By CHONG JINN XIUNGintech@thestar.com.my
Dragon Age 2 doesn't reach the heights of the original but it's still a satisfying computer role-playing game.
Dragon Age made a big splash when it was released two years ago. It was seen as the spiritual successor to the classic computer role-playing game, Baldur's Gate, and it didn't disappoint fans.
Enter Dragon Age 2 where you are once again thrust into Bioware's fantasy world although this time the focus is slightly different.
Unlike the first game, you no longer get a choice of different races, and can only play as a human hero called Hawke.
You can still fully customise Hawke. You can choose the gender and one of three classes - warrior, mage or rogue.
At the core, DA2 is still a deep CRPG with a good combat system, and offers more than 40 hours of gameplay.
Role-playing games typically involve embarking on epic quests to far away lands to thwart a great evil. Such was the case in Dragon Age: Origins but not so in DA2.
The story focuses on the exploits of your hero in the city of Kirkwall over the course of 10 years.
Although it feels smaller in scale, there is simply so much to do in Kirkwall that there aren't many dull moments.
You'll be rushing from one quest to another as there are so many NPCs waiting for you to solve their problems.
But this isn't really an issue because the system has also been simplified - the city has been broken down to smaller segments with clearly defined borders.
You can easily fast travel to different locations and even choose to arrive during the day or night, which is particularly handy for some quests.
The game also helpfully points out active quests when you highlight a location so that you know what needs to be done at each area.
The streamlined nature of the city and limited scale does, however, kill the joy of exploring.
There are also mountain roads and underground tunnels to explore but even these gets boring because they are repeated many times over.
Since everything is confined to a small area, you will be familiar with the layout of the city within an hour of playing the game.
It was quite tiresome revisiting the same type of places over and over again - a little more variety would've made the game a lot more interesting.
Bioware is known for crafting memorable characters for its CRPG and DA2 is no different. It has interesting characters like Varric, a surface born Dwarf, Aveline, a strong willed warrior, and Merril a gullible Dalish elf.
The frequent banter and exchanges between your companions keep things interesting and livens up the atmosphere as you explore Kirkwall.
In terms of graphics, the game looks better than the first one although not as good as Mass Effect 2.
The city of Kirkwall looks good with its large maze of streets that stretch from the glitzy streets of the wealthy and influential in Hightown to the downtrodden in the Under City.
However, environmental textures look quite drab and some NPCs look like low quality character models when compared to the main cast.
DA2 is available across multiple platforms - although the graphics look similar from one version to another but the PC version still looks the best.
Seeing how Bioware had dumbed down some elements in Mass Effect 2, I was a little worried that it would do the same to DA2.
The sad truth is that it has taken liberties with some elements like the inventory system but the battle system remains largely intact and has been improved for consoles.
You can no longer outfit your allies with different pieces of armour and are limited to equipping them with weapons and accessories only.
However, you have full control of Hawke and are able to change his/her armour, accessories and weapons.
Battles feel faster and more visceral this time around as the game throws plenty of enemies at your heroes.
The early levels of the game don't pose much of challenge as you can defeat the many enemies easily.
However, the difficulty ramps up (not too drastically though) towards the second and third acts when enemies get increasingly tougher and numerous.
Boss fights, in particular, can be challenging.
You still control your party of characters in real time and can command them to perform various attacks or spells.
The sequence is still very much the same you can pause the game, assign the actions and then have your characters execute them.
You will need to closely monitor your party's status and micro manage their actions but it is always satisfying to see a plan come together once you nail the timing and moves right.
Dragon Age 2 doesn't quite feel like a sequel. It feels more like a side story rather than a proper follow up to the first game.
You are just limited to the city of Kirkwall which makes you feel like you are exploring the confines of a well crafted prison rather than having an adventure across mystical lands. The story is also not as epic as the first game.
The battles are the highlight of the game and the handful of companions that will join your quest are interesting.
Those who played the first game will be quite disappointed with DA2 because of its limited scale.
However, if you are new to the series or don't have big expectations, you might just enjoy Dragon Age 2.
Pros: Engaging battle system; interesting companions; better graphics.
Cons: Smaller world to explore; weaker story; limited customisation options.
Dragon Age 2 Signature edition
Computer role-playing game for PC, Xbox 360, PS3
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows XP (SP3) or later, Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz/AMD Athlon 64 X2 1.8 GHz or better, 1GB (1.5GB for Vista and Windows 7), ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB/nVidia GeForce 7900 GS 256MB, 7GB HDD space, DirectX 9.0c sound card
PRICE: RM189 (Signature edition for Xbox); RM149 (standard edition for PC), RM189 (standard edition for PS3)
Review copy courtesy of Gamer's Hideout Sdn Bhd, (03) 7725-2775 or www.gamershideout.com.my