Game Review: Dragon Age II

I recently finished this behemoth of a game & have already started a 2nd playthrough.  That should sum up my opinion of this game.  But there has been some mixed reviews about Dragon Age II.  While all the reviews I’ve seen rank it positively, some people aren’t happy with some of the changes BioWare made.  If there’s one thing I admire about BioWare, it’s that they don’t rest on what has worked in the past.  They’re not afraid to try new things.  Of course, the risk in trying new things is that they don’t always work, or that people will simply prefer the way things were before.  So what are the changes, & do they work?

Dragon Age 2

Now with 50% more dragons

Dragon Age II is, obviously, a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins & Awakenings (which I plan to review later).  You can import the choices from your Origins game over, which will affect certain characters or quests that become available.  But don’t worry if you haven’t played Origins yet (though why you’d play 2 before 1 makes no sense).  There are three pre-set histories you can select.   In this sequel, you play as Hawke, a refugee from the previous Blight who flees Lothering with their family before it’s destroyed in the first game.  Hawke moves to Kirkwall & eventually becomes the Champion.  The game is broken up into 4 acts.  The Prologue is Hawke’s escape from Lothering.  Act 1 focuses on Hawke trying to earn money to go on an expedition into the Deep Roads to make their fortune.  Act 2 focuses on the rising turmoil with the Qunari.  Act 3 focuses on the rising tension between the mages & templars.  This is the overarching plot of the game, although it isn’t really focused on until the final act.

default Hawke

Default male & female Hawke

Many gameplay aspects have been streamlined.  Like before, you can make your character male or female & customize their appearance.  You can also choose between warrior, rogue & mage.  But you’re only allowed to be a human, instead of choosing a race like the last game.  Combat is much more action-oriented, & attempts have been made to balance the classes.  Warriors are the powerhouse of the team, specializing in either a weapon & shield or two-handed weapon.  Rogues are the only class who can pick locks & disarm traps, & specialize in dual-wielding or archery.  Mages have access to a wide range of spells to both destroy & support.  The inventory has also been streamlined.  Your companions now have their own armor, which you can’t change but can upgraded.  Speaking of companions, the approval system has been replaced with a Friendship/Rivalry system.  Companions have views & opinions on your actions.  Siding with their views will gain you friendship while disagreeing will gain you rivalry.  However, rivalry isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It simply affects the nature of your relationship & your dialogue options.  Also, there are four romanceable companions, & they can be romanced regardless of your character’s gender.

Important Note!  I don’t have any downloadable content with this game.  Therefore I can’t review any content related to “The Exiled Prince” or “The Black Emporium.”

Narrative: If there’s one thing BioWare knows how to do, it’s write a story.  The plot is smart & well-paced.  Some people complain that there isn’t enough focus in the game.  Although the main theme is the battle between mages & templars, this doesn’t really come into play until the final act.  You don’t even meet the main antagonist until the end of the second act.  However, I think the game does a good job of slowly building up the tension between the two factions.  They don’t just throw you right in the middle of the war.  It takes time to examine how the war began.  During the first two acts you face the mage v. templar problem over several quests.   To me, DA2 is the story of an ordinary person who, due to circumstances, find themselves involved in something much bigger than themselves.  And personally, I love stories like that.  But I do agree with others that the ending leaves the game feeling more like an interlude between games rather than a full-blown sequel.  I also like that regardless of who you side with, you’re character isn’t necessarily “evil.”  Both mages & templars are portrayed in an ambiguous way, where some are good & some are bad.  It’s a matter of viewpoint who you decide to support.  But plot preferences aside, dialogue is well-written & acted.  BioWare left the party banter, which adds to the immersion of the game.  However, there is less interaction between Hawke & your companions between quests, which is a shame because there are some great personalities here.  In general I found the companions in DA2 more likeable than the ones in the first game.  Score: 4

prologue

This is not a dragon you get to fight

Gameplay: As I stated before, Dragon Age II is much more action-oriented.  I’ve only played on the 360 so I can’t speak for the PC version, but people have complained that the game is a button-masher.  This isn’t completely inaccurate.  In Origins, you selected a target & pressed A once to attack, occasionally adding a special move.  In DA2, you have to press A each time you want to attack.  If you’re dual-wielding, this can become rather hectic.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for strategy.  You can take control of any party member you want, & now you don’t have to spend points to unlock tactic slots.  You gain slots with each level, & you can come up with some elaborate tactics.  Really, whether you like the new structure depends on what type of game you prefer.  If you’re a strategy buff you’ll probably be disappointed.  The Friend/Rival system is also an improvement.  Even with maxed out  rivalry, companions won’t abandon you.  You can also romance rivals.  It just changes the relationship dynamic.  Another complaint is that you visit the same locations over & over again.  While the game is more hub-based, the locations change each act, so they don’t look completely the same.  If you think about it, DAO didn’t have a huge number of locations.  I think it’s just because you seem to stay in a smaller area that it feels more confined.  I also enjoyed the streamlined skill progression, as it allows you to really customize your characters’ skills & abilities.  Score: 4

arishock

The new Qunari design

Aesthetics: There are several noticeable graphic changes.  Characters seem more slender in general, which I like (although this might be due to playing a game designed for HD on a non-HD tv).  The Elves & Qunari look much different in DA2.  Elves aren’t as short, have more angular faces & pointed ears (& all speak in a New Zealand accent).  Qunari look extremely different, with horns & dark eyes.  My only complaint about the graphics is that the text is hard to read if you’re not on an HD tv.  Audio is also well-done.  I didn’t notice any new music, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The voiceacting is excellent all around.  I especially have to give credit to Jo Wyatt (female Hawke), Brian Bloom (Varric) & Gideon Emery (Fenris).  Score: 5

Replay Value: Very high.  There’s something new to try with each playthrough.  If you wanted to play through every combination of class, romance option & templar/mage, that’s 24 playthroughs!  You probably won’t play it that much, but with all the options, plus the downloadable content, DA2 has a high replay value.  Score: 5

Breakdown

untitled

Overall Score: 5

Final Word: If you enjoy fantasy, RPG’s, or games with good stories, this is a definite buy.  Even I can’t say whether it’s better than Origins.  There are some parts I like better & some parts I think Origins did better.  Regardless of whether you think it’s better than the first, Dragon Age II is still a great game.  Just be aware that if you’re a strategy fan you’ll be disappointed in the combat.

– GamerDame

Game Title: Dragon Age II
Console: 360, PS3, PC
Rating: M
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 8, 2011
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Filed under 5, PC, Reviews, RPG, XBox 360

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