Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 Review

Kid Safe: Low                     Game Quality: Very High

Genre: Open World Action/Adventure RPG
-          This game takes place where choice is everything. Rather than providing a set story that a player has to follow, they are provided a world that they can explore and do as they wish with a focus similar to an action movie. Likewise, as players adventure through this title they will find alternate means of completing their tasks including battles, negotiation, and puzzle solving. Finally, players are able to create and developer their own unique character based on the decisions they make.

Internet Requirements: Low
-          Dragon Age 2 has relatively low internet requirements due to the lack of any form of online-multiplayer options. However, like the game's predecessor, Dragon Age 2 will be offering additional content later on down the road that will be available for purchase and download via the internet.

Story Summary: In Dragon Age 2, you take the role of Hawke, a character whom you create and
develop while you lead him/her through the trials of living in a war-torn world. Escaping with only your lives, your story begins as you and your family are forced out of your home-city from a blight of monstrous creatures called "Darkspawn". Fleeing across the ocean to your family in a massive city known as Kirkwall, you find nothing but false promises and little hope. Now, you must make a name for yourself, decide your own path, and, over the course of 10 years, lead Hawke into becoming the Champion of the People.

Kid Safe: Low
-          Foul Language: Moderate
o   Dragon Age 2 features a moderate amount of foul language primarily in the form of words like "a*s", "b*stard", "s*it", and "b*tch". Players are also exposed to some crude and sexually related commentary; e.g "You don't have the balls for it." The language is ever-present in dialogue but depends on how the individual plays through the game and what characters they are exposed to as certain roguish characters have a higher tendency towards foul language than others.

-          Violence and Gore: High
o   Dragon Age 2 features a high amount of both violence as well as blood and gore. Beginning with notably violent content, players will use a variety of different weapons as well as magical abilities to fight, maim, and kill enemies. Examples of weapons include bows, crossbows, daggers, swords, maces, axes, and more. Examples of spells include fireballs, blasts of wind, sprays of ice, and more. Players will fight and kill human and humanoid individuals as well as fantastical monsters like dragons, spiders, golems, living shadows, and more.

o   The game can prove to be exceptionally gory in certain parts. While fighting, enemies will spray blood when they are hit. Likewise, when players kill an enemy, said character may can have a limb chopped off, be cut in half, be decapitated, and occasionally may explode into a spray of blood, gore, and body parts. After particularly gruesome fights, the battlefield may be littered with pools and sprays of blood as well as any number of bodies and body parts. Finally, players will be covered with blood from fighting and will often engage in dialogue with other characters completed splattered with the remnants of the fight.

o   Aside from the combat in the game, Dragon Age also features a number of violent scenes that take place during outside of battles. To start, you will often stumble across the remnants of other adventurers or slaves with bodies and corpses laying about here and there in caves and mines. On top of this, certain dialogues between characters can get rather nasty; e.g. a young woman who slashes her own wrist in order to use "blood magic", and, when a man asks you to end his life, you reach forward and simply cut his throat with a quick slash of your dagger.
-          Sexually-Related Content: High
o   Dragon Age 2 features a high amount of sexually-related content with some nudity. To begin, as mentioned earlier, players will be exposed to sexually-related references and dialogue; e.g. "Sailing is like sex. Do it wrong, and it'll make you sick." "Sadly he didn't want my...services...either (in reference to prostitution)." These are common throughout dialogue, especially in the presence of certain characters or when players are sent on missions into or nearby the Brothel.

o   Dragon Age 2 also contains some amount of nudity. Primarily, the nudity is covered up and takes place in the form of excessive amounts of cleavage in low-cut tops or revealing outfits. However, there are certain female creatures called Desire Demons that you will fight of which are almost full nude, revealing bare female breasts and nipples.

o   Finally, players are able to engage in sexual acts with certain other characters from their group. By "romancing" a character and progressively building a relationship through helping, talking to, and connecting with, players are able to engage in sexual relations. No nudity is shown, however the two characters will often embrace and kiss heavily before the screen fades to black and skips to after the coitus, when everyone has once again dressed. It should be noted that these relations can take place in any fashion or sexual orientation, including male-to-male, female-to-female, and male-to-female relationships.

-          Use of Drugs and Alcohol: Moderate
o   Dragon Age 2 features a moderate amount of drug and alcohol usage which is predominately made up of alcohol consumption. Characters will occasionally make reference to the imbibing of alcohol, e.g. "You know, my friend disappeared once. Turns out he wasn't missing at all. He was under my bed drunk." Characters will also be shown drinking alcoholic beverages, e.g. a character Isabella is standing at a bar taking shots, a fight ensues which she quickly ends, and then goes back to taking shots. Finally, drunken characters will often act strangely, stagger, and slur their words during dialogue.

