If I were to summarize the story of Dragon Age 2 in two words, it would be this: soul crushing.
Dragon Age 2 was the greatly anticipated sequel to the hit game Dragon Age: Origins. In DA:O, the gamer played a hero who helped unite a continent in a struggle against a despot ruler and to defeat an old god (called an Archdemon) and his army before he destroyed the world. It was a heroic struggle of good versus evil. There were twists and turns, victories and defeats.. but it always ended with the player feeling like things weren’t hopeless, that the decisions that was made helped influence the game in some way.
And then, it was like BioWare looked at that and said, “No. Happiness is too video gamey. We need to make things more realistic. Let’s beat the hero into the ground with a huge series of defeats.”
Yep. The hero helplessly searches for his missing mother, only to find that he’s too late. He comes in to find his mother sitting silently with an insane mage behind her.. spouting generic crap that screams “kill me, I’m evil.” Once you defeat the mage, you find out that the hero’s mother was somehow still alive-ish, somehow. And the hero gets to watch her helplessly die. After that, the hero’s uncle blames the hero for his mother’s death, as the hero didn’t save her.
Don’t worry, this isn’t the only time the hero fails to save someone:
The hero’s sister, Bethany, was slaughtered before the hero’s eyes by an Ogre. Yeah, that was a “fun” one, as the mother got a chance to watch her daughter get killed in a horrible way. This is only if you play a mage for the hero (which I did). Though if you play a fighter or rogue, you get to watch your dear brother, Carver, share exactly the same fate.
This could easily have happened to Bethany instead. This is Carver. He’s the hero’s brother. Nice guy. At some point in the game, the hero has a chance to travel to the Deep Roads (where the Dark Spawn is at). Before the quest begins, Carver BEGS the hero for a chance to go. The guy BEGS. In most stories, when a character begs to go, you take that character. Nevermind that the hero’s mom was apprehensive. That was fine, since Carver really, really, really wanted to go.
Turns out, if the player didn’t also take another character named Anders, who was a Grey Warden who knew how to deal with a certain type of poison that killed Carver, then Carver was a walking dead man. The worst part of this? There was NO HINT AT ALL to take Anders with. We just had Carver beg to go.
In other words, the player was being set up to watch another family member die. Nicely done BioWare! You got the entire set.
Meet Isabela. Yes, that’s her name. Not Isabella. Isabela.
Isabela stole the Tome of Koslun, a Qunari artifact that’s unimaginably important to the Qunari people. It was the reason why the Qunari were living in Kirkwall to begin with. They wanted it back. At one point, Isabela asked the hero’s help to retrieve it. So the player has a choice. The player could pander to Isabela’s greedy, self-serving, nature and let her keep it which would most likely lead to a huge war between the Qunari and Kirkwall (they would be PISSED), or the player could do the right thing and try to return it to the Qunari. So playing the hero, I did the right thing and tried to return the artifact. Right in the middle of this, Isabela splits from the group. She stole the Tome and left a message to the hero saying… in not so many words… she’s a horrible person who wanted the Tome because she felt like it.
The Tome was one of the huge reasons the Qunari was still in Kirkwall. Because they couldn’t get it back, as Isabela left Kirkwall, they stayed. This led to the Qunari attacking Kirkwall, killing hundreds of innocent people caught in the crossfire. The hero never had a chance to do the right thing. No matter what, Isabela would steal the Tome and leave the hero high and dry. But that’s okay. It’s “realistic.” Who needs heroics, right? Who would want to do the right thing and prevent a looming war when we could watch Isabela stab the hero in the back?
This is just a small sample of all the defeats the hero suffers through in the game. The story is brutal and soul crushing. The hero cannot make a difference in the world. Everyone is horrible and the world is going to hell. No matter what good the hero tries to do is quickly forgotten as those with power overtake everything, making the world a place nobody wants to live in.
Just like real life!
Enough about the story. Let’s talk about game mechanics.
The battles are far faster in Dragon Age 2 as compared with the first game. As a matter of taste, I prefer the first game. But that’s my opinion. I’ve met at least a dozen people who adore the battle interface in the second game. It’s streamlined. The player can have up to four character on screen at a time to wage war against the bad guys. It’s easy to switch between them and their abilities are very easy to access.
On the downside, the fights are nothing but a series of waves. BioWare eliminated the boss fight because it’s too video gamey. This works to the game’s detriment, as this is a video game. The main bad guy that the hero is about to face should stand out in some way. But nope. Every character blends together in this game on the battlefield. And since the battles happen so quickly, I never realized when the antagonist I was trying to kill actually died. It’s frustrating and makes the battles feel less important.
On the bright side, the soundtrack is awesome. The voice acting is top notch. The graphics have improved. Though these are minor when compared to the mountain of problems this game has.
The game isn’t worth it. As a sequel, it fails. Completely. The first Dragon Age was a heroic adventure at heart where the hero could, and did, make a difference in the world. In Dragon Age 2, the player cannot make a real difference. Most of the events that happen are well outside the player’s control.
Do not buy it. Do not play it. You will regret it.
(Note: all pictures are owned by BioWare)
- Dragon Age III: Inquisition will be shown in some form at E3 (business.financialpost.com)