This is my DA2 review. I have finished the game, but I tried to make sure this was completely spoiler free. If you want to remain completely pure, just know that I love it and you should buy it. But again, there are NO spoilers, just how I feel about the game. I apologize for length.
I'm hearing a lot of anti-DA2 feedback going around. Frankly, I can't understand it. It seems merely out of a fear of change, rather than if the change was a good or bad thing. When I first played the demo, I was freaked out by many things, but after finishing the game, none of those things held water anymore. It was simply me being "whoa different game is different" and none of it made it a bad game in the end. I know the quick phrase to describe the changes is "dumbed down" -- and trust me, I hear ya. They dumbed down Mass Effect from game one to game two, and I was totally pessimistic about DA2. But you know? "Streamlined" is honestly the better term for it all.
Here's what was wrong with Dragon Age: Origins, and how they fixed it in Dragon Age 2.
DA:O: The length of the missions were too long. There were about four locations on the map that you could go to, and the mission there would last about fifty hours. You got cabin fever. You got tired of the Deep Roads and the Fade and basically every place you went to. The most interesting map in the game was Denerim, because it never made you mindlessly grind a boring dungeon, and just existed as a place to explore.
DA2: Quest tracking is remarkably easy, and no one quest ever frustrated me or felt like grinding. Even when you'd think "okay here we go, five hour quest time", the quest would be over two maps from when I started ... and I would be "huh. oh. wow. cool!!" That honestly was a GOOD thing. Padding is something I detest. All that they did is make what you do have of the dungeon worth it, never overplay the enemies to where you want to cry from how bored you are, and the boss fights at the end of them make it a memorable experience. The world map also uses quest tracking in the best possible way, so you can easily see where you need to go and at what time. It's awesome.
DA:O: Shuffling around the battlefield. Giving an order to a party member, and they have to jaunt over to the target, perhaps getting damage done to them along the way. Friendly fire made using spells and bombs and such so hazardous, you would barely use them because it took too much work having to move people out of the way before you could. Mods had to fix several imbalances, including the Archer.
DA2: I'm surprised by how many mods became official. For one, you can call on your warhound as a pet JUST LIKE the mod for DA:O. This really, really made my day. As a ranged character, I needed the dog in a lot of cases to tank for me, though weak. But more importantly, they FIXED ARCHERS!! I had to use a speed mod so that archers didn't suck in DA:O. Now, archers are quite possibly the most badass characters in the game. Friendly fire is now an optional difficulty in the higher settings, and doesn't prevent you from using your skills without killing your friends left and right. I consider this an improvement. Above all, the game should be fun. If you think Nightmare mode is fun, awesome! To me, what's not fun is accidentally killing myself with basically no way to revive me within battle. And as much as I disliked the speed of battle and the characters jumping to enemies supernaturally in the beginning, I STILL felt like the characters took too long to get to the enemies!! And when they finally got in range to pounce on them, it was very satisfying.
DA:O: Leveling up was very linear, forcing me to take crappy skills and in their order. Characters ended up looking like each other because they all took the same skills.
DA2: Skill trees allow you more freedom, which I liked. There are still some spells you can't get your mitts on until certain restrictions are met, but that's how RPGs work. You can't get super-awesome-spell right off the bat, and that's not what I had a problem with. I had a problem with having to invest in a bunch of sustained mode spells to get to that one active spell I wanted to use. I hated following a certain specialization but not being able to get anything other than (whatever) because it was the only one available, and the specializations were often weapon related to where I COULDN'T choose to invest in something else while I waited. I never had that problem with this game. There was always something interesting to learn. Also, if you have the Black Emporium, you can get a potion that lets you reset your skill points to rebuild. Nifty!
DA:O: Inventory was a MESS and I was constantly bulging on the max items I could carry. And I had to constantly compare every article of clothing I got to the companions, which I could really only do from the camp.
DA2: While I still suffered inventory space problems, that's mostly my fault for not selling my junk when I had a chance. They now clearly mark what is just merchant fodder, in a category called "junk". You can even move items to the junk folder by marking it junk. There's a nifty "sell all junk" button at stores, so this is a painless process overall. I still had to futz with weapons and my party members, though. But it was refreshing to look at my armor and not freak out about whether so-and-so had a few points lower bonuses than the new one. If it wasn't for me, it got sold. Also, you got storage chests!! Another mod turned official, which helps solve the max-item problem if you're just hanging on to stuff for later.
DA:O: Branching and choices barely made a difference until the text-only epilogue. There weren't many branches to have: you picked who ruled the kingdom, you decided who to kill along the way. Any differences were in the NPCs responding stockly to your race or gender. I rarely felt I had influence over anything but the order in which I did things. And most of all, I often felt I had NO influence over my companions themselves. The only person who would react different depending on a relationship was Zevran, I believe.
