One of the most anticipated games of 2011 that is to come out from the studio of Bioware is finally here. How does it stack up against its predecessors?
Reviews have been pouring and while most of them are favourable, I’d like to point out on a few areas where this game falls short which, in my opinion, if they were to have more time developing, it would be one of the best RPGs out there.
First of all my opinions are based on the impressions of the game. While I have not yet reached the ending, suffice to say, that two-thirds into the storyline, I have noticed some shortcomings with this game. Make no mistake that I thoroughly enjoy the game right from the begining and I can see the tremendous effort the development team has put into making this game legendary. The most noticeable improvements is the graphics. Dragon Age Origins’ graphics were horrible on consoles to the point where I cringe all the way till the end of the game at the sight of the low res textures and numerous lag issues. While I did complete it despite these eyesores, it was a very enjoyable game with a compelling story.
In Dragon Age 2, the improvements are tremendous. The lighting effects are so much improved and makes the game so much more atmospheric that it seems like im playing a whole new game. The art direction has also taken on a different direction, making textures and world environments somewhat more immersive. While the game cannot compete against technical powerhouses such as God of War III or Uncharted franchise, the improvements are worth commenting on.
In Dragon Age 2, you play the role of Hawke, a Ferelden who escaped from the Darkspawns with his siblings and mother to Kirkwall, north and across the sea to the Free Marches. The entire storyline actually revolves around him and his companions and takes place strictly in Kirkwall. It is simply a story about a man rising to power from a lowly refugee to a man of high prominence in the city of Kirkwall. The story takes place at around the same time where Dragon Age Origins took place, meaning that while there is little intersect between Origins and DA2,’s plot, there is some form of overlapping. Which means that you would have played the story parallel to each other, with DA2 spanning over 10 years, as opposed to Origins’ 1 or so years. So as the story progress and the years passed, origins would conclude and the story of Hawke would begin fully.
As mentioned, the entire storyline revolves around him. While it takes great effort in telling someone’s life story, sometimes I feel that this approach to storytelling is rather limiting. There are moments where, in the midst of gaining reputation in the city of Kirkwall, the story becomes somewhat lost and directionless. You spent numerous quests that doesnt really flesh out Hawke as a character or the new locales and environments around Kirkwall. In Origins you get to travel throughout Ferelden, visiting numerous exotic cities of different races, the elves,dwarves, man and mages. In DA2 however, your adventures takes place mainly in the city itself. Having said that you would expect the quests to be done and repeated in the same areas over and and over again. While there are many places you can visit within Kirkwall, somehow, I find this notion rather narrow. There is no sense of the character’s adventurous travels or epic deeds, or exotic locations. While there are a few places outside of Kirkwall which quests take place, often times they are rather unremarkable and doesnt really allows the players to visit places that are mentioned or shown on maps and lore that they have read.
Considering that the game engine has been revamped with smoother framerates, better lighting effects and higher resolution textures in the game, I feel that it is a wasted opportunity for the developers to not actually craft a story where it takes place in many more unexplored locations in Thedas. Imagine the beauty Bioware can create of out these new locales where players would be able to visit, giving richness to the already rich lore, and adding a sense of epicness and wonderment as Hawke travels to these locations. Imagine how much more of an impact the story could become and ultimately the satisfaction you gain as you groom your character from a lowly refugee to someone important in the Free Marches and beyond. We have heard of so many new places, Tevinter Imperium, Starkhaven, Antiva, Par Vollen and many more. Are the developers keeping those areas for Dragon Age III? We can only hope.
I do like Hawke in general. The voice acting is superb and perfect for the role that Hawke intends to portray himself in the game. But there are moments where, the voice acting in certain situations are not forceful or articulative enough. It is pleasant to hear your main character being voiced out as opposed to Origins where there are no voice being lent to your character that you made, but certain moments require a little more punch and expressiveness. Nonetheless, it is still a superb performance, and a minor thing that I dislike; enough to overlook.
I hope the ending would redeem all the shortcomings that I have encountered. As always, Bioware have quite a knack for creating game changing twists towards the end of the game. So it is only a matter of time before all is revealed and the outcome of Hawke is decided. If the franchise were to have a third installment, I would very much like Hawke to make a cameo appearance and the ‘state’ of Hawke be preserved based on the decisions you made in the game. So that I know what game decisions in the previous installments I made and how it would impact my story in the third one.