Jump to content


Review of DA2

  • Please log in to reply
No replies to this topic

#1 Lysan Lurraxol

Lysan Lurraxol
  • Staff
  • 899 posts

Posted 25 August 2011 - 06:23 PM

Warning: I'm really not a fan of Bioware.
I finally finished this, and have a few things I'd like to say about it.

Firstly; it's better than Origins. This isn't neccesarily praise; I hated Origins. Never has a game disappointed me as much as DA:O did; a promising start with an interesting premise and characters rapidly devolved into the standard Bioware borefest (Go and find the four maps to the Starforge! Sorry, Alliances :rolleyes: ). The combat could have been fun but the repetitive encounter design put paid to that. The various companions might have been interesting, but were largely underused, and ran out of dialogue at camp too quickly. The banters and interjection were few and far between, and most were not great. The supposedly epic gritty storyline was anything but. The setting was by turns incoherent and incredibly bland. In short, nothing about Origins was in any way good.

So, looking back, I'm not sure why I actually bought DA2. I certainly didn't have high expectations. Yet, I ended up really really liking the game, in spite of its many flaws.

It's worth mentioning that it's no Mass Effect 2. The attention to detail and strength of writing just isn't present in DA2. The setting is nowhere near as well developed. Locations like Ilium and Omega are lightyears ahead of Kirkwall (which is still better than the unpopulated wasteland that was Denerim. Which is a truly horrible name btw) It's very clear Bioware's A team is on Mass Effect, which hilariously, doesn't include Gaider.

The lack of detail is ultimately what hampers DA2. Kirkwall, as a setting, is irrevocably bland. The architecture's unique, but there's no flavour. Few recurring characters, few little quests and encounters that offer a viewpoint onto aspects of city life, in short, none of the things that made Athkatla, or Sigil, or even Neverwinter (NWN2 - let's not go near the horrible mess of NWN1) or Mulsantir, such interesting locations. It's hard to care about Kirkwall when the game gives us no real incentive to do so. It's hard to feel connected to some of the events, or get the sense that Kirkwall is heading towards crisis as it does in later acts, when there's no word on the street. Hell, half the time there aren't even voices on the street. Kirkwall is a real missed oppurtunity.

Add to that DA2's other flaws; combat (probably more fun than DA:O, with more varied enemies and rebalanced classes, but the enemy tactics are very predictable and fighting endless waves gets dull fast), repetitive area design (this is unforgivable. The engine's not the greatest - NWN2 outdoes it for everything but character design and buildings)- but there is no excuse of the laziness of recyling areas to the extent this game does), a slightly confused plot (the frame narration doesn't add much, and the marketing jars with what's actually presented), plus racefail (with Kirkwall's climate I'd've expected most characters to be non-caucastion. Everyone, literally everyone - I think there are two POC in the cast - one of whom is non-native) - is lily white. It's ridiculous.), and a stupid holocaust comparison (Tranquil Solution? Really, Bioware?), it's easy to see why this game was not well received.

Which is a real shame, because the plot (mostly) and the characters, are some of Bioware's best. ME2 is more fun, and it's characters likeable, but it didn't have the space to develop them to the extent DA2 does, and tbh I found all of DA:O's bland and forgettable, bar maybe Morrigan (Viconia redux). The introduction of voice-acting and named protagonist really added to DA2, and huge improvement on the soul-less, personality-less void that was the Warden (I like being able to craft my character's personality in game, rather than have to imagine details outside of it). I was able to create and connect to an interesting, multi-faceted Hawke. The voice-acting for a snarky male Hawke are really well done, as are many of his lines.

Hawke is supported by an equally multi-faceted cast. Admittedly, Fenris is often a whiny bore, who is saved largely by his voice actor, Sebastian is largely forgettablte (though the Chantry blowing up in his face is hilarious), and Merril is the nadir of Bioware characters and the logical conclusion to the creepy horrible Tali worshippers on SocialBioware). Gigglesquee indeed. TBF - it's largely the fact she's romanceable that's off-putting. She's presented as incredibly naive, with little life experience, plus she looks very very young. Eve Myles does an excellent job of making her naivety believable, and her quest is really quite something; though her blood magic and lack of control and judgement on the subject are never as fully integrated into her character as they could have been. She reminds me of Visas Marr to that extent.

