Dragon Age II Review


BY THE WAY: check out the Dragon Age 2 unlimited gold/XP glitch video we put together.


Dragon Age II (PC [Reviewed], XBox360, PS3)
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: March 8, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

If you only want to know our opinion of Dragon Age so you can decide whether or not to buy it, here goes:

1) Hot Diggity Damn.
2) It’s better than the original, by leaps and bounds
3) It is totally worth your time and money.
4) Word.

There, now you can stop reading right now and go pick up it up. Dragon Age II is incredible. Epic in scope, packed with activity, and yet intimate in scale, it expands on the universe introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, builds on that story and still manages, via minor tweaks and dramatic changes, to improve the series without diminishing what made Origins an instant classic.

What’s It All About?

By far, the biggest change between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II is in the story.

Pensively, they pondered the epic deepnessitude, and wept.

Dragon Age: Origins was a richly developed universe, but it served as the backdrop for a story about England Ferelden‘s war against the Darkspawn destroying the country. While you witnessed racism, religious intolerance, greed, all the things that make people so wonderful, going from newbie to hero (and possibly, co-monarch) in the process, emphasis was on power-politics, war, and how your character affected and was affected by them.

Dragon Age II veers dramatically from that. The focus this time is the story of Hawke, member of a family of Fereldean refugees we first meet in the middle of the aforementioned war. The destruction of their home (and loss of a beloved sibling), drives them to neighboring Scotland’s The Free Marshes’ city of Kirkwall. Here, they seek refuge with a relative and try to make a new llife.

Thus begins a story that will cover a decade. Seeking merely to set his/her family fortunes right, Hawke and co. rise from starving exiles to wealthy pillars of Kirkwall, eventually finding themselves amidst a racial/religious conflict at the heart of the Dragon Age universe. Without spoiling too much, the plights of Elves, Qunari and Mages at the hands of an oppressive society intertwine with the fate of Hawke’s family.

If Dragon Age: Origins is about putting aside differences to face an external threat, Dragon Age II is about what happens after the threat is gone and those differences haven’t been addressed. Deliciously anvilicious, DAII flings the unexamined tropes of epic fantasy (unexamined racism, imperialism and love of war) right in the faces of people accustomed to view them as reassuringly patriotic. Religious authorities, it should be noted, are the single biggest oppressors, and while they’d deny political intent, one can’t help wondering if the Canadians at BioWare might be trying to tell Americans a little something about ourselves.

This is NOT the face of Canadian Judgement.

Political or not, it’s gripping. The war sets the plot in motion, but it’s the aftermath of that war that sets the scene. You’ll therefore definitely want to import your DAO file; even though you won’t be playing the same character, the decisions you made, (especially in DLC), will dramatically affects your DAII universe. There’s also the added bonus of getting to explore a previously unrevealed section of a universe that feels completely familiar, and experience a story that strikes similar notes to other great postwar/post disaster tales; everything from Grapes of Wrath, Exodus, The Third Man to Uncle Tom’s Cabin get subtle and not-so-subtle nods over the course of the decade you spend with Hawke.

It’s far more complex than I expected, but it also retains BioWare’s sense of humor. There’s a clever reference to a rap song from 1994; more sexual banter (and hook ups) than a Bond film; they even did the impossible and created a medieval version of the Internet age’s biggest annoyance. Making something of a family drama – albeit one with magic, ass kicking and tons of sex – is a gonadsy choice for the sequel to a fairly standard Fantasy RPG. Add a lot of open ended story options – characters live and die based on player decisions that aren’t mandatory – and bladow. BioWare have topped Mass Effect 2 and, I suspect, have given a preview of ME3.

Game Play

Other Gamefronters have remarked that BioWare set out to make DAII friendlier to consoles than PCs. I didn’t play the PC version of DAO, but I can confirm that on Xbox 360, DAII is just better, especially during combat.

When I first popped it in, I recognized the first 5 minutes or so as the same section featured in the recent demo. If that demo underwhelmed you, rest assured that it was intentional. BioWare pulled their punches, and bully for them too. See, during that first section I was struck by something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but something was definitely… different. Then it hit me:

Now that’s what I’m talking about: good old fashioned blood and guts. They have really, drastically ramped up the violence and gore, and thank The Maker for it.

