So the First Annual JaNoReadMo has been a bit of a bust.  Totally my fault though.  While I was waiting for January 1st to roll around over the Christmas holidays, I started in on my Christmas present to myself, Dragon Age 2 with the intent of putting it down for JaNoReadMo.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

So I’ve beat the original campaign last week, but while I have all the available DLC, I am holding off on the playable expansions for a bit for a few reasons:

1:  I really, really want to give JaNoReadMo a fighting chance so now that the O.C is done, I can finally put it aside for a bit.

2: I’m not entirely happy with my play through.  I missed a few side quests through either glitches or being over eager, I chose the wrong romance for my character, and I missed some achievements.

So while I enjoyed my first play through, I do want to go back and tweak it before moving on to the expansions, and possibly Dragon Age 3 if they come out with it and the option to import a DA2 save.

So until I pick it up DA2 again, I figured I’d spend a little time going through it here.

Welcome to Dragon Age 2.

So first off Dragon Age 2 starts at the same time as Dragon Age Origins.  We meet our current hero as they are fleeing from Lothering with their family as the Darkspawn army descends upon the small village.  You battle your way through some Darkspawn, meet up with one of your companions, and travel to the Free Marches and a slaver-town-turned-port-city Kirkwall as refugees. Only once you get to Kirkwall, you discover all the refugees are being denied access to the city and even though you meet up with an uncle you barely know, never alone met; he is a fallen nobleman and can’t get you into the city unless you work for a year with your choice of smugglers or mercenaries.

Essentially after fleeing for your life from some really nasty critter, suffering a long, grueling sea voyage to what you think is your new home and you meet up with a long lost branch of your family tree and congratulations!  You’re sold into indentured servitude for a year.  Wow you are off to a rocking start.

I like what they did this time around with the story.  In Dragon Age: Origins, they basically gave you a sword, pointed you at a big bad dragon, and said “Bad thing, go kill.”  But this time its more of a moral dilemma, with no real right or wrong to it.  See after your first year in your new home, you discover that there is some tension between the Mages and the Templars, which only gets worse as the game progresses, and you have to make choices throughout the game.  Do you side with the mages, who are essentially being locked away all their lives and told they are wicked creatures for being born with magic; or do you side with the Templars, who are charged with watching the mages, making sure they stay on the right side of magic, (not dealing with demons and the like) but here are REALLY taking their job too far.  There’s one quest where it’s suggested that some mages who tried to leave the Circle of Magi are supposed to be executed without a trial.

To be fair you won’t really have to choose sides until the end of the game, but every choice you make has consequences with companion approval and the story you experience.

The game is divided into three parts, (four if you include the prologue) and couched in another narrative.  In the prologue you are introduced to one of your companions, a dwarf named Varric, as he is being interrogated about the events of the game, after the fact.  There’s a cut scene between each act, and every time the interrogator keeps referring to something really big and bad that happened that your character played an essential role in.  I started freaking out a little bit with this!  I was thinking “What on earth have I done?”  And boy, do your choices EVER have consequences outside the immediacy of the game.

The goal of Act 1 is to get 50 gold and get into the Deep Roads, where you find a Red Lyrium Idol that plays a large part in the story.

Act 2 you have to deal with the Qunari ‘threat’.  A group of these strange, grey skinned, stoic creatures is shipwrecked in your city and stranded throughout the course of the game, and of course with all things that people do not understand, they are feared and increasingly hated as the game goes on to the point where you have to step in to deal with it.

Act 3 is where you have to decide between Mages or Templars, and take the corresponding side in the final battle.  Me, I chose the mages, because the leader of the Templars had been corrupted by the Red Lyrium idol from Act 1 and was just freaking insane.  To quote another person’s reaction: Bitch be crazy.

The mages were pretty bad, there wasn’t one you did not meet in the game that wasn’t dabbling in demons or blood magic, but I chose to look on it that they were rebelling against an ever-tightening choke hold and that was they only way they could do it.  Not excusable, but understandable.

At the end of it all, you discover that your friend was being interrogated specifically to see how the Mage/Templar war started, because while it started in Kirkwall it soon spread throughout the rest of the country.

In the final cut scene, we see Leliana, who made a brief appearance in Act 3, speaking to the interrogator, and you learn that your character from both games, Champion and Grey Warden, have disappeared and no one knows where they are.  Cue foreboding theme music and possible theme  for Dragon Age 3.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of the story, lets break it down a little bit more.

1: Character Creation.  Same thing as before, you can be male or female; warrior mage or rogue, you can micro-customize your appearance, but you’re only allowed to be human.  There is no race choice, and your character’s name is defaulted to Hawke, which is kinda nice.  You can choose your own first name, but everyone throughout just refers to to by your surname so there’s really no point in choosing anything really unique.

2: Companions:  You get six this time around.  All with unique back stories that would take WAY too long to go through here, and I’m talking enough as it is.  So I’ll just list them off real quick, names, classes, love interest possibilities.  Your companions have their own armor which is non negotiable, but you can pick and choose their weapons and accessories so that cuts down on a little bit of time when equipping them.

-Your sibling is your first companion, and they’re only available for Act 1, and depending on Act 1 choices, MAYBE Act 3.  So I don’t recommend investing too much time in leveling them up.