DA2: Wow. The amount of replayability *I think* the game has is astoundingly high. By the end of the game, I was already deciding all the things I would do differently next time, because I want to know if I can stop A, B, or C from happening. The game gave me honest REGRETS. And not in the "oh, lol, oh well" kind of unexpected way that I don't care about because the game is over, like with Orzamaar. I had chances to stop killers and not help certain people out. Now, I'm not sure if I can stop inevitable things from happening, but I can certainly try, can't I? If the entire makeup of your family can branch, then so much other things could. In fact, I'm almost sure there's tons of things I could have done different just from the amount of characters that just up and left me midgame (unclickable in the party screen), and the fact that I hear people talk about things that happened to them that didn't for me, even though we made the same choice.
DA:O: Character conversations were restricted to the party camp, and were just you standing with the character, and you could explore the entirity of a character's dialogue in one go, leaving them speechless for the rest of the game.
DA2: Character conversations are now plotted against time and quests you take. Instead of just grilling the characters to a point that they have nothing to say, your journal will tell you when they have something new to say, and you learn about their past slowly over time. The amount of dialogue has increased, but you don't have control over when you get it, which leads people into thinking it's something that is worse than the original game. When in reality, moderation has always been better than gorging on all the good stuff, because then when you do it it matters more AND you're never left with nothing to learn later. Characters rarely had much to say in DA:O, especially in refernce to events, so I consider this an improvement. I wish I could talk to the party members whenever, but all that would do is make the same problem DA:O had, which was clicking a topic and nothing was inside of it, forcing you to say good-bye. And then you do this twenty times throughout the game, hoping they have something new to say, but they never do. Do we really want that again? "Fenris, tell me about about Tevinter. (no options to click) ... I should go." x times however antsy you are to talk to him? That's a chore. No thanks.
What was removed from the game and aren't considered improvements? Did it affect gameplay? Is it a bad game now? STAY TUNED, THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU!
Argument: Origins were removed! You can't be a dwarf or elf!
Reality: This was done to tell a more personal story. And let me just say, that it was completely and utterly worth it. The personal story was so ... well done. It simply wouldn't have worked were a generic character. Sometimes you got to make sacrifices to have a better story, and it was very worth it in this case.
Argument: Stealing, persuasion, etc were removed!
Reality: Yes, those skills aren't the same, but they're not removed. Chests can't be opened by anyone, and often the rogues couldn't! It was directly tied to your DEX stat, which is way more clean than having yet another page of skills you had to manage. Also, I never ever robbed people like mad in the other game. That seemed like something they threw in because they felt they had to, and it likely took way too much of their time to code for every NPC in the world. I see why they didn't do it again, because they wanted more NPCs standing around to make the world seem like a full place. Persuasion still happens, based on on the "tone" your character has predominantly had in the game, and depending on knowledge you have. Stuff like the wilderness skill doesn't have any importance in a city-only game, traps are basically restricted to hexes now, and the crafting system is independent of companions. I never, ever, ever missed these skills while playing. What needed to be there was there, and there were no holes to speak of.
Argument: Crafting was removed!
Reality: You still have to find ingredients, and not just ONCE, you need a certain amount of Elfroot, and even then you can have all the elfroot ever but if you don't have the RECIPE for potions, you still can't make them. They still cost big bucks! There is no mess about a gradient of potions, and the generic "health potion" now does the same healing no matter your level. This is good, people. You don't need fifty hotspot bars dedicated to potions, and you don't need to use only the crappy ones because you can't possibly make any other. BEST OF ALL! NO running around to locations to mass buy ingredients and bottles. Damn, I hated that about the first game. And the huge loading times to get places discouraged travel in the first place, so it was like the game's own annoyingness is what they used to moderate potion usage. But you know what? I still did it. I still went to the Circle and the Dalish for my potion ingredients, and it was annoying as hell. The developers recognized this and just didn't give you a chore. If you prefer MMORPGS, then I guess you like chores, grinding, and grueling work, but in my single-player games, I don't!
Argument: Re-used maps and environments!
Reality: Guess what! DA:O did the same damn thing! Battefields were the same in random encounters. I guess because these maps aren't random encounters, it felt odd that they would look like other places we've been, but think about it. Did that even matter while playing? Did knowing the layout of the dungeon matter? Not in the least. And they were often short and they would change up the angle you played them in. These dungeons were actually varied, but you simply recognized similarities, and you think you're smart or something for "catching on to them." This is not news, really. You sometimes have to reuse resources, and this is something they've established that they do in the first game, whether it's wrong or right.