Before you even meet Hawke, you get an all-you-can-eat buffet of gore – bloodsplosions, red geyers from de-torsoed legs, animated corpse-dispersal – that shows off how immediate and awesome DAII combat is. I played as a mage, and can confirm that it’s no longer the medieval equivalent of tech support. Instead of issuing commands while standing as far away as possible, now you get a giant stick that beats the crap out of people while flinging magical projectiles, making you feel like a wizarding Green Beret.

You’ll still want to get the hang of issuing commands while standing as far away as possible. Mages are weaker than the other classes, and while blood and gore spew forth from the weaker enemies you face at the game’s onset, don’t let that fool you into thinking it lasts. You try that magical special-ops crap on some of the harder bosses before you’re ready and you’ll find yourself cheesed to death with annoying speed.

This is an RPG, and that means level grind. Do every quest you can, as often as you can. Level up, because no matter how good you are with tactics, you will be humiliated if you haven’t. Even so, the newly streamlined talent-tree lets you assign earned points as needed, instead of forcing you down a linear path. It means you can emphasize skills you think will benefit you against certain bosses and/or quest objectives, and build up other skills later. It makes it much easier to plan your game and takes the grind out of level grinding.

Fortunately, DAII retains one of Origins‘ best features: switching between party members, considering weaknesses and strengths to maximize your chances. Even as the badassish magic and simplified commands make battles more immediate, tactical play remains important. You’ll find yourself flipping through your team, distracting with one, attacking with another, treating the group as a unit as often as you treat them individually.

The conversation system has also been replaced, and now more closely resembles a greatly expanded version of the Mass Effect system. You can select serious, sarcastic, even flirty conversation options that influence how your character is treated in a far more developed way than the previous game. Combined with the excellent voice acting and interactive NPCs littering, literally, the city and environs, you have an engrossing, addictive experience that is as much fun to play as it is to watch.

Some Final Details

There’s so much more of course. You’ve heard that players can only play as humans, but that’s almost made up for with the vastly enhanced character customization (including the very un-BioWare ability to change hairstyles in-game). Graphics are improved, and better still, so are character models. Dwarves, Elves, Qunari, Humans and so on look like different species now, instead of well-financed cosplayers.

See?

In fact, Dragon Age II is such an excellent success that it’s hard to criticize, but it isn’t perfect, not exactly. It runs a bit hot on 360. More than once I experienced mild stuttering and pop ups. There’s also a kind of repetitive quality to minor bosses.

Like this guy:

If spiders bore you, then you are going to find Dragon Age II infuriating because you will fight giant spiders every other half hour for the first half of the game. It also takes more than 40 hours to finish. Be warned. You might hate that, but if like me, long is good, then find a pillow and get started!

(yes, this is a real pillow that you can really buy.)

But some slowness, stuttering, length and repetition are small prices to pay for such a great take on a Fantasy genre I assumed had no new ideas. I’ve tried to avoid describing the story except in broad strokes; it should really be digested uniquely. Whatever choices you make, by the cliffhanger ending that reveals an astounding detail about the current state of Dragon Age: Origin’s Ferelden, it’s clear that the Dragon Age series is aiming to do for fantasy what Mass Effect did for sci fi: Make us forget about the tired old template (in this case, Lord of The Rings) for once, and try something different.

Bravo guys.

Pros

* Great Story, original take on Epic Fantasy
* Excellent combat, graphics, character models
* Streamlined some RPG aspects to reduce boredom, expanded others to increase scope
* Great voice acting, writing

Cons

* Xbox 360 version stutters
* Repetitious minor enemies
* Possibly too long for some players

Final Score: 95/100

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23 Comments on Dragon Age II Review

Eluvatar

On March 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

go play Origins on pc it was way better then this, true origins on console vs 2 on console this is allot better, but as far as pc version is concerned they are different games entirely. also if I’v been playing a game for 4 hours and still have no idea what the main plot is (other the my rise to uh power?) then the story needs more direction, I did like that it didnt follow Biowares normal story line but I’d love to see more then 3 main areas in the game (that all look very similar btw). all in all it seems like it should be a different title because it is not a sequel to a great game.

