Dragon Age II: Review
Fans of this series drooled vigorously in anticipation of the sequel to the vast, enormous, storytelling behemoth that was Dragon Age: Origins. Even a hoard of somewhat mediocre downloadable content couldn’t satiate the sheer lust of producer Bioware’s hit new franchise. Theory upon theory hit the internet for months as to possible returning characters, plot sequences, and gameplay as the congregation awaited the sequel. When it dropped on the 8th of March, a storm of mixed reactions began to pull the fan base into a maelstrom of which game was better, and why the sequel did/didn’t suck. Today we shall look at the game and its single downloadable content and try to come with an ultimatum to this raging quarrel.
As a massive fan of Dragon Age: Origins, I absolutely could not wait to get my hands on Dragon Age II, knowing that I would devour the fantasy lore much like I did in the first game, which was full of mages, warriors, and demons. I beat Dragon Age II in two days upon getting it. Two. That is exactly how excited I was for this release, but I can’t say that I was utterly satisfied. In Dragon Age II, you take the role of Hawke, a male or female (your choice) character living in the small town of Lothering, which is subsequently set ablaze by Darksparn in the game’s opening moments. You and the remnants of your family fight your way to Kirkwall, a country away from Fereldan (the country Lothering is in) in order to seek out a home from past relatives. Becoming Hawke is one aspect of the game I very much enjoyed, as in the first game the player is allowed to create their own, unvoiced character. Hawke serves as a vessel for both creativity and connectivity, as while you may not have created him yourself, you may influence him to do your bidding as you please. The story of Dragon Age II takes place over the course of seven years, unlike Dragon Age: Origins which was only a few days/weeks, making it a slightly more epic experience. However, with the little amount of explanation/interaction in between the time skips, there is a lot that is left to be desired from the plot sequences. Throughout the course of the game, the player is brought to Kirkwall and its surrounding areas; Sundermount, The Wounded Coast, and The Bone Pit. Aside from that, you visit The Deep Roads from Dragon Age: Origins briefly. This presents quite a bit of despair in the player after the 30th hour spent roaming the streets of Kirkwall, its textures are only so good, Bioware. Not only is the player forced to endure the same relative environment for the majority of the game, but the developers instead of putting a more narrative feel to the sequel, decided to fill the game with seemingly countless random encounters with nameless, pointless enemies to stretch out the play time. This got tedious, frustrating, and boring for someone who played through the game an upwards of three separate times.
Taking a break from the game’s negatives briefly, we’ll touch on some of the improvements in this vastly anticipated sequel. The graphics, for one, have improved dramatically. Environments are lush (well, the THREE you get to see…) and character models are fairly elegant (aside from when their bodies go entirely grayscale or the cutscene decides to spasm uncontrollably). Even battle animations look stunning and more robust than its predecessor. Speaking of battle animations, they’ve been sped up to make fighting more dynamic and overall a more crisp experience. Some die-hard fans of the original game may tell you that they’re ruined the combat system and made it more like a hack-and-slash, but these individuals are lying to you. Dragon Age II’s combat system has not changed from Dragon Age: Origins, it has only had its animations sped up to make them look a tad bit more devastating. Don’t worry, fanboys, you still get to sit there and press “A” or “X” over and over again until your enemy falls into a sparkling heap on the ground like a tasered Edward Cullen. Speaking of vampires, why aren’t there any in the Dragon Age: Universe? Odd… Anyways, another place where Dragon Age II shows its physique off is in its narrative. When you’re not doing idiotic sidequests and pointless random encounters, you’ll be engaging in a very character driven story that has some interesting lore behind it and a whole boatload of sorrow and comedy to chase it down with. Fans of the original will be delighted to see returning characters such as Anders, and many others (no spoilers from me tehehehehe), and will probably be enthralled and engaged in their stories and sidequests. I was particularly fond of almost every single character in the game besides one exception (fuck off, Aveline). They each had their own hypnotizing story that intertwined in some manner with the other party members, sometimes in hostile fashions, and some in very comedic fashions.
Alright, back to the negatives. Dragon Age II was short. You can most certainly clear the game in less than twenty hours if you see fit to do so. Another downside is the lack of variability in the game’s endgame sequence. Despite which side you choose at the end of the game, the outcome is pretty much exactly the same, unlike in the original game, and in other similar Bioware titles such as Mass Effect 2. Like its predecessor, Dragon Age II also supports a ton of in-game exploits, or glitches that can sometimes render the game unplayable. In one instance (this happened to me personally), I was entirely unable to start the Act One final quest because a cutscene refused to activate despite me completing every single one of the prerequisites. Of course, along with these kinds of glitches, there are also ones that can give you infinite experience and gold, ultimately making the game easier (albeit a little less fun) for willing undertakers. Even the day-of-release downloadable content The Exiled Prince was full of bugs that made the achievements unobtainable.
All in all, Dragon Age II was not a bad game. However, it could use various improvements including some bug testing BEFORE the release of the game. It also could have used a longer plot line that doesn’t use cheap tricks to extend itself like random encounters that have no point whatsoever. It possesses a nice graphics engine (however doesn’t always utilize it to its capabilities…) and has a great Mass Effect 1-esque soundtrack throughout. The story is riveting and connectible, but in no way as sheer an epic force that its predecessor was. Dragon Age II’s plot focused more so upon the political spectrum of turmoil rather than the war side of it. Hopefully some patches go live to fix some of the glitches that render it useless, and hopefully we are provided with some good quality downloadable content in the future that doesn’t only entertain on a mediocre level (like Dragon Age: Origins’). Some new aspects to the game like dialogue wheels and the new crafting system were slightly refreshing; bring some new ideas to the table for the future games of this series to capitalize upon. Combat was slightly crisper this time around, with beautifully quick and brutal animations. The main part of the game that stood out was the characters and their interactions with other characters, and Hawke him/herself. Dragon Age II is a worthwhile game, but don’t expect to be blown away more than a couple times during certain plot events.
Dragon Age II is beautiful, and has a wonderful soundtrack, but the story sometimes gets fanned out due to unexplained time skips and random encounters. It plays nicely (for the most part) and ultimately ends with you wanting more.
Dragon Age II has an engaging, personal story that will build tension between rivaling factions throughout and eventually come to a shocking climax. However, its scale is not as grand as the first game, unfortunately.
Fast and exciting, when not plagued by bugs and random encounters. Dragon Age II really improves over its predecessor in this category.
Overall Score: 24.5/30 (82%)