-There’s Avaline the human sword and shield Guardswoman who you meet in the prologue and is perfect for your tank. You can flirt with her, but no romance becomes available.

-Varric the male Dwarven crossbow marksman comes along at the beginning of Act 1 as your foot in the door to the Deep Roads. He’s spoken for ladies.  His crossbow Bianca is the only woman for him and she’s the jealous type.

-Anders the apostate Grey Warden Mage from Dragon Age: Origins who is perfect to be your healer.  He’s also a love interest that swings both ways.  I went with Anders for my love interest this time around, and that was a big mistake.  He winds up blowing up the Chantry in Act 3 as part of his crusade to free mages everywhere, and causes the Templar leader to officially declare war on the mages.  Way to go Anders…..

-Merrill the female elven blood mage, also not a picky love interest.  She’s pretty naive, good for your magic damage dealing, and I love some of the dialogue she comes out with.

-Fenris the escaped male evlen slave.  Broody and temperamental, he’s another love interest that doesn’t care about gender, and my intended love interest for round 2.

-Isabela the female pirate queen.  If you remember her from Dragon Age: Origins, I don’t need to say anything more.

-And finally there’s Sebastian.  The male archer, Prince of Starkhaven, heterosexual love interest, and only available through the Exiled Price DLC.

-Oh, and you still get a Mabari hound, but only through the Black Emporium DLC.  He’s good because he doesn’t take up a companion slot like in Dragon Age: Origins, he’s actually a sustained talent specific to Hawke, but he disappears with each save and area load so a tad frustrating.

3: Downloadable Content: SO FREAKING WORTH IT!!!! Okay maybe not Exiled Prince, but definitely the class item packs.  I have ALL the DLC, and with the item packs I NEVER had to buy armor for myself or weapons for my companions.  The weapons only improve with level up, and the armor you just hang on to until you level up enough to use it.  So the item packs are really, really worth the money.  The Black Emporium DLC is pretty cool, you can get some cool stuff there you can’t find elsewhere in the game, including Maker’s Sigh, a potion that lets you re-allocate all your stats and abilities once you drink it.  The Exiled Prince….meh.  Only worth it if you really want Sebastian as a companion.  I haven’t gone through the two playable expansions yet, so that will come later.

4:  Pros, cons, and FYIs….

FYI #1: If you’re running on Casual, leave most of your potions at home.  The less you have on you, the more you pick up, the less money you spend on them for the final act.

FYI #2: Dragon Age Wiki is a lifesaver.  I have the official companion that the game makers had done up, but there are little things that are off in it that the Wiki gets right.  Small things like the locations of crafting ingredients, but important if you’re trying to get the achievement for getting them all.

Con #1:  Quest variety.  I know, normally not something you would complain about, but I think I have a valid reason.  My biggest beef is that you cannot complete 100% of the quests in this game.  There are at least 4 that rely on picking sides in the Templar/Mage conflict, one that you HAVE to be a mage to get, and about 4 more that rely on four different backgrounds that you choose in character creation.  All told there are just under 10 quests that you need to play through 5 or 6 times to get them all.  And when you have an XP/completionist junkie like me, that’s a tad frustrating.  Now I don’t mind the quests that are available depending on your choices in the game, because you can get all of those on two play throughs: support Mages on one play, Templars on the second, and Ta-Da!  Got ’em all.  So while the depth of individualism in the game is admittedly pretty awesome…yeah…frustrating…

Con #2: Recycled environments.  All the houses, mansions, caves, alleys, etc look the same for the most part.  Each category of area (house, mansion, cave etc) gets two templates that are repeated over and over again.  Gets a little boring going into the same area time and time again, but on the other hand you know the areas so well by the end of Act 2 that you don’t miss any loot.

Pro #1: The talent trees.  So much easier to level up with the new talent trees, you get a better picture of what is available for your character and where you want them to go.

Pro #2: Some attributes apply directly into your talents.  I played a rogue my first run through, and there are no ‘disarm trap’ or ‘lock picking’ talents like in Dragon Age: Origins.  Rather your cunning applies directly to your ability to detect, disarm, and unlock all traps and chests.  So if you’re a rogue, be sure to max out your dex and cunning as quick as possible so you don’t miss out on any loot.

Pro #3: The Junk tab in your Inventory.  Now you don’t need to wonder if that flawless diamond you picked up is needed for a quest later on.  Anything quest related does not show up in your inventory so you don’t have to worry about selling it, and when you find things like diamonds and the like, they go right to your junk tab because the only thing they’re good for is a bit of extra money.

There’s a lot more I could go on about, but I’ve jabbered on long enough and those are my big points.

Needless to say, I think Dragon Age 2 is a worthy successor to the name.  I’ve already got my characters for my next two run through planned out, and I am looking forward to playing them very very soon.

I’ve actually already started on my second run, another rogue, humorous in charming instead of diplomatic and kind, who is going to fall in love with Fenris and still side with the mages.  The next one is going to be an aggressive mage who sides with Templars and has more than a passing interest in the pirate queen Isabela.

So stick around folks.  I’m about to start Act 3 of round 2, the round I plan on keeping for the playable DLC and for Dragon Age 3 if they’re going to make the DA2 save importable.  Hopefully the final two DLC was worth downloading.