Category Archives: Xbox 360

Reviews of Xbox 360 titles.

Review: Not So Final Fantasy XIII-2


Box art for Final Fantasy XIII-2 Review


Author: CrashScreen
Let’s get this out there now. Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty awful Final Fantasy game. I wrote a bloody essay on why it’s bad before. There’s just few good things to say about it. Sure, the graphics look nice and the soundtrack is great, but … that’s it. The game was extremely linear, had a pretty poor character progression mechanic, the battles were overly long and had interaction, there were no settlements and there was a lack of things to do.

Now, we’re not here to debate my opinion of Final Fantasy XIII. I’m not even here to justify it. Instead, we’ll leave that topic for another time and focus on it’s sequel. Released just a year after Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was an apology from Square-Enix. The purpose was to fix everything that was wrong with the previous game. Square-Enix acknowledged their mistake. But does Final Fantasy XIII-2 make everything okay again? Or should it really be the Final Fantasy?

Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3(Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Rating: 12+(PEGI)

An FMV sequence of Gran Pulse at the end of Final Fantasy XIII and at the start of Final Fantasy XIII-2 for my review.

To resolve the issue of linearity, Final Fantasy XIII-2 (FFXIII-2) is not set in a specific location or time. Instead, the characters use time travel to get from place to place, time to time. This is actually an important element of the plot. Spoilers for Final Fantasy XIII ahoy!

After defeating the corrupt Fal’Cie (alien overlords who power the satellite named Cocoon in which the humans live), Lightning’s sister, and Snow’s fiancée, Serah returns from being transformed into crystal, as does Sazh’s son Dajh. This is when XIII ends; however, in XIII-2 the events transpire differently as Lightning vanishes. The humans settle on the planet named Pulse, in which Cocoon hovers above. Snow leaves on a journey to find Lightning for Serah, which leaves Serah alone for three years.

In 3AF, the village of New Bodhum in which Serah lives is attacked by monsters as a result of a time paradox. Noel, a boy from a future where he is the last human alive, comes to her rescue claiming that he was sent by Lightning, and so the two travel through time on adventure to find Lightning in the land of Valhalla – where time does not exist.

What is initially a light hearted journey, exploring the unique world of Final Fantasy XIII, the tone of FFXIII-2 becomes significantly darker towards the end of the game. So much so that this has been a relatively controversial element of the game. With consideration towards the theme of the game, and the sheer fact that the protagonists are playing with time, I actually judge the tone to be appropriate. I believe that the fun, adventurous experience of the earlier half blends very well with the intense, darker tone during the game’s conclusion. What we’re left with is a game with an intriguing plot that compels the player to persist with the main plot to uncover what happens to the cast; furthermore, the tone during the conclusion has left a massive impact on many players. Whilst many feel discontent with the conclusion, I can safely say that they will not be forgetting it any time soon. The ending is very shocking, and yet foreshadowing occurs through-out.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 Historia Crux
The Historia Crux, which is used to get from location to location.

Tone is captured fairly well in this title. A particular moment of sheer brilliance is when the player get’s to see the world in which Noel hails from. The graphics style appears different as a nice yet melancholic track is integrated with the empty and desolate world. And then you have the city of Academia, which portrays a believable and fascinating futuristic city, both in it’s darkest hour and in it’s glory. Similarly, the level designs through-out the game are well thought out and implemented. The only real disappointment is that – while there are many due to the different time zones – ultimately there exists only nine different maps. The maps themselves are a mix of slightly linear and expansive layouts. The whole nature of the game, hopping freely between different times no matter what occurs, is far less restricting than the previous game. Players can explore. There are hidden items and monsters to find. There quests dotted around the multiple maps and times. Certainly, the player can’t really complain about linearity in this title. No, instead the player could possibly complain about the quests.

