This sequel to Dragon Age: Origins is a pretty typical RPG that’s been streamlined to make it more of an accessible entry in the “series”. I use quotes because this doesn’t feel like a sequel, as much as it does an expansion pack. A watered down expansion pack. So much so that it feels drowned and bloated, washing ashore to be discovered by some horrified early morning joggers.
SIGHTPLAY – This game is ugly. I love the fantasy genre, and even with that going for it this game falls flat to deliver any of the charm that Dragon Age: Origins worked so hard to deliver. Everyone’s hair seems to be made of petrified wood and their faces are equally made of stone. During conversations there are more animations to make dialogue seem a bit less lifeless, but after you’ve seen the pensive back and forth, you’ve pretty much seen it all.
The game is rife with visual inconsistency, for example during combat enemies burst into geysers of blood and it just doesn’t make sense most of the time. How does getting hit by an ice bolt vaporize you? There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to create a gritty fantasy world, as slaying dragons shouldn’t be a bloodless business, but covering the characters from head to toe in blood is not a convincing way of making a game more realistic. Having serious choices that impact the lives of your party members would be a better way to do this.
Since you can’t change the equipment of your party members, the armor you get to see is incredibly limited. And even then, when you finally discover a piece of armor that’s worth equipping, you’ll be disappointed to find that 75% of the time it looks exactly the same! Too often I found myself using worse equipment just to have something different to look at.
SOUNDPLAY – One of the only redeeming qualities of this game is the competent voice acting. It holds up just as good as it did in Origins, and it really adds to the atmosphere. The banter between certain characters is usually clever and enjoyable. Spells sound appropriately mystical, and swords banging against shield sound decent enough as well. There are a few skill/techniques that sound like they’re meant for a different class, but it’s a rare occurrence, and is probably just the sound of too many things happening at once.
GAMEPLAY – This is where the game really fails to deliver. In an effort to streamline the game mechanics from the first game, Dragon Age II removes so many choices from the player that the gameplay becomes boring far too quickly. Attacking requires you to continuously press the “attack” button like it’s going out of style (which it very much is in this game).
If you play as a spell caster or rouge, you’ll find that only being able to have six spells hotkeyed isn’t enough, when considering the bevy of techniques at your disposal. Having your selected skills used up forces you to stop the game, open your skill wheel, and choose one from there, because the six you chose are cooling down still.If you play as a warrior, you'll find yourself waiting for your four or five skills to recharge, as you don't get many more of them.
Another incredibly tedious method this game employs to artificially draw out combat, is to spawn more enemies from all sides. And they quite literally drop in from the sky/ceiling (yes, even in the middle of a city courtyard). I’m not complaining because suddenly my mages and archers are in danger, more so it’s are you telling me this fight isn’t over yet? It would stand to reason that if those last three minions saw me wipe out twenty of their brethren including their strongest champion, wouldn’t they just run away? The enemy variety is incredibly sparse, and the feared Darkspawn are practically forgotten about in this game. Given the circumstances behind the first game, that’s mildly understandable, but surely there are dens of evil still lying about that require “cleansing” (or “saving”). Get used to bandits and skeletons folks.
The locations are a real slap in the face to anyone who shelled out their hard earned money for this game. The same handful of settings is reused far too often, and the lazy technique of doors being blocked off, just so they can unlock it during the next act for you to explore does not constitute a new place. Invisible walls is one thing, but when my party of heroes, that can slay a fucking dragon mind you, are unable to enter a cave because its blocked off by an abandoned wagon. This is the epitome of lazy design.
The story is pretty damn bad too. There are three acts, each shorter than the last, and none of them have an interconnected story arc. Each act’s major dramatic question has a conclusion by the end of it, meaning little in terms of character challenge to overcome. The quests are an array of forgettable fetch missions, and having “Mages vs Templars” as the main source for conflict is not a compelling villain. Is it social commentary? Yes. Is it on-the-nose and trite? Yes. There’s more I could go on about, like the lack of a crafting element, the rivalry/friendship system which is ill-executed, and the ending which is pathetic, but by now I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me make the same point over again.
REPLAY – Ironically, this game actually has less replay value if you import a save file from Dragon Age: Origins. If you import a save and beat the game, you unlock an achievement that would have been obtained had you beat the game twice. This means that if you are a trophy/achievement hunter (like me), and have a previous save from the first game, then it’s possible to earn everyone in a single play through, roughly 40 hours.
SCORE – 1 out of 5. This game is an obvious cash-in on the success of the first game. The best moments I had with Dragon Age II, was when it made me remember how much fun Dragon Age: Origins was.