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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bioware and the Evolution of RPGs PT II: Dragon Age 2


  1. Previously I wrote my thoughts regarding Bioware's epic Sci Fi RPG, Mass Effect 2. Recently they have released the sequel to their other franchise, the dark fantasy RPG Dragon Age 2. I purchased the Signature Edition version, pre ordered through a friend. The good thing about that is the cool additional content that comes along with it (Bonus content for being Signature edition PLUS another bonus stuff for Pre-Ordering the game) while the bad thing was that relying on bad shipping and other people to post it made me finally start playing the game at a time when even non hardcore gamers (unlike myself) have already finished it. Heh, hubris on my part I'm sure...

  2. Dragon Age 2 (DA2), unlike Origins (or DA1) did not come out with largely positive comments from all over with only mild criticism on a few of its features. In fact, opinions run from total epic fail to a brave, inspired attempt at innovation, to outright awesomeness. The same features can sometimes be hailed as its crowning glory or cause of frustration for differing players, namely the choice of limiting the geographical setting of DA2's story.

  3. But before I go any further than those, allow me to blow of steam in one regard. Of all the features, ideas, new direction the game takes over its predecessor, one of the most famous (or is it notorious) comment circulating around seems to be in regards to the romance feature between characters, specifically GAY romance. Look. I don't really agree to GAY relations (there, I've said it) but it's usually none of my business who-likes-to-stick-what-in-where, especially since there are far more interesting and incredible features in the game. I would really hope the next game wouldn't have people over fixated on the romance bit, gay ones specifically... but I doubt it, people being people after all. Combat mechanics, choices and consequence, character development and customization and most importantly story should outstrip that 'other' aspect in our focus, but to each their own eh?

  4. The story focuses on the new character Hawke, a Dragon age version of Mass Effect's Commander Shepard, complete with voice over dialogs for either gender and fixed last name for easy reference by other NPCs. I would state for the record, my one big gripe about Dragon Age franchise is that after all the "Origins" and "Big Choices" we make, invested upon and dwelled over, quite a few times the devs decide to tell a story featuring a player character OTHER than my thoughtfully developed Origins Grey Warden. Why can't it be like Mass Effect where all games, sequel and DLC, still features your very own personally crafted and invested upon version of Shepard. But putting that aside and taking Hawke's story as a new game instead of some sequel, it really is quite good (although I think ME2 did better expression animation that DA2). In fact take Origins as some sort of prequel game and DA2 as another series in the same universe, and stop bloody comparing with POINT BY POINT all the nostalgic stuff you had in DA1, you could actually enjoy this very much.

  5. Set in the Free Marcher city of Kirkwall, you're first impression is that you seem to be going nowhere other than running around in circles in just that one city. I mean, if you were to... conduct that 'cardinal sin' of comparing to DA1... again... you would feel that what is going around Kirkwall compared to trips through Orzammar and the Deep Roads, the deep woods of the Brecillian Forests with its ruins (and Revenants) as well as small towns like Lothering, Redcliffe and of course the city of Denerim. But the charm is that instead of marching through space, DA2 marches through time. Sure it's the same place over and over, but the story spans years as opposed to a short time (less than a year at most for DA1) and before you realize it, every corner of Kirkwall feels like home, you know it like the back of your hand. Admittedly though, some dungeons and areas are over-recycled especially since they're not supposed to be the same place yet use the same, one design and internal layout with slight variations; like sealing of a passage way here and there.