Quests can be repetitive, usually amounting to fetch quests or hunting a mini-boss. This isn’t too much of an issue thanks to being able to do them at any time, but it did at one point or another become tedious. If the player leaves the quests until after they beat the game, or focuses on all available quests before continuing the story, I can see this becoming quite a boring task.

As for the characters, Serah and Noel have far more personality than the previous cast. Both protagonists have multiple layers; although Noel makes for a more interesting character. In general, the cast is far more likeable than before. Unfortunately, it feels like some of the previous protagonists have digressed in their character development from the previous outing – as shallow as the developments were. Similarly, much as there are holes in some of the previous characters, there also exists a number of plot holes in the game. I suspect this is a result of early planning of DLC. Perhaps as a result of the short one year development cycle? Or maybe they’re holding out for explanations in succeeding titles? Regardless of the case, these plot holes would have been relatively major if it weren’t for plot holes being a natural by-product of a time travel storyline. Sure enough, Square-Enix could have taken more care as to not fall into this trap.

Speaking of character development, the character progression mechanic is a far better attempt than FFXIII. The player purchases character upgrades in a network of nodes which appears similar to their weapon type. Each node of this “constellation” can be attributed to one of the six classes in the game. Every time a node is activated for a class, that class levels up and the character may obtain a new ability should they be at a specific level. They will also increase their strength, magic and/or health. Should the node be a large one, a bonus is also applied based on the class (for example, Commando gives a Strength bonus). This actually adds a nice level of control and customisation to character progression, as well as allowing the player to exert a bit of strategy into what they focus their points on. Players may also capture and raise monsters for battle in a similar fashion.

Much like any of the other numbered Final Fantasy titles, FFXIII-2 is menu driven in it’s combat. Players chain together different abilities based upon their currently selected class in an effort to “stagger” the enemy. When an enemy is staggered, they are left pretty defenceless and take a ton of extra damage. Whilst there are many different tactics that could be employed with the Paradigm Shift mechanic – in which players can fluently swap between each class which has a specific function in battle (Medic to heal, Synergist to enhance the player character attributes) – the combat focuses heavily on staggering enemies. This is an inherited issue from FFXIII. Fortunately, Square-Enix let up a bit on the focus. The result of this is that enemies no longer have ridiculous levels of health. Instead, enemies are far more balanced and are genuinely sometimes a challenge, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of thoughtless battles I participated in FFXIII.

A battle in Final Fantasy XIII-2 as the party fight a Ghast and try to stagger them.
The party – a monster included – fight a mini-boss as they build up his
stagger gauge.

Previously, I had an issue with the battle system being so overly simplified that there was little need to use anything more than auto-battle. In fact, in some battles when haste was used, it was actually often required. Of course, you could get away without using it, but that only costs you time – and time is important in this particular battle system. FFXIII-2 seems to somewhat resolve this by refining the classes more than the previous title. In all honesty, it feels like I’m selecting my ability when I shift classes, rather than when I’m actually in the class, but that works far better in this game. I’ve noticed some classes actually removed some abilities. In particular, I’ve noticed haste is no longer an ability the two protagonists can use.

I found myself using Paradigm Shift far more frequently than I did in Final Fantasy XIII, so it’s fairly evident there’s more challenge. It also means that the battles were that little bit more interactive. To ensure user interactivity, though, Square-Enix through in Quick-Time Event segments during battle. They’re unnecessary, but they can be fun to watch. Nevertheless, as a player I couldn’t help but feel that they were shallow game elements in a check list that were thrown into the game just to say, “yes, the game is more interactive now” – much like the quests themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any more thought than that reason for the QTEs, as they have little impact on the gameplay.

Much like FFXIII, the game is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery is amazing, and the FMV sequences are breathtaking. Likewise, the soundtrack complements the visuals incredibly well, although I have a few nitpicks with specific song choices here and there. Furthermore, voice acting is handled and directed very well with the title.

