Due to the lack of fantasy expertise in this joint, I have been asked to intervene. I’m Eric, grab your chainmail, it’s time to rock.
So as many of you may or may not know, Dragon Age 2 has been released. The first version of the game was wildly popular and I gave it a fighting chance for sure, but could not give it enough of a chance to finish it. I made the first mistake of playing it on the XBox 360. The turn by turn aspect of the game was very clunky and ill-designed for this particular platform. When I gave up on the XBox version, I slipped on over to Steam and gave the PC version an attempt. The interface was light years different and worked a lot better. I still had plenty of complaints, but I let it slide as I went into the game play. To sum it up, it was far too short and a very “standard” fantasy tale. But you didn’t come here to read about DA: Origins, now did you? Onward!
(Just to preface, I’m going to stick to the Warrior / Fight class and explore it first. I’ll do a followup with the other classes at a later time.)
My first day in the world began in Ferelden, where your main character Hawke (whom I named “Eagle Hawke”) and his family are from. The action starts where you are being chased by Dark Spawn. OH! I remember this! They’re the evil in this world. Easy enough. So I expected the “click and walk” garbage from DA: Origins, but to my surprise I was RUNNING FREE. It didn’t feel like an RPG at all. For a few fleeting moments, I thought I was playing God of War or Castlevania or any other action game with RPG elements. Moving on.
Hawke was hacking and slashing with a couple of “special abilities” that were linked to a X, Y and B menu that could be expanded by holding down the R Trigger. For a Warrior, I felt like this worked out fine for the first few levels. Even though I haven’t touched mage yet, I know this will be very very limited for that class. BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS! The Ring o’ Death is back! The default for the ring is that it will only show up if you have the button held. Well, being the turn-based veteran that I am, I switched to the option where it pauses the game and allows for you to give out orders, like a boss. Doing so made tactics that much easier. You can manually move the characters around without giving more commands, but the AI seemed pretty responsive on that front.
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Now, for a Warrior like Hawke, hacking and slashing can sure get dull. Luckily there are several weapon styles and battle tactic abilities. I went along the “Two-Handed” and “Vanguard” trees. The Two-Handed weapon tree was all about doing the most possible damage to a group of enemies at once. That seemed to be my biggest difficulty in this game thus far. My mages tended to get overwhelmed, and their squishy nature led to a quick demise unless there was someone in plate nearby, so my arcing area of effect slash attacks were greatly appreciated. The “Vanguard” tree lets you focus on either attack or damage boosts. I leaned towards attack due to the idea that damage is great, but if you can’t hit it, its useless. So I was a walking, cleaving beast of blood and flourish. That’s always fun and its a pretty well proven fact that a lot of folks like it as well ( *cough* Kratos ).
Now, this wouldn’t be a proper RPG troupe without your cohorts. In the first day of playing the game, I didn’t quite find all of the characters, but I did find a few that you couldn’t pry away from me with a … prying device. We’ll go through a lot of them below here:
Bethany – Your loving apostate sister. She’s the first mage you’ll encounter and you can balance her in any way that you see fit.
Aveline – Sword and Shield wielding female ally. She’s a swarthy one. She’s pretty good if you need a damage soaker.
Once you reach Kirkwall you will have a chance to meet others. Quite a few others by the looks of it.
Varric – A dwarf without a beard? C’MON! But seriously, this rogue is pretty amazing. Snarky, opens locks and has a giant crossbow. What else do you need?
Merrill – You can’t have a good RPG without the socially awkward and mildly psychotic elvish mage. Her one liners have made me laugh several times. Plus, she has the “Primal” tree of magic that is very helpful.
Mind you, I didn’t meet the rest of these characters on my first day of playing, but here is a quick update of who else you can attain:
Anders – Bethany is allowed to use the Healing Spell skill tree, but Anders dominates it. His character-specific skill tree supplements the existing healing tree with a couple of additional heal spells. Don’t make the mistake I did and miss getting him early on.
Isabela – Say hello to the other rogue. She uses Dual Blades, unlike Varric. She’s also a pirate whore. I’m not really a fan.
Fenris – Emo Elf Warrior. I KNEW THIS GAME WAS MISSING SOMETHING. Considering he’s a Two-Handed Weapon user, I don’t use him much.
Sebastian – Apparently this is the “DLC only” character who is a goodie-two-shoes. He is the only bow wielding NPC though. Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be a good fit for my team of swarthy / angry gents.
After playing through the game for an entire day, doing every single side quest and scouring each environment, I’ve got a couple gripes and praises for this game:
1) Holy Shit, This is Going to Be a Long Game
Dragon Age: Origins was short because it catered to 3 races and 3 back stories and 3 places that really weren’t necessary. I understand your need to create a character that is very “you” and very “unique,” but in a lot of RPG settings it tends to overcomplicate things and you’re never as powerful as some of the pure classes. I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this, but I come from a Dungeons and Dragons background, so just remember: everyone hates the power player.
The choice of focusing on one city and your character’s rise to power is a very interesting move I was not expecting. Instead of expending the energy to give a back story to every single class combination, Bioware decided to focus on one human that could be one of three classes. The back story for each of these classes is pretty limited in its difference, but its nice to see how much effort was put into the main quest line. It’s also pretty rewarding in a sense and the potential DLC for different cities and adventures using this engine is endless. This game is very much “Mass Effect 2” in its model and it works out very well for itself. It lets the story go from small trivial matters in the docks to huge arcs that change the relationships of everyone involved. I have to say, I’m pretty happy with where it’s going so far.
2) Inventory / Equipment Control Reduction
You’ll notice right away that you have almost no control over your companion’s armor and sometimes weapons. While this might have a lot of you raging and arms in the air in protest, just remember that while spending hours optimizing equipment is fun, so is murdering dark spawn. There are upgrades for the armor that can be attached and runes for the weapons, so you’re not completely without customization.
Although, you do get SO MUCH extra gear that it’s irritating that you can’t equip it to your teammates.
3) Repeated Maps / Layouts
I know, making a game that is this graphics-intensive is a lot of work, but really? REALLY? I understand repeating a warehouse layout in a warehouse district, but somehow I doubt that the architects in a poor warehousing district were going to make everything EXACTLY THE SAME. They pull this on a couple small cave layouts as well. Very, very irritating… but they also look amazing.
So, men of the world, I understand we all ( or some of us anyway ) enjoy women with large breasts. We get it. They’re everywhere. But in a game like this, large breasts make it VERY DIFFICULT TO PERFORM IN BATTLE. I mean, C’MON! Have you ever watched a girl with huge cans try to shoot a bow? It’s comical.
I’m one for diversity in NPC’s, as well. Not every character needs to have the perfect body and shape. Make a couple variations! In the meantime, please enjoy Kirkwall: The City of the Largest Breasts in All of Fantasy.
So with these gripes aside, I will continue into the depths of Kirkwall and give a full report once I have rid the world of Dark Spawn. Or something.
Eric is a surly urban viking based out of Brooklyn, NY. He tends to lean towards fantasy genres and plays Dungeons and Dragons. Like a boss.