Dragon Age: Origins was a game I loved and spent many days playing through. The subtle nuances of combat, skills, talents and items hearkened back to the early days of computer role playing games, which themselves weren’t so different from the RPGs of the tabletop. Yet for all the weight of these RPG roots, Origins was of the new school of Bioware, following the traditions of the space-faring Mass Effect – streamlined combat, well voiced and believable characters, and a mature plot. Released after Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2 follows much the same trajectory, eschewing the heavier RPG elements to achieve a much more streamlined experience than the first game.
Combat has been greatly sped up, with the ponderous blows of Origins being replaced with fast and furious stabs and slashes, even with the heaviest of weapons. The protagonist, Hawke, has a fixed name and background; you are only allowed to change their appearance, gender, and class. Inventory control has also been tidied up considerably; junk items appear in their own category and can be sold in bulk. While Hawke can equip the standard array of magical arms and armors, your companions will only wear their own upgradeable armor. Conversations have also been upgraded to the Mass Effect standard, with a dialogue wheel and a voiced protagonist.
Most of these changes seem quite reasonable; while few protested Origins’ vestigial complexity, it makes sense to strip away the more clunky elements in order to streamline the user experience. Consequently, you spend a lot less time clicking around in menus, and much more time immersed in the game and its characters.
As with all Bioware RPGs, the characters are well developed, voiced beautifully and behave realistically, acting and reacting to other characters and the environment; some of my favourite dialogue was just idle conversation between two companions whilst out on a mission. While the storyline is a shade below Origin’s epic, Hawke’s adoptive home of Kirkwall is vibrant and serves as a fitting setting for his rise to power. It also provides a healthy dose of reality to the game, with mature topics like slavery, religion and deceit trumping the fantasy standards of magic and treasure.
While much of the game is a worthy evolution, there is one major annoyance: the repetitive environments. Within the first half hour of the game, you’ll have seen the same cavern or bit of road presented as several different areas, and it only gets worse as you continue to progress. While sometimes the reasoning is presented in the story, more often you are left wondering why someone’s basement links up so perfectly with the dwarven ruins you explored last week.
It isn’t until you try to back to playing Origins that you realise how much of an improvement Dragon Age 2 is – while some purists might be dismayed at the simplification, overall it provides a much more immersive vehicle from which to see the world Bioware have crafted.