Monday, March 21, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Review!

 If the title screen didn't give it away, Mages and Templars are a huge theme in this game.
If the title screen didn't give it away, Mages and Templars are a big theme in this game.

I think everyone was a little surprised that the sequel to Dragon Age Origins would be released in 2011 so soon after the first game's release.  Then when the first screenshots came out with some style changes to the art design of the game there was a little nervousness setting in that something horrible has gone wrong.  Well I'm here telling you now after plugging in over 60 hours into the game that although there were some changes i didn't agree with i also wouldn't tell you not to play this game.   This is a game stuck in the void between greatness and just plain average, it really does make you ponder "what if?".   As with most of my reviews i structure them in a few categories which are story, gameplay, visual design, and sound design.

Story 

 

I think it's a fairly simple assumption that if your playing an RPG that you can expect a somewhat deep and involving storyline to go with it.  Well that is kind of true in Dragon Age 2 as the game starts you off with a narrative being told by your dwarf companion Varric.  This will be a recurring theme throughout the game as you follow along the rags to riches story of Hawke the main character in the game in the city of Kirkwall. At the same time you get a general idea that templars and mages don't like each other much.  Many of the main plot points revolve around the choice on how you feel about a certain group of individuals and those choices you make reflect how the quests will play out after Varric skips a few years in the timeline of Hawke's story.  Personally i feel this aspect of plot delivery kind of hurts the emotional connection you have with Hawke and with the city overall.  There are huge gaps of time that get skipped and you don't get to see the transformation of your characters during those years as you can only see the end results.  The story of Hawke is also kind of cheapened during the conclusion of the game as you don't really feel that you accomplished anything, you only feel like a footnote in the history of current world of Dragon Age.  I'm not saying the story didn't matter at all, in fact i really feel that next Dragon Age game is setup very nicely due to the end result of this game.  I just feel Hawke's story was just a stepping stone for a more spectacular story in the next game.


 Isabela is a well fleshed out character ;)
Isabela is a well fleshed out character ;)
As for characters in this game they are good but they aren't amazing.  Hawke himself/herself isn't Shepard from Mass Effect but they play the role of hero very well, some of the dialog can feel a bit forced like the sarcasm choices but it's just a small nitpick over a fairly good character overall.  The companions on the other hand are slightly dissapointing and maybe this is due to the fact that you don't get enough alone time with them to chat up a long and deep conversation about their past like you could in Dragon Age Origins.  Companions only really talk to you if they have a quest available or if you take them along with you in the main party.  This is unfortunate because you don't feel emotionally attached to anyone like a Morrigan, Alistair, or Leliana from the first game.  If there is any bright spot within the companions it is probably Isabela.  If you can get over how ridiculous she looks, she probably has the strongest personality and plays a bigger role in the main plot than any of the other characters in the game, she's also genuinely funny sometimes especially if you bring her polar opposite Aveline into the party.  Anders on the other hand, i found his character to be fairly dissapointing.  He was probably the strongest and well thought out character from the Dragon Age Origins: Awakenings expansion and in this game he just falls flat.  None of the humor transferred over to this game and he's just potrayed as a bitter mage who keeps nagging at all the injustice brought upon himself and other mages all the way throughout the game(being possessed might have something to do with it, maybe).

 Here's a familiar face.
Here's a familiar face.
 Somewhere deep inside me i kept yearning on more information about characters from the first game.  There are references here and there but nothing very satisfying.  There are some short cameo appearances from major players but they really have no significant impact on the storyline and just seemed to be tossed in for nostalgia's sake.  Which brings up another subject on the whole import save from the first game option.  There's no major impact on the story based on your actions from the first game, you only get narrative references and some side quests might play differently if you chose to kill certain people in the first game.  Whether the accumulation of plot choices from the first and this second game will impact the next Dragon Age game remains to be seen. 
 Gameplay

If there has been anything that changed a lot from the first game it may be the combat.  Instead of a more cautious and tactical feel from the first game.  This game will pit you against hordes of enemies each major encounter in a more fast paced action oriented experience.  You have a few different enemy types, enemies that can be killed in about one hit, then you have normal enemies with moderate health, elite enemies with a great amount of health and then Boss enemies with a ridiculous amount of health. You will get a lot more of the lower tier enemies per encounter with a few normal enemies and an elite or two.  So instead of a game that feels like your dice rolling in a slower paced game it feels more action oriented revolving around ability cooldowns.  This can be good or bad and some players will love it and others will hate it.

