Dragon Age 2 starts with a choice of 6 back stories, but you have to be human, male or female. You can choose to be a rogue, a mage or a warrior, a choice which has a significant impact on the game. The story is told within a story, with a dwarven bard named Varic being hauled in by a Chantry Seeker to tell the story of Hawke.
You are a character named Hawke, who is fleeing Lothering (destroyed in Dragon Age Origins) with their family, two siblings and their mother. If you play a rogue, or a warrior, you have fled from Ostagar. The family meet a templar named Wesley and his warrior wife, Aveline, named after the knight from ancient legend. They are rescued from a darkspawn horde and head to Kirkwall. They are refugees in Kirkwall, and find that the family fortune and estate has been gambled away by their mother's shady brother. After spending a year in indentured servitude the hero spends their time completing quests and raising money to finance a Dark Roads expedition (with the help of Varic).
You meet Anders again (Dragon Age Awakening) who has become a much darker and sadder character. He takes a significant role within the narrative. You are joined by your sibling, Isabella (a lustful pirate captain who made a cameo in Dragon Age Origins), an elf named Fenris who has escaped from slavery in the Teinter Imperium, an elven blood mage named Merrill and Aveline, the knight from Lothering who has become a guardsman.
There is intense tension in Kirkwall between Mages and Templars, fuelled by an over-zealous knight commander, whose deputy is Cullen (the Templar who was traumatised by his experience at the Ferelden Circle). There is also significant racial tension between elves and humans, and a group of Qunari who have settled in the slums.
The game charts the rise of the Champion of Kirkwall (Hawke) and the corresponding rise of tension within the city. The tension between mages and templars, and between your companions, escalates into epic proportions. You have the opportunity to complete companion quests, and romance companions (all companions apart from Aveline are romance able by a Hawke of either gender.
It's a great story with some fantastic characters, with Varic and Anders as highlights. There are things I really hate about it though. The elves are cartoonish caricatures and the Dalish have Welsh, Irish and Scottish accents, as though Bioware decided the three were interchangeable. The design is simply not as good as in previous games which is a shame, and unless you have a new, high definition television, the text is barely readable.
I was eagerly following the development of Dragon Age II like I did with it's predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, and I excitedly waited months for it's release with great anticipation. Sadly I was left bitterly disappointed by this letdown of a game.
First of all, not all of DAII is bad. Visually, it is one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, and the characters are so unbelievably gorgeously designed that I am left practically gobsmacked by how pretty they are. Some of the areas the player character can explore are particularly beautiful, and the music that accompanies some of these areas sets the mood and atmosphere perfectly.
There are seven new companions to choose from (eight if you purchase the Exiled Prince DLC), and all of them are once again amazingly designed and each have very talented voice actors. While I can personally go out and say that I thoroughly despise two of those companions, generally they are likeable characters with interesting backstories, engaging personal quests and well formed personalities. And let's not forget about how horrific the combat was in Origins. That has been fixed in DAII, and playing a mage is finally fun!
Now that I'm done blabbering on about the few things that are actually good about this game, I'd like to gladly move onto the bad things, glitches and all. First off, although this game is incredibly pretty, the player character is confined to the city of Kirkwall for almost 100% of the game and barely has a chance to go anywhere else, and when they do, every area looks the same and like it has simply been copy/pasted in order to save time. Which, and let's be honest, seems very likely.
The storyline is repetitive and annoying, with little reason given for exactly why the player character must run around doing side quests and such, which, after a while of sprinting around like an idiot, makes you wonder why on earth you're still playing DAII in the first place.
The ending is nothing short of tragic, really. Not because it's emotionally engaging enough to make one cry, oh, no! But because it's so preposterous, so absurd and so utterly badly written that by the end of the game you never want to pick it up ever again. Quite frankly you'll be lucky if one of the game breaking glitches prevents you from getting to the end of the game in Act 3.
So here's another Bioware RPG franchise back for a second go. I'd actually forgotten a lot about Dragon Age: Origins by the time I got round to this. That doesn't really matter, though, as this is an expansion of the world of the first game, rather than a direct sequel.
