Review: Dragon Age II

For those of us who spent a great deal of time with Origins and became intimately familiar with its combat mechanics some of the initial news out of BioWare after Dragon Age II was announced was a cause for concern.  The system seemed close to perfect for the game’s fantastical combat.

Players had the freedom to glide through combat in a minimally complex way, reducing it to the use of a ‘hit’ button with a few quick access shortcuts set up to favourite abilities or spells.  At the other extreme there was a deep tactical system that essentially allowed you to program the combat behaviour of your AI party members.  Combined with the ability to pause combat at any point and issue commands and instructions to your party it was a flexible system that catered for all-comers.

PC gamers in particular were worried that the combat system was being ‘dumbed down’ to suit the console versions of the game.  Much wailing and gnashing of virtual teeth ensued and BioWare have gone to some lengths between them and now to address players’ concerns, something the demo helped with.  The good news is that with a few minor differences combat has come through broadly unchanged.

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Movement both in and out of combat is handled in the conventional manner with the left and right analogue sticks in charge of moving and looking respectively.  Thanks to the new game engine and characters having a wider range of improved animations combat looks and feels much more fluid than before.  When you engage in melee attacks it also has a much more dynamic quality, the flurry of attacks a dual-wielding rogue can unleash becoming much more satisfying as a result.

Using your basic attack on a target is simply a matter of turning towards it and pressing ‘A’ (or ‘X’ on PS3).  This is where one of the minor combat differences shows.  In Origins a single tap was enough to initiate a continual stream of basic attacks against the selected target, but in Dragon Age II it only launches a single attack, making combat much more of a button-mashing activity than it was.

Dragon Age 2

The shoulder buttons allow you to switch between each member of you party or by pressing both of them at once you can give a command to the whole group, perhaps to instruct them to all to launch attacks against a single foe.

A tap of the left trigger brings up a radial menu from which you can access abilities and spells, drink restorative potions, lay traps and throw items or command characters to move to a location or stand still.  Up to six items, potions, abilities and spells can be assigned to your battle menu, three being accessed with a tap of ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘B’ (square, triangle or circle on PS3) while holding the right trigger and pressing one of those button accesses the remaining three.

‘Select’ now brings up the map, whilst ‘start’ takes you to a radial menu, again similar to that in Mass Effect, where you’ll find the usual game options and access you character record, inventory and journal, which records your quests and any codices you collect.

Much of this is all standard RPG fare but a few aspects are worth noting for their differences to Origins.  In the inventory items are given star rating applicable to the character’s current level, where two stars means the item is ‘standard’.  This makes it much easier to see which items to keep and which to throw when your inventory begins to fill.

You no longer assign clothing and armour to the other members of your party.  Mix and match clothing is now solely the preserve of Hawke.  The others all have their own outfit which is upgraded by items that you buy or find during your adventures.  That the upgrades are only found in particular shops at particular times or in particular locations means that finding them all becomes an unwelcome additional grind.

[drop2]Character’s skills, abilities and spells are now acquired through progression within branching ‘schools’.  For example, when they level up mages can spend points in a school for elemental or spirit magic while rogues may purchase abilities in dual-wielding or archery.

Each node on these trees has one or more prerequisites.  The most basic being that you must have bought all the nodes connected to the left of the one you want before it will become available.  Other restrictions may be related to the character’s level or require you to have spent a certain number of points in that school.

While these schools actually represent a reduction in the number of options compared to Origins, they work very well as a mechanic with some of the old skills now redundant or solely dependent upon a particular attribute.  For example, a rogue’s ‘Cunning’ attribute now determines their lock pick and trap spotting ability without the need for separate skills.

Dragon Age 2

Discussion of game mechanics aside though, the key thing is whether Dragon Age II delivers as an experience.  It does.  BioWare have created another great, compelling RPG that is capable of consuming your free time despite your best efforts.  Even trying to race through the game for the purposes of this review it has proven impossible to ignore all the diverting little side quests or refrain from taking a moment’s pause in my travels to enjoy the great banter between party members.  If you have even a passing interest in fantasy RPGs you will likely revel in Hawke’s company.

[buy]Pros

  • Significantly improved game engine
  • BioWare once again demonstrate the strength of their story telling skills
  • Interesting and engaging characters and dialogue
  • Combat as simple or as complicated as you want to make it

Cons

  • Excessive reuse of locations and interiors
  • Feels like it’s trying to be a fantasy Mass Effect and doesn’t quite make it

BioWare have made a glorious return to the world of Dragon Age.  A much improved game engine and a new art style gives the realm a cleaner, more attractive look and its inhabitants a more distinctive appearance.  Minor niggles aside, this is without a doubt the best story-driven fantasy RPG available on consoles at the moment.  Fans of Origins will enjoy the many references to their previous adventures and the return of familiar characters, while those new to Dragon Age will find an engaging and well-realised fantasy world to adventure in that requires no prior knowledge of events in the first game.

Score: 9/10

The screenshots are press shots and therefore not necessarily from the Xbox 360 version of the game that we received for review.

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45 Comments

  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 RPGsSuck.com

      • 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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