Ross Lincoln

On March 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Not so – if you make it to the end, you’ll see that they’re 100% setting up DA III to be the intersection and convergence of the two previous games.

the slow build of the plot is also the point – instead of a EPIC FIGHT AGAINST a defeated enemy, the story is now somewhat of a family drama set in the aftermath of the first game’s events. And it addresses the serious societal problems that exist in a much more direct way.

avrus96

On March 9, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I have only played the demo, so i’m not one to judge, but i was absolutely shocked by the abysmal user rating of DAII on metacritic compared to the stellar critic reviews. I guess fans of Bioware’s games were just really disappointed by the higher accessibility and simplified interface of DAII.

Ross Lincoln

On March 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm

@avrus96, I admit I find that my politics influenced my decision, but I also find some limited parallels to the reaction to ME2′s relaxed RPG elements. I feel like DA2 is a correction – ramping up the action while not reducing the RPG. Lots of customization but fun combat. Plus, seriously, taking a piss on LOTR makes me happy.

Minou

On March 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Great game, good combat improvement from DA 1. I prefered the story in origin tho… felt more… epic. And I personnaly went throught the game in 25h59 minutes while doing nearly every quest and skiping no cinematic. Still is a great game!

Ross Lincoln

On March 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Oh my, thanks for making me feel laaaaaaaazy. I swear I was, um, taking in the scenery?

Luther

On March 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I played the beta and being a big fan of the first dragon age i was greatly disappointed, To me they tried fixing what wasn’t broken. Iv been reading some highly negative reviews from some people and this one here really surprised me.

Ross Lincoln

On March 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm

I was in the middle of writing a comment when Japan got smacked by a gigantic earthquake. Horrible, horrible night.

Sepka

On March 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

This game really was a joke 95/100 how much did they pay you to write that, they really messed up this game….

Ross Lincoln

On March 11, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Not enough to count as a bribe, I assure you.

I stand by my review. I f’ck’n love this game. I don’t get highly negative reviews at all – it’s not like they turned an RPG into a beat em up, and it’s not like you still can’t micromanage to your heart’s content. They just made it more fun fighting, in my opinion, and dropped a much more original story than the previous game.

Hmm

On March 11, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Hmm no ‘professional’ reviewer has given it a bad review. That’s the problem right there. Out of all those actually getting paid to play and review games, people who should be playing games more than the average people, NONE of them rated this game lower than an 8 when they should be furious about the changes.

And the general consensus on bioware forums, reddit, metacritic (users) is that this game blows. Now what are we supposed to think? That coincidently none of the reviewers for these great big publications is a RPG fan ? That they let someone who usually reviews CoD gave their opinions on it? I can go on…but I’m not here to insult anyone.

Ross Lincoln

On March 11, 2011 at 10:44 pm

No insult taken. I’m not telling you how to think, and hell, if you hate it, hate it proud. I promise I don’t love it because of $$. I genuinely think it’s awesome. Plus, the second my opinion becomes some kind of holy writ, that’s a big problem. That said, I’m not an RPG fan? I reject the argument by authority but rest assured I f*cking love RPGs. I just happen to think there’s no problem making some aspect pop a bit more is all.

Change is good, sometimes. Particularly when it comes in the form of rejecting an entire template in favor of something new.

Jasyn

On March 12, 2011 at 7:21 am

I agree with you almost entirely Ross EXCEPT that you didn’t note on how MUCH they recycle environments. Ala Mass Effect where every mercenary base (bandit cave) is the exact same layout. Sort of thing drags me out of the game a bit, especially since neither Mass Effect 2 or DA:O had these problems so it certainly does seem like a step back in that department

1995

On March 13, 2011 at 12:13 am

I think BioWare didn’t spend enough effort on the interface. — it is so amatuer that it’s painful to play the game. They should have stuck with the interface from Origins. I can’t believe EA let DA2 ship like this. Look at the fonts, the character icons, the status bars, the radial. Really?

Zues69

On March 13, 2011 at 3:03 am

Saying that it takes 40 hours to finish is really pushing it, it took me a little over 26 as a warrior, and that’s with all side and companion quests completed.

Justin

On March 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm

As I read all of these negative user reviews, I find myself amazed. I have yet to finish the game, but so far I find it incredibly enjoyable. It is the most original electronic RPG I have come across in a long time. It is certainly the closest a console or computer game has ever come (at least for me) to recreating the feeling of table-top role-playing games. Which I feel is an amazing achievement. The original started the process, Dragon Age 2 really delivers it. I find it really refreshing to play a fantasy game about something other then “saving the world/realm/universe”. In a table top rpg, with a good GM, the story is usually more personal. The same is true here, and I really appreciate it. I hope all of the negativity does not deter Bioware from continuing down a really fantastic new path. There are those of us who love it!

