I mentioned I had been playing a game for a few weeks before stumbling on Tacoma. That game was a classic from 2011 called Dragon Age 2. Yes, it’s odd that I would jump back to the sequel without replaying the first, but I bought the first one on Disc and don’t have that on an account anymore, so I figured I’d see if the sequel brought back any memories. I will say that the first one was intensely memorable to me but one expects that when one sees Bioware on a game. I realized it at the end when I was getting emotional during the “epilogue” of that game. I remember being a little let down by Dragon Age 2 simply because it didn’t have the same emotional punch as the first one. But that wasn’t the case this time and I really felt something for each of the characters. And I shouldn’t have been surprised! While EA is now largely dedicated to sports games, EA gave me one of the most amazing introductions to video games with StarFlight so the combination of EA and Bioware was an automatic purchase for me and I expected nothing less than a great game. Suffice to say, they deliver. But bear in mind that M rating; the language can be a little strong from time to time.
In fairness, it might be that I’m now several steps removed from the original which could have helped me gain appreciation for this one as a stand alone game, or maybe I’ve become more open to RPGs in general, but I really enjoyed this one this time around; far more than I had on my first play through. The game allows you some freedom of choice including importing your character from the first game. I would have loved to have done that, but could not so I played as a guy running from “the Blight” with my mother, sister, and brother. Sis gets killed off pretty quickly (and she wasn’t even wearing a red shirt) in the prologue and that haunts the family but my brother stays on. As the game continues, taking place over several years, you gain a total of 6 companions. Each has their own side stories and you can break away from the main game to help them in their respective quests. (I highly recommend this since it increases skill points which are useful in RPGs. These are very helpful for things like lock picking as the game goes on.) In most cases, I select “auto-level up” for my companions but spend time customizing my character. It’s sort of the mind set that they are their own people. (The only place I really got involved was making sure the rogues always had a few points put into the aforementioned lockpicking so no container was ever off limits to me!)
Anyway, I played as a mage. I like having two things: range and AOE. AOE, for those unfamiliar with RPGs – role playing games – that’s “area of effect” spells. In other words, they affect a wide area. My favorite skill is casting down fireballs that both concuss the enemy and cause them to stagger, while doing damage as they fall. This gives me a chance to “lay the smackdown” on other creatures while a group of bad guys are busy playing “cloudy with a chance of fireballs from above”. This is helpful for you and your companions to put the focus on other enemies while the fireballs distract at least a handful. While you have a total of 6 companions, you can only play with 3 by your side at any time, so I often found myself playing with one of each class: another mage, a rogue, and a warrior. Some battles would call for a change though, and the rogue tends to be the weakest character in the group. You want the rogue there to open special chests and containers, but sometimes firepower and strength are simply more important.
It’s not incident free, but the issues are not huge either. The maps are reused over and over again which gets a little tiresome. How many times I had to go out to the coast for different missions, or into the Hangman’s Pub, or one of about a dozen other locations… And on more than one occasion, something I had looted would be ready to be picked over again as if I had not been there before. I didn’t like that certain dialogue options didn’t change after a major event and canned dialogue crept up between characters. (Although if this was the negative to hearing some of the dialogue that went on between my team, it was worth it. Some interactions are hilarious and I felt like a parent listening to kids talking about things they think are important!) And in the line of dialogue, choices are not always clear. A choice that sounded funny might come off as very arrogant, and I would have planned my response better had I known but in the grand scheme, these are minor issues. The battles are tremendous fun and exciting but make no mistake; they are really hard. I mean really hard. The trick is to take your time. The game has the unusual trait of being paused and you can do so as many times as you need to in order to issue commands to your team. For one particularly hard battle, for example, a rather gigantic demon summons dozens of Shades that you have to fight off, while fighting him, while he’s casting runes on the ground that deplete you or your team of health. Talk about juggling! With limited health potions (and cool-down periods on how quickly you can use another), the only way to win this battle is a “touch and go” approach: run in, hit hard, run away… and do that over and over again with all 4 of your players. The result is punch-the-air rewarding (it is possible that I leapt out of my seat with joy…) but it’s a time consuming process and many times I was down to one character running in circles just waiting for the right moment to strike again.
The amount of cleverness needed can be extremely enjoyable, and finding the right tools for the right job gives a sense of accomplishment., But the truth is, I go for characters in role playing games. In a shooter, you don’t need to develop a relationship with anything other than your marksmanship, but for an RPG, the characters can make or break it. Even some minor characters add to my enjoyment especially when I encountered both a Nyssa and a Tegan (although it might have be spelled Teagan). Character is the bread and butter of the game and to that end, the story offers a range of dialogue choices allowing one to get involved in relationships with any of your team. Captain of the Guard, Aveline, who met up with me on my travels when the game started, remained strictly a friend but I did help her meet the man she married. I’m that kinda guy… And I didn’t hit on any of the male characters (in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”) but I did flirt a bit with Isabella, the pirate captain. The irony is that it paid off. Choices made can lead to life or death and I lost my brother early on but every walk-through I’ve reviewed shows him still alive, meaning I made a bad choice that cost his life, but I am certain I gained someone else as a result. I say that because Isabella leaves my side at one point in the story, but I think my relationship with her really paid off because she did come back. (I don’t know if that was always a part of the game, nor do I want to find out, in case I go back for another visit in future years.) The point is, relationships matter and can make a big difference to the game, and I made it a point to always help those on my team with their special side missions. There’s even a relationship bar that measures friendship or rivalry and I was delighted that all of the characters were in the warmer side of friendship with me by the end. All but one…
Merrill, the elf woman, is the one that I really took to and had more than friendship with. She was with me for every adventure. Maybe that was because she is voiced by Torchwood star Eve Myles. Or maybe it was that she’s diminutive, magical, or just a bit mysterious. She’s from the land of the Elves and has that slightly Irish (-or-maybe-it’s-Welsh) accent one expects of their kind. I think it all makes her a little bit more “alien” and I always go for that. (Anders has a demon living inside him, but that doesn’t count and I wasn’t looking for a relationship with a guy who turns into a raging demon! I mean, who needs to replace all the dishes when an argument breaks out?) The truth is, Merrill reminded me of my real life wife who is Irish (as in, from there, not just being of Irish decent) and she’s tiny and I’m pretty sure she is an alien! (I base this largely on how often we speak the same words but mean totally different things!) So, like a game within a game, a big part of the fun was getting together with Merrill and having her move in with me. The game takes place over several years and ends with us still together… the future is ours. And I thought it apt to mention today (Aug. 6th) since it’s my wife’s birthday. (I mean the real one! I don’t know Merrill’s birthday; you know how elusive Elves can be!)
Dragon Age 2 is a fun game and the best part is that it holds up very well nearly a decade after its release. At this point, you can get it for under $10 in most cases and you’ll absolutely get enough hours out of it to sate your hunger for a good RPG. I do recommend playing the first one too. Ah, well, I’d better end there. To celebrate her birthday, we are having a special Wyvern stew with a side of dragonling eggs. I don’t want to keep the Mrs waiting… ML
PS: Enjoy the trailer. If you feel like exploring the Delta quadrant after listening to it, that’s ok: that is the voice of Kate Mulgrew you hear!