Since i played this game on Nightmare difficulty i felt the combat was not tweaked at all for this difficulty.  Health pools and damage are increased at extreme levels and some enemy types like rogue's will one shot almost any character in your party without any way to really stop them when they stealth besides exploiting line of sights and placing your back against the walls. Also any non warrior character your party has will get knocked back and interrupted by any type of enemy attack because they do not have the fortitude to deal with a hit unless you add strength points to them.  Which is a bad stat for mages and rogues in the first place so it's just another aspect of the game's stat mechanics that weren't tweaked for nightmare. I did find strategies to deal with all varieties of enemies and overall the game is not hard, it relies too much on hit detection and you could win most battles just running around kiting enemies. The constant spawning of enemies from every direction however makes it harder to keep yourself alive because your tank or healer may be in the wrong position and you'll be reloading your previous save a lot due to fluke deaths.

With nightmare difficulty i also found myself pausing the game a lot and thinking about what i wanted to do next tactically.  This aspect of the game hasn't been changed from the first game and is very welcome game mechanic.  The only problem is that with the release of Dragon Age 2 the overhead tactical camera was not included and it made casting spells and tossing grenades alot tougher than it should have been so i wouldn't destroy my own characters with friendly fire.  You don't know how much people miss tactical view until you try to play at higher difficulties.


 You might fight a Dragon or two in Dragon Age 2.
You might fight a Dragon or two in Dragon Age 2.
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The relationship system has also changed a little bit.  You more or less have this friend or rivalry meter which is pretty much determined by what kind of conversation choices you make with your companions.  Each companion has a predetermined mindset and belief system so if you go against their beliefs they will react negatively and vice versa.  This can also lead your character to be romantically involved with one of your companions if you jump on the opportunity.  The friend/rivalry doesn't really make a huge impact until the end of the game where things are forced upon you and your companions have to choose your friendship over their beliefs and if your not in their good graces they may just turn on you.

Besides combat and the relationship system changes, there have been some interface changes that can be recognized right away that seem alot more streamlined.  The most glaring change is the inventory management in the game.  The first thing you will notice once you get a companion or two is that they don't have normal equipment slots.  Each companion will have their own unique look and to preserve this they took out the option to equip your companions with armor but now you find unique items throughout the game to upgrade them.  Now most people would welcome this change but i felt disappointed with this option.  I felt they stripped too much out of the fun of equipping your characters with stronger items and equipment over time.


 Want to equip that new piece of armor you found  on your companions?  Well you can't.
Want to equip you companions with that new armor you found?  You can't!
Inventory management is like a fun mini game to me personally and this stripped down version made me face-palm the first time i went to equip something new.  Maybe i would have warmed up to this idea if they didn't drop random pieces of armor all the time that my Hawke can't wear.  Why oh why am i getting mage armor for my Hawke that is currently a rogue and now I can't toss this mage armor on one of my mage companions because they stripped that functionality out.  Just didn't make any sense to me.  Of course you can still change weapons, belts and rings on your companions but i just felt i needed to nitpick on the armor slots.

Another big interface change is the chat wheel, which is very similar to the chat wheel from the Mass Effect games.  It works well in Mass Effect and you basically get the same result here in Dragon Age 2.  You could argue that controlling a silent protagonist can give you a more of an immersive feel but at the same time you get a more narrative story with the chat wheel system.  I think chat wheel systems work when the main character is strong enough to carry a story and Hawke is strong enough character in my opinion to pull it off.


Visual Design


Visually the game looks fantastic on the PC with Direct X 11 effects and the installation of  high resolution textures.  When the first screenshots and information coming out for Dragon Age 2 were surfacing everyone noticed a distinct style difference.  Some even went as far as to say it was a downgrade from the first game.  That's not necessarily true in the final iteration of the game and personally I found them to be leaps and bounds better than the first game.

 The game has some nice details and textures.
The game has some nice details and textures.
Animations are also another area where the game has improved tremendously.  They almost feel exaggerated in a way like a comic book and they look very cool when in motion.  It has synergy with the fast paced combat and it probably couldn't be pulled off well with the pace of the first game if they upgraded the animations there.

 Qunari aren't very nice!
Qunari aren't very nice!
Character design is fine, dwarfs and humans look the same as before.  Elves and Qunari have gotten a different look this time around.  The elves look more frail and they also have different facial features including bigger eyes to distinguish themselves different than just being humans with pointy ears. Qunari are not as you remember them from the first game.  They are horned tribal type of men and this is reflected through their body paint and weapons of choice.  If you thought that Sten was a tough looking guy in the first game, these new Qunari make him look like a nice guy.

