Role-playing games tend to be heavy hitters but focus on the story and characters more than anything. A unique combat system is something that usually sets them apart, but nowadays the world you explore is also the character. There were some outstanding RPGs this year, and I wish I could choose more than one top contender, but they all deserve merits. This year’s RPGs saw some great world explore to explore as well as excellent characters.
This was probably expected. The Elder Scrolls series is huge and the world of Skyrim is even bigger. With great visuals and tons of areas to explore, a great overarching story, fun combat, and lots of perks and ways to customize your character and level up it can’t be beaten. The music, voice acting, characters, and attention to ultra-fine detail is something that Skyrim offers that most RPGs can’t. This one will go down in history and will never be forgotten.
Dragon Age: Origins was Bioware’s gift to gamers missing the old action RPGs of yonder such as Diablo, Baldur’s Gate, and Icewind Dale. Dragon Age II has come along and is really a love it or it hates it type of thing. It’s almost nothing like Origins, but there’s a lot of good in this as well, but the game does have more flaws than the original, but I will get to those later.
DA2 tells the story of Hawke who is the Champion of Kirkwall in events that take place right after the last game. DA2 really concentrates on a more personal level with the companions and Hawke instead of an overall save-the-world type story. The Darkspawn play a very small role in this story and you only encounter them a few times. Don’t mistake DA2 for a poor linear story because the moral outcomes become the usual Bioware head-scratchers, and as the game goes on your choices make bigger and bigger impacts. The story is broken up into three acts which respectively have you rising to power, using that power, then finally completely unleashing your abilities as Champion of Kirkwall to either save the mages or help the Templars destroy them. The character in DA2 is absolutely amazing in both looks and personality plus some cameos and appearances from the last game. You really get attached to each one and want to use them all during battle.
The story is probably the best thing going for DA2, but it does have a bit of a slow start. If you are used to Origin’s huge overarching story you might actually get bored for a while with this one. Little things help influence the story like romances (yes gay romances work here), but there are so many choices during the dialog that the story could turn so many different ways, so you always feel like you have complete control. The dialog is more like Mass Effect with a wheel that has several options. You can choose from the usual good/bad dialog, but a new sarcastic one has been added in the middle and I always chose these because they were just clever. Just like any Bioware game relationships with characters can also impact dialog and will give you advantages or disadvantages depending on that.
So, if you go into DA2 expecting an excellent story you won’t be upset there. What you will probably hate are the more action-oriented combat and more linear and repetitive environments. The combat has fast fluid animations instead of the clumsy combat from Origins. Characters strike hard and fast and there is a lot of gore which I didn’t mind. Of course, you can have up to ten quick slots equipped for abilities and the new tree is very intuitive. There are different ability classes and then each ability can also be upgraded inside that. Loot collecting and leveling up works just like Origins including junk, but you can’t equip armor on companions. Yeah, it’s one of those “What the hell?” type issues with the game. Sure you can add runes to their armor and weapons, but just don’t expect to change their armor.
There are a lot of changes from Origins that really shouldn’t have been touched including the linear and extremely repetitive environments. You move around a map and just follow the arrow on your map to each goal. Since you are just in Kirkwall you are moving around the same hallway dungeons and the same main map cities. After act 1 you have probably seen 75% of the game. I really missed the open areas from Origins and the feeling of being in an open world. Sure the graphics got a huge upgrade and it all looks nice, but there isn’t much variety. What disappointed me more than anything else in the game were the repetitive areas that kept you strictly in Kirkwall. There are some outdoor environments, but don’t expect a lot of them. There is also constant loading between areas and this drove me nuts early on.
Of course, there’s a lot of good loot, and resource collecting, and you can use poisons and grenades like before, but what I hate still is the potion cooldown times that are set at 30 seconds. This can make hard boss fights very frustrating because later on you’ll have a ton of money and have over 100 potions but you can only use one every 30 seconds, and this goes for stamina droughts as well. The only thing I like about the new combat system is the faster pace and speed. There are so many abilities that you won’t even unlock them all in one play-through.
Overall DA2 feels like a Dragon Age game, but that nostalgic feeling from Origins is gone and I really missed that. DA2 will keep you busy for a good 30+ hours and there are even some great side quests. The visuals are great with DirectX 11 support and high-resolution textures on the PC, so if you have the rig this is the way to go. However, the graphics seem more sterile than Origins due to linearity so it loses its charm in that area a bit. I highly recommend DA2 to fans of the past game, but don’t expect this to be true to heart sequel.