Dragon Age 2 review
Dragon Age 2 reviewT3
Striking and confident, vastly superior sequel
Dragon Age: Origins was stingy with its lizardy, fire-breathing namesake: you got to fight about three dragons in the game's 80 hours. Dragon Age 2 gets straight to the action, hurling one of them into the opening section. From there, it doesn't let up. Mature dragons, regular dragons, dragonlings and even aeroplane-sized high dragons - you'll get to gut them all.
This epitomises DA2's get-to-the-point approach. Where the first game was ponderous and reserved, DA2 is as quick as a knife. Split across ten years, players dip into important times in their hero's life as their character goes from Joe Nobody to the city's ultimate badass: the champion of Kirkwall.
Hawke is that champion, survivor of the first game's darkspawn blight and now refugee from his (or her) hometown of Lothering, and home kingdom of Ferelden. The game catches up with Hawke as he makes his way into Kirkwall, a giant stone fortress. But all our dealings with Hawke come second hand, through the lips of a dwarf.
The game begins with a conversation, between mini-man Varric and Chantry (think church with a military wing) 'seeker' Cassandra. It's established that she's looking for Hawke for some reason, and that his tale is being told by someone that supposedly shared his adventures.
The plot is split into three giant chunks, each of which is handed an overarching issue. DA's fiction is tied to racism and authoritarianism: elves are second class citizens, and mages are insidious and not to be trusted.
The first game developed this concept, then didn't go anywhere with it; DA2 has the guts to put the conflict between the mages (fond of magic and long robes) and the templars (not keen on magic or robes) front and centre, as well as the conviction to make it the axis of a genuine moral quandary.
You spend most of the game within Kirkwall's city walls. This leads to a familiarity with the place and its inhabitants that makes the game's thorny issues even tougher to fix. Do you kill a dangerous mage in Hawke's third year in the city, even though they've done nothing wrong but might come back and cause problems? DA2 has admirable freedom in romantic decision making, letting your hero involve themselves with much of the supporting cast.
Nothing shows the game's new get-to-the-point attitude better than the combat, revamped since the previous game's muddle, and the game's special abilities add a thick coating of tactics. The game's combat is fluid and satisfying, but not always precise. DA2 feels built for PC: targeting specific foes is still tough, and the lack of a completely free Camera mode means getting a view of the battlefield is harder than it should be.
DA2's niggles are all in repetition. Forcing players to spend their time in only one city and a handful of identikit dungeons can lead to fatigue; so too can the sometimes-fiddly combat annoy. But underneath those minor problems is a character, charm and wit that make both the city of Kirkwall and your own version of hero Hawke come alive
Dragon Age 2 price: £27-£40 on PS3
Dragon Age 2 launch date: Out now
Sony PlayStation Vita: Gameplay video
We rundown the best games on the next-gen handheld console02:07
PlayStation 4 rumours video
All the graphics, design and release date rumours02:54
PS Vita vs Nintendo 3DS video
The PS Vita is here but can it take on the Nintendo 3DS? We find out in our PS Vita vs Nintendo 3DS video comparison00:56
PlayStation 4 Concept Design 2013 video
Could the new PS4 look like this?01:15
Sony Wonderbook demo
The tech that's hoping to take on the Wii U and Xbox Smartglass00:54
PS Vita vs PS Vita Slim screen comparison
It's been downgraded from an OLED to an LCD but can you really tell the difference?01:28
Best Smartphones: Reviews
HTC One M8 review
The new HTC One (M8) is the brand's new flagship Android KitKat smartphone
Samsung Galaxy S5 review
Can the new Samsung Galaxy S5 flagship smartphone blow away the competition?
iPhone 5s review
After a year on sale, is Apple's 4-inch smartphone still the one to buy?
Google Nexus 5 review
Can the Google Nexus 5 trump the excellent Nexus 4?
LG G2 review
Is the G2 the best Android smartphone around?
HTC One Mini review
The HTC One Mini is a scaled down version of the popular HTC One Android phone
LG G Flex review
The LG G Flex is the maker's very first curved Android smartphone
Motorola Moto E review: Hands-on
Is the Motorola Moto E the best budget smartphone around?