It's one of those 'like Tolkien only fun' worlds full of elves and monsters and such. You play as a young hero named Hawke, who can be a fighter, a mage or a rogue in typical RPG fashion - you don't play as anyone from Origins. You're first seen fleeing one of the events from the first game, but eventually you sail across the sea and end up living in a completely different city doing completely different things. Although stuff that happened in the first game is frequently mentioned, and you'll meet a few familiar characters along the way, it really doesn't matter if you're coming to the franchise for the first time.
It's good that it isn't a sequel. The ending of the first game had your hero preventing an apocalypse by crushing huge armies of orcs (here called 'Darkspawn') and their dragon puppetmaster. If DA2 had just revealed another, slightly tougher dragon trying to do the same again, it would have both diminished the first game, and been disappointingly unoriginal. Unfortunately, although it tries something different than the usual sort of thing with the plot, the game doesn't quite have the same sense of focus as the earlier installation.
The whole thing is told in flashback, as one of your chums is interrogated by a woman with a stupid accent. He's not an entirely reliable narrator, which is a nice idea, but the vast bulk of the gameplay ignores the flashback routine and just plays like any of these games do. The game is split into three acts, as you first establish yourself in the city, and then move up socially as your good deeds and increasing wealth get you noticed. Which is all well and good, but it's not really leading up to anything. There's no giant dragon about to unleash hell on earth, and no army of orcs ready to sweep down on your peaceful city. Instead each act has a separate climax, and while the last one is appropriately difficult, it never quite feels like it really matters. Not giving the game the epic scope of the first game does leave it feeling a bit light, as if it's a footnote to the first game rather than an essential part of an unfolding saga. It feels more like it's setting up Dragon Age 3 than providing a satisfying game in its own right.
A big improvement over the previous game is that your main character (who can be male or female) now has a voice. The voice acting throughout the game is generally good, although some of the female characters sound a bit similar. Humans are English, dwarves are American and elves are... well, Irish or Welsh, or a weird mixture of the two.
Your main character has six or seven followers, all of whom have fairly well drawn personalities, and whose interactions with one another are probably the most enjoyable thing in the game. That said, we could do with some new types of characters. The humorous rogue, the naive female love interest and the bitter, intense warrior have appeared in pretty much every RPG that Bioware have done and are getting slightly tired now. I'd like to see more variety in future - perhaps a drunk Scotsman, or a lesbian schoolgirl, or an inarticulate washer woman, or... um... another lesbian schoolgirl. You still have a dog, but he's no longer a proper companion, you just summon him for the battles when you need him - this is better than in Origins, where your dog was really a waste of a companion slot (you can only take three people along per mission). My favourites were the roguish dwarf and the uber-slut pirate (although I'm dubious as to how practical her costume would be in battle). Some of your followers are family members in the game (including a sister who dresses - to be perfectly frank - like a cheap whore), and you can also chat to your dull mother and shifty uncle. All the followers and family members have 'story arcs' which dovetail quite nicely with aspects of the main plot.
Aside from the anticlimactic nature of the final battles, another major plot weakness is that your supposed acquisition of wealth doesn't seem to make any difference to how your character buys things. As always in these games, you'll need to buy a constant stock of health potions and weapons upgrades. But even when you live in a dirty great mansion and own a half share in a mine you still have to rely on looting corpses and doing little quests to earn money.
The various small quests are pretty good, with a nice variety of things to do. The world is smaller than in the previous game, with only five or six large areas to visit, but this allows for more detail than the earlier game. The world is well-realised, with credible factions chafing against one another. Unlike most fantasy worlds I know of, this one presents elves as a downtrodden underclass, shorn of their Orlando Bloom prettiness. If only they had a consistent accent...
