Crysis 2 Review

Posted in Reviews on April 6, 2011 by GameTacular

Difficulty played on: Veteran (Hard) and Super Soldier (Very Hard)

Hours played: Roughly 20 hours in single-player and 15 hours in multi-player

Console played on: Xbox 360

            It’s pretty rare nowadays to find an FPS that focuses on the single player campaign more than the multiplayer component. Crysis 2 is just that, and it is one of the best FPS experiences out there because of it.

            As a heads-up, I did not play the original Crysis. I went into this game with very little knowledge about the series mechanics and story, so don’t expect any comparisons between the two or any discussion about what the game should be. I’m going in blind.

            Crysis puts you in the shoes of a mute soldier named Alcatraz, who is given a Nano-suit and is tasked with finding a certain Doctor Gould. As Alcatraz goes through the levels, he is given various tasks, from outrunning an organization called CELL who wants his suit, to fighting off hoards of aliens in an attempt to save New York City. As you progress, you learn more and more about the importance of your suit, and the imminent and lethal threat of the invading alien race known as the Ceph.

Theres a crumbling buliding in front of me, but Ill look back anyway.

Crysis 2 does a decent job of bringing new players up to speed with the game’s plot. It feels unfocused and convoluted at first, but if you make the effort to pay attention, you will get a hang of the game’s story rather quickly. However, it isn’t particularly a story that’s worth hearing. It isn’t bad. It does a good job of explaining why you are where you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. The dialogue is fairly well written, and the acting is also top-notch. The things the hold the story back is the fact that Alcatraz is a mute protagonist with zero-personality, and the fact that the plot has a few blatant plot holes. It’s hard to care about a story when you don’t care about the lead character, and it’s hard to enjoy something that ignores logic for no reason. It isn’t a quality story like Half-Life 2 or Bioshock, but it does a decent job of putting the game into context, and it does it better than most FPS’s.

But it’s easy to forgive a sloppy story when a game looks as beautiful as Crysis 2. At first glance, the game doesn’t look that special; the textures can be blurry, small objects are significantly less detailed than bigger ones, and a few other minor annoyances. However, once you step outside for the first time, the game hits you square in the face with its visual prowess. Technically speaking, the game looks really good, and is good enough to stand alongside the likes of Uncharted 2 and God of War III (remember, this is for consoles), but definitely not above them. But artistically speaking, this game is just plain beautiful. The lighting is brilliant, taking effect every time you exit or enter a building and it breathes life into every object it touches. Although the game takes place entirely in the city (more on that later) the plant life you do see is truly a sight to behold. There was one moment where you are in a park, and of in the distance you can see an alien spire surrounded by trees. I stood there and just stared at the way the trees swayed realistically, and how the spire just towered ominously over everything, like Saruman’s tower from Lord of The Rings. Throughout the game there are things that can’t help but take your breath away. It isn’t perfect though. The game can drop in frame rate occasionally, and as mentioned earlier, some textures just look blurry and jagged. All in all though, the game is an absolutely beautiful piece of art, and even though it may have been dumbed down on consoles for technical reasons, it’s still among the best both technically and artistically.

If graphical awesomeness wasn’t enough, the game also boasts an awesome audio component. Each weapon has a unique sound, adding a bit of personality to each weapon. The sound of an explosion going off or a tank bursting through a concrete wall is fairly well done in the game, and is made so much better with a quality surround-sound system. But what really makes Crysis 2’s audio is the ambient noise. It’s so immersing to hear the rustling of leaves and sound of gunfire going off in the background as you prepare to assassinate an enemy. It’s also a special kind of fun to hear the human enemies talk about seeing or hearing something, or having them react hysterically to your actions. The music is also fantastic, as it always seems to have the perfect track for each moment. However, the music can be a bit out of place at times, and you’ll occasionally be walking through an empty battlefield with epic music playing throughout. It’s still great though, and it even seems to add a little to the game’s already stellar graphics by helping to create such a believable environment.

Its more than just eye candy.

