Dragon Age II
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 79% (based on 116 ratings)
Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 60 ratings with 5 reviews)
Clever writing and characterization have always been BioWare's trump cards; and in these aspects, Dragon Age II certainly does not disappoint. The writing is consistent in quality, and the voice acting is as good as it usually is in their games. Some of the characters are charismatic and likable without being traditionally cast into familiar roles. The dwarf Varric, for example, manages to be believable and interesting without reviving old stereotypes related to his race.
BioWare always loved to create chemistry between the characters by letting them have random or scripted conversations when put together in the active party. Here, too, companions will constantly comment on whatever strikes their fancy; they will emotionally respond to quest-related events and actively engage in conversations. They poke each other with sarcastic rejoinders and their banter does help us to forget the monotony from time to time. And of course you can sleep with some of them - apparently, that is the gameplay element BioWare takes most seriously now.
I like the premise of the game. Hawke's initial quest is simply to financially support his or her family. As the hero tries to gather enough money for a profitable expedition, he gradually becomes familiar with the political situation in the city of Kirkwall. In the end, of course, the main quest smoothly turns into saving this city, but at least it starts differently from the usual epic adventures with chosen heroes.
In terms of basic combat mechanics, not much has changed. The higher speed of the battles is instantly noticeable; but it is still possible to pause at any time and give precise commands to all the party members. Exploring the ability trees and specializing in one kind of discipline pays off in the end. Particularly rewarding are ability combinations that involve inflicting status ailments on the foes and pounding on them with an attack particularly designed for exploiting that status.
Dragon Age II is much smaller, shorter, and shallower than its predecessor.
The entire game takes place in the city of Kirkwall and a few wilderness areas around it. The tiny world of this game makes that of Jade Empire look like a giant sandbox. There is no traveling whatsoever in Dragon Age II; you'll be spending all your time in the same place. Confining the whole game to it would have been equivalent to restricting the whole Baldur's Gate II to the city of Alkathla, if only that city weren't actually bigger than Kirkwall!..
Due to this terrible decision, Dragon Age II fails to convey a feeling of exploration and adventure, which is so important in RPGs. By the end of Act I, you'll have seen all the locations the game has to offer. You'll be visiting the same locations over and over again; it's always "go to the Lowtown at night" or "meet character X at the docks", even during the final, third Act, when you positively begin to crave for a change of scenery.
This is made worse by the fact that even the few different locations are plagued by unforgivable "copy-paste" design. Almost all the caves in the game look the same; it's always an abandoned mine-like structure with wooden doors. I've actually witnessed a few locations being literally copy-pasted, i.e. having the exact same layout. It's even worse than the level design in Mass Effect games. The locations are small, narrow, and look as if they were created with some sort of a random generator.
All this isn't helped by drab and outdated graphics. Empty-looking corridors and passages with generic objects is all you are going to see in the game. Clearly, the effort that went into level design constituted about one tenth of what was invested in the writing. I hoped to see some physical interactivity, the absence of which bothered me already in the predecessor; obviously, I wanted too much. I'd be satisfied with a rich graphical world even if it didn't have the interactivity of Bethesda's works, but I didn't get even that.
Corners were cut in the field of customization as well. They decided not to let the player to change armor of the companions. You find plenty of armor for different classes, but you can only use it by yourself; companion's armor can be upgraded, but not changed. So if, say, you play as a mage and find an awesome plate mail, you have absolutely no way to use it. The fighters in your team will refuse to trade their old outfit for it, while you are, naturally, bound by the understandable class restriction.
I enjoyed Mass Effect, but that doesn't mean everything those games did was good. In any case, hybrid shooters can get away with reductions and restrictions much easier than supposedly full-fledged tactically-inclined RPGs. And yet Dragon Age II clearly tries to imitate the dubious aspects of its sister sci-fi saga. Even the "emoticon" dialogue system from Mass Effect, with its annoying discrepancy between the suggested choice and what the character actually says, found its way into the game. In most cases, conversation responses have deteriorated into formulaic, black-white "good" and "bad" choices unwilling to go deeper into the nuances of role-playing.
