Reviews: Dragon Age II
Rubbish. Complete Rubbish.
I've rarely played a game that infuriated me as much as this one. Now, I'm quite certain I could write an essay the length of War and Peace about what this game gets wrong. I could talk about the mindless, repetitive combat ("Another wave!"). I could talk about the unacceptable removal of RPG mechanics, to point where all non-combat abilities have been excised. I could talk about the obvious reused environments. I could talk about the dumbed down dialogue. But I won't. Instead, I'll talk about the writing. What I absolutely detested about Dragon Age II was that it had this awful, post-modern attitude where every character seemed to be aware that he or she was in a video game. Everything is "ironic," everyone is "self-aware," everyone is "snarky," and so on. The game just reeks of the writers' attempts at being "hip," "modern," and "edgy" (at one point, a character actually says something like "Why do you bad-touch words like that?"). I could almost imagine the writers penning the scene where Anders destroys Kirkwall's Chantry while endlessly congratulating themselves on how it's their oh-so-brilliant commentary on 9/11 and terrorism in general, and how they've come a long way from when they wrote characters who talked to hamsters. I don't think I've ever played a game as insufferably smug and self-satisfied as this one: "See this scene, here? This character actually uttered the word 'shit' in dialogue! No one ever said 'shit' in Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights! So edgy! And look at this templar with his "Tranquil Solution!" Holocaust imagery...So dark! So edgy! So MATURE!" The characters feel less like actual living people and more like a collected series of one-liners and smart-arse wisecracks. Nothing about this game feels real, authentic, or earnest. It's nothing but a closed-in, ironic joke factory world where the writers fall over themselves attempting to imitate Joss Whedon. Dragon Age II is just trash. Let us hack it apart and bury it At the Crossroads so that it never rises again.
Very similar yet quite different
Before i started the game, everything i heard about it screamed "It's not your standard Bioware RPG. No world-changing hero this time.". So, out of curiosity, I played it. And in the first thirty minutes: -The Champion (with a capital C) is wanted by a mysterious order; the Seekers because s/he's the only that can keep their precious Chantry (again, capital C, so the whole damn organisation, not a little part of it) together when it's on the brink of a civil war. -Flemeth appear and make some cryptic as hell talk about her daughter and task Shep-Hawke with a mysterious mission. - S/he gets directly compared to the Warden. Then half an hour after, Flemeth re-appear to make more cryptic-as-fuck talk about destiny. "Different", yes ? Thankfully the rest of the game is more original and the faster action, while almost entirely removing strategy (in my playthrough at least) is quite fun (if over-the-top at times). PLOT: The idea of the first act is quite good, since it gives a reason to really do all those sidequests. But it also doesn't allow one to grow interested in them when you're onlydoing them for money. It also lacks focus with, agin, isn't so bad in the first act, but become a problem in the next two. Also a problem is that all of those "sidequests" are mandatory if you want to go on the Expedition wich led me to say "I've got the money, I've got the map, I want to go!" midway into the first Act. While the Mages-Templars conflict was foreshadowed several times, by the time it became central to the plot I felt it hard to side with any of the two groups. Characters: So we see returning favorites such as Merril (who I feel is Merril In Name Only), Anders (wich necessited a Retcon and Character Derailement) and Isabela (heh, why not ?) There's also new ones: Fenris (too Angsty for my taste), Varric (aka "the most awesome dwarf ever" for me), Aveline (I quite like her) and Hawke's sibling (Carver or Bethany). Out of all of them, I wanted to romance the lasts three. Impact of the previous game: I topped caring about continuity after my third "What the fuck are you doing in Kirkwall?") And it's telling that Origins' epilogue were retconned a "just a rumor" when DA 2 was out. All in all ? A good game for people who are news to the serie, a dissapointement for me.
A Mixed Bag Built on an Appeal to Novelty
Let me open this by saying that I didn't hate this game the way the vast majority of the Internet appears to. If you just want a rage-fix, probably not getting it here. I'll also be primarily reviewing its storytelling rather than its competent-but-unremarkable gameplay. The game's biggest narrative weaknesses come from the same place as its biggest strengths: it wants to be *different*, to try doing things that haven't necessarily been done before, for better or for worse. The overall plot for instance: it tries to break away from the Bioware Story Cliche chart we've all seen and focus on a smaller, more personal story of an immigrant family's struggles in a new place, how efforts to stay together and climb socially only lead to more tragedy and heartbreak. On the other hand, that same obsession with the unconventional, that fear of tradition also leads to the stuff everyone complains about: reduced scope and a gloomy ending where both sides are evil and you're stuck in the middle. On the one hand, effort is made to differentiate the companions from their archetypes: the traumatized former slave who's actually traumatized, the backstabbing, open-legged pirate who might actually backstab and heartbreak you, the cute dark wizard who's not just misunderstood by an intolerant world but making poor life choices and trying to ignore the consequences. On the other hand, it also leads to Anders' infamous unavoidable endgame actions, a character who's impossible to lead to reason or save from himself, in a bit of realism that just comes off as unsatisfying. I'm in the minority here, but I actually liked the idea of centering the game on one city in theory, since it gives the player incentive to, like Hawke him/herself, put down roots and grow to like the place. Unfortunately, well, here the infamous time and budget restrictions show themselves, and Kirkwall isn't as lively or memorable as it would need to be to make this work. Ultimately, the game falls into the same trap as Star Trek: Generations or the rightly infamous ending to Mass Effect 3 - making different or unexpected choices a higher-priority than quality ones. It's not an awful or unplayable game, but it's still a modest artistic failure and I hope Bioware learns the right lessons from it.