If there's anything disappointing about the visuals of the game it would have to be the lack of environments to travel in.   You are mostly restricted to city of Kirkwall, some outdoor areas, and lots of dungeons that look the same.  The repetitiveness of these environments get tiresome after awhile, it's not even close to matching the amount of landmarks and areas the first game had to offer to players.


Sound Design


In terms of sound design the sound effects and music are very good and fit the fantasy theme the game has going for it.  I'd even go as far as telling you to go buy the soundtrack if you didn't get the limited edition because it's that good.

Voice acting in this game is very good and has always been a strength in Bioware games.  A game focusing around a main character also needs to have a strong voice actor to keep the game interesting and the voice talent behind Hawke is exceptionally good.  Male Hawke might be a bit weaker than Female Hawke but they fit their roles very well.  Each companion is well voiced but as i said in the story section of this review, some are just weaker than others.  Isabela and Varric are the standouts and are full of personality, while Anders and Merrill can be awkward at times.  Some of the best voice acting comes from characters who don't have a strong presence in this game like Kate Mulgrew who voiced Flemeth the witch of the wilds, Orsino and Meredith are also very well done.

I guess I should point out that with the artistic style change of the elves.  The dialect of the Dalish elves has also changed to some type of Irish/Native accent.  This is a very strange thing to change but i guess the developers wanted to make them feel distinct.  Other than that you have your Orlesians who have french accents, Antivans who have Spanish accents, and Dwarfs who still maintain their American accents.


Conclusion 


I probably rambled on too much about things that probably don't matter to you so I'll just get to the point.  I like Dragon Age 2, i played it for over 60 hours easily.  A big chunk of the content is in the side quests.  I would say that there's 40% content in the main plot and the rest of the content in this game are mostly in the side quests.  It's interesting to see how some quest choices can affect the outcome of the later parts of the game.  Is it better than first game?  In terms of story i would have to say no.  Gameplay mechanics i feel have improved and are a lot more fun this time around.  Not everyone will agree but it takes some getting used to at first.  Tactical view i feel will be patched in at some point, or even modded by the PC community to be included in the game.

This is a good game, flawed by being in the shadow of the original game and maybe some of Bioware's past games.  If you are at all vested into the lore of the world of Thedas then you probably already own this game.  If you are someone who looked at the first Dragon Age game from a distance but never fully made the jump.  This game is definitely a decent starting point.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

High Dragon on Nightmare - Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 


Hey folks, just Marz here making another strategy guide/video for Dragon Age 2 and this time we have the HIGH DRAGON on Nightmare Difficulty. So first off your going to want to prepare before you engage this beast, i recommend enchanting all your armor with fire resist runes. Fire resist makes this fight almost a joke because her fireballs won't hit as hard and your damage intake is almost none during her ground phase. I think i had hawke at about 60% and all my other party members around 90% fire resist.

Other items on the list to you might want to bring are some mighty offense potions for your damage dealers. Maybe some ressurection potions if you don't bring Anders along.

So my main team is Hawke, Isabela, Anders and Aveline. I could have made this fight even easier on myself if you brought along another ranged DPS like Varric or Merrill instead of Isabela, but i'm a rogue kinda guy so i stuck with it.

Her basic ground phase is pretty easy to deal with so what your going to want to do is have people hold position and spread them out a little bit. Go in with your tank and taunt her. Now you can either try to deal with her melee damage or just stand a little outside her melee range with your tank still taunting her when the cooldown is up. She will go into fireball mode and if your tank is equipped with fire resist then they will take basically no damage at all. I don't really do it in the first part of the video but it works pretty well with minimal danger.

She will fly around and shoot fireballs at the nearest person but all you have to do is readjust your tank and it shouldn't be a problem.

If you insist on going in with a melee rogue, try to keep to her sides so you dont' get destroyed by her tail whip and jump in and out while your cooldowns refresh. But this is basically all you have to do for her ground phase.

She will spawn adds three times in this fight, what you want to do is select all your party members and run to a far side of the map. This will funnel all the little dragonlings and make them easier for your tank to taunt them and it won't rape your other characters in the process. They have very low health so you can destroy them with a few AOE abilities just make sure not to hit yourself with friendly fire.Another reason to run to a side of the map is that not all the dragonlings will be aggresive. So once you deal with the main horde you can go back and clean up the rest of the dragons.

Each of these Add phases will get progressively harder, meaning.... she will spawn a regular elite dragon that has a good amount of health. But using the same strategy for gathering all the dragons on the tank will work here as well. Just focus on taking out the little dragons so that your not taking too much collateral damage if they are not controlled well.

