Dragon Age II Review

There are many reasons why casual gamers don’t play RPGs. The genre is known for its thick, demanding gameplay and its convoluted, sometimes trite storylines. One of the main features of an RPG that can make it inaccessible for casual gamers is the fighting, coming across as boring and repetitive to onlookers. Enter Dragon Age II, a sequel from BioWare that looks to solve, or just simplify, all of the common problems of a stereotypical RPG.

BioWare wastes no Dragotime hurling players into the world of Dragon Age II. The game starts with your protagonist, Hawke, fleeing his homeland of Ferleden with his family after it was ravaged by the Darkspawn. The game’s dialogue bleeds exposition; sacrificing no moment to origins or backstories. Smartly, BioWare decided to focus on a few key aspects of the Dragon Age world in order to keep things simple. It works albeit a shallow pond compared to the massive ocean that was Dragon Age: Origins story.

After about two hours or so, players are situated in the isolating realm of Kirkwall. From then on the game makes little effort to travel to any other location, completely centered around the politics and the innards of the city.

It seems stunted, but there are plenty of missions in Kirkwall. The problem lies in the quality of those missions. While other BioWare outings offered a sense of desperation and importance with their missions, both primary and secondary, Dragon Age II seems bereft. It’s difficult to distinguish between which missions move the story forward and which are just there for experience or money. The side missions never ascend beyond being arbitrary, which makes you feel like you’re doing missions just for the sake of doing missions. That isn’t to say they’re boring. They aren’t. They’re just lacking weight. That’s how most of the game is handled; it’s streamlined for the casual audience.

Consider the game’s combat. When players create their version of Hawke (who, unlike Dragon Age: Origins, can only be a male or female human), they choose between three classes: warrior, mage, and rogue. Warriors are the tank-like, offensive types. Rogues are the sprightly, melee types. Mages are self-explanatory. What in other RPGs would normally be a decision of fighting style, here simply refers to how often you want to mash buttons.

In combat, at least in normal circumstances, players have very little to do. The preset tasks that each party member comes equipped with do well to obliterate any foes. While this may not demand that players hop around and control different party members, it does allow them to experiment and capitalize on one specific character. It’s not until a prevalent boss battle that players have to engage or even think about their next move. That’s when the game forces players to manage each character’s spell or attack, making for some ungodly combos that will down even the toughest enemy in moments.

After gaining a level, players dole out points for new skills and stats. The skills are gained via ability grids specified by class type. In other words, there are plenty of bells and whistles for each person in your party. Completing each grid isn’t necesary, but it’s really satifying to see the abilities that can be unlocked. These aspects of play may not be in-depth or diffcult, but the combat and leveling systems in Dragon Age II are far from banal.

Make no mistake, though, this game can be unforgiving. Not having a healer or a ranged fighter in your party can be the deciding factor between obliterating a foe and being obliterated. There’s no middle ground with Dragon Age II. If you’re lacking rejuvenating items or spells and you encounter a boss battle, this game will challenge you. There was one instance where I had to tone down the game’s difficulty level (appropriately titled "Casual") in order to progress. Unfortunately, that’s about all the challenge you’re going to get. So if you’re careful or experienced with RPGs, Dragon Age II won’t necessitate multiple save files.

What the game lacks in difficulty, though, it makes up for with its presentation. BioWare knows how to make a well-acted experience. All the characters’ performances are genuine and fluid. There’s never a dull moment during conversations. Adapting Mass Effect‘s dialogue wheel has its downside as Hawke’s attitude, no matter what repsonse chosen, always seems a bit brash and unpredictable.

Its a far cry from the silent, premeditated responses of Dragon Age: Origins. This aggravated many loyal fans. If having a talking protagonist rubs you the wrong way, the entire game will, too. Unlike the series’ first installment, this game is not about full immersion. It doesn’t even let you create a character wholly your own. It gives you a preset template on which to fill in the blanks, and this theme continues throughout the game.

The fighting is flashy and fun, but it is not of the usual RPG caliber. The story is involved and intriguing, but it doesn’t delve as deep as its predecessor. The entire experience can be summarized by the fact that you never leave Kirkwall. Sure, you visit a few outside areas for a few missions (all of which recycle the same set pieces), but you never travel to a new city or a new land.

To put it simply, Dragon Age II is a self-contained, low-key RPG. For some, that can seem lazy or stale, but for all its faults, the game never lets up its pace and always leaves you eager for more, casual gamer or not. UPC: 014633195019, 014633195002

3 out of 5


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Author: Greg Galiffa View all posts by
Greg Galiffa is an Associate Editor at GamerNode. He's also an apologist for the first TMNT film. You can follow him on Twitter @greggaliffa

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