Something I can't play twice
Dragon Age 2 does not...capture the original in many ways. There are many things that feel different about it from Origins that may just put you off and declare it to be a disaster. I myself feel like I want to denounce this game as not fun and a damned silly excuse as a sequel, but...I can't say that without pointing out it has its strengths. Dragon Age 2 was the answer to some people who thought Origins was ungodly slow paced and a mute bore fest. I mildly enjoyed the faster combat at first and your main character actually talking, but after I got through with the game I had decided that'd be the last time I would play it. It just felt like a big chore, running all over Kirkwall and doing crap for people. I hated being stuck in one place, going through the same designed dungeons. Only when I managed to get out of Kirkwall and into big, story important places like the Deep Roads did I begin to feel like I was having fun. But I must say the characters are still there. I loved most of the party members and the dialogue is what you'd expect from a Dragon Age game from Bioware. I cared about them enough to want to do their story quests and enjoyed doing them. Some of the fights are still challenging enough to warrant use of tactics, buuuuut for the most part you can just action-game bludgeon your way through everything and win. Yeah...after playing Origins again, I began to understand what I didn't like about the sequel. Too many things...it says enough that I gladly play Origins multiple times and only Dragon Age 2 once. Basically, if you're a Dragon Age fan and you want to see what happens in the lore bad enough, you'll play this game, and might have a little fun. If you don't care, then stay the hell away and play something else.
Six of One. Half a Dozen of the other.
Starting with the gameplay, this can be broken into combat and dialog mechanics. Combat: Is both better and worse. Count me firmly in the camp that liked the changes to combat animations and effects. These changes added pop to the combat. I favor the mage for its cool explosions but was pleasantly surprised by how fun the rogue is, zipping about the battlefield leaping and striking. The problem is there's too much of it. Just when you think you're done, you have another wave of baddies to fight. Always. And this can make the fighting tedious after a while. It is especially harmed by the context. Most of the combat takes place in and around Kirkwall where there are apparently a truly ridiculous number of bandits and apostate mages. Fighting large numbers of baddies made a lot more sense in Dragon Age Origins where there's a war going on and you truly are likely to encounter waves of Darkspawn. Dialog mechanics. A lot of people have had a lot to say about the dialog wheel. I think the biggest misstep is having a designated "Witty" option. This undermines the surprise that is often essential to humor. Imagine a comedian prefacing his remarks with "prepare to be told a joke." And while that spot was also occupied by "neutral" remarks sometimes, having a designated witty spot puts pressure on the writers to produce a quantity of humor at the expense of comedy. The rest of the dialog wheel concept has similar issues. I can see why they changed it. Separating the karma meter from the approval meter is more true to life. We all have people we care deeply about who we disagree strongly with. Plus it allows us to be liked without having to compromise how we play our characters. It just needs more work. They're about halfway to a great idea here. The story is tighter with less player autonomy but more complex themes. There are missteps, the biggest one being the mages vs templars. Bioware understood that players would sympathize with mages since mages are cool and players like freedom so they went a long way to make the templars sympathetic. But they went too far. Mages and their attendant demons cause so many problems in this game that even Meredith comes close to being sympathetic. What is she supposed to do when mages routinely wreak havoc? When even Orsino resorts to Necromancy and when a leader in the mage resistance blows up the Chantry?
A Dangerous Balance
Being an obviously rushed and unfinished game, Dragon Age II nonetheless has a lot of things going for it. The action-oriented combat did feel much more engaged and involved than the first game to me, but that came at a certain price: because the pace of battle moved so much faster and because enemies spawn at random mid-battle, it's very difficult to reliably react or be prepared for anything, which was perhaps exacerbated by my decision to play as a melee Rogue, forcing me to do double duty between making sure I didn't die and dealing the highest damage in the party. Overall, this makes the game much less tactical and team-oriented than Origins, though there still is a degree of basic tactics you can use. Treading between hack and slash and traditional Bioware fare won't work long, and much like Hawke, Bioware probably should choose one for Inquisition. The same could be said for the narrative, the game going back and forth on whether you should decide the outcome or whether you're railroaded in one direction for the purposes of better developed characters several times. Several times, the outcomes are predetermined, but at least you can decide why they're happening or why you as Hawke are involved if not what happens. Unfortunately, since Hawke is probably the closest thing to a character of all of Bioware's cyphers, there were a few times I didn't get options I wanted to be there (such as open support of the Qunari), but Hawke does bring an element of humanity lacking in other Bioware games as do the most important aspect: the companions. I'll be brief: Varric is my new favorite Bioware character, Isabela's a close second, Aveline had her moments, I could take or leave Merril and Sebastian, and Fenris and Anders were equally tiresome, especially grating as they had almost the same personality, just as applied to different sides. They do feel like they have lives outside Hawke but only Varric, Isabela Aveline, and occasionally Anders ever sounded like they did anything particularly interesting while not with me. In terms of gameplay I applaud the new approval system and improved AI, but question the lack of customization as applies to companions. It both streamlines things and prevents us from building the best party we could. This is a game walking between two extremes in most aspects. If you can deal with that, you'll enjoy it.
Unfinished—but still worthwhile.
Overall? Dragon Age II is an unfinished game. And it shows. Is it still worth playing? Yes, it is, and it even has replay value. For an unfinished game that's pretty darn impressive. The bad stuff first.
- The environments are repetitive. It's really rather maddeningly clear that most of the "cave" and "tunnel" dungeons are really just one big map with the parts the developers didn't want you to go into walled off/separated via unopenable doors. The house and warehouse environments are all re-used to death. Since a vast part of the game is essentially dungeon crawling, you at least want to be entertained between fights. Some levels, namely the Wounded Coast and the Deep Roads, are pretty nice to look at, which serves only to make it even more painful when you realize what they could have done.
- The main plot—more specifically, the choices you make involving the main plot. Without spoilers, the best I can say is that nothing you do bar some interactions with your companions has any effect on anything.
- Side quests are usually not worth anyone's time.
- When playing on the harder difficulties, the fights randomly swing from ridiculously easy to nigh impossible.
- In the third act, nobody warns you when you're going past the Point of No Return, which is especially irritating as the game warns you of it in the previous two acts. I was caught by surprise and was very unhappy about it. All I can say is, don't read your mail.
- Despite the frustrating sense of the player's unimportance, the main plot is quite good and there are plenty of "wow, did that just happen?" moments.
- The companions are a delight; they all have their own fatal flaws, and the Friendship/Rivalry bar is marvelous, as it gives players a reason to interact with them (bonuses are granted). At first glance, Friendship might seem at first to be the way to go, but Rivalry is in fact what tends to make the characters realize their issues and make efforts to get over them. Good Stuff.