The plot, like the science fiction Mass Effect, uses such things as culture clashes and religious intolerance in the game's world to make points about our own world, but you can ignore all that if you can't be bothered with it. You can, as ever, romance some of your followers, and the game garnered a little bit of cheap controversy because some of the romances are (gasp!) gay (not a huge shock, as this almost always happens in Bioware's games. It's probably a reflection of men's fondness for seeing women kissing each other as much as a statement about equality). Obviously you'd have to be a complete idiot to object to this, and an even bigger idiot to actually complain about it publically, even on the internet, so I'm left with the suspicion that the 'controversy' was probably manufactured by Bioware to shift a few extra copies.
Game sequels generally have to give you what you liked in the first game, but with improved gameplay and a few new monsters. There aren't really any new monsters this time round, although with the Darkspawn gone there's more emphasis on other kinds of baddies. (For a game with 'dragon' in the title, there are still surprisingly few actual dragons.) The creatures all look pretty good, except the giant spiders, which although creepy aren't particularly spidery. Two of the more imaginative sequences in the previous game - a haunted house and an elaborate (and rather tiresome) dream world appear again in miniature in DA2, but on the whole it feels a bit less fantastical, more grounded in what passes for reality. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially as the fear of magic is a major plot strand in the game. But if you enjoyed the bit in the first game where you got changed into a mouse for what felt like days, you'll be disappointed here.
One big plus, though, is in the gameplay. It's tweaked in little ways that make it work better (rather than Mass Effect 2's thorough overhaul of Mass Effect 1's poor combat system). Armour and suchlike is simpler to manage, combat is a little easier to coordinate (although I still have no idea how to use the 'tactics' functions) and the absurd spikes in difficulty that plagued the last game are gone. Difficulty levels are now consistent, and I only found myself getting really irritated during a couple of fights. That said, fights are still not perfect - they're just button-mashing affairs in which very little actual thought needs to be expended. Just twat the bad guy with your shield, then do the choppy-choppy move on him, then wait for your stamina to build up and do it all over again. Repeat until victorious.
As before, choices you make in quests actually affect the way the game plays out, to the extent that it has two separate endings, depending on who you side with (I've only played one). This obviously gives an incentive to play through the game again at some point, although I'm not likely to do so for at least a year (by which time Dragon Age 3 will presumably be almost upon us).
It all looks as nice as you'd want a modern game to look, although there are odd glitches and occasional freezes. It also still takes an almightily long time to load, even when installed to my console's hard drive. It seems to have difficulty when you're looting the corpses of people you've just killed (the one time it crashed on me was when I was doing so). But mostly it's fine. It's been out long enough now that I'd imagine most serious glitches will have been fixed.
Dragon Age never quite manages to be as impressive as stablemate Mass Effect, but Dragon Age 2 has managed to fill he RPG gap for me pretty well while I wait for Mass Effect 3. It took about 25 hours to play through, I think (although I didn't download the extra content that probably whacks another 3 hours onto things). I'd wait for a game of the year edition with more DLC bundled with the gamedisk. This is currently £30, which feels slightly too high.
Dragon Age II (Xbox 360, PS3 & PC)
Tested and reviewed based on the Xbox 360 Version
Review by Ben Nacca
XBL GT: Darkeyes2k7 PSN ID: Darkeyes2k11
There are some developers that never fail to impress. Never shrimp on new ideas and have the guts to take those risks and present them into the sequels of their successful initial games. Bioware is one of these developers. You can never say they are scared to implement change, to reinvigorate a series.
Take a look at Mass Effect. The first was a special, was deep and engaging while giving you that taste of Third Person Shooter and Role Playing genres combined. Mass Effect 2? A masterpiece, stripping it of the luggage that held it back and improved upon it further, enhancing the combat and focussing on the story and combat more than having tonnes of weapons to fill up your inventory. A brave but successful move. Now Bioware are going to give a similar treatment to Dragon Age II and we all know that they certainly know how to weave a fantastic story to rival some of the biggest franchises out there.
I admit, when I first played Dragon Age: Origins, I was impressed and yes, there were imperfections such as the visuals being slightly dated and lip syncing being almost nowhere to be seen, it was the story and the choices that made it so engaging. Even now, before Dragon Age II has been released, I have replayed Origins from start to finish for the simple reason to enjoy it. To just sit back and appreciate what Bioware set out to accomplish and for a game that is getting on to nearly two years old, most single player games do not have the same level of replay value.