Those choices were supposed to shape the highly-touted branching storyline. In reality, most of them are either purely cosmetic or only affect the outcome of one particular quest they are encountered in. The main plot will develop in one rigid way regardless of anything you say or do in the game. You'll fight the same bosses and see the same scenes no matter how many times you've been rude to a supposedly crucial character or particularly generous to another. The story is also quite unimpressive, focusing on a schematic confrontation between two generic factions you don't care about anyway. The part that could have actually been interesting - Hawke's gradual ascent to power - is completely left out of the game! That's right: following the prologue the game simply skips to the part where you are already an established citizen, and the rest of the game is just a linear way to even bigger riches and glory.
The Bottom Line
Dragon Age II has good writing and lesbian sex, which might just be enough for some people. For all others, it can scarcely be anything but a big disappointment: it is a lazily, hastily designed game without depth and heart, inexcusably shrunken compared to its solid predecessor, and displaying some of the worst examples of copy-pasted locations I've seen recently. Let's hope that the alarming simplification stops here and now, and the sequel will restore the franchise to its intended glory.
Windows · by Unicorn Lynx (180489) · 2014
Bioware's kind of been stuck in a rut for awhile. KOTOR was a huge deal for the company, but every game they've released since then has just felt like a retread of it. Solve the problems of three quest hubs with binary decisions then move on to the final quest hub while gaining influence from your party members with your decisions. Dragon Age II tries to break from that, being instead about the long-term consequences of the Champion's actions on the city of Kirkwall, which would have been a game I'd loved to have played.
As is typical of Bioware RPGs the player's party is composed of a small group of developed characters. One character, Aveline, stands out as possibly my favorite character from a Bioware game. Indeed Dragon Age II is more her game than it is Hawke's; she's at the center of more major plot points than Hawke is, and she only pulls the player avatar in to help her out with them. Some characters, like Varric and Fenris, are entertaining or have engaging back-stories/quest lines, while others, like Isabella and Merrill, seemed to have been hastily grafted into the game only to add additional characters to the playable party. Also having Anders's entire transformation from the lovable scamp of Awakening to the brooding cynic of DAII happen between games instead of during the game was one missed opportunity out of many.
Incidentally, if you've ever wanted a Xena: Warrior Princess game that isn't completely awful, Dragon Age II might be worth picking up. The female Hawke is a decent Xena sound-a-like, one of her pre-set faces is a dead ringer for Lucy Lawless, and Merrill is even a pretty close analog to season 1 and 2's Gabrielle.
Any good things I've said about the game above can be safely ignored. The actual execution of the game is so half-assed and amateur that whatever strengths the game has are hidden behind piles of bland tripe. It'd be nice if I could say that the game was a victim of its release schedule, but I think it's worse than that. I think DA2 was intentionally designed to be as cheap and quick to develop as it is so that they could push it out and pick up some capital to continue developing The Old Republic with. Every part of DA2, from the good to the bad, was designed to be low-budget.
I should start with what ought to be the main character of Dragon Age 2: the city of Kirkwall. If you're going to set an entire RPG in a single city then you had better be putting a lot of effort into that city. Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn both thought so highly of their main city that they put the city name in the title! Even globetrotting games would put huge amounts of detail into their capital cities, such as Final Fantasy VII's Midgard or Morrowind's Vivec. Kirkwall has nothing in common with any of these cities. The town has an upscale neighborhood, two slums, a church, a bordello, a pub, and a government building. That's it. That's the entire city. Sure there are books you find that go into the lore of the town, but all they do is prove that all the interesting stuff happened to the town before you got there.
The time skips of the story are also equally under-developed. The prologue of the game races through what ought to be valuable character development as fast as it possibly can. This utterly destroys any sense of scale in regards to Hawke's rise to power; in half an hour she skips from refugee to well-known footpad in Kirkwall's underworld. Worse than that, however, is how little changes in the time skips. Every piece of architecture and every citizen in the city remains unchanged over the seven years that the game takes place. Only store inventories and the locations of some barrels change. I have never seen any game be so lazy about one of its key features. They could have reduced the time skips from being three years in length to being one month in length and nothing about the game would have to be changed.