Personally, I found the game addictive and incredibly fun. It’s simplicity makes for an enjoyable adventure, and the plot is intriguing. Many would consider Final Fantasy XIII-2 to be a relatively “casual” game. In fact, I reckon this is one of the most prominent complaints that Final Fantasy XIII had. However, while I agree that the game isn’t very “hardcore”, I stand firm that this is a good thing. It’s nice to have a breathe of fresh air, and it’s also nice to relax.

Video games are entertainment. They’re meant to be fun first and fore-most, and Final Fantasy XIII-2 delivered. Unfortunately, the plot holes ruin what could have been an excellent story. The battles, while fun and engaging in their simplicity, strip away so much user choice that you’re simply left with “will I attack, will I build up stagger, or will I heal?” Quests are repetitive and, if not tackled correctly by the player, can be quite boring. There are times in the game where I even recall that the game had a one year development cycle, in which the impact becomes apparent.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is far from a perfect game. But, for what it’s worth, I found myself surprisingly hooked to the game. It has potential to be more, but amounts to nothing more than a game designed by a check list to resolve the previous game’s problems. Would I look forward to Final Fantasy XIII-3? I certainly would, if they announce it. This title restored my faith in Square-Enix’ Final Fantasy franchise, which FFXIII recently destroyed. Furthermore, nowadays, the game can be found at a heavily discounted price. If you’ve been a fan of any of the older games, or you’re looking for something casual to grind through, I do suggest that you give Final Fantasy XIII-2 a chance. You might, possibly, be surprised.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 scores a 7/10. It was completed on the highest difficulty (normal) and the author achieved 100% completion in the game. The title was played in its vanilla version, therefore it did not contain any of the downloadable content available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.

This review is entirely subjective and should not be considered fact. This review is the author’s opinion and nothing more. Feel free to discuss the review in the comments below, but try to keep it civil. You are also entitled to an opinion that differs from the author, and don’t forget it!

NeverFun: NeverDead Review

Neverdead neverfun

The first time that I learned of NeverDead, it was when I was watching the Pre-E3 Konami Conference last year. It came out of nowhere and looked pretty damn fun. We had an immortal who couldn’t die, clearly designed to have a badass attitude, and an over-the-top action game with Megadeth playing the theme music. Yeah, that was pretty sweet.

Jump to the launch of the title, and bad reviews flood the internet. I didn’t really read them, but the reception to the game was clear. Still, I stubbornly decided to give it a chance. This was meant to be a first impressions post, to be followed by a review later on during the week. However, I ended up finishing the game before I could write my impressions. Welcome to my review of NeverDead.
Publisher: Konami 
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Release Date: 3rd February 2012
Platform: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Rating: PEGI: 18, BBFC: 15
Bryce Boltzmann is an immortal, cursed by the demon king Astaroth after the demon murdered his wife. Five hundred years after the incident, Bryce now works for an organisation hunting demons with partner Arcadia. The game’s plot is fairly simple and predictable. There was not a single unforeseeable twist. This wasn’t because of any form of overshadowing or anything of the sort. No, to the contrary, the game completely lacked  any actual development. Plot twists were literally pulled out of the developer’s ass, and Bryce’s character warmed up out of nowhere. The character begins cynical and lacked compassion, and yet two cutscenes later he was a warm and compassionate character, who cared even for strangers. 
The underlying plot and characters could indeed be interesting, and in fact I found myself warming up to Bryce as a character, but they were executed poorly. It feels like the story was implemented using concepts, rather than being fleshed out in later design iterations, and that is a shame. As a whole, the story is generally warm hearted and tries to be fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Falling off a building, being smashed into pieces and your head rolling over to the woman to ask if she’s okay? That’s great. Bryce becomes a character whom I feel compelled to like, but unfortunately I can’t call him a good character. The other characters? I needn’t comment, because they’re more or less background noise. 
I’m not going to lie though. Despite Bryce being of particular focus as a character, the story as a whole isn’t really the point in this title. NeverDead’s real significance lies in the immortality as a game mechanic. Unfortunately, it’s this feature which also most prominently lets the game down. 
NeverDead gameplay

