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Page 4 of 4Graphics and Sound
I played Dragon Age II on a PC, and I used the hi-res texture pack and the "high" graphics setting (for some reason, "very high" significantly chipped away at my frame rate). With those settings, I thought the game looked pretty good. The battle animations are crisp and lively, the lip synching is excellent, and the locations are impressive. Better yet, BioWare did away with the annoying aura effects from Origins (mostly by doing away with the auras themselves), and so you won't have to deal with as many distractions.
The only downside is that BioWare took the cheap route and decided to reuse locations way too many times. The entire campaign takes place in Kirkwall, and because there are three acts and day and night maps, that means you have to explore each district at least six times. I'm not sure what I would recommend, but if somebody asked me how many times players should have to visit the same map, I'm pretty sure the answer would be "way less than six." BioWare also reused the smaller maps ad nauseum (for example, every warehouse uses the same map), but at least for these they tried to be clever and change around the doorways so the layout would at least seem different -- not that the strategy worked very well. For me, it was abundantly clear that maps were being reused all over the place, and I found this sort of repetition to be disconcerting and annoying.
As for the sounds, I'll just say that they're competent. The voice actors read their lines clearly, but they don't evoke a lot of emotion, and most come across as dull and dreary -- which is perhaps appropriate, because that's also how they're written. The lone exception to this is Victoria Kruger, who plays the rogue Isabela. She's about the only character in the game who sounds like she's having any fun, and I'm guessing she'd be a favorite companion even if she didn't dress in short skirts and incessantly talk about sex.
I've now spent somewhere around 70 hours playing Dragon Age II, and I haven't had many problems. I encountered a broken side quest, and I had a crash, but nothing else has really happened to detract from the game -- which puts Dragon Age II in the same category as Origins but way ahead of the likes of the recent Fallout games. Plus, the save and load times are very fast (saves are almost instantaneous), and the loading screens between maps are acceptably short (and have a nice design to boot). Really, the Dragon Age II engine seems fine. It's just a matter of what BioWare decides to do with it.
For all the criticisms I've lobbed about in this review, Dragon Age II is an acceptable game. I found it to be a little bit repetitive and dull, but it's also fairly polished and well-presented, and more than playable. However, I hate the direction BioWare is going with their games, and I just sort of wish they'd develop a first-person shooter for the Xbox and get it out of their system, and then come back to where many long-time fans would like them to be -- striving to make role-playing games better than Baldur's Gate II, rather than coddling to the masses with acceptably simple action games that sell well.
In a twist of irony, two years ago when I reviewed Storm of Zehir, I came down on Obsidian Entertainment pretty hard. Their work on Storm of Zehir was shoddy, they had just lost their Aliens RPG, and it wasn't clear if they could create a working project that wasn't based on somebody else's original concept. But, wow, how times have changed. Now Obsidian seems to be the developer most likely to create a role-playing game that I'm interested in, and I can only hope that the future holds a similar sort of course correction for BioWare.
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