Been playing Dragon Age 2. Some things of note:
Dragon Age 2 is to Dragon Age what Mass Effect 2 was to Mass Effect. It removed many features from the game and streamlined the rest. I don’t even remember how the Dragon Age game mechanics worked, but I remember never understanding everything completely. DA 2 has few attributes that affect few stats and few, simple to understand powers.
Is it just me, or are roleplaying systems becoming more and more streamlined? D&D 3.5 had millions of small mechanical things to note. Enemies were destroyed with basic attacks and single, expensive spells. 4th Edition removes the little rules and things, adds boatload of special powers for everyone and says “Here be combat, roleplay at your own time”. Mass Effect had grenades, variables for weapon usage, few slowly recharging special abilities and all sorts of special tricks. Mass Effect 2 had four upgradeable stats for special characters, three weapons per character, no armor management, no grenades and powers for every character.
I appreciate the streamlining. Mass Effect 2 had much less micromanagement. D&D 4th is quicker to play, as pretty much everything boils down to “roll die, add attribute”. Dragon Age 2 has less running around and missing stuff. But I can see how some people think that streamlining dumbs down the games. 3.5 is heavy, but feels organic. Every little candle that a player would want to use has weight, hit points, cost and everything. 4th Edition and Mass Age 2 feel like soulless, silvery and sleek machines.
One thing I am extremely glad about Dragon Age 2is the lack of a morality meter. While the conversation options are still on the good guy-asshole-axis, they are not logged in some universal Santa Claus list. Therefore it is easier to think about the situation at hand instead of how the game assumes I would go. Male Hawke has also a charming voice, not a typical testosterone-laden space marine-growl.
The companion influence system is so ingenious, I can’t imagine how no-one has thought of it before. Every companion has an influence meter with two extremes: Friendship and Rivalry. In every other Bioware game there has been no good reason not to have maximum influence to a companion. They tend to unlock abilities and interesting conversation pieces. But in Dragon Age 2, both extremes have an unlockable passive ability. The game encourages the player to reduce influence to a character they don’t like. Now whatever I choose to say in conversations, I do not have to regret it if it makes a companion “like” me less. On a side note the conversation choices have symbols on them, making selecting a positive or negative response easier. I can imagine someone disliking the system, but I find it nice to be able to pick my intended approach.
After being the one woman who can save the entire galaxy from an ancient threat in Mass Effect and doing something similar in dozens of other games, the plot of Dragon Age 2 is refreshing in it’s scope. There might be spoilers beyond this sentence. So far the main plot has been about getting more money to find a place to protect Hawke’s sister, who is an illegal mage, from the mage-hunting templars. No big heroes, no immense threats from beyond the universe. Just you, your little sister, scary government police and no money. In few games have I been as engaged to the main plot as this, although I fully expect for someone to swoop down and tell Hawke that only he is badass enough to kill Chtulhu or something.
For now, my final verdict about the game is that it is shaping up to be better than its predecessor.