- Hawke himself. He's very well fleshed-out; you can even give him a set personality by choosing a type of dialogue (Diplomatic, Witty, or Aggressive) often enough.
- Lots of humor, quite a number of tearjerkers, and a few Crowning Moments of Awesome.
Of Expectations Met And A Reluctant Warrior
Most people go into Dragon Age II expecting an enlargement on the scale of things when brought into comparisons with Origins, its predecessor. The internet is the home of opinions, and many voices have sounded their ultimate dislike for this particular piece in Bioware's franchise. Complaints range from simplified combat, to off-model characters, to retcons, and that's not even counting what some blokes and broads have to say in their staunch defence of Origin's superiority to DA 2's. Looking at it from all angles, you can hardly find a reason to like the game if you were an entity made up of all these gamers, voicing discontent and blasphemy at the changes offered. My opinion as an individual, though? Dragon Age II is a remarkable piece of work that adds dimension, subtracts archetype and assumption and equates to an overall experience that (Dare I say it?) exceeds that of the original. The gameplay offers a new addition in the refined cooldown system, making every decision you make in combat that bit more precious, that bit more risky, that bit more consequential. And that is what DA 2 is: a game of consequences (Bugs aside). There is no line of good and evil clearly drawn. An action propagates a reaction every time you made one, and it echoes so profoundly that it seems that you're not just playing as Hawke, you ARE Hawke. An instance of choice shows in the handling of Feynriel, a half-elf, in a quest to apprehend him. Do you turn him over to the circle out of duty? Do you allow him to rejoin his would-be people for guidance? In another quest that involves him, how do you approach him in freeing him from his prison? Further proceedings show the consequences of all your actions, and shows that sometimes the correct choice isn't as clear-cut as you would think. Templar or Mages? Life or Death? Lawfulness or Vigilantism? Dragon Age II is a game about choices, and the lines that blur as you march. There is no good here, there is no evil. There is Hawke, there is YOU and sometimes the right thing to do is the worst choice you could make. But Varric is there with you; Isabela and Merrill are there with smiles, Fenris offers his determination, Bethany and Carver their love and Anders... well, is Anders Redux. And there cannot be a better choice of comrades. This is Hawke's story, and it is remarkable. Score: 9.0/10.0
A Miserable Experience
DA 2 is one of the worst games I've ever played, it takes the strengths of Origins, dumps these strengths (Good characters, well executed Grey And Gray Morality, tactical combat system, and hordes of dialogue choices) in favour of one dimensional characters who only ever have one issue to discuss (Merrill and Varric aside), making the main conflict into a direction-less mess that ends with a fight between two unlike-able forces that you'll be unlikely to care for (With Gray Morality, I was under the impression that both sides are meant to be sympathetic), complete with both sides turning out to be evil anyway, as well as limiting you to three dialogue choices most of the time, preventing you from seeing what you're going to say, and leaving your choices having the exact same outcome for the conversation 95% of the time. Even worse, the weaknesses from Origins (A little bit too much reliance on enemies attacking from everywhere, especially for boss fights, lackluster sidequests, and sub par environment designs) have not only been ignored, but made even worse. For Combat, they decided to abandon all pretense of battle design and just dump hordes of enemy waves against you from all directions, making positioning and planning impossible, make you have to constantly mash the A button (Which was only just fixed in a patch....which I can't get due to no Xbox Live), and give no feedback from attacks (Or being attacked), making it feel lifeless. Sidequests are basically just "Kill that guy!", or alternately just consist of you finding a random object in Cave No.135, running around for someone it belongs to, finding them and magically knowing that it belongs to them, and then just giving it back for a quick reward, cheap, and disinteresting. And I don't think I really need to talk all that much about the environment recycling, it's there, it's obnoxious, it's been complained about to death by everyone who lives under the sun, the reasoning for this was that Mike Laidlaw decided that the team still had enough resources to build sidequests, so they started recycling more than a member of Green Peace, to which I say, no, Bioware didn't have enough resources, because if they did, they obviously wouldn't need to force you through the same cave over and over. Oh, and Retcons. Everywhere. They fill me with rage Overall: Poor
Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back
As a sequel, this game adds some welcome and interesting changes to the DA setting, along with some pretty severe drawbacks. I found the story and pacing of the game to be overall superior to DA:O; while there is no large, overarching threat, there are a number of antagonists that are both colorful and well characterized that I found to be a welcome change from the faceless, voiceless monsters of Origins. The companions are also a bit more nuanced this time around— mainly due to the extended time period in which the game takes place. This leads to some noticable issues, however, and while its nice to see them develop more long-term relationships with the main character, it also tends to be a bit confusing that they'd take so long to bother getting to know each other. Not to mention that, after each of the time skips, a character is given the token phrase "Remember what happened X years ago? That sure was something," or, at least, something to that effect. Combat is over-the-top and bloody, which hardly seems appropriate with the setting. Enemies bursting into chunky bits is something I'd expect to see in Team Fortress 2, not so much an RPG that takes itself seriously. It seems inevitable that boredom with combat sets in after your fifth or sixth time plowing through a dozen more angry gang members, not to mention trying to whittle down the health of one of the game's bosses. They tend to be immune to most negative effects, meaning most fights will consist of pouring on damage and healing party members, making it seem a bit like a mini-raid for (insert-mmo-here). That said, the final boss is a rather tense conflict that plays out very well, and when taken in smaller doses it is sometimes fun to squash bandits into paste. In the end, however, what will ultimately make-or-break this game for most people is whether or not they're willing to put up with the liberties taken with the lore from the original. If you're like me, say, and describe that sort of thing as "Liberties" rather than "Total lore rape," then you'll probably like this game. If not, then we'll see what's to come in terms of DLC, Expansions, and patches. And, in one final note: There are bugs. Not glaring, but they're there, and a few can be very disruptive. We can only hope they'll be fixed soon.
