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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dragon Age 2

           As my more dedicated readers know, last month I did a seven part review on the game Dragon Age: Origins, its expansions and DLC in preparation for Dragon Age II and I'm pleased to say that the first two parts of that review are among my most popular currently ranking at two and three.  Now it's time to follow up on that review. This is the Illusive One's Reviews, and this is Dragon Age II.

The Plot
            The game begins as Varric the Dwarf is being interrogated by a Chantry Seeker, (a kind of inquisition for the Chantry).  Ten years have passed since the beginning of Origins, the Chantry is in ruins, and the world is on the brink of war.  This Seeker seeks Hawke, The Champion of Kirkwall, the one who started all this, and may be the one who can put it all back together again.  Varric, who had known Hawke before becoming the champion, doesn’t know where Hawke is now so the Seeker asks Varric to tell her everything he knows about Hawke.
            And so Varric tells the Seeker the story of Hawke: a refuge from Ferelden fleeing the blight who would change the world and become the Champion of Kirkwall.

The Gameplay
            The gameplay shifted radically from that of Origins in nearly every aspect. For starters, the general controls completely change, (for the better in my opinion).  In it, you have more control of your character, actually having to hit a button to do a regular attack against an enemy while your special moves charge up.  At first this is refreshing, then gets tedious, then gets awesome again when your character is in his or her higher levels and is smashing through enemies like bugs.  The new control over your character also allows you to actually dodge attacks and move out of your enemy's attack range and made it much easier to avoid damage. 
            The attributes haven't changed but the skills and talent sets have.  The skill sets have been eliminated altogether and the talents have been renamed abilities and encompass specialization.  These sets have changed from being a simple row of things to upgrade to a tree, each often requiring you to learn a specific ability before learning another.  The weapons and armor still have that cool, medieval fantasy look to them but strangely enough, you can only change the armor of Hawke throughout the game and everyone else has their wardrobe set for themselves throughout the game, (although you can change their weapons and accessories).
           The graphics in this game were also hugely improved upon, although there were several annoying glitches with the cut scenes that constantly distracted me.  All the characters and enemies from the previous game have completely new looks.  Most notably of these were the Qunari, who are bigger, fiercer looking, have horns and blue skin, (yea I didn't entirely get that last on either).
            The number of enemies in this game was, for the most part, limited to those introduced in Origins and its DLC.  While most of these enemies had great new looks, I found it to be a bit disappointing that they didn't come up with anything new.  Probably my biggest issue with the enemies was how underused the Darkspawn were.  I was honestly hoping for less of them to fight, but they nearly cut them out of the game completely.  Luckily, it makes up for it with a huge number of different factions to fight that include Templers, Mages, Qunari, slavers, and various other criminal and government organizations.  
            Then there are the traveling locations in this game, which are painfully limited.  For the most part, you're stuck in the city and its surrounding forests, mountains, and caves.  While much better looking than the locations of Origins, there were annoyingly few in number.
            Finally there is the dialog wheel.  While heavily inspired by the dialog wheel from the Mass Effect Games but this one I think is better.  The first game just gave you a list of things to say and made for boring, one sided, conversations.  With the dialog wheel, however, it allowed you to be nice, tactful, sly, humorous, charming, aggressive, blunt or lie, giving the game a huge number of dialog options.  What ultimately made it better then the dialog wheel of Mass Effect was that not as much hinged on what you said in general conversation.  In Mass Effect, you kind of had to watch what you said for your paragon or renegade status which can and will affect the entire game whereas in this game, the characters may just like you a little less.

The Characters 
            Believe it or not, the characters in Dragon Age II were actually a lot better than the ones from Origins.  Their dialog was improved, their back stores were better, and their motivations for helping Hawke were usually out of mutual need for help rather than a fight for survival.  The best of all of these characters was your protagonist Hawke.  While most RPGs protagonists are boring, silent characters Hawke is just the opposite.  Being able to choose his/her dialog from the wheel gave you all the abilities mentioned above made Hawke an interesting and compelling protagonist.  What I personal found really interesting about Hawke was that he/she wasn't a character out to conquer the world or to save it; he/she is just trying to make a living in this world but constantly finds himself/herself getting caught up in events that change everything.  
            This cast of supporting characters were also great and include includes Varric the Dwarf, Carver, Hawke's Brother, Bethany, Hawke's sister, Avaline the Guard, Isabela the pirate captain, Merrill the Dalish Elf, Anders the Mage, and Fernis the warrior elf and each adds their own flavor to the story and many of their personal quests are actually involved in the main story lines.  On a trivia note, three of the characters were actually introduced in Origins and Awakening.  Isabela was introduced in a whore house in Denerim in Origins, Merrill was a character from the Dalish Origin Story and Anders was a companion from Awakening.
            The characters of Bodahn and Sandal return in this game as both merchants and Hawke's servants (play the game for more details).  While I'm on this subject there were a few cameos by a few characters from Origins and Awakening who appear in the final act of the game.  These cameos include Alistair, Leliana, and Nathaniel Howe but disappointingly consist mostly of hello, nice to meet you, thanks for the help, and see you later.
            As a mentioned above, the dialog system has hugely improved and the lines for the supporting characters have as well.  Most notably, it now contains swearing and I felt it made the dialog more raw and realistic.

The Verdict
            All around, I have mixed feeling on this game.  While I though the plot was good and much more realistic then that of Origins, it just didn't feel as compelling.  It was more about a decade in a man's or woman's life and events that changed the world due to his or her actions then your usual fantasy story.  Don't get me wrong.  I did love the way the plot was executed but it just wasn't as compelling as Origins.  The number of locations was painfully limited and the enemies were disappointing to say the least.  The graphics, gameplay, dialog, and characters I felt were hugely improved and made the game incredibly enjoyable. 
            Last thing to note is the ending.  I won't spoil it, but it should suffice to say it's bullshit.  It's one of those ending leaves you hanging, paving the way for another sequel and this pissed me off beyond belief.  But still, if you liked Origins and are a fan of the stuff by Bioware, (as I am), then pick it up.  Just don't have expectations of it as high as the sky and don't expect a conclusive ending.
All Around

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