As you fight waves upon seemingly endless waves, Bryce can gradually lose limbs during the onslaughts. Players can lose arms and legs, leaving the protagonist hopping around swinging his sword wildly with one arm. This feature has some very high moments, such as when fighting the third boss. During this battle, the player must throw his arm into the mouth of a giant bee(?) demon, for it to be devoured. Even though the arm has been dismembered, the player still has control over it. Here, the player shoots while his arm is inside the monster’s stomach, allowing him to reveal the weak point to shoot at with his remaining, attached, arm. I like this use of the mechanic, even if it isn’t exactly obvious and the game needs to inform the player. Unfortunately, this example is the only true moment where the mechanic shines. 

It’s safe to assume that the inability to die leads to the game becoming significantly less challenging. This is completely true to an extent. While the game rarely challenged my skill, it still challenged my patience. Fairly frequently, a monster would manage to strike Bryce leading to his head to come flying off. The player needs to roll around, avoiding the demons that vacuum your head into their stomach (leading to a game over) and try to attach himself to the body. It only ever takes one hit before you’re left searching for your body. This feature just interferes with gameplay and completely breaks up the flow of the action. It’s frustrating and it’s just tedious. Actually, tedious is an apt description for the entire game, let alone this mechanic.
NeverDead is just incredibly monotonous. Between the lack lustre music (with the exception of Megadeth’s NeverDead track which plays a whole one time during the game) and the incredibly underwhelming variety of enemies, the game just gets repetitive far too quickly. The chapters appear to drag on, and even the battles actually last longer than they should. Whenever the player appears to defeat every enemy in the area, more waves continue to spawn – and the player can’t progress without clearing that area.
Easily the best feature of the game, NeverDead does feature the best destructible environment I have ever seen in a game. Almost everything can be destroyed, and there’s a chain reaction if played right. It’s so seamlessly integrated that I never actually noticed it – despite using it to my advantage on many occasions. 
So, the game doesn’t exactly ooze style in its gameplay, being as dull as it is. Does it’s graphic style save it? No, it doesn’t, but it certainly helps it be less boring at times. The game is graphically distinctive, albeit on a subtle level. But that’s actually pretty good. 
NeverDead has the occasional redeeming quality, but it just feels like a game that went straight to the implementation stage from the very early concepts. Nothing seems fleshed out, despite some very well polished mechanics such as the destructible environments. 
For what it’s worth, NeverDead is a title that seems to have heart, but fails to deliver anything substantial or truly fun. The development team got excited by the concept and went straight into making it. What could easily have been a neat little title has, consequently, become a rather forgettable title. Unlike Bryce, the title isn’t immortal by a long shot and will probably not survive through time. I can’t say I disliked the game, despite finding it ridiculously tedious as I trudged through it; I actually liked the game. I just probably won’t remember it this time next year.
(This is not fact by a long shot. The entire review is strictly the opinion of myself. And for those who really require a score, NeverDead scores 4/10. Whilst the game could have features that make it unique, these are poorly executed. Overall, the game can’t even be considered mediocre.)

Transformers: War for Cybertron

Transformers War for Cybertron box art

Civil war has ravaged the metal planet of Cybertron as the cybertronians, robotic lifeforms with the ability to disguise themselves by transforming, take two distinctive sides in this battle for the fate of Cybertron. The Autobots fight for freedom and are lead by Zeta Prime. Their enemies, the Decepticons lead by the ruthless Megatron, seek to collect the dark energon to gain control of the planet’s core and bring Cybertron back to it’s golden age. Dark energon is an alternative to the energon that fuels the planet and it’s denizens and has been located in an old space station currently guarded by the Autobots.