An inferior sequel, but a very good game
Dragon Age II has several improvements over its predecessor, but also simplifies or removes some of Origins' better aspects. Despite this, it is, when considered on its own, a very good CRPG. The plot is less focused than Origins, and while it is interesting to see how a city changes politically over time, the player character often seems powerless and merely reacting to events. Combat has been simplified, sped up and rebalanced, making it often easier than Origins. Mages, formerly overpowered, are now relatively weak, as area of effect attacks have become more valuable than crowd control abilities now that monsters come in greater numbers. Most encounters are easier than those in Origins, and require less tactical thinking, making them somewhat more repetitive. Abilities are on longer cooldowns, thus increasing your reliance on auto-attack. Area of effect abilities are smaller, which reduces the chance for friendly fire and also makes positioning less important. The talent system has been improved, and upgrading abilities with talent points is a good touch that enables customization. Your companions have unique abilities, which set them apart from others of their class. As in the previous game, moral decisions are not always clear-cut, and your decisions impact how your companions perceive you. This time it can pay to consistently disagree with a character on decisions, with Rivalry giving benefits like Friendship does. However, where Origins’ decisions often had right and wrong choices, if not obvious ones, many decisions here involve choosing the lesser of two evils, and situations often turn out badly regardless of what you do. In the late game, you must choose between one of two severely flawed and largely corrupt factions, and while it impacts whether your companions follow you, apart from that, there is little that changes in the gameplay or story, limiting replay value and the importance of your decision. The companions tend to focus on one issue more than in the previous game, and have fewer times when they have an opinion that you might not expect from them. While they talk about their backstories less, their personal quests are fun, as well as good ways to develop them as characters. Two crucial questions remain. Is Dragon Age II as good as Origins? No. Is it still worth buying and playing if you can get past that? Yes.
Rinse and repeat gameplay brings down a good game.
Let's get this out of the way. I'm a long-time CRPG fan, and played through the original DAO five times. I am disappointed that the sequel took a step towards more action-oriented gameplay, but this does not inherently make Dragon Age 2 a bad game. I try to review it here on its own merits. The familiar Bioware strengths are here: strong writing, relatable characters, and the freedom to turn your character into a personality of your choosing. I especially liked how Hawke defaults to a tone you've set with your previous choices. There is also a lot to do, and although many of the quests are of the pedestrian mailman variety, there is at least 30+ hours of rewarding content here. The combat, while fairly fun, gets repetitive really fast. In most hostile encounters, once the initial enemy mob has been dealt with, more bad guys spawn in from random locations around the battlefield, leaving very little room for tactical finesse. You do have the option of micromanaging your team to build destructive cross-class combos, but the process of doing so seems poorly thought out and disingenuous, not to mention unnecessary unless you're playing on the harder difficulties. The story, while solidly written, is less epic than the world-saving antics of DAO. This is not bad in itself, but it often fails to set clear goals for the main character (and player) beyond the process of gaining wealth and influence to secure a future for your family in a foreign land. Some of the plot twists involving the political maneuverings of Kirkwall, don't do a very good job of making you care about what is going on. Also, you are often faced with situations where you have four or five quests open in a particular area and constantly switching between them, further disjointing the flow of the plot. The repetitiveness of the combat is exacerbated by the fact that you'll mostly be fighting in the same recycled areas, with just different zones blocked off. The rapid development cycle probably contributed, although the main reason was probably to fit the game onto a single disc. So, repetitive combat, bland quests, and even recycled maps. All of these contributed to me feeling quite bored at times. While the production values are excellent, the initial release is buggy. It's an above average release in any case, but I doubt I will be completing DA 2 five times. 8/10.
Am I the only one not wearing rose-tinted glasses?
I like Dragon Age 2. I like the new combat system. I play as mage and I like having the ability to not have to blast balls of light at an opponent half an inch from me. Blunt trauma is a nice attack. I also like the new talent trees. I like the new spells. I like the story. I like that there's none of the 'Ahhh we have to save the world now this very second and ahhhh somemore' in contrast to Origins. I like that there's no overlooming crisis for large parts of the game. I like the subtle build up of tensions. I like not having to collect entire suits of army for my party. I like them having their own homes. I like the fact that Kirkwall is a city and not a kingdom and so it isn't very big but we see plenty of it. I like most of the party members. I LOVE Merril. I LOVE Varric. I like the DA:O cameos. More than anything though I LOVE the way it plays on what you already know. I went into this game loving Origins. I expected this to be similar lin the way people act especially seeing Cullen in the Gallows as a templar. But they don't. Everytime I do something that I think is siding with one side they turn it on its head. Like when you come across Thrask's rebellion. I wanted to sign up . . . and then I noticed Grace. I love the way that I can't stand either the Circle or the templars. Yes I know Meredith is a loon (with a very realistic and understandable backstory) but if I see one more blood mage I'm moving to Tevinter where I'll see less of them. Grace is from Starkhaven and she's already a blood mage so there must be some truth to what the templars say or is it that Greagoir was really easy going? Why are the Dalish acting so strange, sticking around for the best part of ten years? Oh ok. That makes it awesome. Every complaint I ever heard from DA:O has been changed for DA:2 and poor Bioware - they're the same things people are complaining about now. Anders has a new voice actor - well I'm not sure they could have gotten away with Cullen and him sharing one this time. Isabella has one too - well I would have only been able to picture Anora otherwise. They are completely faithful to their own lore. They take what they've shown Fereldan to be about and twisted. You aren't in Fereldan anymore. It makes sense and it is brilliant. Not everyone will live it but it doesn't deserve such harsh criticism.
A very surprising experience.
