Review: Dragon Age 2 – How not to make a sequel

If I were to summarize the story of Dragon Age 2 in two words, it would be this: soul crushing.

This picture is as happy as the game gets.

This picture is as happy as the game gets.

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.”

Nothing screams heroic adventure like seeing your mom transformed into some sort of flesh golem.

Nothing screams heroic adventure like seeing your mom transformed into some sort of flesh golem.

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 first in a long line of body counts.

The first in a long line of body counts.

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.

The game set him up to be killed

The game set him up to be killed

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.

She stole a priceless artifact, causing a war that killed hundreds within an hour.

She stole a priceless artifact, causing a war that killed hundreds within an hour.

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 fights

The fights

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.

Dragon Age 2: AVOID

Dragon Age 2: AVOID

Do not buy it. Do not play it. You will regret it.

(Note: all pictures are owned by BioWare)

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5 comments on “Review: Dragon Age 2 – How not to make a sequel

  1. I played this game and didn’t like it either, though I didn’t give it the chance to crush my soul. I quit after a couple of hours because I didn’t like how they told the story (via flashback) and I thought the action was way too showy.

  2. My whole family (5) loved Dragon Age: Origins! It was very interactive, all the characters were full of life and funny when they talked to you and each other. Dragon Age 2 was so completely different and not enjoyable at all to play. The only interesting character was a dwarf. There was no clear sense of right and wrong, meaning you couldn’t play the game your way you had to play the developers way. The main plot of the game was uninspiring and in my eyes stupid. A tug of war between the templers and mages, though an topic brought up in DA, it’s rounded out well enough for you to care about. No matter what decisions you make or try to make the game is rigged to follow the path set by the developer. The only good news about DA is that the developer, after the ME3 ending outrage by fans, opened their blog site to fans to ask what they want to see in DA3 and at Comic-Con showed fans how serious they were in listening to the fans!

  3. I’m surprised by Bioware sometimes, and I’m still not sure why. Was there a death in the family of the company or something? With Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 both being so damn DEPRESSING, it’s like the whole team of writers were in foul moods.

  4. Pingback: Dragon Age: Inquisition – What is known | Press Start to Begin

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