To gain access to the core of Cybertron, Megatron requires the Omega Key which is held by Zeta Prime, and so he must end this battle against the Autobots once and for all and achieve his goal. Unbeknown to Megatron, his greatest feat would also lead to his greatest downfall as the fall of Zeta Prime also marks the rise of a new leader of the Autobots, and one that he will forever be  locked in battle with until the end of their days. Optimus, a field commander, gathers up the remaining forces of the Autobots and takes up temporary leadership. It’s no secret to us that Optimus is destined to become a Prime, the true leaders of the Autobots, but how he got there no longer needs to be up to our imagination.

Transformers: War for Cybertron is a computer game aimed at being the origin story for every iteration of the Transformers series, from the fan favourite “Generation 1″ to the infamous Michael Bay movies. That doesn’t really say much for this game though, as all gamers know that computer games based on popular franchises that weren’t first games don’t tend to be that great. This rule also applies to Transformers. Now I won’t go into why these type of games don’t succeed, not here. No, instead I’m going to question, “does that rule also apply to War for Cybertron?”

Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon Studios
Release Date: 25th June 2010
PEGI: 12
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows

War for Cybertron consists of ten chapters  split into two compaign modes – Decepticon and Autobot. Chronologically, the Decepticon story occurs first and is followed by the Autobot story. In each chapter you may select one of three character choices. I know that doesn’t sound like much variety, but this is a computer game; playing Starscream, a cybertronian jet,  in a tunnel would be just plain impractical. Each character is designed with that type of level in mind. The entire game is designed specifically around gameplay and being the origin story of the Transformers.

There are a total of nine Autobots and nine Decepticons for campaign, and each character is full of personality. This is where the presentation of the game excels. The cutscenes in the game develop the story and nothing more; however, the characters are fleshed out really well through the use of in-game dialogue passed between the three playable characters of that chapter. Each character has their own distinctive personality, and each have their own role in the various chapters. The pacing of the story is exceptionally well done, and designing the campaigns to have five chapters each was nothing short but genius with each chapter serving to deliver an important plot point, while having an extensive period of gameplay where characters get shaped by in-game dialogue.

Transformers: War for Cybertron successfully delivers a brilliant story with little neat touches supplied by developers that are also fans of the series. I was confident to say that the franchise was in good hands before, but after experiencing their story I not only feel that my confidence was within reason, but I also feel that I still underestimated what High Moon Studios were capable of as I was blown away by the experience; however, I do feel that the Decepticon campaign was underwhelming compared to the Autobot campaign which makes me have to claim that there was some underhanded Autobot fanboy involvement found within the development team. Regardless, the story in both campaign modes were incredibly satisfying; and, quite frankly, I want more. Bring on War for Cybertron 2! Of course, given the conclusion of the game I believe a new subtitle would be more apt…

The story for War for Cybertron was impressive through almost perfect presentation; however, without good gameplay the story can find itself less effective and lose it’s impact. So how did the gameplay fare?

cybertron concept art

War for Cybertron is a third person shooter developed using the Unreal Engine. This resulted in a lot of comparisons with Gears of War, a cover shooter game where you must hide behind cover and shoot targets from there. Transformers is nothing like it. Yes, it uses the same engine and is a third person shooter, but it’s certainly no cover shooter game. Enemies are varied amongst car type, aerial type, brute, heavy and tank; with the former two having two different versions – a recruit and a leader.

One thing I noticed early in the game is that ammo and recovery items feel sparse, but is not entirely a problem and in fact adds to the game’s own style. The player finds himself conserving ammo, trying not to waste it and as such players are rewarded for skillful play. For the lesser players this needn’t be a bother as the inclusion of a melee attack works as a nice alternative, and for players with a tendency to look around instead of playing the game like a rail shooter will also be rewarded with ammo and health packs.

