Dragon Age II Reader Review
It occurred to me during a particularly tedious piece of dialogue with the Arishok that Dragon Age 2 is, in many ways, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
Whilst technically, and visually, an improvement on its predecessor the game loses any real sense of what was fun about Origins. Rather than giving you the feeling you’re being pulled along through a fantasy epic it leaves you confused as to why you should care about the tax system on Naboo or, in this case, why everyone in Kirkwall can’t just get along. Judged it in its own right it's good, maybe even great, but seen in the context of what came before you start to wonder where it all went wrong.
That’s not to say it’s all bad, and there is a lot to like in the refined mechanics of the game, but the overwhelming memories of my time in Hawke’s company will be disappointment and apathy. This is only made worse because Bioware itself has shown the template for how a sequel can have real impact. Whilst the streamlined approach to combat and inventory is carried over from its stable mate, Dragon Age 2 left something more fundamental from the Mass Effect universe on the shelf - the sense that your decisions actually matter in this world.
Like many others, a single play through Mass Effect and its sequel was enough for me. Those decisions are set, remembered, and the consequences will have to be dealt with (Wrex remains dead in my world - it was the right call...).
The “Hero of Ferelden” seemed to be showing similar promise in changing the world around them, picking sides as you recruited allies and choosing who sat on the throne as you went. With all this scope I was hoping that some of my decisions would be reflected in a meaningful way, but any brief mentions of world just seemed like tokenism. The move to a new character was fine, let’s be honest it would have been odd if my “hero” suddenly started talking, but the move to a new setting felt like this was the slate being wiped clean for me.
With that new setting comes another problem. Where Ferelden gave us forests, mountains, towns and lakes to look at, the graphical improvement in Dragon Age 2 serves only to showcase the different shades of brown that a wall can be. Yes, the city districts are different, but they are all full of high, bland, walls. When you drag yourself out of Kirkwall in desperate need of a change of scenery you find that every cave, mine and stretch of coastline is the same. Exactly the same. Occasionally a doorway will move, but not enough ever changes to give you impression that this is anything other than lazy game design.
Unfortunately the cast of supporting characters isn’t interesting enough to take your mind of the view. Origins had personalities whoever you chose to tag along, although slaying Darkspawn was never right for me without Alastair’s blood soaked sarcasm. Varric tries his best but the most you can say about the others is that they’re inoffensive. Aveline is particularly boring. Even Anders, fondly remembered from Awakenings, is now constantly moaning and Isabella seems included just to confirm the idea that games can only appeal to teenage boys.
I’m confused as to why any of them stay with Hawke anyway, we never really learn what drives them or him to keep finding these wrongs to right. Is it not enough to just get a bit of money, settle down in Kirkwall and be happy?
You can applaud Dragon Age 2 for moving away from the “save the world” cliché, but you have to admit that it’s as good a reason as any for your average hero to get out of bed in the morning. I for one will be hoping there’s another Blight on the horizon for Dragon Age 3