This acceleration in character development provided by skipping ahead several years at a time does serve to enhance the feeling of progression. As much as you might accomplish in Origins
, it all happens so fast (that game takes place over the course of two years) and you don’t get to soak it in as much. DA2 does a good job of really making you feel like you are the hero, even if it is a bit cheesy or over the top at times, as well as letting you see the impact you have on your surroundings. The plot itself isn’t anything special, but this is one example of how good the storytelling is. Another fun aspect has to do with the entire game taking place within a framed narrative; Varric the suave dwarven rogue tends to embellish a bit as he recounts the tale, resulting in some interesting scenarios for you to play through before finding out that that’s not quite how it happened.
The problem with a tighter narrative is that the overarching storyline is fairly linear. While a wide range of meaningful choices was something I really liked about Origins
, I’m sad to say there’s very little of that to be had in the sequel. Sure, there are some alternate ways you can choose to complete quests that may lead to different rewards or maybe a follow-up quest later on, but those don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Aside from the decision at the end of the game that determines which of the two final cutscenes you watch, there’s only one instance I can think of where you’re presented with a bona fide dilemma. Other than that, the game is a continuous series of shallow selections meant to create the illusion that you’re forging your own path, when it actually wouldn’t have made a difference if you chose another option. A lot of the time, even the Mass Effect
-inspired dialogue wheel merely serves as a means of picking whether you want to say the same thing in a way that comes across nice, sarcastic, or dickish.
Some aspects of Dragon Age II
have suffered questionable simplifications, such as “companion armor.” In Origins
, your party was capable of using any of the loot you did not need or want for yourself, but now “they decide what they wear,” and receive occasional upgrades in armor value to their pre-existing outfits. This means that the majority of the armor you find or receive as quest rewards is completely useless and might as well be automatically consigned to the “junk” tab of your inventory. If you’re a warrior, you have no use for robes or light armor, and since your party members can’t wear them either, it’s vendor trash. You could argue that this ensures companions retain their unique “look” throughout the whole game instead of being covered up by armor (how else would you gaze upon Isabela’s ample… personality?), but a more plausible theory suggests this was a compromise to save time in lieu of designing different versions of armor for elves and dwarves. You can still outfit them with weapons and jewelry as you see fit, at least.
Another sizeable change comes from the crafting system. That is, it’s completely gone. Instead of training up skills and combining ingredients to create potions, poisons, bombs, and runes, you “discover” sources of key ingredients in the wild and (in theory) relay their locations to various craftspersons, who will create the items for you so long as you have the associated recipe or design. Once you’ve done all that, you can “order” them as often as you like from the comfort of your own home. By some sort of magical time-warp delivery mechanism, you receive your items instantly! And if you’re wondering why there’s no mention of traps, it’s because those are not available for the player to use in DA2. You’ll still encounter them in dungeons, however, and use a rogue to disarm them.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with the game is the heavily-recycled environments. There are only a handful of different dungeon templates such as Abandoned Mine, Dwarven Ruin, Fancy House, Undercity Tunnel, and Industrial Warehouse that you will revisit at least a dozen times each during various quests to generic locations. That may sound similar to the limited dungeon themes in TES IV: Oblivion
, but believe me, it’s at least ten times worse. Sometimes they change things up by applying different textures and props or blocking off certain paths behind impenetrable doors (though those areas still appear on the map), but the layouts are exactly the same. You even know precisely when you’ll be ambushed by enemies and where loot will be located because spawn points and chest locations are always the same, too. And of course, you are confined to the city of Kirkwall and its 5 major districts, plus a few surrounding locations, for the entire game; each area is repeatedly used for multiple quests, so it just gets really boring after a while.