Just as lazy is the storyline of Hawke's rise to power, which ought to be a key feature of the game since those exact words are on the back of the game's box. In truth her grand epic story is that she was friends with the captain of the guard, came into some money, and was in a position to duel two important personages. Nothing else in the game has lasting effects outside of the individual quest lines. For me the gold standard of "rise to power" video game stories remains Suikoden II, which had both a solid storyline focused on the player avatar as well as a mostly optional expanding base camp that grew from the player's actions. Dragon Age II ought to have both of these things, but it barely makes an attempt at either.
Something must be said for the game's combat, which is functional, I guess, but profoundly stupid. It's still based on a single player version of MMO combat, which is still not a bad idea, but it still doesn't care to learn how to do it right. I played through team and raid content in two expansions of WoW, so I'd like to think I'm qualified in speaking about how good MMO fights are made. Positioning, reading enemy patterns, and disabling enemy powers are all crucial elements. DA2 has none of this. Every fight in the game that isn't just a Dynasty Warriors style kill-em-all bloodbath can be beaten by nuking the enemy mage while distracting any adds that go for your mage. The most complex enemy in the game is dangerous because, while he will attack, sometimes he will also dash. Dragon Age 2 is like playing God of War with the enemies from Dragon Quest.
And how many adds there are! Every single combat in the game consists of at least three waves of enemies jumping into the fray; totally unfazed at how you cut down their allies in three hits. One quest in the game involves stopping a flood of poison gas that is killing a district of the city, and no less than 60 mercenaries jump into the gassed district in order to stop you. Some people must really love their job.
I want to compare this to Baldur's Gate II because I think it makes a good example of what a silly mess Dragon Age 2 is. In Baldur's Gate II the party could get ambushed, while walking between districts in Amn, by cutthroats. At the start of the game these confrontations could be dangerous, because while the cutthroats might not possess magical items they were still skilled fighters, and they had a wizard with them who knew the same common spells as the player's party's wizard. As the game progressed, and the party grew and acquired mystical and enchanted items, these attacks became trivial engagements, as the party had far surpassed simple hoodlums. In DA2 the street thugs are always evenly matched to the player, because someone somewhere thinks this is how game balance works. The only reason as to why there are street gangs that can match the abilities of the Champion of Kirkwall is because these are the high-level Act 3 thugs and not those low-level Act 1 thugs.
The Bottom Line
Dragon Age II is the game that people were worried Bioware would make when they signed a publishing deal with EA. It cuts every corner, puts in the barest minimum of effort, and was designed with the kind of disregard for craft typical of annual franchise games that are only living on their names.
I won't call Dragon Age 2 a scam, but it is a failure. Its ideas are worth revisiting, but I'm not sure I can trust a Bioware game with Dragon Age in the title anymore. How will I know if, this time, they actually are trying to make a proper game?
PlayStation 3 · by Lain Crowley (6594) · 2012
This game has a good story that builds off of your previous game's choices if you have a saved game from the first Dragon Age. This lets you feel like your choices have had an effect on the world as you start playing the sequel. The story itself may not be unique, but it is interesting and can keep you wanting to see more.
The graphics are very well done as you can usually expect from BioWare. High graphics settings work very well and look great even on lesser graphics cards. It shows how well you can do graphically without forcing players to get the absolute best graphics cards to experience it.
The dialogs are great and can be humorous. The character interactions are as enjoyable as in the original. It is very easy to learn to love or hate your companions and that is very important in a roleplaying game.
As in the original, you have a lot of control over how your character looks. It's always nice to have such control even if you don't see a whole lot of your character's face in the game.
One very minor issue I have with this sequel is the choice of voice actors. I did not compare the credits with the original game, but some of the voices sounded the same even though the character was different. It is disorienting to hear the voice from a previous character used for a new character. They would have been better off having some more variety in the voice acting from that of the original, except with repeated characters (such as the return of HER -- if you played the game, you know who I mean).
I also miss the ability to put entire sets of armor on your companions. It isn't a huge concern, but when you have a pack full of different kinds of armor and can't let your companions use the majority of it, it takes away a lot from the game and is a large step backwards from most RPGs.
The achievements that you get are now on a "ribbon" that you move across. The original game had them in rows that allowed many to be displayed at once and made it easy to navigate. Now, you can see only a few at once and it's a pain to get a quick view of how many are left to unlock. It's definitely not game-breaking because you're not looking at that often, but it is worse than the original.
