Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dragon Age 2

RATING : [5/5]

Bioware has recently become a company that I've grown to rely on for absolutely fantastic games that envelop me in an impressive addiction paralleled by few other games. While other games may have impressed me in a more succinct fashion, these games have wrapped me up in hundreds of hours of gameplay... each.

It began with the first Dragonage, and then, encouraged by its success, I proceeded to backtrack to Mass Effect 1 (which, while unfinished and full of bugs, was still addictive beyond reason) and then forward to Mass Effect 2.  So, when Dragon Age 2 was released (I've still not gotten to DA1 Expansion) I pounced on hit happily, ready to be dragged happily into its mystical world and not released for an unknown amount of time.

It did not disappoint. 

So many stellar things stood out about Dragon Age 2. The foremost, for me, was the branching storyline. Bioware has always done a fantastic job accomplishing a diverse and sprawling set of story options, and DA2 was no exception. Many games, in an attempt to make a branching story line, have a tenancy to favor one of the paths, resulting in a weaker storyline.  I've come to admire how with both the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, every path is as well developed as the others. 3 classes, 3 personalities, and 2 'political' standings, along with other choices, all effect a diverse story network, with each choice's story result as fully developed as the next. I've found that if a game doesn't do this correctly, it spawns frustration for a completionist like myself, giving me a feeling as though I'm forced to go through the game more than once to get the whole experience. However, their success in making the game easy and fun to play, as well as making each class a different gameplay experience, made me hold no qualms with playing through more than once.

Each character was very well designed. Their artistic design, their personality, and their backstories were all very well put together. I was interested in each of my companion's side quests. Whether I was trying to goad them into rivalry, encourage them to trust in me and think of me as their friend, or seduce them into a spicy romance, I was interested all through my interactions with each and every character.

All of the art was impressive, as always. The character designs are wonderful, the environment designs are wonderful, and the models, textures, and lighting of all art aspects were all outstanding testaments to the immersive nature of this spectacular game. Some of the armors were repetitive, but they were all beautiful nonetheless. Especially some of the final amours: the Champion set looks fantastic.

A friend of mine from college did several of the animations for Ferris. She did an absolutely wonderful job, and I'm very impressed by her work. She always had a knack for the dark and broody, and she definitely showed herself through her work. =) Great job Sarah.

I could go on for a very long time about all of the wonderful things about the game, but I think I'll just sum up with one simple statement: The gameplay was easy to learn but difficult to play (in the good way), the art was stunning and immersive, and the story wrapped me up and a big cuddly blanket of wonderfullness that I wanted to live through more than once, and even more than twice.

The only critiques I have for the game are few, but nonetheless present.
The overall gameplay was very quest-based, revolving around a central hub in the form of a fast-travel map; You could not move between 2 areas without using the fast-travel map. While this is convenient, it ripped me from my immersion, and discouraged me from doing things quest-by-quest, but more location-by-location. This repetitive gameplay made the quest stories evolve in fragmented sections, and drew my interest away from them. Instead of following a story, I was completing a checklist. It seems silly, but if I had the option to travel between each map without using the fast travel, and if there had been more focus on the 'active quest', I would have felt more immersed, and would have felt more encouraged to do one quest at a time. I do enjoy a quest map and the ability to fast travel, I just wish it was an option; a tool to use instead of a cemented game mechanic.

A few hours into gameplay, I was on a quest into some remote cave, and noticed that I found my environment very familiar. I was confused, because I was fairly certain that this was a new area, but I definitely recognized where I was.  After a while, I realized that the environment mas were mostly the same map.  There was only one, possibly two 'mansion' maps, and only a couple outdoor and cave maps. They did close off certain areas for one map, while in another it was open, but it was in a confusing manner... either with small stones or a door that you were left feeling that you should be able to open somehow, as you could see on the map that there was explorable area behind it. I realize the efficiency of reusing a map, and some of the efforts they made to change up the maps definitely helped: such as using different entrances. I think it would have helped quite a bit if they had made any of the environmental aspects that 'stand out' able to be changed and moved, as well as changing the minimap to help disguise the fact that they were the same map.

All in all, the game had far more great strentghs than shortcomings. I may have ranted for a bit on my critiques, but thats just because I like to do that. This was by far one of my most favorite games. Another well created game by Bioware =)

[TLDR] If I could find a satisfying way to have sex with this game, I might just marry it. Though, I'd encourage more discreet map reusal and time spent working out quest bugs.