Dragon Age: Origins was not exactly what I expected it to be when it was released in 2009. It had a lackluster setting, the combat was mediocre, and it wasn’t exactly pushing the envelope with the latest tech at the time. In fact, I would say that it was a disappointingly average game considering the legacy of what had come before. For better or worse, Bioware had launched a new IP that seemed like it could become something bigger if pushed in the right direction. Well, Bioware certainly pushed it somewhere alright. Straight off a cliff and into a pit of spikes.
While there were a lot of terrible design choices in the transition from Origins to the sequel, the biggest change is the combat. Now everything is more action-oriented, like a standard hack n slash RPG without much depth. To be clear you can still pause, choose targets, and change tactics up, but most strategies end up the same, and only in a few boss fights did it really matter who was attacking what. On the PC you hit ‘R’ to auto-target and attack the nearest enemy, but this is cumbersome and far too simplified compared to modern-day RPGs with the ability to select nearest friend or enemy with different keyboard commands; a huge issue with targeting I have is the lack of smart targeting, which essentially means that once an ability is activated it auto-targets the nearest enemy. Every time you want to use an ability you either have to be currently targeting the enemy or click the enemy once the ability is up.
The rest of the controls are fine for the most part, but one thing I find strange about Dragon Age II is the lack of controller support. I bring this up specifically because the combat was changed to reflect a more console-friendly approach, and I’m sure a lot of people might want to just plug an Xbox 360 controller in and play that way. There are other ways to get it to work, like Xpadder, but not supporting it officially is kind of silly when the console versions of the game were developed simultaneously, as well as the fact that almost every major release on the PC in recent time has had this. Maybe Bioware wanted to differentiate the two more, but either way it’s a missing feature that really should have been included.
When you’re not off killing endless waves of damage sponges a la Dynasty Warriors, there is a lot of talking in this game. And not exactly interesting dialogue, mind you. Even simple side-quests seem to have long, boring conversations about the reasoning behind the NPC wanting you to do their job. Dragon Age II is chock full of pointless drivel that just serves as a means to pad whatever kill quest you have with some sort of depth. In case you have problems choosing the appropriate dialogue, Bioware has graciously provided pretty pictures to make sure you understand what you want you character to say. This has always annoyed me in other games because I feel like you’re just choosing whatever fits the emotion, and not really choosing something on the merit of the actual words.
Up to three other characters can be in your party at one time, just like Dragon Age: Origins. I find myself wishing that the party size was increased this go around for various reasons, but the biggest reason is simply that the combat is not very fun when you’re limited with so few characters while fighting large swarms of enemies. There’s only so much you can do to change up how you play with 3 classes, regardless of the different specs you can go into. Warriors will tank, rogues will DPS, and mages will own everything because mages are still ridiculously good. I’m not saying Dragon Age needs to clutter everything up with all kinds of crazy sub-classes, but more defined roles and more forced choices would make the classes more interesting. There’s also no way to customize your party member’s armor, and only jewelry and weapons can be swapped out. Most weapon drops don’t even seem to be useable for a lot of the party members anyways, so I almost wish they just took out the option to do it and instead just have the gear level like their armor.
While you start the game on the run from your home, eventually you and your family make your way to Kirkwall. It is here that you recruit all of your party members and do odd jobs in order to raise money for a means of moving on to a better life somewhere else. Except that somewhere else never exists, and Dragon Age II is set entirely in the same area. Worse yet, not everything is interconnected in one large, bustling world. Instead you simply choose where you want to go on a map and you go there; if you want to leave, you find an exit that takes you to the map. Kirkwall isn’t very big, either, and there’s nothing left to explore. Aside from a few wilderness zones you can choose, the rest of the game exists in Kirkwall, albeit with the ability to choose the time of day (morning or evening). Chain quests become tedious bouts of going to the objective, getting the next part, and moving on to another zone. And killing lots of the same stuff. In the same places. In fact, a lot of the dungeons are almost always identical to one another, depending on where they take place. There’s simply no originality in the environments.
Since Dragon Age II takes place in the same area you can expect the story to focus on what’s going on in Kirkwall. The problem is that Kirkwall is boring, the characters you deal with are boring, and the different arcs in the story are disjointed and don’t feel like they happened in the same universe. Other than a nod here and there each of the different stories are self-contained and contain twists that are incredibly predictable. The player has the ability to change some things up once in a while, particularly in the fates of your party, but really it just boils down to either doing a side quest for them now or skipping it and letting them leave or die. There is almost no middle ground with most of the decisions, and even the last major plotline has a point where you should really be able to stay out of a conflict, or at least not take sides and maybe fight everyone, but you have to choose.
Bioware hasn’t really been known for ground-breaking graphics, and it’s no surprise that the graphics in this game are just okay. Not bad, mind you, but a year and half should be enough time to at least make everything look a little bit better. You need the high-res texture pack from the Dragon Age II site in order to select the very best graphics in DirectX 11, which definitely helps a bit. However, the style is what really brings everything down for me. In fact, it looks like a Korean MMO that lacks a strong art direction. All of the buildings and rooms look like they were designed by someone with no imagination. The enemies are mostly just groups of the same models with a few leader units thrown in to make sure that you know the orange guy is stronger than the purple guy even though they literally look exactly the same otherwise. The voice-acting in Dragon Age II is quite good and the banter is still one of the more interesting aspects of having specific people in your party at certain times in the game. I do dislike that all of the characters repeat the same one-liners in combat constantly, though.
Some of the new ideas Bioware tried to implement in Dragon Age II, such as the new combat system, sound great on paper, but the execution of it all ranges from unsatisfactory to downright bad. It feels like a rushed product with the copy-paste environments, the lack of varied enemies, the fact that most of the side-quest content is all based around kill quests, all of these reasons show that there wasn’t much of an effort in creating a truly successive game to the original. A sequel should be at least on par with its predecessor, and in this case Dragon Age II fails to even be an okay game and ends up below-average.
Give Dragon Age 2 your own review rating, and listen to Patrick and Gary speak about this game LIVE on the Quest Log Podcast: Listen Here