After about a year, I decided to pick up Dragon Age II, as it was only $20, and I had the money to spare. Was it worth it, though? I mean, after all I heard about it being one of the worst games out last year, would I still enjoy it? Surprisingly, the answer was yes, for me. I heard a lot of complaints about the characters, but honestly, I think I actually like the characters in DA 2 more than the original. Yes, the original had Alistair and Morrigan, but for every great party member like those two, there were more characters like Shale (HK-47...AS A GOLEM!) or Sten (he got a little character development, but not very much). As for the story in DA 2, I was pleasantly surprised by it. To me, it is one of the few games I would truly say understands what "Grey vs Grey Morality" is. There are no good guys, there are no bad guys. Each side has good and bad parts to them. And that is a refreshing look. The only truly evil character I can think of is a somewhat minor villain, who is a psychotic serial killer you encounter about 2/3rds of the way through the game. That's not to say the game is perfect, however. The repeating environments are a bit annoying, and the constant mobs popping up are also tiresome. but most of all, this is titled Dragon Age II. There aren't many connections to the first game. I mean, some enemy types are the same, and you see some characters from the first game, and you visit one location from the first game. But other than that, and some references to events from the first game, this game could very well be a spinoff. In the end, despite the flaws in the repetitive environments and pop-up mobs, this game is a well-made game. It's just a shame that the game is called Dragon Age II. If not for that, the game would likely have been more well-received. As it is, however, people who play the game and go into it expecting more of Dragon Age: Origins will walk away disappointed. And anyone who is absolutely in love with the characters from the original, only to find them mostly gone from the sequel, will be disappointed as well. And even those who return may not be as you know them (hi, Anders!). But if you can get over it being a sequel, and judge the game on its own merits, or even as a spinoff, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised. Even at their worst, Bioware is capable of putting out quality products.
Dragon Age 2
A rushed game who's design veers in a completely different direction from the old-school CRPG's. DA 2 combat is completely unbalanced, with over-the-top animations, mismatching speeds of attack, tons of pathetic enemies that spawn in multiple waves, often right on top of you (and visibly at that). Areas are rather linear and re-used a lot, many side-quests are painfully shadow (you find a object and the quest is to bring it to someone..you don't even get to talk to the person you bring the object to. You just get a generic "here you go." "Thank you") UI is rather bad, with the inventory suffering from lack of art and sterility (two colors, all icons are the same). The only saving grace is the more personal story, but it too funmbles at the end, with many inconsistencies and lore raping. At the time of me writing this, it has indeed been confirmed from several sources that the game was rushed, and the lead designer Brent Knowles left Bioware (he didn't like DA 2 design direction), leaving the game in the hands Mike Lidlaw (a.k.a. "the butcher" on some forums). All in all, it is a mediocre game at best and falls short of being a worthy successor of BG 2 or DA:O, or being a true CRPG. It plays closer to Dinasty Warriors. 7/10 (with me being generous)
Why should I care about these characters?
Dragon Age II was not a bad game. If this is the worst Bio Ware can conjure, well done, because even with its flaws, it's still an adequate game. The combat was more engaging than DA:O, with warriors and rogues taking a much-needed level in badass and have a greater effect on the battlefield and mages getting a much-needed nerf. However, the constant mobs of enemies appearing from the ether was annoying and it made most fights a question of simple attrition. The level design was sub-par. The repeating caves are inexcusable and the high reliance on fetch quests involving randomly found Vendor Trash was annoying. What really irked me was the story, though. Hawke is built up as a pivotal figure who changes everything around him, yet for the most part, he doesn't. People change things around him. Everything is reactive, nothing is proactive. Act I, he's a Lowtown thug scrounging money; Act II, he's a minor nobleman running errands for city leaders; Act III, he's the Champion, running errands for two mutually-aggressive faction leaders. And nowhere in this game does Hawke become a driving force. Everything simply happens around him. He is simply a spectator, not a pivotal figure. Also, the characters and factions? Mostly unlikable. The mages and Templars both turn out to be complete monsters, the city is filled with scum and thugs, and everything goes to hell, Hawke or not. The problem with this is that there is literally nothing worthwhile about any faction. They are all equally bad and therefore all equally unlikable. I couldn't get behind either faction and therefore ended up wondering "why should I care about these characters?" Whether I act diplomatically or harshly, nothing will change and the world is entirely worthless. You finish the game having accomplished nothing, having changed nothing, having involved yourself in nothing. Hawke is a spectator in Kirkwall just as I am a spectator playing this game, and this should never be the case in a Western RPG.
Let me put this out there first, I first picked up Dragon Age: Origins for my 360, it was fairly fun, if a bit clunky and overly difficult at parts, but I liked it, the characters were amazing and each felt like a real person. Then I grabbed DA:O for my laptop, and I was blown away, it was a totally different game and it managed to be even more fun than before. I immediately went out and pre-ordered the sequel and I popped it into my 360 a few weeks later, and I was only mildly disappointed. Now, my disappointment doesn't really come from the game play, in fact the game play for DA 2 felt better on my 360 than DA:O had. I felt like I was doing something more often than not, even if it was just spamming on powers. My main issue was with the characters more than anything. Most of the characters feel like the same personality super-imposed onto a background created by some Dungeon Master in his basement. Gone were the Leilianas and the Morrigans and the Alistairs that I had grown to enjoy so much, instead I was presented with Fenris; an elf warrior so broody his own teammates call him on it, Anders; an equally broody mage that was a dramatic change from the shameless womanizer and free spirit he was in Awakenings, Varric; the overly hairy, smart-ass dwarf that was honestly one of the only characters I enjoyed, Merril; who was so blah I can't even give you anything beyond naive elven bloodmage, Aveline; the amazon who was only slightly better than Merril, and Isabella; simply the team whore. These characters were so boring and flat that I still haven't finished the damn game! Plus, what is up with all of them being bi? That was part of the charm from the last game, they each felt like real people! You can't go up to every woman or man and assume they're bi, cause they're probably not! Overall this game cranked up the brood factor to eleven, and even with the occasional snarky comment from Varric or the hilarious conversations between him and Isabella, they weren't on par with a lot of Alistair's dialogue. Game play wise, the game is solid, not one of the best, but it's far from the worst, and when it comes to story, it seems generic. The characters are where this game falls flat on its face, so here's hoping they can fix this problem in the next one!
