I really enjoyed the first Dragon Age. This second outing, I must admit, not nearly as much. It wasn’t bad, it passed some hours (though a lot fewer than the first game), and it did some clever things with character and narrative, but there was a distinct lack of epicness, a lot of repetition, and in the end it all felt like a bit of a damp squib.
The game takes place pretty much entirely within one city and its immediate environs, and I have to say the game world really does feel small. In the first Dragon Age they somehow managed to make the world feel massive, and there were plenty of locations that gave you scale and grandeur. Here, no. It feels cramped. In the first game the Deep Roads (Dwarven tunnels) seemed to go on for miles, one really got the sense of vastness, both in the scale and number of locations. Magnificent caverns, bottomless abysses, mighty fortresses beneath the earth and all that gear you expect. In the second the Deep Roads consist of a few little tunnels and about five rooms. And that pattern is oft repeated, unfortunately. There’s also a really unforgivable level of re-using the same locations. So the identical warehouse layout served for about eight different warehouses. Don’t get me started on the identical cave systems, mansions, and mountain path areas. You expect a bit of this, but the level of it here really was unforgivable, and it made the experience seem bland. The item system was odd as well – since your sidekicks have their own armour and some of them their own weapons, you end up picking up an awful lot of gear for which there’s never any real use. The game seems to accept this by consigning half the stuff you pick up straight into a junk category. There’s even a handy dustbin icon next to such items. Probably that’s true of most RPGs but do the bones of the system have to be laid so unromantically bare? It felt stripped down too far.
Characters were good though – on the whole your party members are detailed and interesting, and there’s a lot of conversation going on in the background between them, some of it pretty funny. They did try some clever things with the plotting, as well. The game takes place in three sections spread out over ten years or so, and choices made in one would go on to have effects later on. Obviously it’s hard to judge how profound this is without playing the game through a lot of times, but the sense was that you could change the way things went a little, at least. The balance was odd, though, in that villains set up early on would tend to fall away and new ones appear later. There wasn’t really a single overall arc to it. The whole thing is set within a framing story with one of your sidekicks relating the tale, and though this seemed to promise much, in the end it didn’t seem particularly important. There’s no reall resolution either for the main story or the framing one. It all peters out a little, really.
I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2 over the last few days, and putting one next to the other you really do see what a poor cousin Dragon Age 2 seems to be. There’s just a lot more imagination, effort, visual flair in Mass Effect, not to mention the gameplay is an awful lot more rewarding. All in all Dragon Age 2 feels like a step back from the first. A little bit phoned in. A little bit of a mess. I hope they do another, and do better with it, because the game world has great potential…