Dragon Age II is not the sequel that the fans were expecting. Rather than following the character from the first, Dragon Age II offers the player a new character, making this game more of a side-step than a true sequel, and I think that disappointed some of the games’ followers. That being said, the fact that it is not a true sequel does not prevent the game from being good. It just means that players will need to adjust their expectations somewhat.
When I first started the game up, I was initially taken aback by how different the game looked and felt. It became obvious quite early on that Dragon Age II was an RPG that had been made specifically for the console market, unlike the first Dragon Age game that was so blatantly designed for the PC. The controls seemed more fitting, the dialogue was better and the combat was far more fluid this time around. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the game had a more action-based feel to it. These were all impressions that I got in the first few minutes of gameplay and, to be honest, it left me feeling unsure as to where the game was going. I really liked the first Dragon Age game and have been excited about this sequel for some time. Still, I have an open mind.
The player takes on the role of Hawke. After your homeland of Ferelden has fallen to the Blight, you travel to the city of Kirkwall and follow your destiny which will lead to you becoming the Champion of Kirkwall. But what kind of Champion you become is open to all sorts of decisions and choices that you make along the way. The story trundles along, taking a fair while to gain momentum, and revolves for the most part around the conflict between the Mages and the Templar. Quite simply, the Mages want the freedom to use magic as they see fit, even though it may turn them insane and a danger to all around them. The Templar on the other hand, want to police the use of magic and, if required, destroy those who use it. It is a conflict that has been touched upon in many works of Fantasy, and it has been woven into an interesting story here.
As before, the player gets to gather a group of comrades about them with which to face the perils of the world. This support cast doesn’t feel as amiable as those in Dragon Age: Origins, but that doesn’t reduce the enjoyment of watching them develop through their conversations with the other characters in the group. Building relationships with the members of your group is as important as before, but there is far less emphasis on being everyone’s friends. Indeed, the benefits of being a rival can be as important as the benefits of being friends. The relationship extremes of being a friend or rival are reached through the use of dialogue for the most part and will depend on the players responses to certain questions and such. Dialogue this time around is dealt with through a much simpler system using icons to describe the tone or your speech. This makes it far easier for the player to guide the conversations in the direction they wish.
The combat, as already mentioned, is much more fluid this time around. Players will find themselves button-mashing through the early part of the game, with the result that the combat looks far more impressive and more “epic”. Things become far more involved later in the game as the players character evolves and discovers far more inventive ways of dispatching enemies. That being said, there is wrong with a nice bit of button mashing and I actually found it quite enjoyable. The cross-class combo system that is firmly in place in the game is also a joy to take advantage of. This allows players to gain significant advantage by combining attacks with their team-mates, such as staggering a foe and then letting the mage use chain lightening on them. The amount of damage that results is immense.
When it comes to the way that the game looks, there are two things to be said. Firstly is that it seems a bit dull. Don’t get me wrong, everything is functional and looks good. It’s just that there is a lack of colour, a lack of epic scenery and impressive views that make the player realise how beautiful this world is. The second thing to be said is more of a question – “Were Bioware in a hurry?”. Seeing the same dungeons repeated time and again, and the same set pieces used so many times, is disappointing. It is not that I am expecting miracles, but seeing everything that the game has to offer so quickly makes the rest of the game drag a bit.
But that all begs another question – Was it too soon to release Dragon Age II. I know that I was not the only one to be surprised by the rapid release of this sequel that is not a sequel.
For all of the differences between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, it doesn’t stop the game from being hugely entertaining. It may not be what was expected, but it has a fine, involving story, solid mechanics and a much better feeling on consoles. Not the epic experience of the first, but still a damn fun game, worthy of trying out.