Dragon Age 2

This game came out a year ago but I just finished it now, so here goes:

It’s like Dragon Age 1 except more boring, a worse story, a worse battle system, and worse characters. That basically sums up everything.

You start the game running away from the Blight (a bunch of demons called Darkspawn) that has ravaged your homeland. Some tragedies happen and you somehow end up in a new city called Kirkwall, hoping to start a new life. Now in Dragon Age 1, you quickly learn from the start of the game that the Blight is coming, the world is in danger, and it’s your job to fight it. The evil force is clearly defined and constantly reinforced throughout every quest in the entire game. NPC’s constantly talk about the threat of Darkspawn. You fight hordes of Darkspawn at every corner. Even though there are unrelated side quests, you’re ultimate goal of stopping the Blight is always the main focus.

In DA2, the game is broken into 3 acts, each separated by multiple years. So what epic adventures do you encounter in DA2? Act 1 consists of you doing random jobs to make money so you can buy a nicer house for your mom and elevate your social status. I’m not even joking here. You literally get a bunch of letters of people asking you to help them collect goods, capture escaped criminals, retrieve an item in a cave, etc.

Act 2 begins after you’ve found some treasure and are now rich. Note that 1/3 of the game has passed (probably 10-20 hours of game play) and there still isn’t a clear, endgame goal or even any significant threats. The Blight (you know that thing that raped and pillaged your homeland) is never mentioned again and is apparently never going to reach Kirkwall. You still wander around doing unrelated fetch quests. The only real tension is some racism conflict between the humans and these stupid looking horned people called the Qunari. Eventually a revolt breaks out and lots of people die and you are tasked with settling the conflict and killing all the Qunari.

Who are you and why do I care?

Act 3 begins and now everyone refers to you as the “Champion” because you saved Kirkwall from the Qunari. There still isn’t a clear purpose to the game and nobody is really a true evil force you have to fight against. Once again, you wander around doing menial quests until another conflict between mages and templars breaks out and you’re forced to choose one side. Oh, by the way the head templar is possessed and wants to try and take control of the city. So you end up banding together and killing her. Game over…

How do you even put together this pile of crap? It’s not until Act 3 where the final boss is even introduced, and it turns out to just be some woman trying to use the revolt in Act 2 to cover her ascent to power. In Dragon Age 1, you’re fighting against an army of Darkspawn, led by a dragon, threatening to destroy the entire world and exterminate humanity. In DA2, you fight one corrupt woman yearning for political power, who just happens to be possessed by demons. Imagine Lord of the Rings where you learn about Sauron trying to take over Middle Earth. But then the book decides to ignore that and just talks about the steward in Gondor trying to unjustly take the throne.

There’s no impact or purpose to anything you do in DA2. In DA1, you travel across the world and make decisions that affect entire civilizations and cities of thousands. DA2 mostly involves individual people, and whether you should kill them or spare them. It completely lacks impact and purpose, and makes the entire game feel like a grind.

The characters in this game weren’t nearly as interesting as DA1. Anders is a whiny, annoying character who’s constantly asking for help and approval. Varric is just kind of annoying in general. Fenris and Carver are constantly just being asses. Merrill is constantly making mistakes and then being like “Oh! I didn’t mean for it to happen like this!” Isabela is only likable because she’s a selfish woman who wants to have sex all the time, but she’s really nothing more than a generic “I only care about myself but now I like you so I’ll come back and help!” The thing that was really good about Morrigan from DA1 is that even though she was a selfish woman, you also got to see her pragmatic, ends-justify-the means attitude which gave her more character. I think the only character I really liked in DA2 was Aveline. She tries to be a beacon of order, justic and discipline but ultimately she still falls in love with one of her guardsman and is reduced to being a shy, nervous girl. Her companion quests actually had character development to them, while everyone else’s companion quests were usually asking you to do some errand for them.

You’re all boring

Battle System
The battle system is pretty much the same as DA1, except for some unknown reason they actually increased the cooldowns of spells and reduced how many are available. Instead, now you just spam the X button to do auto-attacks while you wait for spells to cool down. For some reason, I prefer healing in Dragon Age as opposed to DPS or tanks. I think this is because I like managing my team with tactics and ensuring they all stay alive. So when I started DA2, I naturally went down the Spirit Healer path, thinking it might be similar to DA1.

The main strategy behind DA combat is similar to any MMO, where you have a tank, a healer, and some DPS. The tank draws aggro of all monsters, forcing them to attack them while the healer heals the tank and the DPS slowly kills everything. So I typically have one character who focuses solely on defense, one character solely focus on healing, and 2 characters focus solely on DPS. It’s generally better to highly specialize in one task, rather than build a bunch of balanced people. It’s basically exactly how you would setup a party in World of Warcraft or any other mmo.

The problem is there are only 2 true heal spells on long cooldowns, that heal a large percentage of health. In DA1, heals were weaker and on a much shorter cooldown, meaning you had to constantly spam them. In DA2, due to the lack of heals, they are not meant to be spammed but used only when a character is very low on health. It also means that characters don’t take nearly as much damage as they did in DA1. On normal trash mobs, I would kill everything before even needing to heal. So when I played my healer, I did nothing except spam X to autoattack, while waiting to heal a tank that never lost health. It got so boring that I just permanently switched to playing my rogue or mage, because it gave me more to do during the fights.

Now from a rogue or mage standpoint, the battle system is alright. Unfortunately, they failed big time by making the mana/stamina pools so small. As a mage, I would cast all my spells once and be out of mana, resorting to spamming X the rest of the fight. As a rogue, you literally don’t have enough spells to use, so they are always on cooldown and you’re stuck auto-attacking.

90% of my battles were just me staring at this ring

My guess is that they wanted to place more emphasis on the strategy of controlling all 4 characters, rather than just 1. I understand where they were going with this, but I think it’s a little too much for an RPG. Basically, when you open the radial menu to cast a spell, the entire game pauses. This let’s you slowly select and aim all your spells for optimal damage. I played on hard and some fights were literally impossible unless you controlled every action for all 4 characters. You would pause the game and assign an action for each character. Then immediately pause again to assign the next set of actions. It meant pausing every 1-2 seconds and while it did make it much more challenging and strategical, it became really tedious. Especially when you have to do this on trash mobs that you just want to pound your way through.

I think they needed to strike a better balance between the slow, menu driven combat of the radial menu and the fast, real-time combat where you just spam every spell and monsters die. I think there was a little too much emphasis on using the radial menu. The one really positive thing they added was the ability to set rally points for characters to run to. Nothing frustrated me more in DA1 than moving a ranged character far away, only to have the AI run them through fire to stand in front of the dragon. There was also 1 or 2 boss fights that were actually fun and reasonably well thought out (the elemental spirit in the Deep Roads).

I’m not even going to go into detail about the other problems with the game, like the constant copy/pasted level design, crashes, graphical bugs during dialogue, and other weird bugs like having to repeat the same dialogue scene multiple times. Overall this game just feels like BioWare had to pump out a sequel to DA1 before EA came knocking at their door. Everything about it just feels rushed and incomplete. While I won’t complain because I got it for only $20, it definitely doesn’t live up to such big names as Dragon Age or BioWare.

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