Even if everything else about Crysis is great, the combat is the most important aspect of any shooter. And Crysis 2 absolutely delivers. The game has the familiar and standard control scheme that so many shooters have, the game has the standard weapons like assault rifles, shotguns, and snipers, your health is rechargeable, and a HUD shows you your ammo, weapon and other important information. The two things that make Crysis 2 stand above most other shooters are its use of the Nano-suit and its myriad of tactical options. The Nano-suit basically allows the player to choose between the powers of increased armour, increased speed, or increased stealth at the touch of a button. Each ability drains the same energy-bar, however, preventing the player from spamming abilities and missing out on any challenge. Each ability allows the player to play the game in many different ways, from a gun’s blazing shooter similar to Halo, or a stealth shooter more akin to Splinter Cell. Each combat zone has many tactical options that allow the player to take advantage of any situation they’re in with any power they want. These aspects are done so well that no matter how you decide to play; each option is both challenging and fun. There is so much freedom and balance throughout the game that you will find it hard to find yourself where you are bored of the combat. On top of that, the controls are very smooth and precise, the guns are both standard and unique, the levels are well paced, and the game boasts an 8 to 12 hour game, depending on the difficulty that is chosen. Crysis 2 does what so many other shooters are afraid to do: it offers something unique. Crysis 2’ campaign is one of the most enjoyable FPS campaigns in recent memory, and it should be one of the best shooters to come out in years.

            Notice the word should. Although the campaign is generally spectacular, there are a few flaws that bring the game down. In the campaign, the only real problem is the AI, and it is a definitely problematic. When it works, it works well; enemies react to your movements and actions realistically, they chase you and try to search for you when you fire at them, they hear footsteps and they can see your shimmer when stealthed. But when it doesn’t work, which is very often, the AI runs in circles endlessly, they run into each other, they’ll see you and attack you even if you’re in stealth mode, and sometimes they won’t react to you all. It really takes away from what would normally be a very immersive game. The environments also began to get repetitive near the end. It isn’t a big issue, but the game could have used a few more varied locals rather than the endless wave of cityscape. Another aspect where the game doesn’t fare very well is the multiplayer. Now don’t get me wrong, the multiplayer is good. It’s fun, deep and full of content. However, there are a few technical hiccups and problems that threaten to ruin Crysis 2’s multiplayer experience. Firstly, the hit detection is all over the place. I found myself often shooting an entire clip into an enemy player’s back, only for them to turn around and kill me in a few shots. I would check the replay, and it showed that my bullets were missing him completely, passing by his right shoulder, which is never what I saw on my screen. Due to the fact that the game has hosts, matches can be extremely laggy, worsening the already terrible hit detection. However, the online is still pretty fun to play, put it is nowhere near the level of quality present in the single player campaign.

All things considered, Crysis 2 is a phenomenal game that takes the risk of trying something different, and it definitely paid off. Although the multiplayer is merealy average and the AI can be idiotic at times, the single player is just so fun, engrossing, challenging and unique that it’s hard not to adamantly recommend.

Pros

–          Game looks beautiful

–          Dozens of ways to approach combat

–          Fantastic level pacing and design

–          Nano-suit is unique and fun

Cons

–          AI is stupid

–          Multiplayer isn’t as a good as the campaign

Overall: 9/10

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My Beloved Games

Posted in Top Lists on March 23, 2011 by GameTacular

Since I’m going to be writing many reviews and forming many opinions, I thought that I should give an idea of where I’m coming from. So here are some of my favourite games in  various genres. Please note this isn’t a “best games ever” list, but simply a list with some of my personal favourites from different genres and time periods.

Action Adventure

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – This game is mentioned every time someone utters the words “best video game,” and it’s become almost a cliché to claim that Ocarina of Time is one of your favourite games. But no matter how you choose to look at, it’s undeniable that Ocarina of Time is simply a fantastic game. It featured a huge, detailed, and changing world with many vibrant and memorable characters, and large secret-filled cities and towns. It was a massive leap forward for gaming as it was one of the first games to offer a truly cinematic story and experience. It also boasted a beautiful and unique visual style, some of the catchiest and most beloved tunes in gaming, and it even introduced the lock-on targeting mechanic. But most of all, underneath all these advancements and accomplishments, the game was insanely fun, and still stands the test of time to this day.

That Game of the Year sticker isnt doing the game justice.