Character talents or skills are another thing that has gotten worse. In the original, they were in an easy to see format. Yes, they were more linear than they are now, but not by all that much. Now, you have to click on each category to see what is available and trying to see what requirements are needed to get the later skills takes more effort. They could have done a much better job laying out the skills than they did. Again, this is a minor issue, but it is another thing that went downhill.
The Bottom Line
This game is different from the original and that can be both good and bad depending on who you ask. The original was very well done and this game removed a number of things that made the original so much fun. Even so, if you're willing to take the time to get used to the differences, you will find that this sequel is still a great game.
Combat takes some getting used to after playing the original, but it doesn't take too long to no longer mind the differences. Gameplay itself is pretty much the same otherwise.
It looks from what I wrote above that there is more wrong with the game than right with it. That's really not true, though. Yes, the game isn't necessarily as good as the original because of some changes that really shouldn't have been made. However, none of these things are serious problems. They really only look bad when compared to the original. If you compare this game to different games, these issues really aren't issues anymore.
This game is a great game. The day I picked up my copy of the Signature edition, I started playing once I got home from work around 5:30 or 6:00pm. I played non-stop until about 11:15pm without realizing the passage of time. I hadn't even eaten dinner or had anything to drink. Few games draw me into them that well. I can play many games for that long without a problem, but I still notice the time. This game was just that engrossing.
Some of the changes may have been ill-advised, but it certainly is worth playing. If you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy this sequel. Just don't try holding it to the standards of the original, or at least be willing to get used to the differences.
Windows · by Riamus (8448) · 2011
Compared to Dragon Age: Origins the characters are a lot more interesting and diverse. I ended up with using Anders, Varric and Merill as my core-group and I was surprised that even nearing the end of the game they would still talk with each other on a regular basis, with no conversations been repeated. In Origins the conversations stopped after an hour because they ran out of subjects to talk about.
The story is much darker and daring than the previous one. There is conflict between multiple (mostly religious) factions, innocents often end up dying due to politics our of their control and nobody seems to be safe from the works of satanic blood mages. Also big ups for allowing me to use my save from Origins in order to change events in this game.
Some of the quests I assumed were simple and unimportant side-quests would show up later in the story. It really shows everything was planned out really well.
The combat is more chaotic, in Origins my favorite moment was right at the end during the showdown in Denerim because there were grunts all over the place that died in on or two hits. It didn't make the fights any harder, but it did make for a more epic feeling.
The game is a lot more linear, which means that you spend less time checking bloody side-paths and more time moving forward.
Figuring out what ability to choose is much easier now. Every type has one screen (swords, shields, entropy etc.) And there you see a useful screen showing what you can and can't pick. In Origins you had to scroll down one big list with all the types thrown together.
There is more combat and to me that is one big plus. They even removed the fights that happen whenever you travel somewhere almost entirely because there is a mob of enemies waiting around every corner.
Bugs that were fixed:
In Origins I always had a fight with the looting system because it would take a few seconds for non-humanoid enemies to become loot-able. Here it is fixed and that helps a lot.
People stopped randomly assaulting me while we were talking. I had that a lot in Origins and it was annoying!
While Kirkwall is better for story, it doesn't really help the presentation. Everything is the same and you are going to miss Ferelden's variety in areas.
Besides the occasional interesting gory scene the game seems to phoned the blood in a bit. I only saw a handful of finishing moves as well and some of those were in cutscenes that were part of a quest. I did run into a dagger which made enemies explode when back-stabbed, that was pretty sweet.
I would sometimes run into amazingly hard fights simply by walking into a random alley where a boss would spawn or attacking a single enemy that summoned a whole army of friends to help him. I always save before boss-fights when I know they are going to show up, but I can't possibly be prepared for some of these fights. I once accidentally walked right into a High Dragon, the hardest boss in the entire game.
The auto-save can be annoying at times. One time I died during a boss-fight and I forgot to save before entering his room, so I figured I would be placed back at the start of the castle I died in, but instead I got send back like thirty minutes and had to do all the choices and mini-fights all over again.
