Game of the Month: Dragon Age II

As I had really enjoyed playing BioWare‘s Dragon Age: Origins I was of course interested in Dragon Age II, the second game of the series. But as the game received very mixed reviews I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to play it. In the end I decided to give it a try to be able to form my own opinion.

Dragon Age II doesn’t continue the story of the first part. It tells a new story taking place in the same fantasy world during the same era. Hawke, her siblings and their mother have to flee from Lothering during the invasion of the Dark Spawn (which the player has to stop in the first part). By the skin of their teeth they manage to reach the city-state of Kirkwall where their mother’s family lives. But after their arrival they learn that their uncle lost the family’s fortune. As the city is already overrun with refugees Hawke has to enter into indentured servitude for a year to pay for their entrance. The game tells the story of Hawke rising to fame and fortune against all the odds. But she also gets drawn into the escalating conflict between Mages and Templars that threatens the peace in Kirkwall.

One of the most frequent complaints about Dragon Age II is the combat system. I personally noticed that combat is faster and that console players finally have the ability to properly pause a fight and issue commands to all four characters. In particular the latter counts as a big improvement in my opinion. Another complaint is the small setting. The game only features a relatively small number of areas which each get (re)used for multiple missions during the course of the story. Some maps (e.g. the standard cave) even get recycled for a lot of different locations. The game designers try to hide this with crude tricks like moving the entrance around or closing parts of the maps depending on the mission. Overall the world and therefore the game lacks the epic proportions of the first part. Players also complained that BioWare dumbed the game down. They definitely simplified the role play system. And while I’m alright with some of their changes like the removal of non-combat skills I’m not very happy with other aspects, in particular the restrictive weapon class system. But there are also big improvements in Dragon Age II which I appreciated very much. The main character is fully (and excellently) voiced which makes the game feel like an interactive fantasy movie. The animation of the characters is also much more exciting. Mages now swing their staffs in artistic moves depending on the type of spell that they are casting. Or a rogue’s dodge is now a spectacular backflip instead of an enemy attack which simply misses for no obvious reason. The stories and the characters are also more complex. There is no obvious good and evil side in the conflict between the Mages and the Templars. There are heroes and villains in both fractions. Hawke’s companions are also multifaceted. In particular the potential romantic interests all have a troubled past and issues that Hawke has to deal with.

I definitely enjoyed playing Dragon Age II. While I agree that the game has flaws (in particular the excessive reuse of maps) it excels over its predecessor in e.g. story telling and graphics. I also suspect that some of the fans didn’t enjoy the blurred lines between good and evil. But in my opinion this is something which makes it even more worthwhile to play this game.

For the next part BioWare have promised the fans to learn from their mistakes in Dragon Age II. If they keep their promise and deliver story telling of this quality with the epic proportions of Dragon Age: Origins then Dragon Age: Inquisition will become a remarkable game. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

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