Bayonetta – It’s quite obvious from the trailers alone that Bayonetta is not for everyone. It’s dumb, over-the-top, provocative, overly sexual, ridiculous, and it doesn’t even make sense half the time. Yet the gameplay, which you would expect to be in the same vein as its presentation and story, is on another level entirely. The combat is some of the most fun, intense, complex, and rewarding action elements of any game before it. The combat is smooth and quick, yet every punch, kick and shot has significant weight. There are numerous weapons, each with a unique feel and play-style. The enemies are quirky and ridiculous, and each of them offers a unique challenge when fought. The bosses are massive, repulsive, and oddly-beautiful creatures that both offer a challenging fight but also an insanely fun encounter. If you’re one of those people, like me, that just loves over-the-top ridiculousness, then Bayonetta has a lot to offer.

Brutally killing angels has never been so sexy.

RPG

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – KotOR was my first Bioware game. That alone should be enough of an explanation to why I hold this game so dear to my heart, but I just can’t stop myself from talking about it. Aside from being one of the few Star Wars games that is actually good (and even better than half of the films), KotOR is a phenomenal game because of its deep yet accessible combat and its compelling and satisfying story. Set 4000 years before the Empire rose to power, KotOR puts you in the role of an unlikely Jedi that is tasked with discovering both why the Sith have become so powerful, but also how to stop them. I dare not spoil the story any further, since it is one of the best stories you can find in any game, and to this day still remains my favourite. Let’s just say that there are some marvellous characters, events, and plot twists that will have you wishing that the game will last forever. The dialogue options were also a real blast, because, unlike so many other games that let you choose your protagonists dialogue, KotOR was ruthless with its evil options. Knights was the first game that made me stop playing as an evil person just because of how cruel some of the options were. I feel like I’m rambling now, so I’ll conclude by saying that Knights of the Old Republic is a great game because of its combat, but a great experience because of its story.

See this droid? He thinks youre a meatbag.

Mass Effect 2 – Bioware strikes again. Unlike KotOR, which was a bridge between Bioware’s action and story-oriented RPG’s and their old-school D n’ D RPG’s, the Mass Effect series is full on action and story. And no game has a better blend of visceral combat, an engaging and powerful story, both massive and personal decisions, and just plain epic-ness, then Mass Effect 2. I’m sure most people are aware of why Mass Effect 2 was such a superb game, but for me, there were two things that really made it stand out. Firstly, the game was one of the most personal games to be released. Being able to import your Shepherd from the original Mass Effect was a phenomenal thing, as it guaranteed that each player would have their own unique Mass Effect 2. It also, to the disdain of many, was much more personal story-wise instead of being epic (but it was still pretty epic). The story focused almost entirely on Shepherd getting to know and help his crew, and it showed the personal struggles that each companion had to endure, and allowed the player to influence the way they resolved each problem. This really hadn’t been seen in a game before, at least not on this level of quality, and it really added a lot of depth to the experience. The next most important aspect for me was actually pretty simple and straightforward; Mass Effect 2 was the first game to completely focus on the fact that you were role playing a person, not a certain class or a series of numbers. And that is a huge leap forward for story telling in games.

You could sleep with her, but... ew.

 

FPS

Half Life 2 – Valve have proven on many different occasions that they are the masters of making first-person shooters, and no game in their catalogue was as good as Half Life 2. Now, I can go on about how the controls were fluid and precise, or how the physics engine was fantastic, or that it still holds up graphically to this day, or that the story is really engaging, or that the characters are just awesome, or a whole bunch of stuff. However, when it comes down to it, there is one reason that this game really stood out to me, and is still a fun and unique experience to this day: The gravity gun. What is the gravity gun? Well, simply put, it picks stuff up, and shoots it. So, instead of killing the Combine with a pistol, or a shotgun, or a crowbar, why not pick up a rusty saw blade with the gravity gun, and shoot that at the combine? And once he’s dead, why not just pick up his body and shoot it at the next enemy? The gravity gun made a fantastic game so much better by the small task of allowing the player to kill enemies with whatever garbage was just lying around.

Wait... are those... hipster glasses?

