On March 8th, 2011, BioWare and EA teamed up to release the highly anticipated second major game in the Dragon Age franchise. While Dragon Age II went on to receive numerous accolades for its storytelling, the core gameplay experience was vastly different from the first game and still serves as a main reason why many have lost faith in the series.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition scheduled to hit stores everywhere tomorrow, we felt the need to take a look back on Dragon Age II and dive head first into why this game doesn’t deserve all the hate it often gets and why it should be praised.
Gary Swaby – Co-founder
Dragon Age II is viewed as a game that you just shouldn’t play, and although it does have its problems and it didn’t live up to the quality of Dragon Age: Origins, I still feel like it’s worth playing if you were deeply invested in Origins’ story. Sure the gameplay was significantly dumbed down, reduced almost to an action game based on fighting waves of enemies (Dynasty Warriors is a common comparison), but Dragon Age did do a few things well.
It may not have included the returning characters we wanted to see, and it didn’t wrap up certain things we wanted to know. But if you can look at this game on its own, it’s vastly enjoyable. The character development is on point and I feel like they did a great job spanning the story over ten years. Also, the fight with the Qunari Arishock was built up so well that it felt rewarding to finally duel and slay him.
The story in Dragon Age II may not be an epic quest like the first game, but there’s no denying that the self-made hero Hawke is satisfying to play. His merits make you feel like you can change a lot in Kirkwall, and that alone is enough to give the game a try regardless of its issues. Heck, despite its flaws, people still managed to enjoy Mass Effect 3 and I think Dragon Age II is the same. There’s probably a misconception that the game is broken or unplayable, and that’s far from the case. I think it’s viewed negatively based on the fact that it’s a niche fantasy RPG that doesn’t have the same mass appeal as Mass Effect (more than likely because the graphics aren’t as detailed).
Sure it could be skippable if you just want a quick brush up on what Dragon Age is all about ahead of Inquisition, but I still think the game has enough good to offer to deserve a full playthrough. There’s some great characters and moral choices to be made in this game, and it’s still at its core a Bioware game.
Tony Polanco – Executive Editor
Whenever people discuss the Dragon Age series you hear nothing but praise for Origins and almost nothing but ridicule and disgust for Dragon Age II. I’ll be the first to admit that DAII had some glaring problems. The city of Kirkwall and its surrounding lands were small in scale and had many areas which were recycled. The combat was too simplistic and required next to no strategy; a far cry from the strategic nature of Origins. Despite this however, I still believe that Dragon Age II doesn’t deserve all the hate thrown at it. In fact, it is another example of Bioware’s excellent story telling prowess and brilliant characters who are fully realized.
When I first played the game, the first two-thirds of it or so, I was extremely unimpressed with how the story unfolded. It all seemed like random events which weren’t tied together. I remember jokingly calling this game “Sidequest Age II” because every mission seemed like a sidequest. However, by the time the third act began, all of the disparate story elements came together. None of what I did was meaningless, it was all leading up to a grand finale which would have important consequences for the realm of Thedas. It was a risky move to present the story in this manor. Those who don’t finish all of Dragon Age II can’t appreciate the tapestry that was being created before their eyes. Those who took the time to actually finish the game however do appreciate the story. The game is criticized but little of that is due to the narrative.
Another interesting things about the narrative is how it is told. All of it is narrated by the Dwarf named Varric who is one of your companions. Varric is known to exaggerate tales at best and flat out lie at worst. The fact that the narrator is unreliable is something that is pretty much unheard of in a video game. This way of telling the story, which spans a decade, allows for the game to skip around to the most pivotal parts of Hawke’s journey to become the Champion of Kirkwall. This method of story telling also holds the game together even when it feels like it has no cohesive narrative.
The big reason this game doesn’t deserve the scorn it gets is because of its characters. More than any other Bioware game, Dragon Age II‘s story is almost entirely character based. All of the major events that happen unfold due to actions of specific characters. There is no central villain with an evil plot. It is people on opposing sides who do terrible things that they feel they must in order to save the world. This is atypical for RPGs so it is refreshing to see it done here. The individual characters themselves are fully realized people that you grow fond of, hate, or even come to love as you progress. This area shouldn’t surprise anyone as Bioware are masters of characterization.
