Dragon Age II (DA2) unfortunately did not carry the momentum created from Dragon Age Origins (DAO). The BioWare produced sequel was not an awful game, it simply did not meet the expectations set by its predecessor. BioWare also unfortunately pushed the title to resemble Mass Effect. Dragon Age fans wanted the experience to further nuanced and unique like Baldur’s Gate, and not the old earth version of their famous adventure shooter. The action role-playing game was released in March 2011, two short years after DAO. EA unfortunately enforced a tight schedule, leaving only 14-16 months to complete the sequel’s development. This resulted in the reuse of several assets and locations. Nevertheless, there were several graphical improvements made to the game. Despite the improved Eclipse Engine however, the graphics and general aesthetic were average to good at best relative to comparable games at the time.
The game takes place after the events that occurred in Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age II focuses on a refugee named Hawke, who is burdened with the destiny of a hero. Hawke and his family were forced to fleeing from the annihilation of Lothering during the Fifth Blight. As darkspawn continue to descend upon the group, the circumstances quickly appear to be insurmountable.
Like many BioWare titles, DA2 values and responds to the decisions made by the protagonist. The choices made by the native of Ferelden will weigh tremendously upon the surrounding society. Hawke will make pivotal decisions on political conflicts between powerful religious and magical entities. The adventurer will also be faced with to make difficult choices regarding complex systemic societal problems like classism and slavery. These choices will also alter much of the story as the game progresses. Choices are not steeped in simple good versus evil tropes, as much of the story’s conflicts are nuanced and complex. Much like the general aesthetic of Kirkwall, morality also lives within the grey. Finding the right answer becomes much more personal, and fulfilling. Party companions are not simply along for the ride, and their opinions of Hawke will change, depending on his decisions.
However, overall the quests do not feel as world changing as they did in Origins. The is partially because majority of the experience will occur in the city of Kirkwall. There are few places outside of the city available for explorations. For these reasons, DA2 felt less epic than Origins. The conflict between Mages and the Templar which was present in Origins becomes the focal point in DAII. The main story line is fairly short, and significantly shorter than DAO. The story is primarily driven by Hawke’s conversations and Varric’s narration.
Unlike Origins, there is only one playable character available, a human named Hawke. There is also no origin story options to chose from. Both Hawke’s gender and appearance however, are available for customization. DA2 allows the player to import saves from DAO. Thought, the main player will not be available, the choices made in the Origins will carry through to the sequel.
The majority of the DA2 takes place in the city of Kirkwall. Due to the short development time, several of the assets were reused. Seeing similar alleyways and building walls throughout the city, at times produced visually monotonous experience. What was even worse was the background art to the city was average at best. If most of the game is within Kirkwall, then ideally the backdrop of the city walls and buildings would be breathtaking. The caves all look exactly the same, bland repetitive muted tones, which was simply disheartening. Despite these complaints however, the overall visual experience is much improved from the game’s predecessor.
In DA2, the days and nights offer unique options for the adventurer. At night, the party can ‘Clean up the streets’ by defeating random criminals. When a group of rogues are defeated, the party is then rewarded with experience. The game’s interface was also improved. It boast better organization which allows for faster navigation through its varied options.
The voice acting is well done, with some characters being better than others. The dialogue options for Hawke are completed voiced, which produce more compelling scenes. However, at times the dialogue options felt more limited than in Origins, which hindered the immersive experience. The conversations between party members are one of the best features to DA2. The writing is witty, charming, and sometimes even heartwarming. Despite these positives, the party companions are still less developed and compelling than in DAO. One enjoyable dynamic were the friendship and rivalry mechanics between party companions. Party members will have their own moral compasses which will sway depending on the choices made throughout the game. Depending on the status of the friendship/rivalry bars will determine the companions’ decisions in the endgame.
The characters in this sequel are unfortunately not as memorable as in DAO. Morrigan and Alistair were sorely missed as party companions (though you do briefly see Alistair), as they were enjoyable and integral characters in Origins. The ability to converse and have insightful conversations with party members randomly has also been removed. Instead, Hawke must visit them at their respective homes within Kirkwall. There are also companion quests available. There are romances in Dragon Age II available for both male and female Hawkes.
The combat in Dragon Age II feels more fluid and intuitive than the first game. Attack animation has been greatly improved and looks sleeker than in DAO. The sequel was touted as offering a more seamless combat experience. Which ultimately it successfully achieved. Unfortunately, this also resulted in the combat becoming more simplified and less tactical. One of the best features of DOA was the level of tactical optimization available to the user.
The inability to completely zoom in and out of the characters through the overhead camera, makes the micromanaging fights more difficult. Party members AI is still buggy, and require constant management. The fights themselves are arguably too easy on the normal setting. The player can no longer customize the party’s armor, which was an unwelcome change from Origins. There are upgrades for companion’s gear, and the accessories may be swapped for better-stat alternatives.
Certain combat abilities will have synergies with other party members abilities producing cross class combo mechanics, which are awesome. The spell effects have seen visual upgrades as well which further heighten the combat experience. The skill trees and specialization options make a welcome return, and the tool tips provide substantial information for build path planning.
Enemies can appear out of no where from time to time. One of the more unsatisfying decisions made in Dragon Age II was that the forced certain plot outcomes to set up Dragon Age: Inquisition. This was mostly likely due to the truncated development time frame. Nevertheless, the story line of Dragon Age II is subsequently the most linear in the entire series. This was reminiscent of Mass Effect’s loyalty system.
Dragon Age II is a good game, but Dragon Age: Origins was significantly better game overall. Origins was the standard in which countless RPGs were measured. When separated from the shadow of the original game, DA2 has much to offer. Dragon Age II is packed with over 30 hours of gameplay, deep and nuanced storytelling, and exciting combat. In context of the entire series DA2 makes sense. If anything Dragon Age II, is a wonderful prequel to the third installment in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition.