Dragon Age 2 review Dragon Age 2 review

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Categories: Gaming Reviews   Tags: , , , , ,
We love
It's hard to say no to a BioWare game
We hate
Feels slightly rushed, soulless
Verdict
Even if you prefer fantasy to sci-fi, this isn't up there with Mass Effect 2
Launch Price
£39.99
3 Pages
123

dragon-age-2-review-1

It’s hard not to play Dragon Age 2 and compare it to Mass Effect 2, BioWare’s critically acclaimed 2010 space opera RPG. Sure, the first Dragon Age had a fantasy setting, and a very different combat system, but given the console, hack and slash focus of this sequel, it’s clear the studio was trying to follow the same recipe for success that Jack Shepard’s been using. Does it work? Read on for our Dragon Age 2 review and find out.

BioWare’s largely avoided the backlash for releasing a sequel so soon after the original (which was released in 2009) that others like Valve have faced for capitalising on Left4Dead so quickly. But there’s no denying that this feels like something of a rush job: perhaps we’ve been spoiled by all these annual editions of Assassin’s Creed.

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Story

Actually, we rather like the way in which the story is told. In the same way that Call of Duty Black Ops used flashbacks to unfurl the narrative, here the story is told by Hawke’s old comrade Varric, under duress – but we won’t spoil that for you.

You’re dumped right in the middle of the action as Hawke, fleeing Ferelden with your family as the land is ravaged by the dark spawn (nasty chaps) – after quickly establishing how to fight, the story shifts forward to the neighbouring city of Kirkwall. Initially, you’re refused entry, but soon you make your way in, and it’s your adventures and rise to fame and fortune as the “champion” of Kirkwall that Dragon Age 2 depicts – with the story set out over a full ten years.

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Of course, in true BioWare style, the story’s direction can be controlled by the decisions you make, with a conversation wheel straight out of Knights Of The Old Republic and Mass Effect letting you adjust the course with your response. Saved games from the original Dragon Age can also affect how the game pans out, but newcomers won’t be in over their heads starting out on this second one.

Combat

The biggest change however, comes with combat. Dragon Age veterans might be used to the clicking about, issuing orders approach of isometric RPGs of old, but as Mass Effect became a duck and cover shooter with its sequel, so Dragon Age 2 has become a hack and slash affair – and something of a button masher as well.

Like Mass Effect, you have a wheel of commands you can pull off, most of which require a recharge after use of a few seconds. These can be mapped to keys on the gamepad for quick use, so if you want, you can get stuck into a good melee without having to pause too often.

It’s not quite so “dumbed down” however. Where on the console version of Mass Effect 2 you could only control Shepard and issue orders to others, here you can simply toggle between characters, which came as something of a relief as we soon discovered that playing as a warrior is really rather boring. You can also get stuck in and create custom battleplans, which hardcore players on more difficult settings will definitely appreciate.

Levelling up is also relatively basic: you can shove a few points into a couple of attributes, then choose a new power or ability in various skillets depending on your class. There’s a bit more flexibility than in Mass Effect, but nothing that will blow minds. All in all, we’d say it’s a change for the better, but then we prefer Mass Effect 2 to Neverwinter Nights.

The shortcomings

The core gameplay hasn’t changed all that much however. You generally go questing, sluicing ogres in half and generally earning coin, female characters still loll about, knocking over enemies with their enormous bosoms (There ought to be a mammary levelling up option, really).

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, we have to admit that after a few hours of play, thing start to feel a bit samey. That’s because the city of Kirkwall and the surrounding dungeons are pretty much all you get to explore, and then explore again: it feels slightly lifeless and repetitive, and is clearly how BioWare managed to turn around Dragon Age 2 in double-time.

Exploring the city and surrounding dungeons, you’ll also find that it’s not just been a matter of cutting corners by recycling the same areas: there are still kinks that really should have been fixed prior to launch. Even on the Xbox 360 version we tested, Dragon Age 2 is not a match for the visuals of Mass Effect 2 – even the facial animations aren’t up to scratch – and there was more than one occasion where a cutscene simply played over again in a loop due to a bug.

Some of this we expect BioWare to solve with updates, but even so, we reckon there’s many a Dragon Age fan who would have been willing to wait until later on in the year for a smoother experience.

Verdict

None of this should detract from the fact that Dragon Age 2 is still a thrilling, absorbing game to play, and for those left unsatisfied by Mass Effect 2′s streamlined approach to combat and levelling up, it should still please. Us though, we’d have been happier with the upcoming Mass Effect 2 DLC while BioWare fleshed this out further.

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