Like Mass Effect 2 (ME2), Dragon Age II has taken some significant changes, especially to the combat. I was sceptical at first, this idea that Dragon Age has gone in the direction of a "Hack and Slash" had me worried but after playing it, and finding the change in combat so enthralling and immersive, I certainly would not look back. As ME2 became, streamlining the combat and making it into more of a Shooter/RPG, Dragon Age II has become this compact, beautiful Hack and Slash/RPG with the hybrid working perfectly. It is not a button masher, by any means. For fans of Origins, well on the console it was good but it was ultimately a PC port. Dragon Age II feels a lot more at home on the console with fluidity as you just carve through anything that is in your way, leaving a messy trail of blood, viscera and trembling Darkspawn stragglers.
There is still the "Radial Menu" that is used with the LT which holds all your talents, spells and inventory options with the ability to still map abilities to the B, X and Y buttons as before. Using A as the primary attack as before demonstrates that although this looks and feels the same as Origins, the actions that these buttons do are so much more invigorating and visually stunning than before. Diving into the fight to cut the enemies limbs off or ramming them with your shield has never been more satisfying.
Although I do not want to, the similarities to Mass Effect is remarkable. At times it feels like they are using the same pro forma, just one is Sci-Fi and the other is Fantasy. The menu has taken a revamp to the ME2 style and now that your main character has had a much needed make over, the comparisons to Shepard are remarkable, with the personality and the voice just creates such an immersive experience, with the dialogue options changed to the ME2 style so there is no real break in conversations anymore.
On that topic, Hawke, your character is much better than Origin's mute slayer of Darkspawn. It goes a long way giving a character a voice...look at Dead Space 2, that had the same treatment and it works. Different genre and in no way a RPG but the fact the character can contribute to the story vocally as well as visually makes for a much more cinematic and realistic experience. The downside? It has to make some form of linear choices at the beginning of the game, and I use linear as loosely as possible because that does not give Dragon Age II justice whatsoever in honesty. Linear because your human, no other race to choose from because on your road to becoming the Champion of Kirkwall, it is much more story orientated so it is a necessary sacrifice. Thankfully, you can still change what Hawke looks like, the first name, class (whether you will be a mage, warrior or rogue) and what choices were made in the first game.
As mentioned above, you have probably guessed that those who played the first game can have those actions seen in direct effect in Dragon Age II. By importing your save, it gives a summary of all the choices, such as "Saving or Killing Connor in Redcliffe", "Destroying or Preserving the Anvil of the Void" and so on. Fear not those who are new to the series. As much as I would recommend playing the first one, if you just want to jump into this then there are a choice of three distinct default options. You can either choose the one that is a summary of all the good options, all the middle choice options or all the bad options in the first game so there is still some decisions to be made.
Levelling has had an overhaul, with the skills such as pickpocket and trap making are not included. Instead you have your abilities, or talents from the first game that include moves such as Fireball or Mind blast for mages, Shield bash for warriors and so on. The difference is they now have their own "tree" as it were. So you can really focus on what you want, upgrading the abilities you use often and leaving the ones you don't or will never use.
The application of attribute points have a much more visual effect now, as you can see what they actually change in the game, with strength giving you extra fortitude so even if you are a mage, having high strength can protect from being knocked down for instance. Cunning is now used to open locks if you are a rogue and magic can give you resistances if you aren't a mage, or increase the power if you are. Your choices in the game still reflect positively or negatively onto your companions as you progress through the story so the "friendship" bars return but have been significantly revamped to friend or rival and whichever spectrum you are near will affect the characters speech to you. It is the fine, small tweaks that go a long way sometimes in keeping the immersion intact.
