I’m stood next to a rather fetching woman with a large staff in her hands as we both look on at the darkspawn coming at us in the clearing. I, a warrior, lunge in and attack the first wave using a range of powerful skills whilst my sister Bethany, a mage, supports me with blasts of ice and balls of flame. The darkspawn are no match for our combined superiority.
Then, a large roar…a troll appears at one of the entrances to the clearing and charges us both. We eventually take him down, once again with ease. Unfortunately we are now surrounded by darkspawn wondering what to do…in the background a large dragon opens her wings and swoops down towards us, fire pouring from her mouth…then it goes black.
Wow…there aren’t many games that start you off with a character who has high level skills and spells unlocked and what a great start to this game. The unfortunate thing being that after all that awesome you find out that Varric, who is telling your story, was making your beginning more elaborate than it was first thought. A legend was being told about me, the champion of Kirkwall, but in this case this isn’t another group of people round a camp fire. This is much more serious, we have a templar knight wanting to know the true story about my rise to power. Why? Well that’s the question we will no doubt have answered later but it points to having something bad coming our way.
Varric starts the story not known by many and we find we have more companions accompanying us. These include my mother, sister and brother as we try to escape from the darkspawn in the marches after the battle at Ostagar.
We carry on along the single track and encounter small groups of darkspawn, killing them off one group at a time. We head off to the same clearing as me and my sister were previously at having also gathered a further 2 companions along our route. Unfortunately the troll appeared and smite my brother, killing him on the spot so we ended up fending off their attacks with myself, my sister and our new companion, another warrior, Aveline.
Having felled the troll we once again find ourselves surrounded by darkspawn and we see a familiar looking dragon who once again swoops down breathing fire and obliterates all in sight. After a lengthy ‘chat’ with her using the new discussion wheel/options we find we have to kill the Templar due to being infected by the darkspawn. Unfortunately this section doesn’t really pull any heart strings because a. You don’t know the guy very well and b. Him being a Templar means they hate mages, something which isn’t too good for our resident mage.
The next 13 or so hours finds myself in and around Kirkwall building up money so I can head to the crossroads with two dwarfs. One of whom happens to be Varric who is both my companion and telling my story.
So, after the countless completion of quests which took me to every inch of Kirkwall and saw me me fighting everything from bandits to dragons and spiders I can say it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Upon first entering Kirkwall you have a choice between signing up to one of two parties as a mercenary with your sister for a year to pay for your family’s way into the city. Your uncle gambled your former lands and property meaning you have nothing but a small hovel in the city.
Unfortunately you don’t have any control over your character for that year but you meet a varying number of characters after that point in time as you go about your quests which kind of fills in some very vague details about what you may/may not have done. You also meet all of your companions during this first bit of the game and their involvement and how much you interact with them is up to you. Each companion has a ‘home’ where you can visit them and engage with them regardless of whether they are in your current party or not. This allows you to ‘get to know’ your companions and it makes it feel a little more personal getting to know them. Much like in the Mass Effect series there are also a limited amount of quests specific to each companion.
The new dialogue system works well and is a much cleaner and easier experience when determining your options in discussions. For the majority of conversations there are 3 choices which are good, comical and angry/bad and these generally don’t affect how people react to you. There are moments in the game though which require you to make decisions which I would imagine will affect your experiences later on in the game and these really make you think about your response. Do you try and do the right thing according to the law or the right thing to save people’s lives? It’s also these times when I found myself wanting to try and not upset fellow companions with my responses but as is typical with most things in life you have to make compromises. I also like how in some situations you can request help from your companions in a sticky situation. I remember one notable one where a whore tried to take over my mind to kill myself and I managed to get one of my companions to use magic to break the hold. It just makes the companions feel more useful and being able to interact with them means you feel more immersed in the world.
Bioware have also given the combat system a major overhaul which basically gives you a more fluid experience and fast paced experience compared to the first game. The warrior’s attacks and spells/abilities make you feel more powerful and chained together produce some great effects and strategies. Especially when combining them with the other members of your party.
No longer either does it feel like the game forces you to have a mage which has to specialise in healing in order for you to get past boss fights or large groups of enemies. This makes for a better experience and allows you to experiment with more of the spells and abilities for that class. The thing to point out here is that there is a potential to have 3 mages in your squad so you can spec them completely differently to one another and change your squad to be able to adapt to different situations as you progress. As well as that you can have two rogue two warrior classes in your party.
The biggest overhaul for combat though was the rogue class as demonstrated in my video of the demo before the release of the game which you can see below:
The rogue now feels more appealing to play and by giving the class a lot of options for different styles of combat using all the abilities together in order to take down my foes. It didn’t matter that my weapons themselves were not too powerful as I could rely on my powerful skills and abilities to win battles which makes a nice change from the brute strength of the warrior. The rogue is still best played as a supporting role and not a damage taker unlike the tank as you predominantly weaken them, whether you are wielding a bow, crossbow or knives.
The back story and what I have seen of Kirkwall and it’s people so far is very good. There are a wide range of areas you can go to from the upper class areas to the docks where a group of washed up Quinari have temporarily made their home.
I think though that the main flaw I’ve had is the lack of variety in the dungeons. They all have a similar layout but with slight variations, so a room may be blocked off in one and a passage open in another. The depressing thing here is that the mini map is always the same, even showing the closed off areas! This is one area which Bioware have clearly not put enough time or creativity into and it shows a lot. Why? When the rest of the game feels so polished it’s hard to not notice something like this because you spend a fair bit of time visiting these similar areas. I hope that these will be more varied for the rest of the game but I can’t see this happening which is a great shame.
There is about the same amount of customisation in Dragon Age 2 as in Origins for you and you easily get enough money in the first section of the game to pay Bartrand to be able to go on his expedition and to buy the armour and weapons you wish. Unfortunately though the only things you can customise with your companions are their weapons. I’ve spoken to a few friends of mine about this and there are mixed reactions to removing this feature. I would imagine that Bioware’s intention is to alleviate the pressure of worrying about your team having the best armour available and trying to juggle that between so many characters can take valuable time away from playing the game. It essentially means you only have to sort out their weapons, necklaces/pendants and rings. Whilst I do miss the option of being able to choose the different types of armour your companions can have it does also mean you aren’t forced into picking a few of your companions and giving them all the best equipment. I find the drops somewhat bizarre at time though as you can’t equip armour to your companions so anything specific to a mage whilst you play a warrior means you can’t equip it to anyone. You can sell it but it just feels like there could have been something else done here.
I am now going to lightly touch on the DLC which came with the signature edition of the game. It basically included some extra items, the black emporium which is a shop you can visit within Kirkwall and a quest called the exiled prince. These don’t really add much to the game and I think this was a great decision by Bioware as whilst the extra content is welcomed as a pre-order benefit it definately doesn’t feel like you need to buy it in order to get the full experience.
There’s so much more I could say about the game but the sheer amount of content in it means I can only suggest you go out, buy it and try it for yourself. It is a world which although it has some small flaws has been wonderfully crafted by the team at Bioware and they have once again succeeded in creating an immersive and beautiful world.