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Progress report: Dragon Age 2

I started playing DA2 a couple of weeks ago, shortly after getting back from New York, but I've held off on posting about it because I kept thinking that I had to be almost finished with Act One. And then more new quests would keep appearing, and those quests would trigger more quests, and so forth. So I've decided to stop putting it off (even though now I think I really am almost finished with Act One) and share my thoughts so far. Short version: although entertaining, it's not shaping up to be nearly as good as Origins. On the other hand, I didn't really expect it to be, and so far I'm enjoying it for what it is. Female rogue Hawke, Sereda Aeducan backstory (Wardens lived, Alistair is king and married to Anora; far as I can tell, that aspect hasn't come much into play yet).

I have the full party assembled (except for the DLC character, whom I haven't bought -- should I bother?) and have at least one more plot quests before I'm ready to move on to Act II. The only active quest right now, besides triggering the Deep Roads expedition, is "Acts of Mercy", although if the other plot quests have been any indication, I'm sure a few more will come up along the way. I should probably visit everyone in their home bases at least once, too, although none are showing up as quests right now. I miss being able to have random conversations with people, though I have enjoyed most of the party banter. Some interesting dynamics between folks.

Characters: I like Hawke, and I like that you can gently nudge her personality along to make her into more than a stand-in for the player. It's probably good that BioWare narrowed down the backstory options; one of the things that bothered me about the Warden from a story perspective was that there were too many directions to take her, and so it could be difficult to make her into a coherent character. Giving Hawke a voice was an excellent choice. I also like the bond she has with Bethany.

I find myself at least interested in most everyone in the party, as well. We've been swapping the characters around quite a bit, so I feel like I've had the opportunity to get to know them all, at least a little. So far, I think my favorites are Bethany, Fenris, and Isabella. And Anders, too; I like him better now than I did in DA:A -- the thread with Justice is compelling, and I'm curious to see what will happen with it. It makes him more of a character in his own right, less "Alistair-redux". As for the others, I like Aveline and Varric well enough, but I haven't really connected with Merrill. Maybe it's the twitchy speech patterns, maybe it's the blood magic; I'm not really sure. For the last few quests, our most common party has been Anders, Bethany, and either Fenris or Aveline, depending on what we're doing and what kind of skills we need. (T tends to prefer Aveline, since he has a more defensive style; I usually play with Fenris because I'd rather overwhelm enemies with pure force. Plus, I enjoy listening to Anders and Fenris snipe at each other...)

Romance: We triggered romances with Fenris, Anders, and Isabella, but haven't had the opportunity to take any of them very far yet. I suspect this is intentional -- the game seems to be a lot more regimented in how it doles out the story than DA:O -- but a part of me wishes we could get on with it already. Not entirely sure yet which direction we'll go. I find all three of them interesting in their own way, but no one has grabbed my heart or imagination like Alistair did. (Admittedly, he is a hard act to follow.) At the moment I'm leaning towards Fenris, which might end up being a rival romance since I keep siding with mages and pissing him off in the process. But we'll see.

Gameplay: I'm not sure how I feel about this streamlined inventory business. T is an optimizer -- he will spend countless hours comparing different pieces of equipment to make sure his party is at peak form -- but I get impatient with that. On the other hand, this is almost too hands-off. Battle seems to have been streamlined also, but leveling is harder -- having to flip between half a dozen different trees for every character makes it a lot more trouble to see where everyone is in their progress. And this business of having cool down time on using potions is for the birds. I've noticed that a lot of skills that used to be pretty useful are now scaled back, too -- Stealth lasts barely any time at all, and many of the support skills are de-fanged. Maybe this was supposed to make the game harder, but so far it's actually been fairly easy. But all the tactics I learned in DA:O don't really work any more, and I haven't found interesting ones to replace them yet. I hope the Deep Roads steps things up a little bit. (Which is certainly what happened last time...)

The story: Parts of it are compelling, but it all seems very low stakes so far, especially as compared to DA:O. It only takes, what, five hours of gameplay in Origins before the entire world is in peril, and you and Alistair are all that stands between Ferelden and its doom? We're at least triple that in DA2, and so far all the threats are human-scale. It feels episodic and disjointed to me. Some of the quests have been fun and compelling, and I do have the sense that some of my decisions might have far-reaching consequences, but I wish there could be a little more clarity on what those might be. The whole thread with the Qunari, especially, is confusing to me. (Also, when did they suddenly develop horns? Or are Sten and the Qunari mercenaries that we saw everywhere in Ferelden a different kind of Qunari?) I'm happy to go with it for now -- given the time scale of the story, I suppose it's not too surprising. But I hope it coalesces into something more epic in the later acts.

Random thing that's been bothering me: What's the time frame on this supposed to be, as compared to the events of Origins? People keep talking as if the Blight is but recently over, but it has to be after the events of Awakening because Anders is here, not there. And if the Blight lasted about a year, and Hawke worked for Athenril during that same year, how is Anders already in Kirkwall? Confusing.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/540848.html. There are currently comments on DW.

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