set outfit with only their weapons and status effect jewellery being changeable. The stats for the set outfits do increase as they level up but players will no longer be able to put their entire party in matching armour. The ability to customize party members was always enjoyable but now that they choose what they want to wear, it gives them more credibility as characters.
In addition to the not being able to choose the outfits for your characters, Bioware has made several other changes to Dragon Age 2’s companions. No longer can you stop and have a conversation with your party members whenever you like. Each character now has a home base where their unique dialogue options take place. These conversations only become available when a quest icon for that character appears in your journal, which will happen several times across the three acts of the game. There are a few unique quests for each companion over all three acts instead of one specific companion quest as it was in Dragon Age: Origins. The fact that there is much more companion interaction and that the story with these characters spans the course of a decade, make the supporting cast of Dragon Age 2 much more personal and fleshed out than some of the characters in the original.
One of the most polarizing aspects of Dragon Age 2 is the story. In the original the hero traveled far and wide across great distances to bring together different species to fight together against a greater threat. Dragon Age 2 picks up during the events of the original but quickly shifts towards the city of Kirkwall over the next ten years. Instead of traveling across the land, Dragon Age 2 has you moving up through the different levels of society in Kirkwall.
The epic tale of defeating an ancient evil is not the story told in Dragon Age 2 which is an aspect many people will hold against it. While the story will not cast you as the great saviour and at times it may be hard to answer the question “What is Dragon Age 2 About?” it is a far more interesting story than I initially expected. The story builds well over the three acts and watching the evolution of the supporting characters is a highlight of the game. There are also several twists that will cause you to make some incredibly hard decisions.
Dragon Age 2 does a great job of pitting you against characters you’re invested in and making you choose between options when neither is necessarily the bad one. Instead of clear cut good and bad decisions and consequences, Dragon Age 2 often forces you to make decisions that exist in a gray area, with positive and negatives resulting in each side of a decision.
The largest negative that surrounds Dragon Age 2 is the repetition of areas and dungeons throughout the game. You will become intimately familiar with the same cave, city dungeon and dwarven rune all called different names over the course of the game. Sometimes it will be skinned differently but more often than not only certain passages will be available with the others being blocked off. This doesn’t change the mini map in the corner of the screen from displayed the entirety of the dungeon however.
One of the positive changes made to Dragon Age 2 is that it borrows the conversation wheel from Mass Effect which is a great addition to the overall presentation of the game and how we interact with it. Bioware also gave us a speaking protagonist this time around. The muted hero from the first was one the biggest drawbacks of the original.
Dragon Age 2 is going to be a polarizing game. Some will love it while others will have some not so nice things to say about the many changes made in the sequel. This reviewer however enjoyed Dragon Age 2 immensely and plans to play through it several more times. The action rpg combat is much more exciting than the combat of origins but the ability to still manage party tactics keeps the soul of origins alive. While not nearly the epic tale of Origins, Dragon Age 2 does tell and interesting story filled with many unpredictable events, great supporting characters and tough choices that fundamentally change how the story unfolds.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of Dragon Age 2.