Time For Some Heresy
I've been playing Bioware games ever since Baldur's Gate II, and have enjoyed every one since. I got Dragon Age II with my usual expectations of an excellent game of fairly over-the-top action involving great combat, hilarious dialogue, tightly-plotted story, engaging setting, and flawed, intriguing, well-rounded characters. I was not disappointed. ....wait, what? You mean I'm not allowed to like Dragon Age II? Maybe it's just that I refuse to wear rosy shades when looking at the first game or at Baldur's Gate. Dragon Age II has flaws, just as Dragon Age Origins did, and just like Baldur's Gate did, but those flaws are relatively minor; some graphical clipping issues were my biggest annoyances, and maybe a too-limited range of abilities for tanks. I know a lot of people complained about re-used interiors, but those didn't bother me terribly much in Mass Effect and they don't bother me much here either. I'm not playing it to remark on the wide range of interior designs in Kirkwall, I'm playing it because Fenris just scythed through twelve badguys at once and threw limbs everywhere, Anders flooded an entire room with raining fireballs, Varric snapped off some witty commentary with Snark!Hawke, and Merrill is being Merrill. There were a number of bugs in the initial release which were also annoying as hell, but have since been patched. Some people complained about combat, but I found it superior in most ways to Dragon Age: Origins'. It's faster and simpler, attributes are more relevant, warriors and rogues are better balance, and the large numbers of tactics slots allows for far greater automation. Probably my favorite element is how, like in Real Life more often than not, the characters' conflicts are driven less by forces of evil and more by the circumstances that the flaws in society forced on them. There's horribly evil villains, but these guys are small potatoes compared with forces of society and belief that cause the various conflicts between the Qunari and Kirkwall, or the mages and Templars. it makes for a far more realistic, interesting, and engaging story that embeds itself within the setting's lore so much more effectively. So there you have it. Dragon Age II is a fun, satisfying game. Have fun with it.
An ugly duckling of the series
I was one of those people who was both impressed and disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins, the combat was intuitive and deep but the story and levels got incredibly boring and at times annoying (I still dream of the slog through the Circle Tower and cringe), but I was invested enough in it to be interested in the sequel, Dragon Age 2, I played it, and overall found it made SOME improvements over the first game, but overall it's blunders outweighed it's successes. Combat has overall been simplified, with specializations being limited to the player character and each other party member being restricted to one type of weapon (Varric can only use crossbows, Aveline can only use sword/shield, etc) and the option to equip/change armor on them being removed. While this simplifies item-management and avoids extensive micro-management, it also seems to remove a degree of personification from the first game which made the stradegizing so fun. At the same time, battle animations have been thoroughly revised with much more extravagant and fluid movements, which help to make combat look and feel far more fast-paced. The level design, however, is to put it bluntly, embarrassing. The first dungeon you'll find yourself running into is this generic underground cavern/mine, which is visually and atmospherically unremarkable. 'But things will surely improve from here!' you may think as you run out to eagerly dive into the next dungeon...only to find it's the exact same one. Sure they've blocked off a few entrances and exits, and there's new loot in the nooks and crannys, but it is still the exact same damn dungeon. This repeats for nearly *every* damn area in the game outside of major areas in Kirkwall and the ONE village outside it. It's bloody ridiculous. Now I know that Bioware was rushed by EA in order to release this game, so they had to cut a few corners to meet expectations, but this is still bloody jarring enough to severely detract from the game experience. You'll constantly be running through the same entrance in the lower-city to go through the same bloody sewer systems to get to the same damn beach all the bloody time. cont.
Diamond in the Rough
All right, I'm going to hold up my flame shield here and say I liked Dragon Age II. Maybe even more than the original — at least from a creative standpoint. It's among Bio Ware's most deeply flawed games, but in many ways it's also one of the most experimental. While Origins was an intentional homage to traditional save-the-world Dungeons & Dragons PC games, DAII focuses instead on a group of friends dealing with the political, social and religious conflicts of one city. The story is less focused, but also more realistic. There isn't always a Main Bad Guy. The world's no longer being overrun by mindless hordes. Moral choices are more complex than "Be nice" or "Be an ass." Hawke isn't an invincible hero — merely a well-respected and accomplished individual with investments in local businesses and a measure of political clout. Likewise, your companions carry on their own lives when you're not with them, and with a cast of likeable and flawed supporting characters such as the well-meaning but spineless Viscount Dumar and the grim Arishok, the whole thing just feels more compelling, even as its quests and plotlines take longer to form and connect. There's a masterful sense of slow-building tension, and Kirkwall itself, with its bronze statues and graffiti, feels lived-in and real. And there are flaws. Nearly all of them can be laid at the feet of the game's rushed development process. Caves and warehouses are reused time and again. The game freezes up with alarming regularity. Bits and pieces of the ending seem clumsy, and your choice in the central conflict has little bearing on where you go and who you end up fighting during the final few hours. Character quests sometimes occur out of order. For the most part, they're small problems that get more annoying as they become more readily apparent over time, and they could easily have been avoided if they'd been given another six months or so to finish the game. All in all, however, it's impressive what they did manage to create, given the rush. We all remember Origins fondly, but it was hardly perfect. The story here is well-told, the characters are enjoyable, and the combat is more dynamic, with less of Origins' awkward shuffling for position. It's a flawed game, but a fascinating one.
Some nitpicky things
First off, I love the fact that the game changes things up by having one relatively small setting over a long period of time rather than a large setting over a relatively short period of time. It feels like a great departure from Bioware's normal style of traveling to many distant lands and it gives the opportunity for you to see the consequences of your actions over time rather than waiting until some end of the game epilogue. It also provides the opportunity for subplots to develop and have more depth because a lot of these subplots don't get resolved right away. But one of the ways that the game stumbles is sort of related to the increased importance on supporting characters. Despite the fact that the game stresses the importance of the player's decisions, it feels like too much of the plot is just out of your hands. I get that it's to make the game world feel like a real world, and to make the people in it feel like real people who make their own decisions, but at the same time I think it undermines the importance of the player. When the game spends so much effort trying to reinforce the importance of the player character, it feels contradictory when things seem to turn almost exactly the same no matter what you do. Also, while I like the fact that Bioware seems to be keenly aware that this is a franchise, and they're setting up a larger conflict that can't be contained in one game, I feel like they're relying too much on the fact that they're going to have a sequel. They spend so much time building up plot threads for future games too much of it feels unfinished. The developers have gone on record saying that the protagonist of this game, Hawke, is meant to be the single most important character in the Dragon Age universe. But while this may be true, events tend to unfold because of Hawke's presence as often as in spite of it, things often feel completely out of your control. Once again, I get that Bioware is trying to make this feel like a world with real people who have has much influence as Hawke, but this is Bioware we're talking about. All of their games that I've played have placed a strong importance on the player character, and the player in particular. Your actions shape the game and the world the game takes place in, but in this case it feels way too railroaded.