The rest of the cast more than make up for the deficiences of the others. Aveline is unquestionably Bioware's best character since BG2. Strong, principled, loyal - she's a real departure from the norm and totally believable. She has her own career, relationships, beliefs completely independt of Hawke. Her reaction to her gift is a really great piece of writing. The only negative is her somewhat ooc slut-shaming of Isabella, which doesn't make sense for her character, or the setting. A shame, because their relationship is otherwise one of the best in the game. Varric is similarly excellent, as is Isabella (though her costume undermines her); she makes a great best friend/lancer to Hawke, and her volte-face with the relic is a really nice moment for both of them. Carver's difficult rivalry which slowly grows into grudging respect for Hawke is another good piece of characterisation. I've yet to play though with Bethany, so can't comment on her. Which leaves Anders. I loved Anders. I've not played Awakening, but I'm aware the character's changed. Still, he's another believable personality; snarky, intelligent, yet completely devoted to his cause. His relationship with my mage MHawke was convincing, especially the way Anders seemed to soften in his beliefs towards the end of Act 2, yet have them ignited again during Act 3. His actions at the chantry are haunting, and again, believable. He intentionally sacrifices his virtue, doing something he knows to be morally rephrehensible, in order to end an ambiguous injustice. His beliefs and his character are complex and challenging. A little angsty, yes, but within reason. Anders is something of a tragic hero, and unlike other Bioware buckets of angst (Carth in each of his terrible incarnations), we see his tragedy unfold before us, making it immediate and relevant. Besides, I played 'will it blend' with a spirit of Justice, is a more interesting problem than WAH! The baddies bumped off my saintly wife/child delete as approptiate.

The major NPCs are just as good - Orsino's sliminess, combined with a desire for freedom from oppression, the Arishok's rightful disgust at the inequalities and injustices that make up Kirkwall's society, and like Anders, his horrifying response to it, the Viscount placed in an impossible position and his relationship with his son, Elthina, torn between what she knows to be right and a desire to keep the peace, Petrice, scheming yes, but also justified to an extent. WHich sums up many of the themes, characters and actions of DA2. For the first time ever, Bioware have created actual ambiguous moral dilemmas. No-one is completely in the right or wrong; the Qunari are hardline, the mages are oppressed, but the Qunari code is anathema to many in Kirkwall and incredibly hardline, the mages are genuinely dangerous, the templars are trying to keep the peace, and so on. Navigating this society and these choices is one of the best parts of DA2; there is no right or wrong, only ultimately, your Hawke's beliefs.

Of course, DA2 has been criticised for lack of player choice. I can understand that, though I think it works for the game. DA2, despite its marketing, is not a power-fantasy. Even as the Champion, Hawke doesn't have the power to ultimately change the outcome of events - its a nice reflection of how sometimes events can spiral out of control, or circumstances and social forces can force events, regardless of individual desires. It would have been nice of Hawke as CHampion to have been given more chances to influence events, or his exact role in the power structure explained, but again, the attention to detail just isn't there.

The overall plot is good; it combines elements and events and characters from the first act onwards into a complex narrative of cause and effect, in a believable way. DA2 doesn't throw rape and faeces and grimdark at the screen like DA:O did, yet manages to create an intelligent, morally ambiguous and fairly depressing tale, which doesn;t rely on clumsy, appropriative real-world parallels. Meredith is an intelligent, perhaps even sympathetic villain (her line about crushing the mages even as it breaks her heart is quite chilling). The lyrium sword is silly, and undermines her somewhat - her actions and character made sense without being given the standard 'she's just gone mad' villain's excuse. She's far far more interesting than Loghain and the Archdeom.

DA2 is ultimately a flawed flawed gem; little attention to detail, rushed development time, and a host of small mistakes keep it from greatness, yet at its core is a very good story, possibly Bioware's best, with an interesting, nuanced cast of characters, who keep the narrative grounded. It's often very funny, well written, and genuinely tragic. I doubt we'll see anything like it again.

Apologies for length; turns out I had quite a lot to say. I hope someone reads to this point ;)

Longing for the old pen and paper modules of the 70?s and 80?s. Experience AD&D?s greatest adventures using the infinity engine: Classic Adventures Visit our homepage at Classic Adventures Homepage