Review: Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II is not a direct sequel in the way that its BioWare stablemate Mass Effect 2 is. Rather than continuing the story of the Grey Warden from Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare have chosen to tell another story set close to the first in both time and location.

This tale is that of Hawke, who along with their family was one of the few to survive the destruction of their home village of Lothering.  It spans the ten year period from Hawke’s flight as a refugee to their eventual rise to become The Champion.

You play through the significant chapters of that decade-long ascent with the narrative links between them being provided by cinematic cut-scenes showing the questioning of a fair-haired dwarf by a representative of the land’s church, The Chantry, who is seeking The Champion.

The game begins with a choice.  You need to make the first two decisions that begin the process of making Hawke your own character, by selecting their gender and then their class; from the RPG staples of mage, warrior or rogue.

Dragon Age II

Next you are introduced to the dwarf and his inquisitor as he reluctantly begins his tale.  There follows a short action sequence that serves to introduce you to the basics of the combat system, before you get the chance to begin the more extensive customisation of your Hawke.

[drop]You have a wide range of control over Hawke’s facial appearance.  There are a number of presets you can choose to simply use as is or as a starting point for your own cosmetic surgery, changing details from the width of the bridge of the nose to the colour and style of a facial tattoo.

Once you have sculpted your Hawke’s face into a thing of beauty, a crude representation of a favourite celebrity or something that looks only vaguely human your can choose your character’s first name.  You are stuck with Hawke as a family name and no doubt the Internet will quickly fill with tales of the fantasy adventures of ‘Lady’ and ‘Stringfellow’, so you might want to try and be a little more imaginative than that.

Now you will have reached the point where you will want your Origins save game handy if you played through the first Dragon Age title.  You can choose which of your Origins characters to import or from one of three supplied histories.  Those pre-built histories essentially give you the choice of a world where the Grey Warden was a good noble, an elven martyr or a selfish dwarven git.

With that done a short cinematic sequence launches you into the first of the game’s chapters which begins with your flight from Lothering and ends with your arrival as destitute refugees in the port city of Kirkwall, in the Free Marches area of the continent of Thedas, which will serve the base for your subsequent adventures.

By this point players of Origins will have noticed many of the changes that BioWare have made for Dragon Age II.  The most notable of which is the significant improvements to the graphics and a change of art style.

Graphically, particularly in its console incarnations, Origins ranged from nothing special to pretty poor.  It was a rendition of a generic fantasy world reminiscent of many games that had come before such as the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games you may have played in the days when the PlayStation 2 was king.

Despite those less-than-spectacular graphics the Origin’s engine really struggled if you weren’t playing on a PC with the frame rate sometimes being countable in seconds per frame rather than frames per second when things got really bad.

Now with BioWare having given the game engine a significant overhaul things are much improved.  The frame rate holds up much, much better and the graphics range from good to truly impressive.  From its appearance the city of Kirkwall could easily be a more fantasty styled version of one of the cities from Assassin’s Creed, it really does look that much better than Origins.

For those of you who may have played only the first part of the recent demo and grew tired of the drab landscape before giving up, you should try again and persevere to reach the city section.  From a story and tutorial viewpoint it is easy to see why the demo, and the game itself, open with that journey through the Blighted landscape.  As a demonstration of how good the new graphics can look though it really is terrible.  The other landscapes in the game offer far more stunning and varied vistas.

Variety, or rather a lack of it, is one of the game’s problems though.  You spend ten years in and around Kirkwall so it’s fair enough that you revisit locations at different times.  However, many of those locations reuse the same basic layout.  An interior that serves as a brothel in one location is a mansion elsewhere and the third time you encounter the same cave system in a different location it starts to become annoying.  Given your necessary repeat visits to the game’s locations it would have been nicer if those locations were more unique.

Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age II has dropped the generic fantasy appearance of Origins, choosing instead to give the world and its inhabitants a more stylised, high-fantasy look.  The new look may initially be a little uncomfortable for Origins veterans with well known races like the Qunari and some familiar returning characters looking very much different to their previous incarnations.

At times though it feels like some of the redesign may have gone a little too far.  In Origins the appearance of the Elves was as slender, generally shorter humans with slightly pointed ears.  Now they are almost stereotypical caricatures that remain short of stature but look painfully thin with much more angular faces and dagger-like ears that almost point backwards.

