Dragon Age 2

Developed by: BioWare
Published by: EA
Rating: M
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Everyone, please give a warm welcome to Isaac, marking his site debut by throwing his sombrero into the ring of game reviewage.

My feelings toward Dragon Age 2 are...difficult to describe. On one hand, the game is a very well crafted RPG experience with satisfying combat, great character interaction and a sweeping rags-to-riches tale filled with betrayal and sociopolitical strife. On the other hand, quite a few supporting characters are bland and the entire game seems like an overzealous attempt at badassery.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks during the interrogation of a dwarf named Varric, a notorious storyteller and one of your earliest companions in the game. He is commanded to tell the story of the Champion, your character. The Champion starts out with no title, known only by his name [YOUR NAME HERE] Hawke. Predictable phallic opportunity seized, the adventures of Mike Hawke began. Varric's story begins with Hawke and his family fleeing The Blight, the major conflict in Dragon Age: Origins. The Hawkes arrive in the city of Kirkwall: "The City of Chains." Events transpire and a year after Hawke and his sister find themselves trying to make money and regain their noble birthright. Over the years, Hawke and his family become interwoven in the political unrest in Kirkwall.

Dragon Age 2 is an RPG with Bioware written all over it. Choosing to abandon the dialogue system and pause menu of Origins, DA2 replaces them with the sleek radial based ones from Mass Effect, Bioware's other best-selling RPG series. The leveling system is pretty straightforward, making skill point distribution quick and easy. Item management is still fairly simple and organized, now with items ranked by stars according to their usefulness. The journal is quick and easy to use, letting you quickly manage quests. The gameplay remains similar to its predecessor, with a few tweaks made to improve play for console gamers. A large component is finely tuned party strategy, while still providing good old fashioned button mashing. Combat does not grow tedious, and the AI is quite competent if the battle tactics are set up correctly.

Story is where the game both shines and falters. The main plot is rich and immersive, and every choice you make will affect the way your alliances lean. A few major plot-points rely on pretty tenuous connections between characters, usually made out of the blue with no foreshadowing whatsoever. The tale reaches a ridiculously tense and very satisfying (if short) final act. The actual ending of the game doesn't follow up the tension of the climax well, and squanders the immersion built in the last few battles of the game. Some of the available companions in the game have unique, vivid personalities, while the others seem bland and uninspired--one in particular both acting and looking like a Final Fantasy character, huge sword and all...which leads me to the abundance of extreme badass characters and events in DA2. Like in Origins, characters are drenched with blood after battle, almost to a comedic extent. The game becomes pretty unbelievable when you can successfully console a couple of kids while drenched in the blood of their mother-figure. Luckily, the game allows you to turn off "persistent gore." Enemies often explode into a cloud of perfectly segmented flesh-chunks and blood.

In a few cutscenes, characters perform things you would expect in most action games. There is the dramatic slow motion knife-throw, the dramatic entrance by punching a hole through an imposing baddie, the dramatic severed head toss of the dramatic leader that was the only person keeping order during the dramatic time when the dramatic people need him most. You know. Dramatic. But I cannot fault DA2 for trying to be extreme. I appreciate badassery, but when it shows up in stark contrast to the actions of the characters, it becomes jokey.

Overall, Dragon Age 2 is a very solidly built game with a story that is absolutely amazing when it doesn't attempt to be something it is not. A few clichés take this game from an immersive standalone epic to a somewhat lackluster sequel. Don't get me wrong, the game is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just lacks personality. The best way I could describe it is: a mediocre great game.