As far as the story goes, obviously I will not indulge too much as it truly is a epic that Bioware have crafted and rivals such fantasy sagas like Lord of the Rings, which I would say is Dragon Age's closest rival in terms of narrative. Well in Origins, you may remember the first town you went to after Ostagar is Lothering, which soon gets destroyed. Hawke and his family are the refugees from there and flee to Kirkwall. In essence, while you are there slaying countless Darkspawn and the Arch Demon in Origins, Hawke is just living in Kirkwall surviving. The prologue is a fantastic idea and gives some insight, and reference, to the characters in Origins and links in very well. It is told fantastically by the Dwarf Varric that works so well and invites you into the world. The story is a masterpiece and I will say no more on the matter other than you are bound to enjoy it. This is a game like ME2, like Origins and as such, it is long. This is not an 8 hour single player run through and due to this, the story is a large part of the game.
I have spoken much about the gameplay and story but not so much on visuals. We all knew that for a 2009 game, Origins was not the strongest graphically by any means. In some ways, it was its downfall but despite that, it was one of those games that you could still play and it would be just as good either way. Dragon Age II is beautiful. The character models have undergone some serious work to have the facial expressions and mouth movements akin to Mass Effect 2 and the setting and draw distance is fantastic. The cinematic cutscenes are crisp and exciting and it is refreshing to see the Darkspawn shown so detailed and visually impressive that it enhances the entire experience. Cities and landscapes feel just as vast and deep as before and it is lots of little improvements and fixes that generally help push it even higher. This is by no means the best looking game on the consoles, but as far as RPG's go, this is pretty damn good and I have no complaints at all.
With an orchestral score performed by Inon Zur, the music is just so fantastic and with such a stellar soundtrack to back up this game, they complement each other so well. Voice acting is superb and the characters feel like they actually have emotion now. As mentioned before, the main character, Hawke, having a voice is a great choice by Bioware and it is good to see that no matter what dialogue choice you pick, whether it is reasonable, sarcastic or aggressive, each have fantastic responses behind them.
Achievements. Well they certainly do not disappoint nor require so many playthroughs/tactical saves as Origins did. It rewards you for progression and the occasional choices here and there but also for going off the beaten path, exploring beyond the games narrative and nine times out of ten, you are going to want to so that is a good choice by them. It gives an extra incentive for those to enjoy the game even more. As for complication, again you are not judged on difficulty so if you're after an easy, quick run through to grab everything, not only is it a waste but I think you would feel like you missed something special here. The point distribution, tiles, names and the lack of any serious collection achievements all give me thumbs up well done sign here.
Beautiful. Stunning. Spectacular. I could be here all day with compliments and superlatives but I cannot find a substantial fault with the games visuals. It is smooth to play, looks nice, detailed characters and enemies, rich and vast landscapes and cities...My only concern would be that it is not the best out there and that is very pedantic of me but I feel that is more of a technical engine standpoint rather than the effort Bioware have put into this game.
Masterful. How music can be composed and become so dramatic further supports the argument that meaningful music in games is not dead. Inon Zur's concoction here is something to behold and the voice acting is superb. Their voices even echo in the Deep roads and the bustle of the cities and towns can be heard. It is just captivating.
With enough on offer here to satisfy most, the improvements on Origins are hopefully not going to scare those fans away, with the RPG purists still having the tactical aspect with levelling up how they want and still able to choose commands for all your party members.
With a story that will surely clock over 30 hours AT LEAST for most players, you will get more than your monies worth with Dragon Age II. A fantastic story woven by the Dwarf Varric is an interesting but brilliant idea. Plenty of replay value too.
A list that is achievable and challenging at the same time is a good list in my opinion. This will not be too difficult to get the full 1000G in or the platinum trophy, however it is one that you should enjoy and will be able to get it through playing and exploring everything Dragon Age II has to offer.
I do not know how they do it. How Bioware come up with these decisions to revamp a game, and it just improves it and takes it beyond great. Dragon Age II is a masterpiece from the ground up and especially now it feels more at home on the consoles that Origins did, it has vastly improved. The addition of your main character having a voice and the levelling, dialogue and most importantly combat improvements have improved this game so much. I am glad to see Bioware putting so much thought into their sequels and hopefully Mass Effect 3 will be something similar to this magnitude when it is released. A top game and a fine addition to the 2011 roster.
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