Not Necessarily RUINED FOREVER
I was skeptical of DA 2 when it was first announced. I had enjoyed being able to play an elf/dwarf/human in Origins, and I was not liking the idea of having to play as a human. However, DA 2 itself did an excellent job in presenting this without losing the roleplaying aspect. I think this was mainly achieved by the new dialogue system. Some detractors may call it "Dragon Effecting," but I thought it brought a whole new level of emotion to the game. In my first play-through, I played Helpful Hawke. In my second, I played Charming Hawke, and I was genuinely surprised how much Hawke changed just by how I made her talk. I must hand it to Jo Wyatt for her voice acting. In my first play-through I would see that there were possibilities for the middle option during particularly emotionally intense scenes to be sarcastic, and I was appalled at the idea of making jokes at a time like that, but they honestly worked. You could still feel the disgust ("Someday, I'd like to go one week without meet an insane mage. Just one week.") or tenderness ("You know me, I always save the day.") in a line even if it was made in wit. The supporting characters were wonderfully three-dimensional, even dirty Uncle Gamlen and literal Knight Templar Meredith, and some characters even got some lovely development. The writing was well done. I actually quite enjoyed the ending, but I'm a sucker for vague, bittersweet endings. (To me, the Origins ending was a little too "And they all lived happily ever! The end.") I especially liked how the entire game I had no idea where it was heading, and then it just topped it off with this giant HSQ ending. However, it was certainly not flawless. The limitation of Kirkwall was such a great idea and done well for the most part, but the level design was so horribly lazy. I could excuse it for the houses. Houses in neighborhoods do tend to look the same, but the caves and tunnels were inexcusable. The bugs are annoying and really need to be fixed. Though I'm not a PC gamer, I am upset that they got screwed over. My attachment to a certain sibling may end up ruining the replay value for me. The random ambushes got particularly tedious at points. It felt too short. Yet none of those flaws felt like they ruined the game for me. I'd give it a 8.5/10, and that's probably the same I'd give for Origins. It's different, but not terrible.
The New Bio Ware Tradition?
Dragon Age Origins was exactly a typical Bio Ware RPG. There was the opening sets of missions, then multiple quests that could be done in any order, then a final set of missions at the end, all wrapped in great writing. The problem is, I had seen that so many times before. I still absolutely loved the game, but I thought "if the sequel is the same then we may have a problem." Dragon Age II is not the same. In fact, they update more than just the mission structure. The quests are handled in much the same way as Mass Effect 2, where the main plot advancement happens in a specific order, dividing the game into separate acts. Companion Quests make up the majority of the enjoyment in both. The combat is a lot more fast paced without being stupid, still requiring you to manage your companions tactics, even if the pause-and-play approach is no longer necessary in every fight. The dialog also takes from Mass Effect, where you now get a wheel to choose from. Unfortunately, interrupts are not present but you can delegate companions to speak for you if it helps (Merrill can identify demons and Varric can lie). The romance plots are pretty standard for Bio Ware, in that the characters are interesting and by the end you want to see them happy. Especially Merrill, in my case. Also like Mass Effect 2, the individual game's plot of Hawke's rise to power is finished, but with numerous other threads deliberately left hanging. The story itself is very brave for not having some big supernatural evil. Humans are doing a perfectly fine job of tearing the world apart without the darkspawn's help, thanks. The focus on political tension, while hard to sustain in an action/RPG, never lets up and is very well done, illustrating the vicious cycle of tyranny. There are some flaws, but nothing crippling. There are bugs here and there, worse in some peoples copies than others. I only found two, and both just switched the order of Merrill's dialog but didn't effect anything outside those scenes. There are no interrupts, as I said, and I was spoiled on those in Mass Effect 2. This game is quite great and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes games as a storytelling medium. The narrator will definitely endear you if you do.
Dragon Age 2
I believe that Dragon Age 2 is a wonderful game, and I would probably give it a 9.5 or a 10 out of 10. Combat is far less repetitive than the first game, and the increase in the number of talents/spells relative to the maximum number of talent points makes character design much more versatile than in Origins. The writing and graphics have also improved dramatically, I really enjoyed the fact that Aveline can have a romantic partner that isn't Hawke. There is a lot more dialogue and space to develop the characters in Dragon Age 2 than in Origins, and the increased frequency of interactions between other party members without Hawke present really adds to that. Characters are much more defined in their own right instead of being defined only in how they relate to Hawke. The wider story is also more interesting, as Hawke isn't a special Chosen One-sort of character out to defeat absolute evil, he is just a man who happens to rise to the occasion in a chaotic city and build his fortune. He has no grand heritage or special power, nothing is handed to him on a silver platter, he has to work for everything he gets. On the graphics front, the stylized inter-chapter cutscenes during Varric's narration were a wonderfully clever touch, and the character models look much more realistic than those in Origins, especially the wider variety of ways to construct Hawke's face without making him look absurd. The Qunari have also improved dramatically, gaining their own distinct look instead of looking like big grey humans, and the appearance of Qunari armor looks properly exotic. The only real complaint I have about Dragon Age 2 is the changes to the appearance of the elves. They actually looked more like elves in the first game, the new elves look like slightly smaller humans with bat wings in place of ears. I do advise readers to take my gushing review with a grain of salt; Bio Ware has never created a game that I don't like and I am much more interested in the writing and the story than actual gameplay. This is probably not the game for munchkins who love killing dragons with a rusty spoon or some such. However, hardcore fans who have been playing since the heady days of Baldur's Gate will enjoy the return to a more complex story and well-written characters with more than a half-dozen conversations, a few throwaway lines, and one mission to characterize them.