Doom – I’m not gonna lie; I first played this on the Xbox Live Arcade. I was always interested in it, but was either too lazy or too cheap to actually download it on to my PC. When it came out on the Arcade, I finally gave in, probably because I could get some achievements out of it. I was expecting a linear, old school shooter that’s appeal was mostly based on nostalgia. To my surprise, Doom turned out to be a fantastic game with a lot of charm. The levels, firstly, were incredibly large considering when it was made, and had so many secrets that that it seemed impossible to find them all. The guns are still some of the most memorable weapons that I’ve ever seen, from the simple shotgun, to the wicked yellow chainsaw, to the legendary BFG. Why I loved it, though, was because I was so amazed that a game so old could still manage to charm and engross myself so much, even though, at the time at least, I wasn’t in to shooters and had never played the game before in my life. It really gave me a new perspective on classic games, and I really wish more people would try it out.

Dont think, just shoot!

Platformer 
 
 Banjo-Tooie – Banjo-Tooie was my first game in the Banjo series, so I really had nothing to compare it to other then Super Mario 64, and, as unlikely as it may seem, I think that Banjo-Tooie was a much better overall game then Mario 64. Banjo-Tooie was just so unique. It’s world was heavily based on musical objects, names, and ideas. The characters we’re insanely wacky and awesome, such as the weird female shaman Humba Wumba that turns Banjo into weird objects with her purple goop, or Jamjars, the sergeant-mole that hides in metal silos, waiting to teach the bear and bird new skills. The game’s writing was smart, witty, and funny for both adults and children without compromising anything. But most importantly, the game was absolutely massive, featuring some of the coolest, most unique, and most diverse collection of levels and mini games that is rivalled by only a few, even today.

 

Back when Rare made good games...

Super Mario World – Of course Mario is going to pop up any time someone mentions platformer. For me, Super Mario World has always been my favourite. It wasn’t my first Mario game, nor do I think it was the most important Mario game. It just felt like the most complete package when compared to all the other games. Every other Mario game seemed to have a small fault that SMW never had; I never liked the slippery feel of Mario in Super Mario 64, the original Super Mario Bros. got repetitive near the end, and I felt, no matter how many people legitimately proved otherwise, Super Mario Galaxy felt like Mario 64 in space. Super Mario World had no such problems. It had lots of fun and unique levels and worlds, tons of small and big secrets that were a blast to hunt down, and it was a challenging game that never seemed too difficult or unfair. Mario’s controls we’re tight and fluid, the game looked beautiful and just oozed personality, and, of course, Yoshi! It may not be the best in certain places, it may not have changed the face of gaming, but it certainly was one hell of a fun game.

But hes gonna miss the Yoshi coin!

Strategy

Warcraft III – I could just as easily put any other Blizzard RTS on here, as they are all exemplary games, but my personal favourite has always been Warcraft III. It was just. Plain. Awesome. It had everything a Blizzard RTs had become known for; a few unique races, you harvest two resources, one major and one minor, you have a population cap that seems just a bit too small, and, most importantly, it was fun. There are no complex ideas or difficult to master controls. It was straightforward. Just harvest resources, build units, and go annihilate stuff. Warcraft III had the Blizzard polish that all their games come with (along with a long development time) and a simple system that, although easy to use, took quite a while to master. However, the one small thing that I loved was the story of Arthas, the fallen Prince. I always found his story fascinating, and I loved that so many of his friends and colleagues tried to help him, even though he was so far beyond redemption. As you can probably see by now, most of these games are so special because of the smallest things…

Before it allegedly became a world.

Starcraft – … but not this game. Starcraft was just great (I don’t want to seem like a developer fan-boy, Having two games from Bioware for RPG, and two from Blizzard for Strategy, but these developers truly are the pioneers and masters of their genres). Even though I alluded to it not appearing on this list, I really couldn’t help myself. Starcraft is just such a perfect RTS. Three diverse races with very different playing styles? Check. An almost surprising level of balance between each class? Yup. A lengthy campaign that both challenged players and prepared them for online play? Of course. Simple and easy to grasp gameplay that becomes more difficult, complex, and rewarding over time? You bet. Inventing the term “zerging?” Becoming South Korea’s national sport? Yes, Starcraft did indeed go above and beyond what a strategy game needed to be good, and instead brought an experience that is still played today, even after the release of the sequel, and is still considered the best real-time-strategy game of all time.

But... I dont even...

