Dragon Age 2 Impressions

Dragon Age 2 moves things on from the Darkspawn invasion of the first game in other ways too, with the story set over a decade of Hawke’s life and charting his rise to power. At the start of the game Hawke is fleeing the Darkspawn invasion, dragging his family through the mountains in the direction the fortress city of Kirkwall. By the time the story draws to a close however, Hawke will have been proclaimed a champion of the land and will have drawn the attention of some very important people.

That might sound like a spoiler, but it really isn’t – Hawke’s ultimate fate is one of the first things the game explains; a symptom of Dragon Age 2’s new framed narrative. This new style of exposition basically means that the plot is related to players as if it were a story being told by one of the in-game characters, meaning that there’s room for the writers to play with some interesting ideas, such as bias or exaggeration.

Dragon Age 2’s opening sequence, for example, shows a mountaintop battle where Hawke and his sister are decimating a legion of Darkspawn with the help of some Templars. Powerful magic and swordplay come into effect, until at the end the Archdemon itself shows up and starts to bathe the battlefield in flame.

Dragon Age 2 Preview Dragon Age 2 Impressions
Michael Jordan is an unlockable character

Suddenly, there’s a cut to the future, where someone is disputing the facts of the tale, namely that the heroes ever encountered an Archdemon. The storyteller relents, and when we return to Hawke the scene is retold with a very different spin. Rather than displaying deadly martial skill, Hawke and co are struggling to hold the line, Hawke’s brother is quickly killed and things don’t get any better when the Archdemon appears on the scene…

Bioware’s chosen to use a framed narrative because, according to Silverman, it allows the players to experience the game more directly. The storyteller can skip along the timeline and exaggerate things for effect, meaning there should be no fluff in Dragon Age 2 if we’re lucky. We’ve not seen anything to dispute that and we have to admit that we admire Bioware for trying something different than the standard Fight + Cutscene formula, even if it remains to be seen how effective it will be.

Other areas of Dragon Age 2 are less adventurous, however. The combat in particular didn’t seem to have taken massive steps forward, despite Bioware’s insistence otherwise. ‘Think like a general and fight like a Spartan,’ was Silverman’s catchphrase of the day, but it all looked pretty old-hat to us. You can move the camera around when the game is paused now though, at least.

Dragon Age 2 Preview Dragon Age 2 Impressions
We have no idea what is happening in this picture

What disappointed us most about our time looking at Dragon Age 2 though was the news that players won’t be able to import their character from the previous game. Savegame, yes. Character, no. Carrying over your progress from Dragon Age: Origins will create some changes in the world, but likely nothing dramatic. That’s slightly disappointing for those of us who slogged through Origins’ underwhelming end-game purely so they could carry the savegame over.

On the whole we can’t honestly say that we were wholly impressed with Dragon Age 2, but nor can we say we were hugely disappointed. The fact is that the game looked much like we might have imagined it to be in our most True Neutral and least optimistic moods; a blend of Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins.

It’s exciting because it does some new things, such as having a new storytelling style that can potentially weave a touch of anarchy into things. At the same time though, it’s marred by many of the same flaws that plagued the first game; the excessive bloodiness, drab fiction and endless expanses of brown textures.

Dragon Age 2 is being published by Electronic Arts and will be released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on March 8, 2011.
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