Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II
Dragon Age II Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, OSX
Genre Worthy Origins RPG successor
MtAMinutes to Action 4
Keep Playing? Yes
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I enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins quite a bit, but it was a rocky ride to get going. Origins has a lot of stats, a lot of skill trees, and what I found to be a somewhat confusing array of attributes to put points into. When I heard that Dragon Age II was being developed to address many of those aspects of the game, plus a complete overhaul of the dialog system to make it similar to Mass Effect, I was pretty excited.

When Dragon Age II was released, it was met with a Spore-like backlash that railed against everything even semi-related to the game. Gamers lamented the Mass Effectification of their beloved hardcore RPG (which I seemed to deem a compliment reading from afar), and while the professional reviews of the game were lower than Origins but still highly respectable, a seemingly large group of gamers tossed goose eggs at it.

I’ve always been in the play-it-myself group of gamers. I can understand some of the spite, but forming an opinion before you even play the game usually makes one look foolish (and heck, I often look foolish after just an hour!).

Here’s my first hour review of Dragon Age II, released by BioWare in March, 2011.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select New Game... wait, I need to accept an EA privacy policy first. It would take an hour to read this! Whatever, I accept. Loading...

01 - Time to pick my class and gender. Can only be human this time (you could also select a dwarf or elf avatar in Origins), but the classes are the same: mage, warrior, and rogue. I was a mage last time, so let’s try out rogue this time around. Female rogue.

02 - Opening cinematic is in some sort of castle. “EA Presents...” “A BioWare Production.” A woman approaches a dwarf and says she’s seeking the Champion. The dwarf says he has a story to tell her first.

03 - Dragon Age II title flashes by: this is my story.

04 - My rogue is shown killing some darkspawn with a female mage. Oh, I get to fight already, nice! Wow, this game moves fast now. The A button hacks and slashes her dual daggers and the X button executes the rogue’s backstab. She disappears in a poof of smoke and reappears a moment later behind the enemy. It’s a blink and you miss it type of move. While I never played a rogue in Origins, I’m pretty sure you actually had to manually maneuver behind an enemy to perform a backstab. The game’s first major gameplay streamlining (besides the limited character selection).

05 - My first dialog options, there are three choices on a wheel similar to Mass Effect with a center icon representing the emotion behind the choice. The top one is blue with angelic wings, the middle one a laughing jester mask, and the bottom one a red hammer. I think I’ll go... jester? Sounds curious, hope it’s not just generic middle of the road.

06 - It was kind of a snarky response. The choice uses slightly different icons, signifying I can fight them if I want. Sure.

07 - I like it the battles, it’s hectic but fun. The Y button for the rogue let’s me toss a stunning potion on the ground against a small circular area. Oh oh, a big guy just showed up.

Dragon age 2 Male Hawke Darkspawn

08 - Can’t say Dragon Age 2 isn’t as bloody as its predecessor, the classic tradition of plastering everyone with gore is still around. Just as we’re surrounded by darkspawn, a dragon shows up!

09 - The game quickly cuts back to the storyteller and the woman from the opening interjects: “Bullshit!” I laughed out loud. Sounds like I’m the Champion she’s looking for, and the guy is going to tell her the rest of my story.

10 - I’m now allowed to customize my character, odd, doing this after the fact. There are a dozen presets and from there you can customize a 100 different things. Overwhelming!

12 - You can also import your save from Dragon Age: Origins, or use one of three presets: Hero of Ferelden, The Martyr, or No Compromise. I’m going to import my game, didn’t spend 50 hours on it for nothing (you can see the choices I made in my Dragon Age: Origins review).

13 - You can actually import even unfinished saves, interesting. Pressing Y brings up a quick history of that save with some important events, super useful.

Dragon age 2 Female Hawke Jester Dialog

14 - All right, finally ready to select Start Game. I go with Normal difficulty. Another cutscene starts detailing the events of Dragon Age: Origins.

15 - My family is escaping the darkspawn while they were attacking Lothering (a plot point in the original game).

16 - Man, I feel like I should take some time to browse the menus, but let’s forge on first.

17 - Don’t know backstab yet! Well, I leveled up, maybe I can learn it.

19 - After applying three attribute points, I have the choice of six skill trees to advance on. Geez, complex stuff. I decide to head down the dual weapon tree and learn backstab, it was useful in the opening.

22 - After a quick conversation, a cutscene of a pair of humans being attacked plays. I run to their rescue in epic fashion. After the battle, the man wants to kill my sister because he’s a templar and she’s essentially an unregistered mage, all complicated stuff I learned about in Dragon Age: Origins. After the man’s wife points out that we just saved their lives, he backs down.

Dragon age 2 Rogue Dual Weapon Skill Tree

24 - After I “investigate” what they’re up to, we move on to the south. Couple of my squadmates leveled up in that last battle, time to figure out their skill trees.

