Dragon Age II Review

Dragon Age II is a merely a shadow of its great predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins. They took everything that I didn't appreciate from Mass Effect 2 and adapted it into this sequel as well. Bloody (literally) horrible. Not all is lost though, because there are a few things that I liked about Dragon Age II despite its limited scope.

First and foremost, a lot of the complexity from the first game has been stripped away. Companion item management is a joke. Multiple races, different origins, all gone in favor of "Hawke", the Champion. I guess he's supposed to be a little bit more like Mass Effect's Shepard, but he feels a little too generic for my tastes. When he's being diplomatic, he sounds pretty dumb, in humor mode most of his jokes fall flat, and he doesn't look particularly mean or sound threatening enough for the aggressive options. But this is also where the game runs afoul. The first game gave no indication of the "mood" of the option, and the user had to infer their connotations in selecting them; by spelling it all out ala the Mass Effect conversation wheel, it makes everything cut and dry.

Most of the humor is provided by the Isabela/Aveline oil/water pairing and a lot of the angst provided by a Fenris/Anders pairing. Varric does some funny stuff too from time to time, but basically a lot of the character and fun in this story comes from your companions. Hawke himself runs into some family issues, but I still think he's as a exciting as a cardboard box.

The worst and most disappointing realization is the scope of the game, nearly everything is contained within the confines of a single city, whereas Origins took us a journey throughout the countries of Ferelden, Tavinter, the Elf lands, and possibly Orlais (I don't remember exactly, haha). There's a hint of involvement with the Grey Wardens and the Blight, which to me indicates that this game is more of a side-story to than anything else. Ultimately, I wasn't impressed by the story presented here, but did enjoy some of the setup for a presumed third installment.

Like I mentioned earlier though, there are a few improvements that Dragon Age II brings to the table. Most noticeably, the battle system is much more satisfying. Warrior classes feel like the powerhouses they were meant to be, knocking over hordes of baddies at a time, rogues doing their ninja like thing with lightning fast attacks and evades, and mages get a much wider variety of tricks to choose from. On that note, the classes in general feel more balanced. Due to the increased responsiveness and power of warriors, rogues, no longer do triple mage squads rule the battlefield. Spell combinations from the first game have been replaced by cross-class combinations between the classes which encourage the use of more balanced squads.

The variety of tactics to succeed in that regard have also changed for the better. For example, my favorite strategy in Nightmare mode (where friendly fire plays a big part in selecting companions and their skills) was to direct all threat/aggro to my two handed warrior (who does massive aoe damage now), support him with an archer (varric), a healer/buff mage (anders), and a cursing/cc mage (merrill). I also found that a pure tank/single target dps build to be effective, ultilizing a single tank (aveline), an assassin (isabela), an attack mage (anders), and a healer/cc (hawke) combo, but not as optimal. I love stacking the tactic slots as usual.

All-in-all, it's not a bad game (and it's important to note that I had a LOT of fun playing it) BUT the existence of Dragon Age Origins and the standards it sets makes this entry feel backwards in many regards. Like if this was the first game, and Origins were the second, then you could definitely spot the evolution of the franchise. As is, it's a de-evolution of the franchise. Hopefully, now with Mass Effect 3 out of the way, Bioware makes a much much better Dragon Age 3 for the franchise's true fans - not the watered down version we got in this sequel.

Smashing giant golems with oversized hammers? All in a good day's work.

Completion Time: 65 Hours, every side quest on Nightmare Difficulty.
Kenholic Rating: 7.5 Out of 10. Above Average.
Final Words: A very fun game despite its weaknesses, but also very weak compared to the first. Not to be missed for fans of the Bioware RPG genre.

Wow, I'm pretty sure uninstalling the game also deleted the screenshots directory for this game. If not for automated backups of my documents directory on my PC, I would have lost mine. Also, the auto-screenshots system from Dragon Age Origins was awesome, how come they took it out of this one?