Argument: Exaggerated parts are unnecessary!
Reality: Not really. It's an interesting game mechanic, so they're allowed to take advantage of it. The first exaggerated part of the story is to hook you in; to show you how awesome your char could be with time. Any other time it is used, it is for a personal reason of Varric's. It's great, frankly. It adds depth to the story, to Varric, and allows for a convenient scapegoat when making things fun makes them unrealistic.
Argument: You can't change the party's outfit!
Reality: Thank god! That was ridiculously tedious in first game. Please don't tell me you MISS that. You can still get your micro-managing fix with a belt, amulet, and two rings, and of course, all those damn weapons. What they're wearing is fine, and works great for the game. I personally love their outfits! Swapping them out to something generic and fashion-retarded is not fun for me, stat bonuses or not. I had enough problem trying to not make my mage char look silly without having to worry the same for everyone else. It's fine if you don't like this, but I get why it was done and completely agree. I have often left my char in a weaker outfit simply because it looked good, and if you're way more focused on stats, that's a personal decision you're allowed to have.
Argument: Gift giving is gone!
Reality: But so is the negative affects of people disagreeing with you (in the short term). The game rewarded the characters liking you with char bonuses, so, obviously, having them like you meant you were winning the game. So every time Morrigan hated something you did, which was often, it felt like you were doing badly at the game. This time around, there is a rivalry/friendship meter, and they will stick by you no matter which spectrum they fall on. For instance, the companions may want to do something that's really not a good idea. In DA:O, you'd have to help them to get them to like you. But in this game it is YOUR decision whether to help them. And if they don't like that, they can still respect you. Gifts are not needed to reverse slips of the tongue. It's okay to play the game how you want. By the way, gifts DO exist. There's just one really cool gift for each character, and giving it to them really helps. If you hadn't, they might have turned on you at certain points in the story. And that whole mini-game of trying to find out who likes what gift was tedious. Seriously, guys. You get one ambiguous gift, and you're stucking reloading your game until someone remotely liked it.
Any other complaint I've heard is just a personal interpretation you're allowed to have. I've been avoiding the topic of the plot since it's the most important thing this game has. It's okay if you didn't like it, but in my playthrough, it blew me away. Talks about whether it's better or worse than DA:O is your choice to make. Whether or not the characters are more interesting is up to you, too.
The bottom line is that this is one of the most involving RPGs I have ever played. I would go so far as to say it was the most emotionally involved I've ever been with a video game. I was so drawn into the companion's and my family's plight. I felt like I had to defend my character's integrity and rights as much as my own. The choices I made were truly role-playing. I honestly felt every desolation and victory that my character did. I playfully said the phrase "SHIT JUST GOT REAL" several times when a new plot point came up, but that is basically the theme of everything, especially the ending. The phrase "shit hit the fan" never seemed more appropriate than for this game's plotline.
When they said that they wanted to tell a personal story, they honestly and truly did. DA:O pales in comparison. If you are an appreciator of RPG stories, you will love DA2. No, there is no main villain like the archdemon. No, you don't know what the ending will be from the beginning like DA:O. No, it is not your typical medieval fantasy plotline. You have to look at it as it is: the personal rise to power of Hawke. The explanation of why he/she took the actions they did to lead the world to the place it is at the end.
The time jumps were necessary and added a lot to the game. There is some suspension of disbelief needed for character development, since people don't need ten years to become friends, but you do need ten years to get devoted enough to each other to stick it out through to the end. We start from nothing, and become one of the most important people (in the world) but in the beginning, we know that we are missing. How and why is completely up to the player, but it NEVER felt like a cookie-cutter result of "you selected ending X! be nicer next time and you can get ending Y!" No, the game is completely tailored to your character and how you played.
There isn't an overarching plot throughout all three acts, in that you have a main villain you're trying to fight, but you'll find out at the end that it was there all along. You've been deciding it all along. This is LIFE. We don't live our lives in the shadow of a main villain, we live and make choices. And sometimes the shit hits the fan.
After finishing the game, I had to go lay down I was so shaken up. I think we will ALL be taken off guard. We are expecting a very straight-forward fantasy battle, like with the Archdemon in the first game. We'd pick a side and fight the hordes of the opposite side and then a dragon would come down, and then we'd pick up where Varric and Cassandra started. But you know what? That would have sucked so much. They chose to do something important, controversial -- topical, even. Yes! You can very much making real-world connections. And above all, my actions in the game MATTERED. Hearing everyone's different endings, I'm just blown away with all the things that happened for THEM that didn't for me, even though we made the same end-game choices. That is so much more satisfying than reading an epilogue script about whether your choices mattered or not. You actually have to face them in this game. You felt the consequences. It disgusted you. It made you angry. Your world was doing exactly what Cassandra said it was, and you didn't even realize how or why until that moment. Even the goddamned DLC char made me want to cry. It. Was. Emotional.
