“Word of the slaughter spread quickly, the Champion’s name became a rallying cry—a reminder that the mighty Templars could be defied. She had defended the mages against the brutal injustice and many lived to tell the tale. The Circle’s rose up and set the world on fire. More Templars arrived at Kirkwall to restore order. But…we were already gone. We vanished into the hills—then circumstances forced us all to leave the Champion–well all of us except for Anders. You will still hear the stories, of course. With each telling, they grow. At the core, it remains the truth; a new legend has been born…” Varric Tethras – Dwarf, Rouge Marksman, and storytellerDragon Age II

So goes the tale of my end to Dragon Age 2 (DA 2) as a Rouge, Marian Hawke – Champion of Kirkwall, with Anders, my love, at my side after we helped to defend the mages from the Templar’s at the Gallows– Kirkwall’s Circle of Magi. Now, Anders and I remain on the run from the Templar’s in all of Thedas. Prior to DA2’s release, I reveled in much of the excitement and anticipation while waiting for the release date, March 8. Alas, my friends, I am angry. Bioware, you let me down. Before I let you in on my own personal disappointments with playing DA2, however, I will start with the dynamics of my game-play experience with Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 Signature Edition.

Game depth and variations

In a previous article, I discussed gaming controls and changes to the radial menu modifications. So I will not go into depth with the overall game mechanics, but I will touch upon the nuisances  that I found in-game. I would like to include, however, that the menu options, attribute upgrades and specializations are a huge improvement this time around. You can keenly outline the battle characteristics of each of your companions, so that they can contribute their unique attributed specialization qualities in battles.

Overall, in relation to Dragon Age: Origins, DA2 is a definite overall improvement in visuals and game variations. The combat system is immediately responsive with an extreme improvement to character mechanics, movements, and controller responses. You feel that you are actually intensely involved in the game sequences and combat, and you the feel that you get to actually orchestrate the you and your companions’ combat engagements–setting tactics specifically designed for each character, rather than just watching your characters respond “robotically” to an aggressive NPC.

However, I found that I had to continually check my companion tactics to ensure that they are doing exactly what I set them out to do. For example, I like to have a mage healer in the group, an archer or ranger, an entropy mage, and at times a tank–which I set up interchangeability depending of the type of battle engagements during gameplay. I had to keep checking tactics to ensure that my mage heals all of my companions. Which was annoying, keeping an eye on my companion stats to ensure that I don’t wind up alone in the big boss battles. I hate taking my attention away from watching how the battle plays out because of obsessively monitoring companion statistics.  Luckily, there is the potion “mythrials blessing” in case my mage or tank meet an unsupervised demise.

The structure of DA2 is impressive and the environmental changes, though not lacking in visual detail, fails to provide an appreciative expansion into new areas. Many of the quests locations simply revisit the same areas—that does not allow for you to re-enter some of the previously explored areas. It seems that the developers may have saved time and cut out opportunities to expand the quest locations, so, it often felt redundant to pursue the designated quest options. The locations on the maps were extremely overused and became entirely too repetitive.

Visually, DA2 is stunning. The graphical improvements reflect just how much time and creative effort that was placed in the game. However, stunning visuals cannot replace the lack of gameplay experience and story. Especially when the environments and maps are the same for each quest exploration. Even the areas in the Deep Roads and Wounded Coast were sufficiently lacking sparsity and exploration detail. The non-interactive game elements were choice–the Wounded Cost shoreline, the difference in the time environment elements–if you were adventuring in evening in-game, the lighting effects on the buildings were keenly representative of the environmental condition. Pretty awesome, actually.

Companion customization options…*yawn*

There were less customization options for the companion characters in DA2. All of the characters effects/specializations were fixed. You simply could not modify companions talents. Say for instance, you wanted your mage to be able to wield a melee weapon, in case they wanted to rumble in a bit of hand to hand combat, the Arcane Warriors in Origins, you could equip said character with a staff and the off-hand weapon could have been a two handed sword or dual-daggers. This wasn’t happening here. I would have like to have that option, like I did in Origins, if the companion character Leliana was attacked while using a bow–she would switch to wield her dual weapons and get into some extreme kidney stabbing. Or, If I wanted my tank–Fenris, to wield a bow instead of a two-handed weapon–he could. Overall, there was an obvious development cycle in Origins. DA2 kept coming up short of options.

Inventory and item selections

During my travels throughout the game, I picked up tons of armor and weapon drops–including loads of junk (which I no longer had to sort through, thanks to it conveniently going to my “junk” inventory) being painfully overwhelming to sort out what armor or weapon to equip my character with and frequently annoying to keep going back and forth comparing item stats. It was a good thing that I did not have to worry about outfitting my companions–it was only a matter of finding their armor upgrades in various chest and during the game’s quest adventures. The champion armor was only found during the four major boss battles, and it would have been much nicer to be fully equipped to be able to wear it sometime in the middle of Act II. Not to mention, finding backpacks to expand your inventory were extremely hard to find. Great thing about finding junk–they’re worth it’s weight in sovereigns.

Dragon Age: Origin’s companions revisited

Depending on how you ended Dragon Age: Origins and/or played Dragon Age: Awakenings–and the few DLC’s available–you will meet familiar characters from those games.

