Dragon Age II Review

Finally here it is (even though it's been out since March) - my Dragon Age II review! This probably took the most out of my time in terms of a review, but Bioware RPGs usually tend to. I think I got about 40 hours playtime all up with my first playthrough.

Why did I buy Dragon Age II? Well I played the first one and for all its faults, it's still a pretty awesome game, and I heard that Dragon Age II was to Dragon Age what Mass Effect II was to Mass Effect. Since I seem to be one of the few fans who actually liked what they did with Mass Effect II, I was intrigued as to what this actually meant for Dragon Age II.

Sound (4/5)
The voice actors weren't as high profile this time around. You don't have the likes of Claudia Black, Kate Mulgrew and Steve Blum to name a few. However, if you're a Pom, you'd probably recognise a few of them since most of them appear to British TV actors and personalities. While most of the voice acting was passable, there were occasional parts where it got sloppy.

Music (5/5)
Inon Zur returns to score the track for Dragon Age II and he's done an excellent job with the main themes, incorporating many riffs and melodies from the original (which also had an exceptional soundtrack). Check out my soundtrack review to learn more.

Graphics (3/5)
Graphics have improved with the times and they are on par with Mass Effect 2. However, just like the first Dragon Age, I once again incur the wrath of the dreaded graphical glitches! Instead of getting artefacts like the first time, this Dragon Age seems to lag terribly during certain cutscenes, so bad that sometimes I miss out on some of the speech, which is not very choice indeed!

Plot (3/5)
As you may have already read, Dragon Age II doesn't have as epic a storyline as the original Dragon Age. In the original Dragon Age, you were a Grey Warden who travelled all over Ferelden, uniting the Humans, Dwarves and Elves to fight back the evil Darkspawn.

The game is set a couple of years after the first Dragon Age (well actually there's a bit of a tutorial/prologue that is set during the rout of King Cailan during Dragon Age: Origins, but that doesn't last long). You are a Fereldan refugee who has arrived on the shores of the Free Marches, at the ancient slave city of Kirkwall. You basically start off your existence doing odd-jobs to survive and are pretty much a nobody.

What is a plus of this particular Dragon Age is that you get to see your character grow from a refugee to a noble (or even perhaps king) of the City of Kirkwall. Not bad for 10 years work if you can get it...

However being set in one city, while it may seem logical for the plot, doesn't make for a very fun and varied game when you end up recycling many of the locales.

Gameplay (4/5)
I actually had much more fun playing this second iteration of Dragon Age - and I didn't even need to turn the difficulty down (*gasp*)! Playing a bow-wielding rogue (as I tried in the first Dragon Age) seems to be easier in this one; I only had to opt out of one difficult battle this time! Fortunately it was a side quest and not in the way of anything major. What has been a godsend is that the rogue can now defend himself quite competently at close-quarters (even if you take a ranged attack skill path) and he looks pretty awesome when he does it too!

The game is definitely more streamlined, adopting an action RPG skill tree in favour of the traditional D&D mechanics. Also healing and mana/stamina potions are pooled together, which might make the interface more appealing and efficient, but there are also cooling down periods when you use them (meaning you can't just continually quaff them ad nauseam).

Gifting companions as was the case in Dragon Age 1 is not present in Dragon Age 2. You still have the bars indicating whether your companions like/hate you but you affect their impression on you the old fashioned way, i.e. by conversation choices.

Speaking of conversation choices, you now have a conversation wheel similar to the Mass Effect series. You always have three stances or behaviours to choose from, one being the good/polite/peaceful approach, the neutral/smartarse/profitable approach or the evil/rude/violent approach. One choice aspect I noticed is that I believe picking one stance/behaviour more than the other will cause your character to say things associated with that behaviour automatically during conversations you don't have control over. This means you’re giving cues of how your character’s personality is like by what he/she says.

Replayability (4/5)
Replyability has gone backwards somewhat in this iteration of Dragon Age. There are no more Origin stories, you can only play as a human, and the ending doesn't really seem to be much different no matter how you play, which is a shame, since one of the main reasons you play a Bioware RPG is to check out what kind of different endings and sub-quests you can get depending on the sex, race, background and alignment of your character!

The game still retains some of the Bioware trademarks though, like achievements, romantic interests, choosing who lives, who dies and who leaves your party.

Polish (3/5)
The game uses the same cumbersome Bioware Social Network as its predecessor, however, I didn't have any issues this time since I've just grumbled a bit and accepted the fact I have no choice but to use it. Still doesn't mean I have to like it!

The only issue I've stumbled across is that at some point Bioware decided to place all the free DLC in a new place, and it took several minutes for me to navigate where it was. Bioware's Social Network isn't the most user-friendly interface out there - which is a shame. They really should take a leaf out of Steam's book... (and even then, Steam isn't perfect).

Overall - 8/10
It's true. Dragon Age II did for Dragon Age, what Mass Effect 2 did for Mass Effect. This is generally a good thing, unless you're an RPG conservative.

Normally I'd vouch for Steam to get the cheapest price for a game, but you can get Dragon Age II for the sale price of $64 at GAME Australia. It also includes free shipping in Australia!