Sloth

On March 14, 2011 at 12:35 am

OMG tis game is beyound awesome. People PEOPLE people if u beat it in one play through u must hav not100 percent completed the game. I hav beaten every dragon age there is and this is by far the best. If u want to play rpgs where u press 1 button and do nothing go play pokemon.

daweq

On March 15, 2011 at 5:05 am

On March 14, 2011 at 12:35 a?
the best. If u want to play rpgs where u press 1 button and do nothing go play pokemon

michaejcampbell

On March 16, 2011 at 3:02 am

Sigh, I have been playing a rogue since my purchase on Friday. I was very happy for the first couple days but gradually I’ve noticed that they really cheated me out of $60!!! I expected excellence & got a polished up piece of . Why the hell did They take all the fun elements out of the game?! Seriously they had better come out wish a patch like what lord of distruction did to Diablo 2. Anyone who’s a fan of d2 knows how great blizzard to the time to make a perfect game. Whoever decided to put zero effort into the items in the game should be hung! Wtf are all these Miscellaneous items for anyways! ? For one they should each have a different icon to at least give them something besides a different name to separate them! Secondly, I kinda assumed that they’d be used for crafting but now 40 hours into the game I have a storage box full of crap! & what’s the box for exactly? I haven’t found anything worth saving! Hopefully I’m just not far enough into the game.
I could go on about how dissapointed I am with the dev of da2 But I’m going to go & prey that rpg gamers like myself will enough that its pushes EA & bioware to put DONE actual time into the parts of the game that made the first da a game to play over & over again!
Seriously! Do the work like the fans want & stop worrying about dragon age 3 and how fast you can make a Buck! I traded in like 6 games to get this crap! I was having more fun play games on my phone before I bought this..
Are we going to let this happen? Im sorry but can anyone help me get a defend? I’m going to plan B and getting dungeon siege 3 on the 31st. That game looks like they may really want to make sure gamers purchase there next game.

michaejcampbell

On March 16, 2011 at 3:21 am

One more thing.. lets Stop pre ordering games because that just gives them even more reasons to stop working on it. Seriously they probably had made a killing before the game was done.!
& btw I’m sorry but 95/100 is a insult to every educated gamer out there. I’m never trusting the media for a accurate review again. Hopefully everyone will catch on to what “the man” is doing to rob us blind.
I’m sorry for being insulting towards the excellent writers who make a living doing it. I mean it, but you know what’s up so do what’s best for you I guess

mikejcampbell

On March 16, 2011 at 5:17 am

– Spoiler alert –

I was serious about wanting a refund. Once I started to read the forums and realized I wasn’t alone in thinking I was cheated all I think about while playing more of this game is what’s wrong with it. I mentioned in my other post that I traded in 6 games to pay for this one, well dragon age origins was one of them. I want it back! Before I left to purchase it I had watched a video review on YouTube. That plus all the scores on gameranking .com sealed the deal for me. I did notice the lonely 5/10 and figured it must have been a mistake. I guess I shouldn’t have overlooked the little Guy. I could do a better job at giving an accurate review of games!! I was raised to be brutaly honest about how I feel about something I care about. Seriously if there’s anyone looking for an unemployed gamer with nothing to loose & would never sellout no matter what then send me a email and hire me. Or better yet, if someone from EA or BIOWARE is reading this “Please put me on your payroll so that I can help make sure your future games do not get released before obvious mistakes are fixed!!

ardentsoul

On March 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Am I the only one who REALY hates the dialogue wheel? They could have removed the short description and just had the icons and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. You end up saying the exact same thing one of three different ways. The story (and I use that term loosely) was just a collection of the things hawke did, it felt aimless, there really was no goal. Party interactions have been dumbed down so much. You can only talk to your party members in their homes and even then your limited to about three lines each time. While I REALY wanted to hate the combat I just couldn’t, it just felt like a smoother if not a little over the top version of origins. It was the only improvement dragon age 2 had over origins. Don’t get me wrong, DA:2 is a fine game, it just doesn’t deserve to be origins sequel. i give it a 7.5/10

jazzbrownie

On August 22, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I could not disagree with this review more. We had totally different experiences with it.