King Alistar paid a visit to the Champion in DA2. He was found in two places–if you hardened Alistar and made him King in Origins, then he will return as King and will request to meet with you. If you did not make him King, or hardened him in Origins–you will find him as a slobbering drunk in the Hang Man Tavern, angry, depressed, and bitterly discussing his previous adventures battering the darkspawn–and how much he blames Morrigan for his unfortunate situation.

The suave assassin Zevran returns in the quest “A Murder of Crows” in DA2. Besides his obvious change in appearance (which I think the elves in DA2 looked a little Avatar’ish) he is still as quick witted and flirtatious as he was in Origins. Your champion has an option to “hook-up” with Zevran; alas, you will not get to see a cut scene of the encounter in this game version. If you remember, he is on the run from the Crows and revels in their inability to successfully apprehend him.

Leliana comes back as an agent of the Chantry, a messenger of the Divine from Val Royeaux and briefly meets your champion to warn him or her that there is trouble brewing in Kirkwall, and the Lady of the Divine has her “eye” on them.

Anders returns as a mage, champion companion, and romance interest in DA2. His role is pretty significant in the game and I used him as the party’s healer.

Merrill which made an appearance in the Origins Dalish Elf story to help find Tamlen–returns as an immature “first” to Keeper Marethari. An annoying character but an awesome entropy mage to have in your party. If you decided to use your Hawke character as a healer–Merrill is the perfect battle-mage to have as a constant companion, and if you’d like, romance interest.

Isabela, first seen in Origins returns as an obvious “distraction” to your party, and is also a romance option in the game.

Sandal the “enchanter” will return, along with his father in DA2. I was ecstatic to see him again, filled with questions as, if you recall, when you were on you way to slay the Archdemon in Origins, he was found among numerous DarkSpawn corpses. In DA2, he surprises, yet again. There are hints that DA2 will have a sequel to the game, but I could not find it in specifics. I am confident in my speculations, that we will begin seeing DLC content to accompany DA2. There were just too many questions in the story that were unanswered for there not to be.

Caught in “Bad Romance” options…

Unlike Origins, which made you feel as though you were actually pursuing a relationship with your chosen companions, there is a definite incompleteness to the relationship quests and involvements with the characters. It was indeed difficult to “woo” your companions, and the opportunity to play between them was eliminated in this game version. There were definite content issues between different versions of the game. The PC copy of DA2 has more dialogue features and “scenes” whereas the console editions clearly misses out on much of this opportunity. There was more to be seen and had in Origins. Romancing in DA2 felt more like an overall lacking intimate partnership–you could not stop along the path during a quest to land a kiss on your romanced companion here and there–that is, if your are into completely enjoying your pixel lover(s). What is obvious, however, the scenes are more emotionally “intense” this time around.

Overall, is Dragon Age 2 – Bioware Signature Edition truly worth it?

Maybe. Considering paying $60 for the game–the game experience felt a tad incomplete. Honestly, elements of the game felt extremely–well, rushed. Even with the multitude of unlocks and downloadable content–I know that I will not get the 80+ hours of gameplay enjoyment as I did in the original. This includes having to play each specific Champion class in DA2, without the entire gameplay experience feeling repetitive and redundant. Bioware games are known and valued for its high-quality RPG story-lines. This time, I was a bit disappointed in the story because there were elements in the story that left me starving for more. Several of the quests were unrelated, and only added inconsistency to the game overall. However, I am relentless and will probably play the game through several times more before I can definitively state my overall disappointments with this version.

Current summation: I like Dragon Age 2. It was not as complex as its predecessor–which I enjoyed battling through hordes of darkspawn, etc. DA2 primarily dealt with rivalry and conflicts–which proved that people with the best intentions can truly become monsters. Besides that, I really was looking forward to experiencing again the in-depth gameplay and overall varied storyline options–which DA2 failed to deliver.

I truly believe Bioware is just setting us up for potential DLC purchases to complete the areas of the story that was originally lacking in the full game version. I think the problem may be that Bioware is working on several pending releases, all at the same time,  quality control suffered. It surely has effected this DA2 game release. Gameplay was like thirsting for a full glass of juice to find that there was only a “sip” left in the container. In this economy–dropping $60 bucks for a game should leave little in the way of complaints and it should equal game content for your  money’s worth. After playing the first game, Origins–I appreciated acquiring my hard earned hero status, to which I was entitled–Ferelden’s true champion. However, a quote from Flemeth, Witch of the Wilds keeps re-entering my thoughts:

“There are men who embrace destiny; these are the ones who will change the world forever.”

Next time, Bioware–I sincerely hope that the above statement will be true.

Pros:

* Improved graphics
* Better/user friendly radial menu
* New talent specializations
* Improved party synergy
* New hero
* Champion choices

Cons:

* Repetitive map & areas
* Unrelated quest options
* Lack of in-depth gameplay
* Poor re-play value
* Lacking a complete storyline
* Limited options for character customization

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Dragon Age 2: Bioware Signature Edition is rated ‘M’ for mature for strong language, violence, blood, gore, and sexual situations. Dragon Age 2 is available for XBOX 360, PS3, PC, and Mac.

All Image credit:  Bioware and Dragon Age Wiki
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aidyspoetry
When AIDY isn't writing poetry, she likes to write film reviews. If she is curious about something she seen or heard, she'd maybe write about that, too.