o   Aside from alcohol, the game also contains some drug references; however these references are to fictional drugs in the game. E.g. you meet a character, an ex-templar, who makes reference to need "the dust", i.e. "dwarf dust", which causes reactions and withdrawal symptoms similar to the usage of Methamphetamines.
Game Quality: Very High
-          Graphics / Visuals: High
o   Dragon Age 2 features a relatively high level of graphical and visual quality, primarily in their delivery of massive and interesting level designs. Probably one of the development team's greatest accomplishments was the creation of a fully realized city and surrounding world. As you or your player explores the city of Kirkwall and it's nearby areas, you will find dozens of locations that have been expertly imagined and pieced together. Just in the city, the change in scenery is drastic when you move from Lowtown (the slums) to Hightown (the nobles' district). Lowtown and all nearby areas look and feel like you would imagine: cramped, dirty, filled with people milling about trying to just make a meager living, beggers, trash, rows of houses and businesses and doors all trying just to sustain the overworked and under-privileged population. Likewise, Hightown is the exact opposite; lofty, well kept, designed and thought out, groomed, and showing no signs of the dilapidation or poverty of the lower city. These are just two examples of dozens of fully-imagined areas in the game that players can explore.

o   However, if there was one major thorn in Dragon Age's side, it would be the design of the characters themselves. Please don't get me wrong, many of them are very well designed and interesting to look out, however certain movements and expressions while speaking in dialogue or in the game's cutscenes are just...odd. They remind me almost of marionettes. Like puppets, many of them look pretty, however their movements and interactions with one another just looks and feels very clunky and unrealistic.
-          Audio: High
o   Much like it's graphical quality, Dragon Age 2 features a relatively high level of audio quality, particularly with its voice acting. Given the exceptionally heavy emphasis on story and dialogue, the masterful voices of Rebekah Staton, Brian Bloom, Jean Gilpin, Robin Downes, and dozens of other actors do everything to carry the player just where they need to be. The tone can be heavy, emotional, saddening, or light hearted. The dialogue can be serious, raunchy, and sometimes incredibly funny. Yet, every actor nails their lines 100% and adds real human weight to everything being said and experienced.

o   The quality doesn't stop there, with their masterwork moving into "ambient" noises. Footsteps echo and clank as you run in boots and softly bad along if you are bare-foot. If you walk through a crowded market, not only will you hear the chatter and calls of merchants and consumers, but the buzzing of flies, the calls of birds, the barking of dogs, and more; providing an intense feeling of life to the city. Not limited to little background noises, characters will also often have their own discussions aside from you. Your allies will regularly go back and forth about different things that they are thinking about or something they see or wondering about the opinions of the other; plus, the interactions are always different between every single character. This level of immersion really makes you feel as though you are traveling with other people, not just puppets with swords.

o   The last point, and what really denied a "very high" rating, was the matter of music in Dragon Age 2. I really developed a love-hate relationship with the music in this game. Sometimes, the game will burst up with a fanciful flare of dramatic symposium (i.e. awesome music out of nowhere). Other times, you will find yourself running around the city with nothing but your footsteps to keep you company. When the music is there, it's great, and when it's not there, it's noticeable. I really feel that they could have done more with the background pieces than they did. Otherwise, what is there is excellent.

-          Gameplay / Playability: Very High
o   To give you an idea about the quality of gameplay that Dragon Age 2 has to offer, allow me to explain my standard process of reviewing a game. Most often, I will find myself working on a singular title for a roughly a week. I start a game Wednesday and, most often, have fully worked through the title by the weekend and I use the remaining time to examine specific areas of the game. It is a largely systematic process focusing on the details of the game. With Dragon Age 2, I found myself actually feeling sad that I would have to stop playing it today so I could write the review because I have been having so much fun with it. It is probably one of the most enjoyable games to date.

o   First, with playability. Dragon Age 2 does just about everything right in making the game relatively easy to pick up and play. The combat is streamlined and incredibly easy to use, allowing someone to skillfully move from navigate through special abilities with a few simple buttons. Plus, the game has been designed to not punish you for poor performance, i.e. if your character is downed in a fight, you will automatically switch to another character and finish the fight as them with your original player-character resuscitating afterwards. All of this is taught and demonstrated at the start of the game where players get to experiment with the combat systems as it is and as it will be at the end of the game by doing a mock fight against Dark Spawn monsters.

o   As for gameplay, where do I begin? Players are able to explore a fully realized world complete with businesses, people, monsters, dungeons, treasures, and a complete lore about it all. I'm not kidding, there are dozens upon dozens of in-game books highlighting the history of the entire world. Each mission that you do reveals something new about that world and I always found myself searching for different ways to handle a situation. You aren't limited to "go here, beat up these guys", you have the opportunity to solve puzzles, gather information, and talk to different people to figure out just the right way to go about solving a problem. Plus, every decision you make over those years that you play result in different changes that will happen to the world around you; demonstrating your influence on how the world is shaped by your actions.
-          Dollar-Value: Very High
o   If you might not have guessed by now, Dragon Age 2 has a very high dollar-value if you are comfortable with the content that you or your gamer will be exposed to. The game offers an incredibly well-written, albeit adult-rated, story. I played for dozens and hours and found that Dragon Age 2 offers over 50 hours of solid gameplay. That's roughly 5 times more than almost every other game on the market with the exception of the games Fallout and Elder Scrolls. Plus, the story completely changes based on what kind of character you choose to play (warrior, wizard, or thief), as well as how you talk to people and how you approach certain situations; adding incredible replay value. I highly recommend picking up Dragon Age 2.

-          Probably the best recommendation, in comparison, would be Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; a slightly older Open World R.P.G. that actually does its' job right. While the game is M-rated, it is probably one of the most lax on the market and would be generally a good choice. Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas would also be good choices on the basis of gameplay, however these titles tend to have more adult-rated content.

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