Good or bad, if you felt STRONGLY about DA2's ending, then IT DID ITS JOB. My sister can tell you how much I was still harping over the events even after they were over. She wasn't even following the game, and she was sucked into the ending. All I can say is that I'm very, very happy I did not spoil the game for myself. Soooo happy. If I had known certain things would have happened, I wouldn't be feeling this way; the EXACT way the developers wanted me to feel.
I played on medium, since I can't do DirectX 11, and the extra high-res texture pack wouldn't have done anything, so I can't say if it was bad or good. It wasn't amazing, but then I was on medium. Take what you will from that. The art design was fantastic, though. The characters looked awesome! The outfits were awesome. The level design was awesome. Hell, even the LOADING screens were pure awesome! The only thing, graphics-wise, that I hatehatehate is the GUI. It's over simplified, and the dark background makes the dark things disappear, including the character's hair and the health potion's bottle icon. And the GLOW on everything! UGH THE GLOW KILL IT WITH FIRE!!! I hate it. But then, I'm anal about interfaces.
AMAZING! The moment I heard the exotic tango-esque battle music in my street brawl upon arriving in Kirkwall, I was sold. It was so delightful to hear. The music remained at its best for the entire game. It perfectly accented the scenes and moods, and even the tone of the battles you were in. I was kinda "meh" about a downloadable soundtrack being included in the Signature edition, but man. I totally take that back. Beyond that, I am disappointed as there wasn't a credits theme for my game. In the PC demo, the credits sequence (accessed from the "Extras" menu) had a lyric song and everything. After I finished the game, I had to search on Youtube for this song again, because I needed to unwind with the song's sentiment. Listening to it again ("I'm not calling you a liar" by florence and the machine, remixed), it is ... just ... perfect. I wish it was in the main game. I needed that meditation time.
Wonderful. I love them so much more than DA:O ones. In the first game, I was never too keen on Morrigan, Leilana, or Sten. I always got Ohgren last, so I barely got to know him. With this game, you get all the characters in the first act, so it's not dependent on which huge chunk of the game you wanted to complete first. You just complete the char's quest, and you have them to drag around for the entire game, which is a good thing. I can't say why I wasn't interested in those characters I just mentioned, I mean, I didn't hate them. In fact, I quite enjoyed talking to them. I listened to all of Leilana's stories and kept poking Sten for more conversations, but I think the problem was that they weren't engaging or memorable. A lot of what made Aveline interesting, for instance, was how the cutscenes handled her. She could have easily been a generic warrior woman who was strict and blahblah, but I never giggled so much as I did in her character quest. The same for Merril. I went into the game completely "meh whatever" about her, because I was playing a mage and didn't need another. She also didn't seem remotely interesting ... and then I met her. She WAS cute. She WAS interesting. The developers were totally right. Is she my favorite char? No, not really. Probably the opposite, but she was far from unmemorable, or boring, or insulting or anything bad. I was genuinely intrigued by her and involved in her cutscenes. Fenris, baby ... I'm sorry! I was going to go after him, but then Anders stole me away. I'll go after him in my next playthrough. xD I was really against Anders being in the game, because I wanted a new guy, damn it! But he WAS a new guy. There was still a lot to learn of him. My expectations were turned on their head so often, I feel really bad about voicing any concern before actually playing. All of the characters were VERY memorable, and the direction of the cutscenes was nothing short of brilliant.
For one, I love how tastefully the "sex" scenes were done. In that ... from what I experienced ... DIDN'T EXIST! No awkward naked chars rubbing up against each other with creepy smiles. They emphasized the best parts: the confessions and the kisses. My least favorite part of the DA:O romances were those sex scenes, and now they're tastefully gone. I'm very, very, very happy with how well they handled it this time around. Flirting is still very awkward and I dislike it. With flirty characters, I can see it as appropriate, but my goody-goody mage sounded really OOC when she would flirt, which is the ONLY way to tell the game you're interested. Not to mention that the times at which she could do it were really awkward in themselves. And clicking the flirt line would often just make the char laugh nervously, meaning even THEY thought it was awkward, so I was wondering why it was even put in the game. Well. Play the char anyway you want, really. That's why.
