Dragon Age II review
One small step for fans, One giant leap (backwards) for some cash

The good:

Characters are half decent
Character customisation system

The bad:

Horrible main story
No Dragons
Confined to one city


It takes a genius to make a successful, award winning formula. I can’t even think of an appropriate word to describe the kind of person that it takes to ruin one. Whatever that word may be, it certainly applies to Dragon Age 2. The original was amazing. IGN and PC Gamer awarded it both the “PC Game of the Year” and “RPG of the Year”, and for good reason. With success like this, there would obviously be a lot of hype surrounding a sequel and of course, very high expectations. It seems, however, Bioware took a giant leap backwards in just about every area this time around. Dragon Age 2 is a satisfactory game that doesn’t come anywhere close to the greatness of the original.

The story begins during the events of the first game. The main character, Hawke, and his family are forced to flee their home in Ferelden due to the Darkspawn taking over their town. They take refuge in the neighbouring state of Kirkwall as refugees, where they will remain for the events of the game. That’s right, there’s no exploration of the lands like the original. You are stuck in one single town. The story is split into chapters, and most of these are split apart by several years. During this time Hawke will make a name for himself, and eventually earn the title of Champion. How does he do this you ask? That’s what the entire game is essentially dedicated to telling, so I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that the plot is perhaps the games weakest point. Everything seems like a trivial political side quest. I was left waiting for some kind of story involving dragons or darkspawn to emerge but nothing ever happened. In the end, I felt it was a compilation of side stories and nothing more. Not once was I ever invested in the narrative or even remotely interested in what was going to happen. This is the biggest flaw of the game. I believe a strong story is the most important thing in an RPG, so naturally this was a big blow for me. Below is a graph of my enjoyment throughout each of the chapters.

Fortunately the characters weren’t terrible. While some were annoying, others like Varrik and Isabella were not only quite humorous at times, but generally interesting. There are several main character that will join you, you’ll be able to find out quite a bit about them if you tackle their respective side quests. These are in fact, the only quests in the game that I found remotely interesting. In addition, just like the first game, you can romance certain characters. Homosexuality obviously wasn’t an issue back then, because they clearly take on the ‘any hole is a goal’ philosophy when it comes to bed time. While the romance system is amusing enough, I didn’t think it was as evolved as the original game. The progression with the relationships seemed a bit sudden. It should have been a more gradual process with more focus on their feelings. Hopefully they can fix this up in the next instalment.

While the battle system did acquire some praise, I didn’t think it evolved enough out of a basic hack n’ slash to receive any acclaim. Most battles for me simple involved (after setting basic tactics to my party members) mashing the R key (which tells your character to attack the closest enemy) and occasionally pressing the number keys to activate special moves. That’s really about it. R, R, R, R, R, R, R, win. I will note that I played most of the game on the normal difficulty setting, and playing on a harder level would obviously require you to think out the battles a bit more. Below is a video demonstrating how pausing the game enables a stop-start variation which grants control over all your characters. I never felt the need to do this however, as RRRRRR worked fine for me.

This system did take a leap backwards by not allowing your character to change weapons on the fly like the original did. I chose to become a Rouge, which specialises in both daggers and bows. Previously, you could hit the TAB key to swap between two weapon sets. In my case, it was duel daggers, and a bow and arrow. This time around, I would have to stop the game, enter the inventory screen, and swap the weapons manually. It may not sound like an issue, but when you need to change several times in a short fight, it destroys the flow of battle. In the end, I scrapped the bow altogether. What a shame....

There’s nothing really new in this area. If you keep smacking enemies over the head, you’ll eventually level up. The first thing you can do is raise your attributes, such as strength, magic, dexterity, etc. This system is quite flawed in my opinion, as only 2 of the six stats are useful per class. For example, you will only ever allocate your attribute points to Strength and Constitution (health) if the character is in the Warrior class as the other attributes (such as magic) are close to useless. This needs to be worked on before the next release. Fortunately, the ability system is better. Each level up will grant you one ability point. These can be spread over a number of areas and really allows you to choose and focus one particular fighting style. This adds a good level of replayability, as you won’t be able to learn every ability for your character in a single game. Below is an image of the ability tree for the Mage class.

I said before that the main plot feels like a few separate side quests. Unfortunately, the real side quests feel even more like side quests. You’ll accept a job for a random citizen, complete the task, and receive the reward. That’s all there is to it, and I was never remotely interested in what was happening in these quests. These objectives were generic and very repetitive (aside from your party members’ quests, as I pointed out before). To make things worse, because the entire game is set in one city (with exception to a few small outside areas) the locations don’t differ enough, making these side quests even duller. There didn’t even seem to be enough of a reward for completing most of these quests. All you get most of the time is money to spend at the shops. I would have liked to see more unique weapons and accessories handed out upon completion.

Dragon Age 2, the sequel to the massively popular and successful Dragon Age: Origins, does not deliver to expectations. The hype was huge, and Bioware created a massive let down. Just about every aspect in the game takes a giant leap backwards and I can’t help but feel that they rushed most of it in order to make some cash. This series award winning formula hasn’t totally been destroyed, and I believe they’ll bounce back in the future, correcting the mistakes they made this time around. If you haven’t touched this series yet, I strongly recommend the original: Dragon Age Origins. Don’t start with this one, as it may let you down.

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