So, after having finished Dragon Age 2, I have to say that my overall impression of the game is: Meh
As I’m going to talk heavily about the story, the rest will be below the fold.
The game is clearly intended to be the second game in a trilogy, and as such works that way a bit better than Mass Effect 2 did, as it essentially deals with a side quest from Origins, but ends up as an example of how small actions can have a great impact. Unfortunately, the overall game storyline — not just the story, and you won’t believe how hard it is to try to make that distinction — is less interesting than ME2. Part of the reason is that the characters in DA2 are no where near as interesting as the ones in ME2. Varric is the most interesting of the lot, and for the most part I think that’s because of how he stands up to what I assume is the Inquisitor from the latest game. I liked Aveline, but as a character she was mostly just a good, loyal friend, a link to home, and a bit of comedy relief. That being said, her name always got me thinking of this song, which is both good and bad. Isabella was a character that my female mage liked for her zest for life and all, but was pretty shallow otherwise. My character killed Anders for the stunt he pulled with destroying the Chantry, and didn’t care much for him outside of that. Fenris was well-voiced, but his storyline was fairly bland in my opinion. Merill was sweet, but also a bit dull, and her storyline was not only kinda stupid (I want to rebuild this mirror even though I’m consorting with demons! For history! And maybe a friend! Who knows?!?), but it forced me to exterminate an entire village of Dalish Elves. There simply weren’t characters like Mordin or Garrus or Tali or Miranda or Jack, and the background stories simply weren’t up to par.
It also ran into problems with the overall story itself. For one thing, the link from the personal story to the overall impact on the world at large was never really made clear. It was all about what was happening in Kirkwall, and with me personally, but there was no real hint that other cities and kingdoms were watching what was happening in this city and that it was having an impact on their views as well. I might have missed them, though, but it needed to be a bit more front and centre. But even that wouldn’t have helped much, because almost all of the game was just about me building a life for myself and my family, but the dark tone really ruined that. In pretty much every act, you end up losing a family member and being helpless to interact. So it was a pretty dark game for my character, which made it hard for me to feel any sort of contentment with my character’s story arc. I wasn’t even that happy getting Isabella, like I was with Leiliana in Origins.
It also was never made clear what the stakes were and how everything fit together, which made it really hard to choose sides. I took a neutral stance the whole way through, in part because I was a mage but also because I saw what terrible things the Circle Mages were constantly up to. One of my favourite snarky lines was something like “Can I not go one week without running into an insane mage? Just one week?”. I eventually sided with the Templars after Anders’ attack because I knew that things had gone too far, and something did have to be done, and was convinced by Meredith’s comment that either we kill the mages, or the people would. And fortunately, Merill agreed when I explained that to her. But then I felt railroaded into fighting Meredith anyway, and Varric’s comment that my actions spawned uprisings in the Circles anyway when that was the absolute last thing I wanted — I just wanted the Templars to stop being such dicks about it all — bugged me. The ending was far less satisfying than it was in Origins, where you got to find out more about what your companions did afterwards.
Again, given what they were trying to do, this all follows, and their way of setting up the next game is far better than ME2’s, but overall storywise the game is much less satisfying than ME2’s, because it can’t make up for its lackluster ending with the satisfaction of having some really interesting characters, and I can’t imagine there being interesting character resolutions like we had for Mordin and Tali and Legion in ME3 in Inquisition.
Combat-wise, on Casual it wasn’t all that difficult for me, although I faced some frustration, mostly from the “swarms”, where you’d clear some out and then all of sudden more would miraculously appear, often from behind you. Most of the combat seems designed to be chaotic, even the boss fights against what ought to be one boss that constantly summons enemies to annoy and confuse you. I did mostly all right, though. The companion AI is okay when you set proper tactics — ie get them to drink health potions when they run out of health — and I probably would have done better using more of the Spirit Mage options instead of going all in on fire. That being said, while I liked the combat better than I did in Origins, it still highlights the difference between ME’s cover-based combat and DA’s open combat, as the cover-based combat lets you slow things down a bit to adjust tactics, recover, heal and so on, while DA’s really ends up being a “Get in there and kill things quickly!”. DA2 is even worse for that than DA:O was, with the aforementioned swarms.
One thing I noticed with this game is that with the modern Bioware games I have absolutely no interest in playing them again once I’ve finished, which is not true for games like KotOR from Bioware or the Persona games. On the one hand, this might be a good thing, because it seems like I feel that the story has been told and settled and there’s nothing else that needs to be done (which explains my annoyance at the unsatisfying resolution here). But on the other hand, it seems to demonstrate how shallow and meaningless most of the choices in the games are; there’s no reason to go back and do anything different to see how it turns out. Considering that I’m a person who will read the same books and watch the same movies over and over again even though I know how it will turn out, that I have no interest in replaying these games is not a good sign. It’s an even worse sign that I have more interest in redoing class stories in The Old Republic than in replaying these games.
Ultimately, my overall impression of the game is, as I said, “Meh”. It was fun enough and I don’t regret playing it, but it’s in no way a classic.