There are only five real boss battles in War for Cybertron, two in the Decepticon campaign and three in the Autobot campaign. These battles usually involve surviving three iterations of the enemy’s pattern to completely defeat them; however, the enemy may also change it’s pattern after a short period of time keeping players on their toes. These battles usually last no more than five minutes, with the exception of the two final bosses – Omega Supreme and Trypticon.

So now I’ve covered the general gameplay features, but what of  the transforming feature that is so important that the game was named after it? Well, it was an after thought. Now, I know what you’d be thinking, an after thought is bad, right? Well, no actually. They designed the gameplay and then added each character’s transformation to fit gameplay. If anything, having the transforming an after thought and the least important feature was actually beneficial; instead, transforming adds a nice little bonus during gameplay to make use of. I found transforming for use of the weapon in vehicle mode quite beneficial, or using vehicle mode to traverse long paths really handy. Transforming also allows you to evade persistent attacks, particularly of bosses.

Like most games this generation, Transformers: War for Cybertron contains a multiplayer mode. More specifically, it contains three different multiplayer modes. Firstly is co-operative campaign, which sees you playing with up to two friends online during the story of the game. The second mode is escalation which is essentially a survival mode where the players must fend off multiple waves of enemies and survive as long as they can. Finally, there is competitive online, in which players must fight in game modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, etc. In all honesty, there isn’t much to add to these things as they have become so common in recent games that they’re practically expected, and all play rather the same. These modes serve to add reason to continue to play the game even after completion, and extend the replay value of the game.

Transformers: War for Cybertron features exceptional story-telling and an appropriate style of gameplay that fits the Transformers universe well. Graphically, the game also looks nice, which only adds to the already well polished presentation that this game has. Each cybertronian is well designed, looking mostly unique. This leads to the characters being easily identifiable much unlike the Michael Bay counterparts. War for Cybertron looks great, and even the level designs look really nice. My only real major bone to pick with the graphics in this game is the repetitiveness of the levels, but even that isn’t really all that bad. Each location has it’s own style; but unfortunately going down the same looking corridors or motorways does seem to get old. This is where the transforming feature also helps as these type of areas are usually the ones that you blaze through in vehicle mode; in which case the repetitive level design becomes less prominent.

Now for one of the biggest things for fans of the franchise, the voice acting. Needless to say Peter Cullen reprises the role of Optimus Prime so we all know that’s good and I can confirm that it’s nothing short of an amazing performance. Optimus is really brought to life by his voice actor, but that isn’t to say the others are too. Every character in the game has an appropriate voice actor; and, although the some of the fan favourite voice actors aren’t around, their replacements match up perfectly giving an equally impressive performance. Transformers: War for Cybertron is a game in which the voice acting is very unforgettable, a fact that also stands with true with the soundtrack.

Stan Bush makes a return to the Transformers franchise giving it a new main theme entitled “Till All Are One”. Several moments in the game techno music or metal music will play to set the tone and atmosphere and is played at appropriate times. The overall soundtrack is very appropriate and feels complete with Stan Bush giving it that little boost.

So, my question at the start was if War for Cybertron would be an exception of the rule that adaptations as a video game would be bad? Well, I think the answer is clearly, “yes”, in this case. War for Cybertron is a well polished game that is delivered exceptionally well. Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed, in fact, this is the game we’ve all been waiting for.

Transformers: War for Cybertron is a game that shows that when an adapted video game breaks the formula and does something on it’s own – it becomes a very successful and fun game. This game receives a well earned 8/10 – A great game. I recommend to all Transformers fans out there to go out and buy it; and if you’re not a fan of the series then I have two words for you, “Rent it”.

(This game was reviewed on the Sony PlayStation 3 on Normal Difficulty. Single player campaign was completed, and multiplayer experiences were touched on.  Game was completed in nine and a half hours).