  6. Did you know the game takes note of the kind of dialogue choices you picked for Hawke? Choosing between 3 types of persona (diplomatic and proper, witty and sarcastic, or harsh and rude) these decisions affect Hawke's personality, not just at the one moment, but rather through out the story. Choose witty and sarcastic a lot, and later on Hawke naturally adopts that kind of persona, with whatever plus and minuses it brings (I read somewhere that only a Diplomatic Hawke can give an arousing speech to the city guards or such)

  7. Speaking of characters, I tend to miss Oghren or Leliana from DA1 and I didn't respond well at first to these new characters in DA2 that I find accompanying my Hawke in the story. But this is a game about going through time, and bit by bit, as they unfold further (listen to all the party banter between your companions) and show their unique traits, I can't help but warm to them. Varric is not another Oghren, he drinks a lot but doesn't get pissed-drunk like Oghren did. He doesn't say dumb things a lot either, but his humor and remarks are usually more witty and refined. Aveline appears as one of those tough-as-nails, no nonsense all business warrior that seemed to lack humor or even emotion, but as you progress one can't help but see how her devotion was to her deceased husband, laugh at her ineptitude at wooing a potential suitor and be utterly amused at her back and forth banter with Isabela, sexy pirate chick who is always flirting around. They're all not simply different, but at the same time, they are allowed to go deeper as well. You might not get an instant liking, but they will eventually grow on you. Even Fenris, bleached haired, slim elf with brooding attitude, tattoos and big ass two handed sword and rather gay outfit that seems like a rip off from those (annoying?) Japanese RPG character types, eventually becomes tolerable enough for you to care about (unless you are those that like those JRPG types in which case I have... no comment).

  8. And yes, this time round you have family. And what happens to your family members, well... you might actually care more for them than for the ordinary companions. This lends further depth to your character Hawke than the past anonymous (or amnesiac), one-of-many-start-off-solo character templates.

  9. Let's talk about the vanity bit. I always loved the DA character customization more than ME. Somehow I can craft my perfect warrior chicka better in DA than ME. That aside I'm quite happy to see improvements to the attires and clothing available to the characters. Companions don't change their looks or clothes, much, but their gear can be upgraded by specific armor parts found throughout the game (up to 4 slots for upgrades). Only Hawke can use and change to different armor sets like in DA1, though some of these new suits of armor are cooler looking. (warrior Champion armor is awesome!) This system is streamlined and easier, in a direction almost like that of ME2) with the only flaw is that you find lots and lots of armor sets, some very powerful for different character class from your Hawke, thus he/she can't use them and is nothing more than loot to be sold off. But that aside I'm happy. Especially since now, you can toggle helmets on or off; the logic being I made my chicka hot, why does she have to cover her purrdy face with that dingy helmet?

  10. The story of DA2 focuses more on the existing prejudices of the world, such as inter racial, mage-templar and such more than Origins, which have those as a background setting but was more ultimately about setting up to kill the big bad monster (archdemon). Set over a course of almost a decade but within the confines of Kirkwall and its surrounding only, unlike DA1 which spans for not so long a time but spreads broadly across the whole of a country, Ferelden. Where DA1 was enjoyed because of its broad large scale epics over an entire land during a most critical moment, DA2 is narrower in focus and takes time to grow, but enables a kind of depth its predecessor could not give. I shall not argue for either, because unlike some, I can actually enjoy either kind of story in the end.

  11. The ME style dialogue and character, faster slicker combat, some of the streamlined features over the old DA1, are very much a welcome change, for me at least. It is not without flaws. bugs and glitches, overusing one or two types of interior areas, and over simplification or removal of certain features sort of spoils it a bit (What??? No dual sword wielding anymore, dual wielding only for DAGGERS?). The story has nice moments and elements which can thoroughly affect you, but the coherency and connection of said elements needs some fine tuning. DA1 always had you thinking of the ultimate goal of fighting the archdemon and the blight, where as the different Acts in DA2 have differing focus, with the main element for the final act usually taking one step back in the earlier acts, that you lose focus about that ultimate ending at times.

  12. Is this an awesome new RPG that escalates and improves over the old? No, but neither is it the total disappointment that some die hard fans of the old would claim it to be. Take it as a new chapter, not a direct continuation of the first, and you should be able to clear yourself enough to see the gem of this game.

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