Dragon Age II Review

embedded by Embedded Video

Developer: BioWare / Publisher: Electronic Arts / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Content, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99

Following up one of the most popular and critically lauded roleplaying games this generation is no easy feat. No matter what the developer does, some people will love it and some people will hate it. That’s definitely the case with Dragon Age II. While BioWare’s renowned storytelling and characterization are intact, the gameplay changes will outrage some and satisfy others. BioWare has served up an epic RPG that, depending on your point of view, is either streamlined or dumbed down. At best, this is another magical game from one of the best developers in the business. At worst, it’s merely above average.

Story

Dragon Age II kicks off in Lothering, a small village from the original game. Circumstances have the main character fleeing the darkspawn blight, sailing the seas, and taking refuge in Kirkwall. Naturally, companions are met, tasks are undertaken, fortune and glory are acquired, and (if you choose) romance ensues.

The story is divided into three acts. The first act is full of side quests. I’m guessing that the idea was to give you background information on Kirkwall, the land’s political situation, and key characters. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get lost in the numerous side quests, which can leave you wondering, “Wait? What the hell am I supposed to be doing?!?” The second and third acts are much more focused, with far less side questing and a greater emphasis on major plot points.

Unlike the original, you’re playing as a set character with a set history — a man or woman with the last name Hawke. You can change some facets of the character, such as appearance and class. You’ll also be able to select responses that best fit the personality you want your character to display. Having said that, this is a far cry from the numerous races and backgrounds you could choose in the first Dragon Age.

screenshot-59-sebastian_dragon-o

The geographical scope of the game is also smaller. In the original, there were more unique places to go to and a greater variety of settings. In the sequel, the locations are more limited. In fact, you’ll have to revisit most areas multiple times. It’s funny how certain passages are blocked off in one chapter and mysteriously (or conveniently) open up at a later time.

Limiting the scope of the game and the character creation possibilities was completely intentional. Some players will be down on not having the freedom of the first Dragon Age, but the trade-off is a much richer narrative. The second and third acts of Dragon Age II feature fantastic storytelling with numerous plot points that wouldn’t work if your character could be whomever you wanted and go wherever you pleased. I was completely entertained by the story and, to me, it was absolutely worth giving up some freedom.

One of the best facets of Dragon Age II is its companion characters. They’re just wonderfully written and are diverse in terms of personality and gameplay. You’ve got the innocent girl that plays with blood magic, the stalwart captain of the guard, the brooding ex-slave (/dick), the flirty pirate whore, and more. Hearing them interact with the main character and each other was so enjoyable. It’s fun to mix and match different characters just to hear their different background conversations.

In terms of gameplay, all of the companion characters (except your siblings) have unique talents that you can explore. This helps ensure that they’re not carbon copies of your main character. For example, your rogue can be very different from Isabela’s rogue with her unique swashbuckler talents or Varric’s rogue with his marksman skills.

The dialogue flow between your main character and the companions is more natural than in the original game. This time around, your companions have to be visited at certain points of the game in order to trigger events. Unlike the first game, you can’t just stand there and trigger eight conversations with a companion character. Depending on your actions, characters will develop feelings of friendship or rivalry towards your main character. This has gameplay repercussions too, as there are certain talents that are unlocked when a companion reaches the full friendship or rivalry level.

screenshot-57-rogue_twin_fangs-o

Gameplay

For the most part, Dragon Age II plays like a typical BioWare RPG. You talk to people, undertake tasks, fetch things, beat the crap out of minions, collect treasure, and pound on a boss character. There are some changes that hardcore RPG fans might not like. These changes were made to broaden the game’s appeal. Dragon Age II is definitely more accessible than its predecessor, but some of the changes made will upset a vocal minority.

The combat in the game is more action oriented. If you play as a rogue or a warrior, you can tackle combat with a heavy dose of button mashing. The battles definitely feel easier this time around and less strategy is required. However, you can plot out stealthy attacks as a rogue or elaborate arcane assaults as a mage. Both of those classes can be molded into powerful combatants, but it just feels kind of unnecessary since the combat is so easy. Warriors are boring, but offer the most challenging way to play. Rogues and (especially) mages can be developed into overpowering characters that make companions almost unnecessary.

Crafting items and outfitting characters have also been streamlined. The game automatically keeps track of crafting components you’ve discovered, so you’ll no longer have to muck with them in your inventory. You only have control of the main character’s weapon, armor, and accessories. Companion characters can only swap accessories and weapons (except for Varric). Some players hate that you can no longer change companion armor, but I didn’t mind the change at all. It caused me to spend lest time looking at menus and more time enjoying the game’s story. Besides, don’t you think it’s weird that the main character gets to decide how all his friends dress?

screenshot-21-warrior_abilities-o

Graphics and Sound

Although the game has improved visually, the graphics are not remarkable. The first Dragon Age looked a bit below average. The second one looks slightly above average. You won’t be offended by the game’s visuals, nor will you be impressed.