            So, there are just a few of my favourite games. I have many more, and those wouldn’t necessarily make my top ten games of all time, but they are still games that I am really glad to have had the fortune of playing.

Dragon Age II Review

Posted in Reviews on March 19, 2011 by GameTacular

Difficulty played on: All of them for at least 5 hours, mostly played on Normal.

Hours played: Roughly 65 hours

Console played on: Xbox 360

            Dragon Age II is one of the worst Bioware games I have ever played. It’s a real testament to the quality of their work, then, when their worst still manages to be so great.

            Bioware had a surprise hit with Dragon Age: Origins. It offered an old-school tactics based fantasy RPG clothed in the garments of a modern RPG, which appealed to a wide range of people. It featured an epic story covering the massive nation of Ferelden, a wide assortment of interesting and lovable characters, a deep and rewarding combat system, difficult decision making that changed the entire world, and one down-right hideous example of modern graphics. It was an instant classic, receiving both commercial success and critical acclaim. It was a given that a sequel would eventually be in the works. When Dragon Age II was finally announced, it had a lot live up to, and up to its release, it seemed as if it would succeed. The sequel takes a much different direction then the original. It isn’t an epic tale; it’s a personal one. The combat works just as well as a hack n’ slash as it does a tactics based game. The majority of the game is set in one city, and follows a structure that is completely different than all other Bioware RPGs. The dialogue system is taken right from Mass Effect, and you will finally have a voiced character. On paper, the concept for Dragon Age II is very ambitious, and could have allowed for many interesting gameplay and story elements that haven’t been seen before in gaming. However, the finished product just barely falls short in most regards, and ends up feeling rushed and incomplete. Yet it does enough right to still manage to be a great experience overall.

            Dragon Age II’s plot follows the character of Hawke and how he became the champion of Kirkwall, and his effect on the world. The story is told through narration by a sly dwarf named Varric, one of Hawke’s companions, as he is interrogated by a Chantry Seeker who needs to know the current location of the champion. It has very little to do with the Grey Warden and his battle with the Blight from the original, other than a few cameos, dialogue options, and the fact that the game starts with Hawke fleeing Lothering from the darkspawn during the original game. The story spans 10 years, but you only get to play through 3 of them, since the developers decided to skip over a lot of the minor details about his rise to power. This structure holds a lot of potential for seeing and living with the consequences of your actions in a decision based game such as Dragon Age, but Bioware really dropped the ball with decision making in the sequel. Many decisions can be very difficult to make at face value, but in the end, most decisions have the same outcome no matter what, making the game much more linear then it seems, and a lot of your seemingly life or death decisions become irrelevant. Another problem with the story is that it can feel very disconnected at times. Not until you enter the third and final act do the pieces start falling into place. Up until then, many story elements seem pointless and irrelevant, and you might have a hard time understanding why Hawke is so important.  On the other hand, Bioware decided to explore some very interesting and mature themes in their latest game. There is a very strong and neutral view on the idea of freedom versus security, as well as themes dealing with utilitarianism, morality, friendship, and guilt. The best aspect of these themes and ideas is that, unlike most RPG’s, Dragon Age II has a completely neutral stance on each theme instead of a good or bad, right and wrong stance. Each concept has multiple perspectives, and Bioware has acknowledged that there is no right or wrong one to side with, which added another level of depth to the game’s narrative. All in all, even with its faults, the story in Dragon Age II is well written, fairly well told, interesting and enjoyable.

Come at me bro.

             A definite improvement over the original is the personality of the protagonist. Hawke isn’t a nameless bi-polar mute hero. His personality is, at it’s a core, a person who just wants the best for his family, similarly how Commander Shepard from Mass Effect is a person who just wants what’s best for humanity. However, like Commander Shepherd, Hawkes methods and ideals are completely up to the player. All of this adds up to a developable character who has enough base characteristics to seem like a real person, but enough customization to make the player feel like they are defining Hawke. Hawkes friends and enemies share a similar quality.