Review: Dragon Didn’t Age Enough II

Dragon Age 2 box artIn continuing my “catch up” session, here is my Dragon Age II review.
Dragon Age II is a title that received controversy online. The original was well received, giving the players a modern experience with a traditional role-playing game. Hell, even I, who had very little experience with traditional RPG’s around the time I first touched Dragon Age: Origins, experienced an overwhelming sensation of nostalgia from playing. For many, the original drawed upon their nostalgia and gave an enjoyable play through this. The sequel, however, does not deliver this sentiment.
Publisher: EA
Developer:
 Bioware
Release Date: 11th March 2011 (UK)
PEGI: 18+
Platform: PC, PlayStation 3 [Reviewed], Xbox 360

Dragon Age II follows Hawke, a refugee in the city of Kirkwall who is destined to be the Champion of Kirkwall. He escapes during the Fifth Blight, in Fereldan (the events of which conspire in Dragon Age: Origins), with his family into his mother’s birthplace. It is here that Hawke has a run with the Qunari and becomes an important figure in the ever ensuing fued between the Mages, whom are deemed too dangerous to let free, and the Templars, the knights who oppress the mages. The narrative itself focuses on a central theme of whether human rights should be sacrificed in order to maintain order.
The game is split into three acts seperated by key narrative events, with each act complimented by its own series of quests. The story being split into three acts, each seperated over the course of a number of years, allows the player to experience and involve themself in the change of Kirkwall under the ever-corrupting rule of the Templars, as well as discovering the consequences of earlier actions in previous years. As of such, players may also initiate quests which actually continue from a previous act, developing their own narrative and becoming a reasonably strong subplot which integrate with the central theme. These subplots delve deeper into the player’s sense of morality, resultingly making them question whether the ends is worth the means. I personally found myself siding with the rebel faction – the mages – more than I ever did the Templars, but there were a couple of tricky situations of which I struggled to pick a choice I felt was the right one as I played my character as a noble hero.
Being a role-playing game, you’d expect a lot of freedom to play the character you want to play. Unfortunately, this is when Dragon Age II becomes a shell of its former self. Whilst the previous title allowed you to choose from six origin stories, three classes and both genders of three races, Dragon Age II only allows you to choose both genders for three classes.  The origin is the same, and the story itself is generally the same regardless of the actions you make. Indeed, the only real impactful choice in the game comes at the end. Beyond that, the game pretty much plays the same both times. This results in the replayibility of the game being completely underwhelming in comparison to the previous outing. Despite this, I did find exploring the other perspectives interesting. It just wasn’t enough to keep my second playthrough fresh.
The combat system feels significantly different in comparison to the previous title, but less has been changed as may appear. The pace has been increased, with battles becoming much faster and have now taken on the pace of an action game such as God of War. Players attack enemies through button mashing, occasonally mixing in abilities for various effects. While this is more immersive than the previous, with the user feeling more involved in the battle, it doesn’t take very long for the experience to become very shallow. Ultimately, there is nothing really to gain from being more in control of battle. Instead of watching them fight, and making impactful decisions, you are mashing the attack key while trying to keep your eyes out for an opening for one of your abilities – and that’s if you ever use them.
I found the majority of battles that I participated in were over in a flash, with myself only ever really mashing attack. My abilities were usually left unused, as they were relatively unnecessary in the many skirmishes you will face. Even with the difficulty turned up, I found that I rarely had to bother with the exception of the higher class enemies. The strategy from the previous outing was lost in exchange for short and flashy battles. While I do admit that there is still the useful tactics system, and how you develop your character requires some level of thought, they didn’t seem to be as effective in the previous. When a new ability is obtained, the characters’ tactics slots are usually updated to include their new skill; meanwhile levelling up has been made more simpler, with each class having two attributes that they specialise in – leaving the others pretty redundant.
