If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If time stopped and started again, would we ever know about it? If BioWare makes a RPG, is it amazing? Yes, no, and meh. I have been a big fan of BioWare games since I played Knights of the Old Republic years ago, playing both Mass Effect games and Dragon Age: Origins, and I have never been disappointed, until now…
By no means is Dragon Age II a horrible game, there are some things it definitely does right. The combat has received a much more action-packed overhaul, with flashier attack animations that would leave the player hard pressed to not feel like a badass. The basic combat mechanics are still in tact from Dragon Age: Origins, you are able to control your party members yourself by pausing combat to issue orders or allow the AI to do the work with customizable tactic slots. The abilities are just a step above it’s predecessor, making combat very fun and exciting.
Throughout the years in the main city of Kirkwall, you are able to see the social-political climate evolve. You will have plenty of time to learn the city inside and out, from the slums and back alleys of Low Town to the marketplaces of High Town, and how people interact differently in each area. As the main storyline progresses and your social status rises, the citizens react differently to you. You really get a feel to the depth of the game when even the smallest decisions that you make in the first couple years effect how the game turns out towards the end. Dragon Age II definitely has some replayability in this aspect, because there are literally dozens of ways to make the story play out from the number of decisions you have to make. It is not hard to see that this is where most of the time went to during the game’s development.
The questing system is very easy to use as well. Whenever you leave a zone and look at the map, each location of Kirkwall and those outside of town will have a bright arrow over the zone icon, small arrows for side quests, and large ones for main plot quests. You will not have to go through your journal reading quests to find out where to go, you need only to play whack-a-mole with the arrows on the map and minimap to complete all your side quests. Even side quests are worth doing as well because many of them will actually have lasting effects on the world and how your companions or other citizens of the city will react to you, based on your decisions while completing them.
Dialogue has been improved as well. The main character is fully voiced as opposed to the silent protagonist in Origins. The dialog wheel that is all so familiar to those who have played other BioWare games has been streamlined. Your character has 3 main responses: peaceful, funny/sarcastic, and aggressive. These will affect how your companions react to you as well as the people you are talking to, all individually. Your character no longer has an over-arching good or evil slider bar that adjusts based on your choices, so you can answer each dialog individually without fear of being pigeon-holed into a specific play style.
If there is one major gripe I have with Dragon Age II, it is that it lacks the epic adventure scale of Dragon Age: Origins. The depth put into the main city of Kirkwall and its inhabitants has to be good because there is nowhere else to go in the game. You are confined to the few zones in the city and a couple just outside of the walls, all accessed by the map, giving the world an unbelievably small feel to it. Apart from a couple trips to the deep roads, you are stuck looking at the same scenery for the entire playthrough which will land you around 40 hours total.
The small amount of zones in the game really takes the epic scale away that Dragon Age: Origins had.
Dungeons and caves are reused over and over throughout different quests, the only difference in them being some passages accessed in one quest are blocked off during another. I often found myself looking in a mirror to make sure I wasn’t Bill Murray in Groundhog Day for how many times I ran into the same zones to kill a certain pack of mercenaries or mages that were causing problems.
Dragon Age: Origins spanned an entire continent, giving you a wide range of zones across different climates, but in DAII you will have seen everything there is to see in the first 6-7 hours of playtime, and after that it’s just recycled content. The only thing that keeps the game fresh at all is the movement of the main storyline and the effects that going to these reused zones to complete quests has on the outcome of the game.
There were also some pretty bad graphical glitches that I ran into on the PC when playing at maxed graphics settings. Textures would sometimes just disappear and I would be staring at large black spots on the ground. However, when you turn the textures down a notch below max, performance shoots up dramatically and I never really ran into any other glitches. The most puzzling thing with this is the visual quality of the game didn’t drop that much from maxed settings, so I couldn’t help but wonder why the game would run so poorly at maxed settings while not looking much better than it did while running smoothly at high settings.
I can’t help but feel like Dragon Age II was rushed through production. The fact that there were two DLCs available when the game was released just reinforces this opinion. There was great potential, but lacked the refined feel of previous BioWare titles. It was a mixed bag, exciting at times, but leaving me wanting more in the end. It hit the high notes with the fun, fast paced combat system, but bottomed out in world scale and variety. By no means is it a bad game, I enjoyed it mainly for the story that I have come to expect from BioWare games. Decisions you make greatly effect the outcome of the game, and that’s the strong point of the game. I believe the biggest issue is that BioWare is having to compete with themselves. They have set the bar very high for themselves with their history of great games. In the end, Dragon Age II felt like a pilot episode for the longer more complete game that Dragon Age III will hopefully become.
Score – 6.5/10 –