            Just like Origins, II features a wide variety of characters, be them friend or foe. Most of the important ones are very well developed up until the very end of the game. Hawke’s companions are a unique and diverse group of people, and they all feel like real, relatable, and likeable people, if you’re inclined to their personality. Highlights are the wise-talking, sneaky yet charming dwarf Varric, the suave, serious, and mysterious elf Fenris, and the half-abomination healer and Awakening veteran Anders. It’s also a special delight to hear Hawke’s companions bickering while in the party, as it both adds a lot to the game and characters, but can also be incredibly fun and hilarious to listen to. An important aspect of the game is Hawke’s family, and they are integral to both the story and many of the decisions that happen to affect the story’s outcome. A lot happens to the Hawke family, a fair amount of it bad, and Bioware manages to pull off a few moments that are difficult to watch (in a sad way), and some decisions, one in particular, that are insanely hard to make. The villains are also fairly well developed, but are exposed as villains far too late into the game for them to really have an impact on the player. In the end, Dragon Age’s characters are a cool and lovable bunch that manages to liven up the stellar story.

            Origins looked terrible on consoles. It was almost comical how bad it looked, and it was one of the rare cases where bad visuals detracted from the whole experience. Dragon Age II does a much better job in the graphics department, but it still isn’t all that special. The city of Kirkwall looks fantastic. Each area has its own unique feel, and as long as you don’t look too closely, the city walls and buildings are well detailed and vibrant. Characters, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. People faces and facial animations are generally fantastic, and is a definite improvement over Origins. However, everything else is just a pain to look at. Textures are blurry and uneven, and some would be only passable last generation. Minor objects, such as crates or lanterns, look terrible up close. One area that II does excel in is its representation of blood, combat, and magic.Weapons look fantastic, blood is think and dark, and things such as fire and ice look absolutely phenomenal. It’s a nice treat to watch an enemy burn for the first time, as they turn orange and black as they fall to the ground. Overall, the graphics of Dragon Age II are decent and even fantastic in some areas, but too many people and objects look undetailed and blurry for it to be all that proud of.

            The audio here is just as good as it was in Origins. Like all Bioware games, the voice acting is top notch, often bringing out and strengthening some already great characters. The music is also very well done and is placed perfectly with each situation. It can be hard not to get the blood pumping after some of the battle songs. The sound effects are also a blast to listen to. From the sounds of opening a crate to the sound of raining fire balls, Dragon Age II hits the nail with its audio effects. However, I did experience a few hiccups here and there where a characters voice would just disappear for no reason, or a characters line of dialogue wouldn’t even appear. Still, these are just minor problems with an overall fantastic audio component. There are other parts to Dragon Age II, however, that were not as good as the original.

Mages always have more fun.

            The customization aspect of Dragon Age II is one of the few components of the game that is truly over-simplified, especially regarding inventory and items, but still manages to have great class customization. You still have the same options when equipping your main character that you had in Origins, but your party members do not. While Hawke can equip various combinations of gloves, helmets, suits, boots weapons, and trinkets, his companions only get to change their trinkets and weapons. It does help to focus the game more on Hawke, but it is a shame that you can’t make each party member look the way you desire. Inventory and equipment in general has been a large down grade from the original. Most items look the same and have similar qualities, and there is significantly less items in the world then there was in Origins. Rune crafting and poison making have also become pretty useless. Unless you are playing on Nightmare difficulty, you most likely will never have to use any poison or enchant and item with a rune during an entire play-through. Classes have been much improved over the original, with each class being very unique from each other, having many more viable specializations, and making sure that the rogue is no longer useless when no being controlled. There are three classes to choose from; rogue, mage, and warrior. The rogue is a quick melee or ranged attacker that can either focus on maximum damage output or debilitating enemies. Mages are the most all-around class, as they can play as damager, a buffer or de-buffer, or a healer, but are weak to direct attacks. Warriors are the easiest class to play. They focus on either doing damage or taking damage, and are always using melee attacks. Each class has six unique talent trees and three specialization trees the build off of two of the other six trees. Each tree is unique for each class, and finding the perfect combination for your Hawke is a blast. But a good class system is meaningless without a good combat system.

