It’s been only 16 months since BioWare introduced us to the magical world of Thedas. It’s a wonderful place, at least for aspiring heroes, as there’s no shortage of menacing beasts to slay or corrupt figureheads to overthrow. 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins
showed us that a proper cRPG can still melt our faces with dozens of hours of unadulterated epic adventure, but that took place in but one of many regions of the mythical realm. As it happens, the Blight had somewhat of a ripple effect on the areas surrounding Ferelden, despite its having been halted before spreading beyond those shores. Thousands of refugees poured into adjacent territories, including the Free Marches, where this Dragon Age
sequel takes place. Does it deliver the same fantastic role-playing experience that made the first Game of the Year? I know you’re just dying to find out, so read on!
I could spend all day describing every aspect of Dragon Age II’s
gameplay, but instead I’ll focus on the differences between it and its predecessor. The two are quite similar for the most part, which means DA2 is inherently enjoyable. However, as I’m sure you’ve heard before reading this, BioWare has made several significant changes. Some are good and others are not so good, but either way, discussion of them will make up the bulk of this review. It’s probably a safe bet that if you’re interested in this game, you’ve already played Origins
anyway, but if not, you can refer to my review of that
, as well.
If you played the demo, you’ve experienced most of the game’s prologue. It’s focused on introducing you to your character, Hawke, and his family, as well as the combat. Despite outward appearances, everything about the latter is basically the same as in Origins
. In fact, the biggest change was only on the surface, as BioWare specifically designed combat to appear
more “responsive” and “exciting.” They definitely succeeded in that, though as much as I like bloody violence, the gore is a bit overkill (bodies explode whenever a critical hit or ability deals the final blow). Console versions require plenty of button mashing since there is no auto-attack, but even on the PC, melee characters will likely learn to love the ‘R’ key, the default bind for “select nearest enemy and auto-attack.” It’s much easier than right-clicking, which you would have to do often because your character won’t pursue enemies when they get knocked back or otherwise move away. If you want to avoid that, you could use ranged combat; it’s actually a lot more viable to play as an archer now, with vastly increased damage and physical force behind each shot that may knock back enemies.
While the degree of tactical control from Origins
is preserved (less the overhead camera angle, for some reason), it can be less important or even completely unnecessary, depending on the difficulty level. Additionally, the vast majority of encounters play out with your party being ambushed, which means there’s less opportunity for planning out how you’re going to engage the enemy. It’s pointless to worry about positioning even after the fighting has begun, since almost every battle has multiple waves of enemies appearing out of nowhere. The skill trees have been tweaked somewhat, but they still have level and investment requirements -- the most significant addition in this regard is what are called cross-class combos, involving class-specific debuffs that can be exploited by other classes’ abilities. Boss battles were made more like standard action games, instead of just having super-sized health, power, and resistances. They often require you run around and avoid special attacks by sidestepping or hiding behind a pillar, then focus fire when their weakness is exposed. While this accomplishes the goal of making such encounters more engaging, that’s not exactly the kind of gameplay you would expect from a tactical RPG.
In terms of player characters, DA2 represents a shift in focus from a potential variety of different identities to that of a single, pre-defined individual named Hawke. You guide him or her on a quest that lasts ten years, starting out as a humble refugee of the Blight in Ferelden and eventually becoming the most influential person in the entire city-state of Kirkwall. What you may not realize going into it, though, is that 7 of those 10 years are completely skipped over, with three year-long “acts” taking place in between. Essentially, each act consists of a variety of secondary quests and side tasks that culminate in a single story-related event that closes out the chapter; they even clearly warn you beforehand that you should take care of any unfinished business before you continue because you’re about to embark on a time warp.