Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Dragon Age II" worth every penny

Dragon Age II

Developed by: Bioware
Published by: EA
Available: NOW
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Rating: M (for Mature)
Price: $59.99

Sequels have such a hard road to travel. The first child is often the experiment - parents can mess up with the first one but correct the matter with the following siblings. For artists, creating a follow-up work after a masterpiece equals serious pressure. For Bioware, their award-winning Mass Effect has raised the bar so high for role-playing games. Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening had some issues, but heck - they were excellent games with hours upon hours of gameplay. You know one thing about Bioware - if they make it, you'll get your money's worth.

Even with all of that, sequels often work hard but don't dethrone the original. No, not going to happen. This time, around, Dragon Age II not only exceeds expectations, but raises the bar even higher.

Developed by Bioware (who have an office in Austin) and published by EA, Dragon Age II is a sequel that isn't really a sequel of sorts. Yes, it's the third game in the series, yes, it mentions exploits from the first game, but make no mistake - this game is long and engaging.

The game focuses on the flashbacks of one of the champion's party members, a dwarf. The game takes part in two acts - the first focuses on an expedition into the Deep Roads to fight Dark Spawn. The second act deals with the Qun - a Qunari group. about the champion Hawke. Like Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, players assume the role of Hawke, a Ferelden who has been driven away by the Blight. Players can choose three classes (and sex) to play as - a rogue, a warrior or mage. Just like the original, you earn XP and loot to unlock talents and weapons. You can change your first name, but your last name is Hawke. Ahhhhh ...

You are able to select three companions to roll with you on your quests. You can also find spots throughout levels that allow you to change your team on the fly - especially if you need a particular party member or a party member is constantly getting beat down in fights. Coaches and athletes call it being *benched.*

The gameplay is filled with sidequests, main plot missions and tons of smaller, personal missions for people you meet in your journey. As with most Bioware games, you are given a choice to do good or bad. You can also import your Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings which will actually change the game and missions, depending on your alignment in the previous game.

The mission environment start to look the same very quickly. You'll find yourself in a mine during one mission, and a few missions later, you're in the same mine, but some of the entrances are sealed off. It's very easy to get lost, especially if you play different environs that look an awful lot alike. The other bad thing? Often, when you finish a certain area and can't unlock chests (Note: Always carry a rogue with you, if you are not one) or buy special armor and/or weapons, you can't reacess it unless you fire up an older save. Search every corner the first time you do a mission - and level up your rogue in cunning to open complex chests.

The game has a powerful and soul-stirring soundtrack. I do give it to EA - their soundtracks in Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 2 and Medal of Honor are huge pluses in the game. The soundtrack has a commanding presence in the game.

The graphics are good - though not great. The background *screen door* effect is still there, though dialed down a bit. In a big fight, or even one-on-one brawl, the camera will end up behind a pillar or a wall if you are fighting too close to it. As I stated earlier, the mission levels start to look the same, with a pile of rocks or a door that won't open being the only difference between levels.

Though you can access EA via online for content download, you can't do co-op gameplay with friends. Bummer.

Probably one of the closest cross-game perks has to be the Ser Issac armor from Dead Space 2 and the Blood Dragon armor from Mass Effect 2, which was based on Dragon Age: Origins Blood armor.

Overall, it's probably my pick as the Time Suck Game of the Year for sucking your precious time away. Note - not Game of the Year just yet, but is worth every cent you drop on this title.

The verdict: 9.35 (out of 10) This is the strongest game that I've played this year. I enjoyed the first Dragon Age and was thankful EA fired off an early review copy. Yet, 30 hours later, I'm still loving this game. The incredible gameplay, deep story and the ability to keep an overgrown kid who has a problem staying on task is phenomenal. I can not wait for the third offering. Bioware, you rock.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not even out a few days and someone has exploited the game with a pretty wicked cheat. You can complete a "Lost and Find" quest and if done right, you can unlock mad - I mean MAD XP and loot. And if you are wondering, yes, it caps you at level 50 lol.

Here's the video:

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