            Well, the meat of any game can always be found in the combat, and that is where Dragon Age II excels at the most. The combat has been bashed continuously since the demo was released, with people criticising the game for being over-simplified and for no longer being a tactics based game. Both these accusations are untrue. Although Dragon Age II’s combat is not as complex and deep as the original, the developers have a found a unique blend of hack n’ slash and tactics based gameplay that is unlike any RPG out there. The combat system looks very similar to Origins’, but it definitely has significant changes. There are still a maximum of four party members, there are still two abilities mapped to X, Y, and B (switch between each by holding R), L still pauses the game and lets you issue orders, companions can still be given pre-set tactics from a menu, and each party member still has a health bar and either a mana or stamina bar. However, there are a few differences that make Dragon Age II unique. You now have to press A for each attack instead of having an auto-attack feature (the horror!), combat is much more fast-paced and action oriented, and tactical thinking is no longer necessary for the game to be enjoyable. This description may put off many Origins fans, since it appears that Dragon Age II is simply an action game, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dragon Age II’s method of playing all depends on which of the four difficulties the player chooses. The easiest difficulty, casual, allows for a straight forward hack n’ slash adventure that involves minimal to no tactical thinking. This is a really fun mode where the player can plough through enemies with ease and focus on the story rather than the action. Normal is still in the hack n’ slash vain, but unlike casual, it demands that the player pause the game and issue orders from time to time, especially during boss fights. This mode is perfect for players who haven’t played tactical RPG’s before, and want to get the basic downs before trying their hand at other ones. Hard is much more tactics based then the other two, and this is where the combat most resembles Dragon Age: Origins. You will still spend a lot of your time mashing A and using abilities in the middle of the action, but you will also spend a great deal more in the pause menu, making sure each party member is in the right spot, fighting the right enemies, and using the right abilities. Nightmare difficulty, the most difficult one, is almost completely comprised of tactical thinking. Almost each attack that your party delivers will have to go through you to make sure you survive, even in the more simple encounters. However, even at this difficulty, it doesn’t reach the same tactical heights that Origins did, but it is still very deep and enjoyable. Most developers wouldn’t be able to make each difficulty both unique and fun, but Bioware did just that. So if you want to play a tactics based game that’s similar to Origins, you can do that. If you want to play a more action oriented experience, you can do that as well.

            The most disappointing and worst part about Dragon Age II is the exploration and inhabited world of Kirkwall. It is also the part of the game that shows the most evidence for the game being rushed and incomplete. The player will spend the majority of the game in Kirkwall, only occasionally leaving to explore a few areas surrounding the city. Kirkwall is a vibrant, beautiful city, with unique districts, buildings, and inhabitants. That is, for the first five hours. You will go through almost every environment in Dragon Age II, a thirty plus our experience, in around five hours. That is just lazy and unacceptable. I can understand if Kirkwall was a large, expansive city that changed over the years, but it is anything but. The environments are small and feel disconnected, Hawkes decisions and actions have minimal effect on the city itself, and that city does not change at all over the course of the game, save for a few areas being closed off and Hawke changing his home once. Even the areas outside of Kirkwall are disappointing, as the game forces you to enter all of the environments numerous times, and there are not very many of them. Dragon Age II had a lot of potential to build up a city the felt like a character; a city that had depth, begged to be explored, and changed based on Hawkes actions over a decade of time. Instead, Kirkwall is a stagnant, small, repetitive, and underwhelming experience, especially when compared to Origins’ massive open world.

            Playing Dragon Age II is like eating a bowl of soup with a strand of hair in it. There is a lot to love; the story is well written and engaging, the characters are a unique and lovable bunch, the combat is fun, unique, and very accessible, the game sounds great and looks much better then Origins, and the classes feel much more balanced. However, there is also a decent amount of things to hate, like the repetitive and stagnant environments, the lack of focus in the story, the lack of character customization, and the overall feeling of being underwhelmed, especially when compared to the original. Sadly, all of these faults seem so easily fixed, especially considering the quality of the other aspects of the game. That is what I fear is the cause of Dragon Age II being a disappointment; the game feels like it was rushed to meet a deadline, and that many corners were cut. At its core, Dragon Age is a phenomenal game with many great ideas and concepts, enough of them that a year and a half is simply not enough time to develop them properly.

 

Pros

–          Great personal story

–          Improved and diverse combat

–          Great characters and classes

Cons 

–          Terrible environments

–          Story lacks focus

–          Customization is limited

–          Not as profound as Dragon Age: Origins

 

Score: 8/10