For the country-living Dalish Elves that caricature-like design even seems to extend to their speech.  Most of those little folk are now voiced with Irish or Welsh accents.  Fortunately the Dalish Elf you are likely to spend the most time talking to has been blessed with the sweet, lyrical voice of Torchwood’s Eve Myles and the vocal performances in general are up to the usual standard we have come to expect from BioWare’s games.

[boxout]Speech and dialogue are another area that has seen a change from Origins.  The Grey Warden was as silent as Half Life’s Gordon Freeman and dialogue choices were presented as options displaying the full text of your character’s response.

In Dragon Age II Hawke has found their voice and chats away as freely as Commander Shephard does.  Dialogue options have been given a Mass Effect spin too with up to six concise representations of Hawke’s possible responses arranged around a circle.  An additional tweak, one that will surely make it into Mass Effect 3 later this year, is that each option has an associated ‘emoticon’ that appears in the centre of the circle when that option is highlighted.

The emoticon gives you an insight into the emotion or intent behind each response.  For example, a hand with crossed fingers indicates a lie you hope is not spotted, a heart means the comment is flirtatious or romantic, a leafy green twig is peaceful and reassuring and crossed swords mean it will lead to combat.  There are more symbols than just those four and as a system it really does help convey to you the player what the implications may be of Hawke’s next words.

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  1. This was one of the games I wanted to pick up last year but still haven’t gotten around to it, this seems just as good, if not better.

    Why does there have to be so many games on my ‘to-play list’ =(

    • I’m assuming you’re referring to Dragon Age: Origins?

      • Yeah, sorry, should have stated more clearly. =)

  2. I have ordered it on thursday but i can’t have it till my birthday. I’m glad i didn’t make a mistake although i’m not happy that DA2 has turned into a cross between DA and ME. I should enjoy it.

    • i wouldn’t say it has become a cross of the two. Just aspects of one game being put into the other to give a better feel

  3. Not on my sopping list, it felt drab and vastly inferior to Mass Effect 2

  4. Gonna play Mass Effect 2 first.

  5. Played the first mission and loving it a great sequel

  6. “•Feels like it’s trying to be a fantasy Mass Effect and doesn’t quite make it”

    That’s what I though when I played the demo. Doesn’t mean I won’t give it a go in the future, there’s bound to be loads of DLC.

  7. With the release of this review we can finally put to rest any idea that TSA is in any way somehow more trustworthy with its reviews, or above corruption, than any other gaming site.

    This game has an average review score on Metacritic of 81% among the gaming press. It has an average user score of 38% based on over 1,000 ratings. A level of disparity that I have never seen the likes of before.

    This game has been universally regarded by every single person I’ve spoken to who has played it as drivel. Anecdotally speaking, I personally felt the demo was awful and that was before I had read anything about it. I had got up early to go and buy it and thought I would try the demo first. Glad I did.

    Congratulations on coming down to the level of every other gaming site.

    • I found the demo very enjoyable and can’t wait to play the full game. I guess you’ve spoken to the negative crowd.

      If you want to find such a gulf of disparity then look to Modern Warfare titles too. They get voted down for no reason other than the childish trivial ones we read about all-too-often on the internet. Seems that if there’s a massive franchise (or one where a sequel pushes hard to leave the predecessor alone, like this one) then readers’ reviews and media opinions tend to differ greatly.

      Bioware have worked hard to address the concerns of Origins and changed the art-style too. Seems that there’s a big enough fanbase to vote any title down once it gets to a certain size. Keep in mind that negative (more vocal) opinions are heard far more than positive ones. It’s in our nature. :-\

    • Just to add: Have you thought, just for a moment, that Greg thoroughly enjoyed this as he enjoyed Origins? Crazy talk, eh? :-)

    • Some games arnt for everybody. I can only go on Origins myself but i really like that and need to get back to it.
      Out of interest, who are these 1000 users who averaged 38%. Would like to know how valid those stats are… i mean, for all i know it could be from

      • ditto! If I wrote reviews I would always give casual racing games a low score and sims high scores. That’s because I can’t stand the physics of casual races excluding dirt 2 because that was a fun game!

        Everyone has their own opinions on everything so scores will vary from site to site!