The Bottom Line
I would like to call Dragon Age 2 an improvement over Dragon Age: Origins. It is darker and more daring and the gameplay has improved (thanks in part to the removal of some very annoying bugs). The game's presentation may be a little lacking, but I am willing to ignore that.
Dragon Age 2 is much easier to pick up than the first Dragon Age game, so people who want to get into the franchise may find it easier to work through it backwards. Fans of the franchise will run into some frustration due to the many changes that were made, but this game does pay off in the end. A good game and a good sequel!
Xbox 360 · by Asinine (957) · 2011
I like the graphics a lot, especially the character re-designs. For example, in Dragon Age: Origins the Qunari just looked like regular humans with different skin, but in Dragon Age II they have a very unique look. After replaying both games in 2020, I feel the style aged much better than Origins.
The premise of the game is fantastic: The story is based in and around a single city - Kirkwall - over the course of multiple years. After each chapter there is a time leap and both the city (at least in theory) and Hawke's (the protagonist) status in the city changes over that time. The story is very personal and Hawke never saves the world, but nevertheless the main conflict may have a lasting effect on the whole continent.
However, the real star are the companions: every companions except for the DLC character Sebastian is very well written and interesting. The best quests of the game evolve around them and almost all have close ties to the main plot. The friendship/rivalry system does not work flawlessly, but it is definitely much better than the gift system in Origins.
Personally I was never a big fan of BioWare romances, but I like them in DAII because develop over time and take the companion's characters into account (however, I have to admit I only experienced two of them so far). What I like most is that BioWare has the guts to have the first close NPC companion reject Hawke's advances and follow her own love interest.
During my 2020 replay I thought long and hard about why this game just does not work despite the good writing and premise and is even hated by many.
My conclusion: the big problem is Kirkwall. The city only consists of four very small areas (maybe a fifth of Athkatla's districts in Baldur's Gate II) and three outside areas which are fully explored after the first four hours. Afterwards they never change significantly, even after the time leaps. This means the environment and exploration is completely irrelevant and the majority of the game is spent in quests. This becomes old very quickly and is worsened by the fact that there is only one layout for each type of inside area (one cave, one temple, one warehouse etc.) which is repeated over and over again.
Unfortunately the quests can't make up for the deficiencies in environmental variety. Most quests have a very episodic feel because they mostly have no direct follow-up. For example, you may do a 10-minute-quest for a NPC and then whole thing is forgotten for multiple hours or even until the next chapter. For me this meant I never had any personal interest in the quests or the NPCs (except my companions) and did not even bother to look up which quest the next quest marker belongs to. I also have some major concerns about the resolution of the main quest, but because of spoilers I won't get into the details.
The second problem is the combat. The system is simplified compared to Origins, but this is not the problem. I enjoyed pressing the "awesome button" for a lot of explosions and nice animations, but you almost exclusively fight against trash mobs. Don't get me wrong, Origins also had way too many trash mobs, but in DAII there are maybe four interesting fights in the whole game. I also absolutely hate the wave system which just teleports more trash mobs into the fight area. This would be OK when used sparingly, but here this occurs in every single fight.
I also have a major gripe about the character system. The attribute and talent selection is fine, but you only can use armor on Hawke. This did frustrate me a lot: a third of the acquired equipment is useless because Hawke has the wrong class and you can't give it to your companions either.
The user interface is also bad. For example, in Origins you had access to all companions in the camp. Now you have to change Hawke's companions in the field in order to distribute rings and other trinkets or to level them up. You can also tell it was designed with a controller in mind, but in the PC version you can't actually use one.
The Bottom Line
Dragon Age II is a frustrating game to play because it has so much unused potential. It has so many aspects which are better executed than in Origins (companions, art design, the basic plot), but it never comes together. Normally I can overlook the flaws of a game if its strengths manage to grasp my love, but this is a case where the flaws manage to ruin the good parts.
Dragon Age II is not a bad game, but was obviously rushed through production. If BioWare had more time to dedicate to level design, quest design and plot development, it could have become the best BioWare game since Baldur's Gate II. But as it stands, it is a big disappointment, both in 2011 and 2020.
Windows · by Patrick Bregger (290246) · 2020