Again, Dragon Age II is not without faults but as a story based game it isn’t disappointing. Yes, a game survives on its gameplay and DAII falls short in many key gameplay areas. However, we shouldn’t overlook or downplay its narrative which tried doing things in different ways and ultimately gave us something unique and meaningful.
Crystal Mills – Content Writer
Dragon Age II is a game that manages to tear fans of the series onto different sides. With its small setting, characters, and gameplay mechanics, many fans ignore this installment and pretend it just never existed. I immediately fell in love with this game. While the plot was contained inside of a cramped and repetitive setting, I actually enjoyed the quicker hack-and-slash combat and the introduction of different characters.
Thedas is a world full of choices and consequences, and it pushes you to realize that there is no true right side in the war between Mages and Templars. Hawke’s companions perfectly manage to pull in the broader conflicts and transform them into something more personal. The characters fuel this overlooked title into something deeper and more complex, and it’s incredibly easy to become emotionally invested in them (give me more Merrill).
After seeing just how chaotic this war could be inside of a cramped area like Kirkwall, it will be interesting to see just how much it has affected the rest of Thedas. Dragon Age II may have been microscopic in setting and story, but it’s the pinprick that has sparked some major controversy in this fantastic world. Inquisition is going to be amazing!
Emily Lemay – Managing Editor
Having a certain distaste for Dragon Age II has almost become something trendy in the games industry. If there could be a bandwagon for such a thing, I’m pretty certain it would be overflowing with a diverse group of gamers who would endlessly talk over each other trying to convey the same point. But when you take a step back to gaze at the entire picture, is Dragon Age II really worth that much ‘hate’?
I’ll be honest, if you’re coming directly from Dragon Age: Origins, II will feel like a completely different beast – and that’s because it is. BioWare set out to create a paracosm based on completely different elements, and they succeeded in so many regards. The truth is, some folks breed hate for the game because they wanted Origins II. There was a level of emotional investment that came with that game, and it’s often hard for gamers to completely leave that behind and invest new emotions into an unknown atmosphere.
Dragon Age II isn’t a hero’s story – not in the sense of Origins. You’re not saving an entire land from a blight. You’re not tearing down tyrannical reign for the sake of an entire kingdom and the world beyond. Dragon Age II is a story of immigration and post-war salvation. It’s about rising from death and destruction and becoming something bigger than yourself. Hawke sacrificed everything in life to venture into the unknown and create something better in Kirkwall.
Speaking of Kirkwall, there’s always a big complaint that being confined to the city and its respective outskirts was a bad move on BioWare’s part. Gamers coming from Origins were used to a more expansive setting of Thedas, and they’ll argue that Kirkwall feels far too cramped in comparison. But Kirkwall breathes a life of its own, and the stories hidden beneath the stone streets paint the city in a flawed but dynamic light. And although Dragon Age II isn’t immune from mundane fetch quests and overarching plot variables, the story being told is important.
There’s no good or bad side in Dragon Age II – it’s up to the player to navigate through a morally grey area to search for what they believe is right. There are good Mages and bad Mages. There are good Templars and bad Templars. No matter what side you choose, there are always consequences. People are going to get hurt – killed, even – and you’re going to have to live with that. It’s that kind of moral tug that made Dragon Age II’s story engrossing, and it’s the characters it centers on that keep players coming back.
And, in the end, it’s the characters that outshine anything else in the game. Not only were all the companions esoterically wonderful, their dialogue reached far beyond anything you could dream up in Origins. It was emotional, angering, real, and often-times pretty freaking steamy (lookin’ at you, Isabela). And, if we’re being completely honest, you can’t deny that Merrill is an actual Elf angel, and you’d do anything to protect that naïve, adorable little blood Mage.
Dragon Age II certainly isn’t the strongest RPG to exist on the market, but it is in no way deserving of the endless criticism constantly thrown its way. It missed the mark on a lot of elements, but it also provided a refreshing and beautiful take on a new side of the Dragon Age story. As much as it did wrong, it also did right. I think it’s important to separate II from Origins, and realize the developers were never intending to create a sequel. They wanted to build a new game with new outlook, and they did just that.
This is why we think Dragon Age II deserves more praise but what do you think of the game? Did you like it or not? Do you feel it got fair treatment from the press and fans of the series? Let us know what you think in the comments below.