Essentially, the new battle system seems to open up a new level of control in battle. And yet, it doesn’t take this new system anywhere. It plays out much of the same as the initial title did, with the bonus of possibly suffering a sore thumb or finger by the end of your playthrough. What could have lead to more depth (maybe invoking a combo system where the effectiveness of an ability is altered based upon the actual ability and when in the combo it is used?) only leads to an experience that, in all honesty, just feels more shallow than the last outing – despite the fact that it does not take anything of substance away (albeit the pace does often make abilities redundant, but I would chalk that up to the change in enemy attributes over anything).
There are plenty of quests to partake, but they usually all amount to the same ‘go here, kill that’ formula. It’s great that they add more story to their quests, but the quests still need more variety in terms of actual gameplay.
One of the key improvements, however, is the level of role playing in regards to a linear story. Bioware have a great tale to tell with Dragon Age II, even if the conclusion can leave the player disatisfied. It’s obvious to me that the story was the focus of this game, with gameplay shunned to second place. Despite that, the role-playing mechanics are superb. The player’s character, Hawke, develops his personality based upon your interactions with other characters. If you make many jokes, then Hawke will become a more sarcastic and witty character, for example. Furthermore, there are still plenty of choices for him to make that cover both ends of the spectrum. It’s just a shame that they usually amount to little more than just an immediate effect, with little consequence beyond the present dialogue.
While the soundtrack was pretty well made, in my opinion, it quickly gets repetitive as a result of the sheer lackluster amount of locales to explore. The player often finds themselves revisiting the same handful of areas. The worst offender here are the interior maps – be it inside a cave or inside a building – there are about three or four of these maps total, and that’s more accurate than I wish to admit. Yet, considering the sheer number, quests almost always lead to visiting at least one of them, if not more. What results from this is nothing more than the repetitive formula quests becoming even more repetitive with their shared maps. It really doesn’t help that all of these maps are very plain, with the most interesting visuals being the background that I was left just wishing I could explore more of.
I can’t help but write negatively of Dragon Age II, despite it being a game I easly spent over one hundred hours of my life on. I personally found its repetitive nature strangely addicting. While the title doesn’t have much going for itself when you compare it to what the original was, don’t let it be said that Dragon Age II is an awful game. Far from it. It just becomes increasingly frustrating seeing the potential that the game has, and how it squanders it with what seems to be too little development time. And no wonder too. The game was released but a year and a half after the original. That’s shockingly short considering the genre, scale and content of the game, and what it had to live up to. There was no way that Bioware could have ever hoped to achieve anything slightly less of the game they were developing a sequel for, let alone surpass themselves.
To me, Dragon Age II is an example of a game that truly has so much going for it, and yet seemingly has little to show. It’s a great and fun game, with an immersive story and experience to play, but ultimately falls short of any expectations. In many regards, it feels incomplete with its lack of maps, underwhelming consequences from all those choices that you get to make, reducing number of quests as the game goes on, and the seemingly shallow combat. This game is an example of what happens to a game when developers try to make a title more accessible to the market. The title just feels more shallow, even if the substance found in previous titles remains. It is also an example of the terrible effects of a bad development cycle, with this game apparently getting too little time to be worked on – most likely a consequence of the older brother title, Mass Effect 3, being released later in the same year. A game of this magnitude should surely get at least two years of development time, otherwise the outcome is an unfinished and underwhelming game that leaves a disatisfying after-taste.
For what it’s worth, Dragon Age II was a title I love, but it does not really earn that love from me. It aims high but falls significantly short, as the game feels unfinished and rushed. There aren’t many people I would genuinely recommend it to over Dragon Age: Origins. In fact, there aren’t many I would recommend it to at all. If you like Dragon Age, I suggest you give it at least a rent, because it does have an interesting tale to be told, but you will be done with it after your first play-through. For anyone else: give this game a miss. It’s a real shame, too.
(Because people fret over scores so much, I have to give Dragon Age II a 6/10. This value means that the game is above average, but has nothing special going for it. In this case, it failed to live up to its predecessor, therefore it not only failed at its own potential, but at the potential of the game it was meant to be improving.)