29th April 2011 - Dragon Age II was always going to have a lot of expectation placed on it. After all Dragon Age: Origins received great reviews on all platforms and for good reason. It had a huge number of quests which could see you rack up 100 hours. The characters were varied, well fleshed out and well acted. The combat system gave the option of a hack and slash type affair but with strategic menus to open also. Finally it was also a game that you felt your decisions actually mattered. Say the right things and complete the right quests for people and you could find yourself next a bonfire enjoying some “special time” with them. Piss them off too much and you could find their sword in your stomach. It wasn't a perfect game though, so I crossed my fingers they kept was good and improved on the bad.
The first difference from Origins is the game no longer starts in different sub-plots. You are the champion and although you still choose your appearance and type of character the story is the same. The story is presented as different acts in a retrospective style, where two characters are talking about what has happened and the gameplay is essentially flashbacks. I can see the experience the developers were going for, but for me it didn’t work. It felt clumsy and unnecessary and broke up the experience to be honest. The other thing is for a good chunk of the game there isn’t any clear overarching quest or point. You live in the city of Kirkwall and there is rising tensions between different groups, you do sub quests for a whole bunch of people and causes but it just feels like you are living out the years. Dragon Age: Origins had an epic story, with great characters and real moral choices as you progressed toward your ultimate goal of stopping the blight. Whenever you poured a couple of hours into some quests you always new what you were ultimately building towards. This was really lacking in DA2 and it showed.
The controls are essentially the same as Origins with standard attack and hotkeys for skills, spells and items. There is the menu button that freezes gameplay allowing more strategic actions and your party members actions once again can be organized by selecting the style of combat or custom selecting an order of actions in the character menu. Your team mates for the most part are intelligent enough and I found I didn’t have to micro manage too often.
Another difference in DA2 is the combat is much more action based. This is a welcome tweak. Attacks are much more frequent and diverse and combat seems to happen much faster than in Origins. I’m not sure whether due to this more hack and slash slant or something else but the game seemed to be easier than its predecessor.
There are a variety of characters with diverse backgrounds and motives to join the team. Keeping a balance of skill sets in the party is important to not getting your ass handed to you especially against the bigger bosses. The banter between characters in your party is back and provides more than a few smiles. It’s not quite the same gold that was generated between Alistair and Morgan in Origins but good none the less.
Moral choices are back a plenty with your responses affecting not only the story and NPC but your party members feelings toward you. A little strange at first, the conversation wheel has pictures like a love heart or a fist next to the text indicating the type of response you will give. But after a while you pick up what all the different pictures mean and the likely consequences. Important to know if you want to decide to bed one of your party members or piss them off. Oh and you actually have a voice this time which is nice rather than being a total mute.
As usual there are a plethora of weapons, armour and trinkets to collect. Some of the best rewards naturally come from slaying the biggest enemies and getting a full set gives nice bonuses. One curious quirk is almost all the equipment is limited to you. Your companions only gain access to a few pieces of equipment by comparison and this was incredibly frustrating. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would make it like this, but there you go.
The final point about the gameplay is the map and level design. You choose destinations from one of three vantage points on the map. Kirkwall by day, by night and the wider surrounding lands. The number of locations within this are quiet limited compared to Origins and other RPG’s and you quickly get a sense of “been here before”. The level design in and of itself is solid if not brilliant but when you have to revisit the exact same cave or stretch of coast a half dozen times it gets boring. I think if Origins had not spread out over so many totally different cities you wouldn't notice it so much. But it was and you do.
DA2 has nicely detailed characters and equipment, and the lighting and textures of environments are what you would expect in a game with this production level. Nice touches include the hacking off of enemies’ body parts and copious amounts of blood during fights which remains on the characters during the cut scenes. Although it looks more like war paint than blood it’s that liberally applied. Magic and skill effects light up the screen with concoction of colours and even with the faster paced action the screen never slowed down. There were a couple of instances in cut scenes where the whole system froze and I had to reset the game but more of bug in the game than with the actual graphics.
The voice acting is good but not as sharp as Origins, it seems a little more forced or cheesy. Not over the top but just not as convincing. There are still a great range of characters to interact with and enjoy comical banter or words to exchange with a lady friend that make you slightly blush! Also as I mentioned earlier it’s nice to have the main character speaking also. The music is typical epic RPG style with tempo changes when the action goes down. It never annoyed me which is a good thing if you’re going to listen to it for 30 hours.
Depending on the number of side quests you complete a play through will be around the 30 hour mark. For me this is perfect length for a full priced game. It might not be as big as Origins or other RPG’s for that matter but I kind of like that. With so many other games to play spending 100 hours on one game takes too long. There is incentive to play through again with different moral decisions and a host of powers that are virtually impossible to completely upgrade one time through. There is already an expansion pack and I’m sure in the months to come there will be others to draw you back again.
Dragon Age: Origins has been one of my favourite games this gen with a massive story, ridiculous playing hours, moral choices and interesting characters it was almost the complete package. I was hanging out for round two to see how things improved. Dragon Age 2 has many good points, the fighting is faster paced and more action orientated, there are plenty of quests to complete, moral decisions and party management are still prominent and it is still a visual delight. Unfortunately though the main story is weaker and less clear, you revisit the same location in the city a million times and the customization of your party is more limited. Dragon Age 2 is a good game; it just feels like it’s the first game in the series not the second. If I hadn’t played Dragon Age: Origins to compare it to, I may look in a slightly more favourable light. The developers haven’t really moved the series forward in my opinion, more stepped to the side. If you liked Origins you will enjoy this, just don’t expect a deeper experience.
AAG SCORE: 8/10
+ Fast paced fighting
+ Your character speaks!
+ Moral decisions abound
+ Weapons and armour a plenty for yourself
- Story unclear for a large portion of the game
- Revisit same locations in the city far too many times
- Limited customization of your party’s equipment
Reviewed and Written By Khye Davey