Those who’ve been following this site know that I’ve been immersed in Dragon Age 2 for the last couple of days, and I’m writing today to weigh in on some of my initial thoughts about the game. A warning that this review focusses largely on my criticism of the game, with a more positive discussion of the story and what works coming in the future.

It was apparent from the outset, with the framed narrative of the hero’s story being told by one of his companions, that the game is a departure in style from Dragon Age Origins. Rather than being cast into the world of Garret Hawke, we are fed our own story by one of Hawke’s companions as he is interrogated by a Templar captain. So far, this seems an unnecessary plot gimmick that only serves to weaken my interest in the story. As with all framed narratives, the reader/viewer/gamer should be weary of unreliable narrators (in DA2, the narrator is a rogue who starts by lying, so we already know he’s unreliable) and must understand that the story they experience isn’t necessarily the story that happened. In many cases this is an intriguing possibility that leaves the audience questioning the truth, but in a Role-Playing game, I find the disconnect from the protagonist (supposedly yours truly) an unwelcome barrier between player and character.

This is not to say that the story is uninteresting or even that I completely disagree with the choice to frame the story.  There is plenty of time for the plot to mature and the frame to alter in unexpected ways.  I feel as though I am still playing the prologue and considering the quality of the writing team on Dragon Age Origins, I fully expect the unexpected, it just hasn’t happened yet. I’m prepared to eat my words in a future post.

Another striking departure from Origins is the darkness of the story, or more accurately the lack thereof. A large part of Origin’s intrigue and success was born from the gritty, noir-esque storytelling, complete with femmes fatal.  It was post zombie apocalypse meets Chinatown with a healthy dose of George R.R. Martin in the mix. Up to this point, DA2 has been positively cheery by comparison, with a bright color palette to match a happy Garret Hawke in his new home. Granted, I’m preparing for a venture into the Deep Roads, at which point I thoroughly expect everything to change. Like “The Lord of the Rings” begins with a celebration before the clouds of the Dark Lord finally reach the Shire, I’m sure the mood of DA2 will shift and I’m enjoying every second of the wait.

So far I’ve focussed only on aspects of the game that I readily admit may change as I continue through the game, like critiquing a book after reading half of chapter one, but I do have a thing or two to say about the gameplay and production.

First off, the menus and skill trees are far more difficult to navigate and less intuitive than in Origins, with gear more difficult to inspect and skills tricky to select. When choosing a dialogue path, more often than not Hawke says something drastically different that what I intended.  In one example, I selected the dialogue option “Were you expecting someone else?” and Hawke threateningly said “Did you expect me to attack you?”

The flow of combat feels very different, like it’s in fast forward.  Origins had a great tactical combat system, which ostensibly still exists, but the hasted combat makes targeting and control difficult. If the action were slowed down just a fraction it would improve dramatically. We would at least be able to appreciate all those crazy, kick-ass combat maneuvers our characters are pulling off.

There are a few more details that lead me to think the game was rushed toward production. At times dialogue is clipped (the same bits in both of my characters) and building and cave interiors have an irritating tendency to repeat in different locations.

Unfortunately this review has been fairly negative, maybe because I was initially expecting something closer to the original. It does say something for the game that I am excited to finish up this review to start playing again. I’ll post again with my views of all the things the game is doing right.  For now, its time to kick some darkspawn butt!

RARscore: Not as good as the first one…Yet