Dragon Age II Review
The console version of Dragon Age: Origins was a massive disappointment; whichever way you looked at it, it failed to live up to the experience of its PC counterpart. The content was seemingly all the same, but somewhere in the porting process, it all went horribly wrong. Dragon Age II looks to compensate for its predecessor's massive blunder, with an all new combat system that feels at home on consoles. This time we can safely say that it’s just as good, if not better, on PS3 and Xbox 360.
What Dragon Age II Got Right
A new protagonist - Dragon Age II puts the player in the shoes of Hawke, a male or female with a class of your choosing, who starts out as a lowly refugee, struggling to survive the grip of the overpowering darkspawn, on a quest that will lead him or her to become the "Champion of Kirkwall." Hawke’s story is told through a framed narrative, where a Chantry seeker interrogates a funny-looking dwarf named Varric about how Hawke came to be. You immediately forget that what you’re playing is supposed to have occurred in the past, but the artistic cut-scenes are a fascinating way to recap everything in a short space of time – perfect for what could otherwise be a confusing RPG to remember.
Bloody combat - Dragon Age II can be summarised in those two words. Like its predecessor, characters seem to enjoy being splattered with blood, and carry on with it on their face as if it’s the fashion of the time. The combat is vastly improved, at least on consoles, and allows you to play as you please. On medium or easy difficulty, it’s somewhat of a button-masher, which I daresay it’s all those players want. There’s so much more to the game than just combat, that button-mashing comes as a relief at times. If that’s not enough, crank up the challenge and prepare to constantly pause the game to issue commands to your team. This is perhaps where the game differs on PC and consoles. Can you imagine yourself button-mashing a PC RPG? It’s much better suited to consoles, whereas commanding your allies to move around takes extra time you mightn’t have on a controller. Although, prepare to do everything, as they’re not smart enough to look after themselves. You’ll want to strategise and ensure you have the best mix of warrior, mage and rogue – four warriors aren’t going to do you much good.
Interaction with characters - Dragon Age II has a fully voiced protagonist, rather than the mute of the first game and so many lengthy RPGs. He or she has a lot to say with excellent voice acting, as does everyone the team comes into contact with. During conversation with anyone, you have a choice of three options, which will affect your standing with them. It’s presented through a scrolling wheel and has taken a much appreciated leaf out of Mass Effect’s book. Often you’re also able to confer with members of your party for their advice, or simply eavesdrop on their comical background conversations if you’re up for a laugh.
A different spin on the RPG - Dragon Age II moves away from the traditional hero that must wander the precarious lands to save the day. Most of the action takes place within the city of Kirkwall and its surroundings. Rest assured that there are varying areas within the politically tense city, but it’s still a risky move considering much of it looks the same. The new contained adventured offers a fairly linear main quest and saturates you with optional side-missions. It can be finished anywhere between 25-45 hours, depending on how many of these you choose to complete, but after you’ve done about half of them, it’s easy to waltz past the rest.
A streamlined experience - In the words of BioWare, Dragon Age II is a streamlined experience, which is perfect for the less serious RPG player. Button-mashing mightn’t feel like an RPG, but it certainly makes proceedings easier and introduces the genre to players who otherwise would have been scared off. It combines the simplistic approach of an action game with the depth of an RPG. You can simply auto-assign levelling up and let the game default everything for you. RPG veterans, meanwhile, can manage everything themselves. Discarding unused items and crafting your own have both been simplified and made more user-friendly. While it comes at the expense of features associated with a hardcore role-playing game, I prefer the more streamlined approach. It makes RPGs more accessible and easier to play without having to invest upwards of 40 hours within days in fear of forgetting what you have established.
What Dragon Age II Got Wrong
Too much recycling - A side-effect of the Kirkwall dominated environment is the repetition of everything. The architecture is the same, and it can all start to morph together at times. The bigger problem, however, is the re-use of dungeons. They’re seemingly copy and pasted several times and recycled for other quests, which leaves you questioning the decision not to explore the greater Dragon Age universe.
It’s not Origins - Dragon Age II is more of a reboot than a sequel. While I personally prefer the streamlined RPG experience, in the context of gaming history fans of the original (PC) will be left disappointed. Dragon Age: Origins was the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate, BioWare’s most respected game. They’ve essentially decided to deny the experience their long-time fans craved by shifting Dragon Age II away from the conventions of its predecessor and accounting for the next generation of RPG-action players. Gamers have revolted against Dragon Age II all over the Internet, which I suspect is a direct result of the shift towards less serious RPG players and away from the Baldur's Gate faithful. However, whether or not that’s a bad thing will come down to personal taste.
Your team is full of blithering idiots - A.I. is the cause of problems in these types of RPG meets action games. Your team, while useful, isn’t smart enough to fight alone. If you’re commanding them, expect to do everything. If you’re letting them do their own thing, play on normal or below and button-mash for your life. Unfortunately, your team is also too stupid to use healing potions and prefer to run into certain death.
The Final Verdict
Dragon Age II is a much better game on consoles than Origins, but doesn’t quite live up to the legacy on PC. It’s a vastly different game in many regards, with a completely streamlined gameplay experience that I prefer, but more serious RPG fans – including those of Origins – might despise. It also doesn’t have the same allure by moving away from the spiritual connection with Baldur’s Gate. Despite these minor quarrels, it’s a great reboot, rather than true sequel, and continues to evolve the RPG genre as it becomes better suited to modern consoles.
By Ben Salter
Dragon Age 2 takes a PC-centric game and makes it for consoles.