26 - I like how it’s a lot clearer what stat boosts you’re getting when leveling up attributes.

29 - Finished off another skirmish, my cooldowns seem pretty long, will have to see how to decrease them.

31 - Actually came pretty close to dying in the last battle, but we leveled up again. My rogue learns the Unforgiving Chain passive ability which ups critical hit chance.

35 - All right, leveled up... ah, there’s one of those big guys again! In the cutscene he bashes my brother(?) to death. And I just carefully picked his attribute points.

37 - Funny thing is, my sister died during the battle but she just got right back up again. My mourning mother confirms he was my little brother. Classic cutscene death.

Dragon age 2 Varric Bianca Crossbow

39 - The templar says a prayer and then it’s another battle!

40 - Just like in the opening cutscene, the dragon shows up again, this time snatching up darkspawn and makng smores out of them. All of it sudden it turns into... a human!

41 - Must be a witch! My jester dialog keeps nagging on the dragon point: “I want to be a dragon.” The witch is entertained by me. I’m going to like these jester options.

43 - Sounds like she might join us... woah, she just called herself Flemeth, aka Morrigan’s mom in Dragon Age: Origins who I totally killed with my Grey Warden. Of course, at this point in the timeline she was alive...

47 - Apparently we are to deliver an amulet to some Dalish elves for Flemeth, and she won’t be coming with us. But before that, she notes that the templar is corrupted with darkspawn blood.

49 - I put the templar out of his misery myself, Aveline his wife couldn’t handle it. I guess it’s just us ladies then.

Dragon age 2 Flemeth Dialog

50 - Back to our narrator and Champion-seeker, she barely believes that Flemeth showed up. The narrator proceeds to tell of our hero traveling to Kirkwall, the city of chains.

53 - The city guards aren’t letting anyone in, but our family name has some weight here, so we head off to find someone to open the gates.

55 - The main guard isn’t very friendly, and we would refuse anyone and everyone if he had the authority. He tells me to talk to someone else... let’s go.

58 - Not much help with this guy either, he does indicate he accepts bribes. Bastard.

59 - We name drop our relative, but he says he’s a swindler who can’t rub two coppers together. He will go and get him though, and at that mention, some other guys waiting for four days to get in attack!

60 - I help the city guard take out the punks, and captain still says he can’t let us in! Useless. And with that, it’s the end of the first hour of Dragon Age II.

Dragon age 2 Kirkwall map day

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 4

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my first experience with Dragon Age II, but the way it was being harassed by gamers I thought it would literally play like Mass Effect 2 but with swords. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, and it essentially just felt like a nicely sped up version of Dragon Age: Origins.

It’s kind of difficult for me to gauge as I spent 50 hours playing a mage in Origins, which meant the battles happened generally dozens of feet away from me and lots of pausing as I placed and positioned spells optimally. Playing a rogue in Dragon Age II means flying into battle with gameplay like Sacred 2. So I’m guessing the speed increase is a combination of class change and game change, but overall I like the new feel. Not having to maneuver yourself behind an enemy to backstab feels a bit odd, but the move itself is visually well executed it feels natural enough.

I love the new dialog system, there’s something good to be said about the classic Origins-style of dialog where you’re presented with 10 different options, but I usually go into a conversation with a tone already picked out. It is a lot easier to find and select the matching dialog option with the wheel and emblem in the center. Of course, I trended towards the sarcastic, jester comments, so that made selecting even simpler.

Which leads me to applauding the decision to give the main character a voice. I often felt distanced from not only the conversations, but the story itself in Origins because things felt very one-sided (I understand that many gamers feel the total opposite, so your mileage may vary), but hearing Hawke speak gives the dialog a great fluidity. It definitely keeps me much more interested.

As for the story itself, I really have no idea where it’s planning to go, which makes me a bit concerned. So there’s a dwarf telling my story, this in itself is an interesting narrative structure and I am excited for this. But there’s no early indication what the overarching story might be. Is there some big evil? Do I want to return home to Lothering? Questions, questions.

Graphically, Dragon Age II has improved quite a bit on Origins. All the women are still completely (and somewhat hilariously) stacked, but outside the opening battlefield, environments seem more vibrant. Character faces are also more detailed but nothing even close to L.A. Noire levels (this will probably be said for years to come).

Finally, the maze of stats and abilities seems just as deep as before, but amazingly streamlined with more useful information readily available. All the stat upgrades carefully explain what it provides for each class, and you can see your exact damage per second increase when applying points. The skill trees also feel much deeper and intuitive, with real decisions to be made. I’m actually looking forward to my character leveling up this time instead of feeling daunted by the task.

Would I keep playing? Yes, I’m pleasantly surprised and pleased with the changes made to the franchise. I can understand why some people might be upset at face value, but in almost every way, it still feels like an appropriate sequel and upgrade to Dragon Age: Origins.