Sound, on the other hand, is quite impressive. Inon Zur’s soundtrack adds a ton of atmosphere to the game. From high action to heavy drama to tragedy, his compositions help Dragon Age II’s storytelling. The voice acting is also superbly performed. The actors and actresses help bring the game’s excellent writing to life and make each character feel distinct.

screenshot-54-rogue_archers_lance-o

Bottom Line

Some players will hate that Dragon Age II is smaller in scope, has less customization, and features easier combat. None of that bothered me too much and I think the hate is overblown. My biggest complaint was seeing the same environments over and over again. As for the gameplay, I enjoyed a lot of the streamlining and think people complaining about companion armor customization are a bit wacky (buy a doll). On paper, the combat is deep, but making the game more accessible left me without a reason to take advantage of my character’s abilities. Ultimately, I was left with two of the three things I expect from a BioWare game — fantastic story and brilliant characters. And that’s more than enough to leave me confident that Dragon Age II will end up being one of my favorite games of 2011.

8.5 / 10

  1. I haven’t played the Dragon Age franchise at all,becuase I can’t.But I’ve read many times players complaining that the story and characters aren’t as good as the first one.Seeing Kirkwall from vids and screens I can say that it’s bland and uninspired,as in rushed.Also many complain that there are preset outfits.Finally the majority of PC gamers really don’t like the UI,becuase it’s not re-worked to be used flawlessly with mouse and keyboard,like the original.
    I think I should play this one first before Origins when I get the chance to play the Dragon Age franchise.

  2. Good points were made. What I’m afraid of is that they are over simplifying these games in an attempt to make it more accessible. It worked with ME2, but not for all games. I’m sure Bioware will pick up on this and consider it for their later installments.

  3. @ t3h I disagree with people that think the story and characters aren’t as good as the original’s. They’re just different. Sometimes people don’t react well to change and I believe this is one of those cases.

    @Mugenite I agree with you. Some people will think that it didn’t “work” for Dragon Age II, but I don’t think that most people will have a problem.

  4. I love this game. The story is so much more enjoyable than DA:O. Companions are so much better and interesting. The only companion I liked in DA:O was Alistair, and that was because of his humor.

    My biggest complaint is the reused dungeons, there everywhere; its like “Now I’m in a cave… wait, wasn’t I in this cave 5 mins ago? No that was in Kirkwall, this is the Wounded Coast, I’m sure this is the same cave, look same stairs, same lighting, SAME DOORS!! Hmm, this seems to be a doorway; but theres just a rock wall here, odd.”

    @t3h sourcey: Play Origins first, or you will not understand most of the story and dialogue.

  5. Pingback: Dragon Age II Only $40 on Amazon Today | Machinima.com Inside Gaming News

  6. I like the story and how they made the characters. I don’t mind the companion armor thing either, but it is a bit annoying sometimes.. I like to be able to customize my party as I see fit really. Thus my healer doesn’t need AP but still it is included…

    Main problem is as previously mentioned the damn reuse of areas… Every single house in high-town looks the same inside… every dungeon is the same… I mean common at least make an effort to make it look new… In DA:O the only areas I felt was the same was those interrupt battles you could have while travelling. But in DA 2 after like 1h in the game you have seen EVERY area… New house or dungeon just means that you will see a locked door somewhere. It does get a bit repetitive after a while when you feel like a fish in a small bowl…

  7. I played both games and i think the points made in this review is valid.. about customising companion armor n stuffs.. although i like to make sure they have the best armor available. its weird how u dress ur frenz up.. or leave them in their underpants following you…

    And yea.. biggest complain was the reusing of the maps.. thats just plain lazy and i hate that.. I give it an 8/10 cause compared to Origins.. this game has little replay value… which is sad but understandable since you only play the same character.

  8. More on armor: I actually liked discovering upgrades for companion armor. That made me focus more on treasure hunting and making sure I didn’t leave any loot behind.

  9. Pingback: Read My Dragon Age II Review (Please)! | RPad.TV -- Raymond Padilla & friends talk games and geek culture

  10. I’m just starting my 3rd playthrough as well. I love most of the changes, but like you found the repetition somewhat disappointing. I would have like to have seen the dungeons more fleshed out rather than just using 3 or 4 templates with different doors unlocked. But the storytelling and characters were great, and I personally loved that the combat was more action oriented and less plodding.

  11. The game would be fun if it was more open world, had major side quests that could change the central storyline (it seems no matter what you do, nothing ever changes) and combat actually required some reactions and quick thinking. Tactics can be set before combat and the rest should be up to the AI. You control yourself and maybe should be able to tell your group who to focus on, call for help or other commands. But when you can just pause everything it’s no fun.

    They could just as well have made two Dragon Age movies as games… It’s too story locked and it’s annoying, give me some goddamn freedom and I would use 100+ hours in DA1 and buy DA2 and spend the same in that…

    Open world and more “realistic” combat, and DA1 would be the best game ever… But to me it seems DA2 is just worse than DA1, so i’m not buying (and i played through the demo when that came out).

  12. Cool review, Mr. Padilla. I need to get around to playing the first game, though. Not because I think it’s better, but because I like to go in chronological order.

    -M

  13. @blood_lazio: There’s no such thing as an “open world” Bioware game. Seems like you picked the wrong game for your tastes.

  14. Excellent review Ray! Can’t wait for gamefly to send me a PS3 copy in the mail.

  15. Pingback: Inside Gaming: Daily Video Gaming News Blog | Machinima.com | Machinima.com Inside Gaming News

Tell Us How Wrong We Are

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *