Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dragon Age II: First Thoughts (Length Warning, but there's pictures!)

So I've been playing me some Dragon Age II (after having to redo 3/4 of the Awakening playthrough I had all ready to go because I oopsed and accidentally deleted the wrong save game). I've put in about 11-12 hours, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the game thus far. I can only go on what I've seen and done up to this point, so this is not an analysis of the entire game. I will try to keep things spoiler-free.

The Good:

1) The characters. I am LOVING the characters so far. I take back every "meh" thought I had about Varric and Merrill, I'll tell you that. Here are the party members/characters so far and my thoughts: (note, I haven't recuited everyone, which is why Fenris is missing. And some I've talked to more than others, hence the uneven amount I talk about each)

Varric (voiced by Brian Bloom)
I don't know what it was, but I wasn't really interested one way or the other in Varric prior to the game's release. I don't know what it was, especially given how much I loved the dwarves and their culture in the first game. But I was wrong, Varric is great! He really is an enjoyable character, from his party banters, to your conversations with him, to what I've seen of the interaction of him and Cassandra. Plus, once you have a few points to spend, you can get some pretty nifty upgrades for that crossbow that are pretty sweet. I also really, really like how the dwarves don't have Scottish accents, like every other dwarf out there, and Varric has a great voice for his personality.

Bethany/Carver (voiced by Rebekah Staton/Nico Lennon)
Now here's my one and only spoiler. I don't really know anything about Carver. I've been running with Bethany in this playthrough, but next one I will be able to give you something on him. Bethany is an interesting character. She's a mage, and understands what your family went through to keep her (as well as your character's father) safe from the Templars and the Circle. In a way, she wants to be normal, but it's not overwhelming. As a mage, once you get some talent points into the various trees (I have her specced as a DPS mage), she will destroy enemies. The sisterly banter is really fun, and is a nice addition to the game.

Aveline (voiced by Joanna Roth)
Two words: lady tank! This is what Mhairi should have been. Aveline is a sword-and-shield tank you meet very early in the game. She's a sweet person, loyal and a believer in the good and right decisions. She can also smash in a hurlock's skull with her bare hands and lift a full-grown man like a child. Maybe you won't like her if you play a Renegade-type character, but even a "Paragade/Renegon*" type should be fine without venturing too far into rivalry (unless that's what you want, I suppose). I love Aveline, personally, even if she and my Hawke don't see eye to eye all the time.

Anders (voiced this time by Adam Howden)
Oh Anders, what did they do to you? *sniffles* Yes, Anders is in many respects still the awesome, snarkly mage that we all loved in Awakening (well, I didn't the first time through but I didn't really give him a chance, either. I blame Alistair withdrawal). But at the same time, he's not the same. He's more melancholy. And without saying what he tells you, I can tell you this, not ONE of my Wardens would have stood for it, and I'm sure my Queen Cousland would have used all her backing to make those responsible pay. My Aeducan Commander would definitely not have allowed such dishonor (what does a dwarf care for the Chantry anyway?). After a personal quest and conversation, in which I tentatively attempted a flirt line or two, I just wanted to hug him and send him back to my Amell warden so they could run off and be happy apostates together. But, we shall see how the game progresses.

Merrill (voiced by Eve Myles)
I didn't know who Merrill was when she was announced, although she was in Origins. Reason being, I hadn't played the Dalish Elf Origin (although the Cynic did). Luckily, my brother came over and played through as a Dalish Elf. Merrill in Origins was bland and kind of bossy. Merrill in DA II is adorable. She's like Sigrun, minus the harsh, casteless upbringing, and with an extra dose of naivete about how Kirkwall's society works. The new Welsh accent is really cool too, and differentiates the Dalish more from the City Elves and the Dwarves, which I really like. And she's a mage, so with her, Anders, Bethany, and my warrior Hawke, it's wonderful destruction every battle.

Isabela (voiced by Victoria Kruger)
Holy tits, Isabela's back! Now I've only just recruited her, so I haven't been able to ask her who in Thedas does breast implants, how she can stand upright with those, or where her pants have gone. I have, however, already been told where she's staying, in case I want to come keep her company. I wonder if she'll tell you she slept with your Warden (if you did), or about the possible threesome or foursome (I did the threesome with Alistair). So yeah, I can't tell you much about Isabela just yet, other than she's a dual-wield rogue.

Sebastian (voiced by Alec Newman)
Now I know what you're thinking; another noble-born archer with a dead family? Now, I haven't actually recruited Sebastian yet, but I have met him in game, and he isn't just a Nathaniel Howe clone (doesn't seem stoic enough). I shall have to see once I have him in my party, of course. His circumstances seem different enough to make him a different character just for that. More to follow once I know him better (but oh mah goodness, dat accent!).

There are also lots of great NPC's that you meet in the game. Cassandra is one such character. I'm looking forward to seeing some more cutscenes with her in them to see more of her and about her. It is also interesting to see more of the Qunari, including the Arishok. Also, Flemeth! She is as mysterious as ever, especially if you played the Witch Hunt DLC for Origins, but with a badass new look. And is once again magnificently voiced by Kate Mulgrew. I want more Flemeth! You also have a mabari, this time as a summon, which was a fantastic idea. I named him Gimli this time. As I said, I haven't really gotten all that far in the game, so I am probably missing lots of awesome characters I simply haven't met yet.