Ultimately Satisfying, If Less So Than Origins
For everything Dragon Age II did better than Origins, it does something worse. Combat is certainly more exciting, and feels like it packs more of a punch. I rarely felt like I was wasting attributes or talents, and each member of my party felt valuable. On the downside, enemies now attack in waves, hopping from rooftops or simply popping into the middle of combat. Combat fatigue set in quickly. Once I saw the last red dot vanish, I dreaded the next wave. This made Kirkwall at night particularly aggravating to traverse. Boss fights, however, were all challenging and exciting. The companions were a particular joy—I can honestly say this was the first BioWare game where I liked every single companion. Companions affect choices in surprising ways. But even as I enjoyed them, interactions felt limited. Each companion has a quest per act (and there are three acts), plus two major conversations. For a game that spans ten years, it was simply not enough. Depth was sacrificed for pacing. Too often I felt I was only seeing part of the companion, and the rest was fleshed out in non-interactive party banters. The romances felt oddly stunted and paced, with Anders as an egregious offender. Hawke almost always feels like a consistent character in any permutation. This is an especial contrast with the perhaps more wooden Shepard. Often the dialogue wheel felt like it was relying on the intent icon over the paraphrase to convey meaning, which could be confusing and ambiguous—but only occasionally misleading. Yes, dungeons are repetitive. I found I didn't care—perhaps Mass Effect 1 numbed me to trudging through identical levels. The quests themselves felt individually important and unique. Kirkwall could have used some detail improvements, and more areas to play in, but I found I was simply used to it, rather than offended by it. The story is BioWare's strongest effort in years. Act I felt long and eventually slogged, but this added to the feeling of oppression. Act II was easily the most intriguing part, with emotions running high and deep. Act III raced along too fast, and the fifty hours I had spent building up to the conflict felt over too soon. The ending was far too ambiguous, and was a disappointment that made me want more. Ultimately, I was satisfied. The game is great, particularly when judged on its own merits. 8.5/10
Enjoyable But Rushed
Well first off the story and characters are the usual high standard we expect of Bioware. So no surprises there. Conflict doesn't come in the form of an obvious Big Bad and in that respect succeeds in a more subtle build up to the tensions between Mages and Templars. Varric and Merrill were definitely the stand-outs for me personally but i was pleasantly surprised how much i liked the entire party as whole. The newly voiced protagonist lends itself to more engaging interactions, one particular argument with my sibling Carver had a level of emotion and intensity you just couldn't have with a silent list of replies. Gameplay wise i enjoy the new combat, it looks great and underneath all the new flair is just origins without the awkward shuffling of feet. In particular mages being more balanced instead of unstoppable and opting to be an archer is much more rewarding this time out are very welcomed. The character models are much better, little things like better eyes, teeth and actual moving hair alongside the great animations work wonders. Kirkwall looks great with with hightown contrasting wonderfully with the shithole of lowtown and the misery of darktown. However outside of Kirkwall level design never reaches the same heights and looks decidedly poor in contrast. It's greatest flaw for me lies in its limited environments. Easily two third of the game takes place in Kirkwall with the shameless reusing of the same three or so maps for sidemissions. Been to one mansion in hightown? Then get used to seeing it again and again. With no effort to cover up the fact it's identical to the dozen or so before it. Same color scheme, decoration and layout. It makes exploring a cavern constant deja vu and by the end of the game your tired of of seeing the same damn places with the odd door blocked off. In my mind the game was undercut by its deadline of just under 18 months. It has alot to offer in terms of reply value but having to look at copy and paste environments all over again will likely mean a couple of playthroughs will be all most can handle. And what do you expect when you release a sequel so soon after Origins? A fall release along side Mass Effect 3 could have made so much difference and might have given this game the extra time to be more than it is. Overall Dragon Age II is a good game that many will enjoy despite its obvious drawbacks. 7.5/10
not as good as the first.
Pluses: The characters, like most bioware games, are strong and complex. The voice acting is good. The city of Kirkwall is beautiful. Political intrigue and moral ambiguity make the story strong, battle system, though simplified is a hell of a lot more fun. Minuses: Elves look horrible. The world seems way smaller then it should, there are too many changes, both in looks and lore between games that can't be explianed easily. Most items can only be equiped by the PC and not any of the allies, which is both unballancing, and takes a toll on your inventory. Worst of all, there are more then a few moments when it feels like the game is needlessly railroading the player. For example, the misson where you track down a group of rouge templars and mages for the first enchanter. Then Cullen comes. You don't get the option of not turning them in, only of recomending that they be shown mercy. Ideally you would've had an option of "kill Cullen and help the mages escape". Considering that this is the last misson before the final battle, and that Cullen only plays a minor role in the climax, It's downright shocking that Bioware wouldn't include this option. In conclussion, the worst Bioware game I've ever played, but still above average
Let me just come right out here and say that Dragon Age II is not a bad game. That said, it's not a good game either. If I rated it on a scale from 1-10, I'd give it a 7.5 or maybe an 8.0. While the combat is aesthetically faster, mechanically it runs in slow motion. Whereas a spell in the first game might have a 6 second cooldown, the lowest spell cooldown in Dragon Age II is 10 seconds, making for a button mashing nightmare on consoles, which lack auto-attack due to a disc manufacturing error. Basic attacks do significantly less damage in Dragon Age II compared to auto-attacks in Dragon Age Origin, or rather enemies and players have significantly more health to begin with. The ability trees have been simplified, and it's possible for a player who beat the original game on nightmare to hack and slash their way through many segments of the game on hard or even nightmare. The story pacing is poor in the beginning of the game, and companions can no longer be engaged in conversations except at plot relevant points. Now that I've gotten past the bad, it's time to start on what's good about this game. The graphics have improved significantly, romance scenes and characters in general have taken a big step away from the Uncanny Valley, and the combat, while not as tactical as the first game, is still enjoyable. The story and character interactions are, in some cases, much more engaging than those that occurred in Dragon Age Origins. Those segments are unfortunately short however, and the overall story is inferior to that of the first game. In the end, Dragon Age II is a disappointment not because it is a bad or boring game, but because it fails to live up to its predecessor, which could very well be the last CRPG ever made with a AAA budget and development team.