The last add phase will probably be the most difficult to deal with, she will spawn 2 elite dragons. Just try to spread out your ranged guys so they don't get sucked in by the little dragons wing flap and if your tank is getting hammered hard try to kite a little bit till cooldowns are ready.

If you can deal with her add phases you basically won the fight, because her ground phase will always be the same and you won't have to adjust your strategy to deal with it.

This battle is just a test of your patience because she has an enourmously large health pool and the add phases take a few mins to deal with. But overall she's not very difficult.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Barrel Puzzles in the Fade - Dragon Age 2

 Dragon Age 2
Just a quick video showing the solutions to the barrel puzzles that you find in the fade while questing in Dragon Age 2. So what happens when you solve it? You get 3 attribute points that you can spend on your character which is a pretty nice deal. If you don't solve them properly you have to fight some demons and you won't be able to do the puzzle afterwards so be sure to save beforehand!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ancient Rock Wraith Nightmare Video - Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 
Created this video, hoping that it will help more people in killing this boss.
My party composition was the following
Hawke - Rogue Archer
Varric - Ranged
Aveline - Tank
Anders - Healer

Be prepared before you enter the deep roads expedition with many potions, bombs, gear.


*note on the health glitch*

I found that monsters that burrow or teleport around cause the health glitch. So if you really want to exploit this glitch, wait for the monster to vanish or burrow. Cast regroup, then they should be bugged with health regeneration.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dragon Age 2 PC - High Res Texture Pack

Dragon Age 2 
Just a reminder if you get the PC version of Dragon Age 2, that there is a high resolution texture pack from Bioware that you can install before you play the game.   This is recommended for people with graphics cards that can run Direct X 11 and have at least 1 gig of video memory.


The link to that texture pack can be found below.
http://social.bioware.com/page/da2-patches

Dragon Age Origins Mod Recommendations

Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition 

If you are like me waiting in anticipation of Dragon Age 2, you probably started playing Dragon Age origins again. So to make this experience a lot more interesting I downloaded a couple of modifications and I am just sharing what I recommend from what I found.

The first mod I am recommending is Dragon Age Redesigned because it changes the face design of almost every NPC in the game. This mod includes many facial morphs and texture replacements of the heroes companions and is overall very high quality.



Another problem I found with Dragon Age is that the hairstyles can be kind of bland and boring. Beautiful People Hair REN is a really nice mod that allows you to choose different hairstyles for your hero and a requirement for the next mod on this list.



Now the next mod that I recommend is CGI Leliana face morph sacred ashes trailer. Now this is another face mod but I prefer the Leliana in this modification more so than the one in the Dragon Age Redesigned mod because she resembles the character from the sacred ashes trailer and at the same time looks like the sweet nurtured version the character is in general. There are multiple versions but I preferred version 4 personally.



So while playing Dragon Age I noticed that in combat the characters would run like they had a stick up there ass. To alleviate this problem I decided to look for a mod that would change them so that the animation looks more natural. This mod is called combat animations – battle animations and this mod worked perfectly in changing the awkward walk your character would do while you ran around in combat. This mod uses Dragon Age Mod Manager, which isn’t really a mod but a installation tool. Not every Dragon Age mod uses it but I will post a link just to make it easier for you.



The next mod is kind of adult oriented and not safe for work so I won’t post any pictures or videos but if you really want that authentic raw Dragon Age experience then this might help with the overall immersion. It’s called Natural Bodies All-In-One. This is a body replacement mod with many options to choose from. Most of the bodies are nude but they are well modeled compared to the default body. This body only affects the characters when they don’t have any armor on. It kind of fixes the Morrigan Bra dilemma during her love scene because when she’s fully clothed you can naturally see she is not wearing anything on underneath but when you bed her she ends up tossing a bra on which she didn’t have before. If you’re mature about it, it’s a decent mod. If you’re a kid you shouldn’t download it but you probably will anyways.

So these are just a few mods that I use that enhance my overall experience with the first Dragon Age game. Most of these mods can be found at DragonAgeNexus.com or the Bioware Social site. Most of the mods have very good instructions but in general you usually toss these mods in the override folder in your MyDocuments/Bioware/DragonAge/packages/core/override. Let’s hope that Dragon Age 2 will have some fantastic mods in the future after it’s released this week.

Dragon Age Redesigned - http://social.bioware.com/project/1205/
Beautiful People Hair Ren - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=750
CGI Leliana face mod - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=666
Combat Animations - Battle Animations - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=2121
DAO Mod Manager -  http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=277
Natural Bodies - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=554