2)The Story. We are building up to something exciting. I doubt this game will be able to bring the overarching story to resolution, but I can see the set-up to continue it in further games (like the end of Mass Effect 2, which was holy shit to say the least). Mages, Chantry, Templars, Qunari, Flemeth, Wardens; there are so many angles (and more than this even) that are going to align with and against each other into something cataclysmic, whether for good or ill is still up for debate. And right now we see this through the eyes of a Fereldan refugee scraping their way up from nothing in Kirkwall. I can see it being a bit like Mass Effect 2, in showing a very specific story, but as a build-up to the events of a later game.

3) The redesigns for the races. I was very skeptical about these, but I like them a lot. It makes the races different, rather than a Star Trek-ish they all look like humans but adjusted for height and maybe prostheses, like ears. It makes them more individual as separate races. Humans and Dwarves seem to have had the least alteration, basically just updating their graphics into the new desgin. Flemeth, Elves and Qunari have had the largest changes, including the horns the Qunari were supposed to have in Origins. Although, not all Qunari have horns, as Sten is a notable exception.

Velanna (left) in Awakening, and Marethari (right) in Dragon Age II showing the new Elf look.

Sten (left) and a horned Qunari (right). You can definitely still tell they are Qunari when you talk to them. It's very cool to see more of them, and learn about their culture, such as the Tal'Vashoth and Qunari mages.

Flemeth in DA II and DA:O (inset)

4) The graphics. The graphics were vastly upgraded and the entire style of the universe was overhauled for DA II. And I like it. Maybe it won't impress everyone (in fact, I know it won't), but I like it. I'm sure a lot of people will complain it's too simple and lacking in detail, but I like the simplicity, without feeling like they're trying to cram as many pixels in just because they can. Now, I played the demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and it looked very, very pretty. But you know what, the Dragon Age universe isn't pretty. It's dark, it's dreary, it's not a nice place. But then again, I'm not terribly picky about graphics, so maybe I miss the point entirely when it comes to that.

5) Gameplay and combat. These two things also went through a massive overhaul. The dialogue wheel from Mass Effect makes it's DA debut. And you know what, I like it, after being sure I would hate it. The icons that show the intent (sarcastic, diplomatic, flirt, etc.) is an awesome addition, and makes it much easier to plan the conversation. the UI is easy to navigate and the combat talents have been organized into easy to handle talent trees with upgradable skills. Combat is wicked now. It's faster and more effective. When you hit a button for a spell, it happens now. It's much more responsive and you feel more in control. Your character also moves faster in combat, making the overall experience very satisfying.

6) Voice acting. Was there a doubt here? Several changes were made, such as the voice of Anders and Merrill, and switching the Dalish Elves to have Welsh and Irish accents. But overall, the voice acting is every bit as good as you expect from Bioware. A lot of people were iffy on the voices for Hawke. I haven't played male Hawke at all, but I like Lady Hawke's voice. I'm glad it's a little more feminine sounding, otherwise she would have sounded (and thusly been compared to) Commander Shepard. I love Shepard and I think her voice is perfect for her, I'm just glad they went for something a little different here, and I think it works. There was some complaints because they sounded too posh to be from Lothering, but Hawke's mother was nobility, so it does make sense.

7) Preset Hawke. I love character creators. I will spend an hour in just the character creator, especially in a first playthrough, looking at all the options. I've never really cared about the presets since I love customizing my own. But damn, I'm going to have to try out default Lady Hawke. She is probably one of the prettiest defaults ever! Not only that, even the default name is awesome. I've never used a default name in an RPG (if I could change it) until now. But I just couldn't think of anything I liked better than Marian. So I went with it. I did change up how she looked, though.

default Marian Hawke

My Marian Hawke

The Not So Good

1) Tiny Writing Syndrome. I know, I know, it's the fault of my old-ass, obsolete TV. Doesn't mean I can't complain about it. The text is tiny, especially for loading screens. I can read it, but I generally have to sit closer to do so. I don't really even pay attention to the loot I'm picking up because it's too hard to read whatever the damn thing is. Unfortunately, until I acquire a new TV, I'm stuck with it.

2) Anders' voice. Now, I have no problem with the voice actor who plays him in DA II. And I now know why they changed it and why he isn't voiced by Greg Ellis but I wished they'd done it the other way so that he was. I think it could have worked the other way too. Oh well. It's a bit of a fangirlish complaint, but it wouldn't have been my preference. His current VA does do a really good job though, and really illustrates how he's changed based on how the world has treated him.

Final Verdict- So Far

Well, obviously I'm enjoying it, or I wouldn't have written a novella on my first thoughts. It's a darker game, that's for sure. Damn dark. There are still moments of levity and snarkiness, but I agree with others that there doesn't seem to be as much. Or at least, it is more overshadowed by the grittier part. But we shall see as I play more. I read an interesting review that compared it to the old RPG Planescape Torment, which I think is an apt comparison. It's bleak, concentrated mainly in one area (in and around the city-state of Kirkwall) rather than a whole country, and while an excellent game, it won't be for everybody. I think the best way to describe DA II, at least so far, is Planescape Torment crossed with Mass Effect 2 in the Dragon Age universe. Not to say it doesn't feel like a Dragon Age game, because it very much does. Though I'm still in the First Act, I will say that I am really enjoying the game and am looking forward to getting more time into it.

Well thanks to everyone who slogged through yet another ridiculously long post with me. As a reward, The God Drums, in their entirety. The video's trippy though, even for Lud. :D

See you guys next time!

*Paragade- combination Paragon ("good") and Renegade ("evil") more to the Paragon side.
Renegon- same idea, but opposite to Paragade.

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