Dragon Age II Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox 360
Release date:
March 8, 2011
Electronic Arts

Dragon Age II

Looking back on an epic adventure.

Review by Thomas Keller (Email)
May 13th 2011

The problem with sequels, especially second installments to games or movies that are revered, is that what follows rarely brings about the same euphoria as the original. Rarely do follow-up games or movies capture the same magic as the first, despite the fact that they may actually be put together better than the original was. Perhaps the environments or worlds are already too familiar or the finiteness that you thought the first was going to represent doesn't work for you anymore because, well, you thought it was over. Maybe your affinity or identification with the characters of the original is best left unaltered. Or, the story just felt like that's where it should lie undisturbed for all time. Authors have fallen prey to this as well, by regurgitating within a set of novels to the point that the reader doesn't care nearly as much as he should and somehow feels obligated to keep reading.

Difficult decisions are a real core strength of the entire experience.

Bioware has an exceptional history in storytelling and dialogue and Dragon Age II is no exception. There has been criticism that the tale contained within isn't "epic enough" and nearly as grandiose as its predecessor. Hogwash. The tale that unfolds isn't meant to be on the same scale as the first and it's decidedly more about the individual and his less-than-meteoric rise to heroic heights over a period of ten years. Without boring you with story details about Kirkwall, its problems, and your attempts to solve them, suffice it to say that the level of interaction with other characters is as deep and rich as it was in Dragon Age: Origins. As a matter of fact, your character has a voice (male or female) that is surprisingly more effective than the typewritten questions of the first. It really adds to the experience in quite a subtle way, as does Bioware's invariably great scripting and story telling. Dragon Age II is worth the price of admission for these two elements alone and they are unrivaled among its peers. There are fast-forward gaps into the future which really didn't detract much from the overall tale. But, it's more of a personal choice if "3 Years Later" types of story vehicles bother you. To the game's credit, you often have to make difficult decisions that have considerable impact on your experience as a whole. Death, rivalry, friendship, alliances, relationships, love, and more all hang in the balance of how you choose to approach certain situations. This is a real core strength of the entire experience.

The refined combat system is a bit less clunky than Origins' system was. The control wheel should be familiar to any who've played the predecessor and the cooldown period before you can use another health potion, mana potion, special ability, etc. is still in use here and plays a large part in your strategy (particularly if you're playing on a harder difficulty setting) when confronting challenging opponents. You have tactics and options for each character within your party and can set them up to fire from a distance or be super aggressive. The choice is yours. However, as gratifying as this combat system is as you trudge along further down the road (for argument's sake, let's say at least ten hours into the game), early on the battles can be quite tedious and button-mashing in nature. If you don't stick with it, you won't get rewarded, and those who say, "I've tried the demo and didn't like it," this line is for you. As you proceed further, the results are very rewarding and quite fun.

Dragon Age II's greatest weaknesses lies in its environments and the overall scale of the world map. Don't get me wrong, the dungeons and caves are nicely rendered and fun to romp through - the first few times. However, you'll be in an entirely new location and it'll seem very familiar to you despite the fact that you've never been there before. Yet, you have. The layouts of places across the map from each other are exactly the same, save for a blocked door here or inaccessible door there. I've read where the developers have defended this as necessary for the rest of the game to be as it is, but that doesn't change the fact that it detracts from the overall experience and feels really cheap. Likewise, the world map is surprisingly small and you'll find that you have to visit the same locales over and over and over again to proceed with the story. It's not a deal buster, but it certainly feels as though it could have been much improved.

Further hiccups have arisen with DLC installation and, for the 360 version, Achievement points. I've experienced both problems. Also, The Exiled Prince is exceedingly short and it's highly recommended that you pursue this extra content before you finish the game.

The $64,000.00 question here, almost certainly, is whether or not Dragon Age II measures up to its larger predecessor, and without hesitation that answer is "yes." If you liked Dragon Age: Origins, there isn't much here that's not to like. Sure, the story is on a different scale than its earlier cousin, but this is a sequel that works and that, my friends, ain’t easy.

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