dragon age 2 review: the story

I've spent my free time in the past week with Dragon Age 2, and I just beat it with my first character. The game should be accessible to folks who aren't familiar with Dragon Age: Origins (and its expansion, Awakening), but there are a lot of recurring themes from the previous stories and some familiar faces appear.

My version of the main character, Hawke, was a female rogue (the other class options are mage and warrior). She begins as a refugee trying to make a life for herself in her mother's home city of Kirkwall, and as the years pass, she becomes either influential or disruptive, depending on who you ask.

Origins was about a rookie Grey Warden trying to save her nation from the monstrous darkspawn. Your character had to juggle competing interests and make some painful decisions, but every move you made was ultimately a step towards defeating the horde. The storyline of Dragon Age 2 includes a lot more gray area. Hawke works against dangers to her adopted city, but she spends much of her time trying to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Are ideals more important than public safety? Should you back your friends even if you're increasingly sure that they're wrong? When one faction is bad and the other is worse, how do you choose between them? It's good stuff, if grim at times.

Unfortunately, Hawke eventually runs up against the limits of a video game story. Your efforts matter a lot in terms of your own experience, but ultimately, there's only so much Hawke can do to prevent the chaos. She and her companions will always end up trying to pick up the pieces, and that aspect of things is fairly depressing.

Dragon Age 2 has a smaller-scale story than Origins. It's a shorter game with a less epic feel, and you spend all of your time in either the city of Kirkwall or the countryside surrounding it. There isn't as much variety as the first game. On the other hand, it's a more personal, intimate tale in a lot of ways. It takes place over a longer period of time, which is interesting, even if I don't think the developers used that element to its full potential.

It's still a very good story, and I'm already planning my second run through. If there's an upside to this game being shorter than Origins, it's that it might be more fun to replay so I can do some things differently. I loved the story and companions in Origins, but I've only finished it twice so far. The pace of that one bogs down at a times (to the point that someone came up with a hack to let you skip one section that gets tedious in repeat play), so I look forward to seeing if I have a similar issue with Dragon Age 2.

Later on, I'll be posting more specifically about the characters and gameplay.

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