    • You’re welcome to your opinion, but having actually played the game, 9/10 is mine. It found it as utterly un-put-downable (for want of a better word) as Dragon Age: Origins. Is it different in some respects, sure, but I still think it’s a great game.

      As I mention in the review, the demo, and particularly the first half of it, is not a great showcase for the game. But then, if someone asked me to select which parts of an RPG which is primarily about story and character interaction to include in a short demo I wouldn’t know where to start.

      I haven’t read any other reviews yet, I didn’t want them to colour my own opinions, I plan on reading them later.

      If the haters are busy attacking the Metacritic user score, fine. Same thing happens on Amazon’s user reviews all the time. Just means that as an empirical source of data it becomes useless if read without using critical judgement.

    • It had a massively low score on Metacritic before it even came out! Internet nerds decided that they wanted to hate it and so they did.

      You can barely trust user scores anymore because idiots use the scoring as a thumbs up or down (0% or 100%), which destroys the legitimacy of the entire user review part of Metacritic. It becomes trolls versus fanboys, legitimate reviews make very little difference to the overall score because they are averaged out.

      I find it interesting that you don’t even say any reason that you think the game is bad, just that the statistics say that it is bad and hence the site is corrupt. I’ve actually played the game for 6 hours now and so far, it destroys Dragon Age 1, in practically every catagory.

      • @Uhyve – For me, there are aspects that make it a worse game than DAO. This is why scores and opinions vary.
        I’m still enjoying it so far, just not as much as I had hoped.

        I dislike the changes compared to DAO,and personally I’d score it lower because of this but I’m happy that the author of this review thinks they are positive changes and they are entitled to their opinion.

      • Oh yeah, I can see people not liking it as much as the original, that’s completely fine, it’s just the 3.8 out of 10 is suspect to me. I probably should have left the last paragraph out, that was me in rage mode.

    • A truly ignorant comment. I’ve played just under 30 hours of DA II so far and came to the same conclusion as Greg. It’s a brilliant game, different to Origins but superior in as many ways as inferior. How about playing it before mouthing off.

      On another note; good review, I was wondering when the review would show up. Nice work :)

  8. With the release of this review we can finally put to rest any idea that TSA is in any way somehow more trustworthy with its reviews, or above corruption, than any other gaming site.

    This game has an average review score on Metacritic of 81% among the gaming press. It has an average user score of 38% based on over 1,000 ratings. A level of disparity that I have never seen the likes of before.

    This game has been universally regarded by every single person I’ve spoken to who has played it as drivel. Anecdotally speaking, I personally felt the demo was awful and that was before I had read anything about it. I had got up early to go and buy it and thought I would try the demo first. Glad I did.

    Congratulations on coming down to the level of every other gaming site.

    • I loved Origins and I’m enjoying this just as much.

    • Bit harsh?, ive got plenty of friends who are thoroughly enjoying this as they did the original.
      whats polarising opinion is that the game`s changed fairly dramatically and those people who invested so much time in the original having multiple characters etc feel that they`ve been cheated by having only 3 variants of character, plus a myriad of other differences that they feel are`nt needed.
      i wouldnt trust users on metacritic lol you read some of the GT5 ones? :D

    • game gets 10/10 from me so far.

    • Congratulation on becoming another “your opinion is different from mine so you’re stupid”.

      If you disagree with the review fine, but using the metacritic score as Your reasoning only points out the flaw in your own reviews. And everyone I’ve spoken to love the game and the 2 reviews I read were positive.

      Katy’s entitled to voice her opinion, as are you, but sexist comments are not welcome here. ~n

      • dude….. ouch, not really worth the last comment mate.

      • Yikes man, I agree she was wrong, but that was a nasty comment and pretty sexist.

    • DeJa Vu much?

  9. Got the game on pc! Loving it so far and the new engine is very noticeable from the first game.
    Only issues so far is the sound which is a bit buggy at times but I’m sure it will be patched soon!

  10. The so called spiritual successor to Baldar’s gate 2 has left it’s traditional RPG heritage behind and morphed into a new action genre in an attempt to capture further audiences and increase profits for EA/BioWare, not unlike the Mass Effect series.

    I hope it works out for them, I have no doubt that there will be a large audience who will enjoy this game. I for one have jumped off this train and will look for alternatives for my RPG fix.

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