But as far as initiating romancing go, I would have LOVED to see way more "I care about you" lines than sex-predator-in-training lines. I would hate it if a guy would constantly do that to me, so why would I do that to someone else? Why do ALL my characters have to be huge flirts? I would think there should be another way to start a relationship with someone than winking and making a double-entendre. But anyway, back to the good stuff. The cutscenes are ... very well done. You get kissed more than once, and in different ways from what I hear. I've only gone through one romance, and let me tell you ... I was torn between the 2 guys for a long ass time, and in the end, I felt I made the right decision. "Right," in relation to the impact it gave me when I finished the game.
The romantic cutscenes are appropriate, though they don't give you too much warning before they'll happen (sometimes, that's a good thing). Just save before you talk to every character, and if they mention meeting you at night at your house, it's your sexy scene. If you don't flirt in certain conversations, however, it will go very platonically. Some of my conversations with Fenris later in the game felt cut short and I assume because I hadn't established him as the romance by flirt spamming. So I'm really interested in what I'm missing. Because the guy I did date had various cutscenes acting like my boyfriend (consoling me, not like actual dates or anything), that made the relationship feel rather real. And per usual, the party banter and characters may reflect the relationship.
The characters are also all bisexual. If that kinda creeps you out, just to let you know, the only char that is openly bisexual is Isabela, I think (haven't played her route). Outside of that, the characters will NEVER make references to their sexuality. If you are playing as a heterosexual girl, the men will never talk about their gay adventures or anything. But if you played as a gay man, they might mention being with a man before. It really feels like an alternate universe that way, so you don't have to go through the game thinking "I'm dating a bisexual" if you have some sort of phobia regarding that. I think it's rather beautiful that it doesn't matter what gender you are, the characters will just fall in love with you.
That said, you can flirt with EV-VER-RY-BOD-DY. Everybody. But they will just turn you down if not one of the main four romances. I haven't played through Sebastian's flirt lines, but it is alluded that he might have a chaste romance somewhere in his dialogue tree. Which leads me to ...
Sebastian: Is it worth it? Yes! I think so. I've seen worse crap sold for $7. And if he DOES have a romance, that's worth way more than $7 to the ladies. But he does have a vibrant quest line, good cutscenes and character development, and he is seamlessly integrated in the story line and party banter. In fact, it was easy to forget he was ever DLC. He filled in a gap that Leilana filled before, which is the overly religious guy. Considering how important the Chantry is to Kirkwall, it was great to have a guy in the party who could directly talk about the church when it came up. Recommended!
Black Emporium: It's pretty, I'll give it that! The place is just a fun little area, and the voice that guides you is pretty funny and interesting. You get a chest full of free equipment, a store that sells awesome things, a crafting table that sells rare and Black Emporium-only potions (including the anti-death potion and a potion that resets your stats), and the best thing: a mirror that let's you change your appearance at any time! That was awesome. I found I went back to the mirror after the time shifts to mess with the char's hair so that it looked like time passed. Which made it an overall more fun experience. I'm planning on doing the same for all my characters, to make it look like they aged. Also, you get the dog, which I would terribly miss if he weren't there. He really helped me in battle, and the companions would occassionaly interact with him at your home (make sure to click him).
I sometimes felt the DLC items overpowered me in the beginning. Of course, that feeling didn't last a long time, just for a few hours of game play.
In the end, it is an amazing game. One of the most memorable RPGs I have played in a while. Is it worth it's selling price new? Yes! This is a $60 game. There's so much crap out there selling for the same price and is just a huge disappointment. This is not one of those games. Please, ignore reviews and just play it for yourself. And I am not talking about just the demo. The demo is in no way indicative of the tone or experience of the main game. Look to Denerim in DA:O for a better idea of how it might feel.
If you find you skip dialogue scenes, it might be just an okay game, because you're skipping the best part. If you're just watching your family's cutscenes with a "okay okay I'm getting a quest" attitude, then it's not going to work its magic on you.
As a visual novel community, I can honestly say that WE will see what the developers were doing with the story and appreciate it. The hordes of action games may not see it, but I certainly did, and I will defend it rabidly. I was so surprised by how good it was. Maybe because of all the pessimism. Maybe all these bad reviews are good -- so you go in thinking "this will blow", but then you're blown away.
It's a shame that it will take too damn long for people to find that out, since everyone is going to take one look at the negative reviews and decide to wait until bargain bin day. Or worse, the developers will see the negativeness and not make DLC for it. Christ. I've never wanted DLC more for any other game before. I don't want this game to be over.
You guys know how critical and negative I am. You guys know I wouldn't bullshit you about this.
_________________I apologize in advance for being extremely opinionated.
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