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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Review: Dragon Age II
By: | March 8th, 2011 | Multi-platform
PS3 |Review |X360

Dragon Age II has worked up a lot of frenzy this past year, after Bioware announced that the series would be going in an action oriented direction. A lot of fans were up in arms that the series had abandoned it’s die-rolling old school Baldur’s Gate roots, but others gave a warm welcome to the Mass Effect 2 style streamlining, and that the series would be better off without being so archaic.

As a huge fan of both Dragon Age: Origins and  Mass Effect 2, I’ve been put in a rather interesting position. On one hand, I think the amount of customization of Origins is unparalleled, and the RPG experience is second to none. On the other, I find that Mass Effect 2′s “shut up and play” mechanics are also a force to be reckoned with, and the lack of RPG elements really isn’t so bad given the quality of the narrative. So how did I feel about Dragon Age II? Well, my feelings are a bit mixed.

As I loaded up my copy, I was eager to import my previous game’s save file. Just like Mass Effect 2, the very limited import feature is also there, allowing you to load up your Origins choices into your game. However, despite the fact that I had a clear file, I wasn’t able to load my Grey Warden’s history seemingly due to a glitch, so I had to select from three preset options. Luckily, I was able to choose the first option, which mirrored my choices in Origins. During the course of the game however, I barely noticed my previous heroes’ exploits except in passing conversation – the reason for this is because you are very much playing a brand new hero, and a brand new story.

You can customize your character’s appearance, gender, and class (Mage, Warrior, or Rogue), but your hero is still always referred to as “Hawke”, and he always has the same backstory. Hawke is a refugee that fled with his Mother, Brother, and Sister from one of the towns ravaged in the first game. During the course of Dragon Age II you’ll interact with your family, and they’ll play a role in the main narrative. Depending on your class, you will either develop a relationship with your brother or your sister, in addition to your Mother.

While I commend Bioware for trying the whole “family” angle, it becomes apparent that there’s a reason no one really does it: because it’s just so darn hard to pull off effectively. Simply put, your character feels a lot less heroic when he’s arguing with his little brother/sister over a petty scuffle, or he’s venting to his Mother about how much he misses his family and friends. If done properly, with better voice acting and delivery, it would add an incredibly powerful emotional angle to the game’s story: but all in all, it’s pretty generic, and mostly just detracts from your experience.

With this in mind, you may be disappointed if you expect Dragon Age II to match the grand scale that Origins had. In the first title, you scoured the entire countryside to recruit warriors, with the end-goal of destroying an Old God, and save the world. Well, forget all that, because Dragon Age II is a lot less…epic. To be blunt, you’re going to spend 90% of your time in the large city of Kirkwall, interacting and questing for the inhabitants there, from the mangy Lowtown urchins to the dainty Hightown royals. The good news is that pretty much every set piece in Dragon Age II is absolutely gorgeous, and the art direction has taken a huge leap from the first game.

Adjusting to the smaller scope was jarring to say the least, considering just how much countryside you covered in Origins, but I’m sure some gamers will enjoy the simplicity of learning one giant town. While the story is extremely slow to start (I was 15 hours in before anything really interesting happened), it ends up getting pretty exciting towards the end, but along the way, you’re presented with some very limited choices, that are a lot less exciting than Origins.

Origins excelled with choices in RPGs, because it did something most RPGs rarely have the courage to do – make everything morally grey. Just like The Witcher, Origins would present you with a number of different tough situations, and never tell you what was “right” or “wrong”. There were no visual cues as to what emotion you were invoking, and no “sliding meters” to tell you how benevolent you were. Unfortunately, Dragon Age II falls victim to a pretty familar trope found in most action RPGs like the Fable series: black and white morality. Every time you’re given a choice, the conversation wheel has an icon in it – whether it’s a peace leaf for “good”, a fist for “mean”, or a comedy mask for “lighthearted”, Dragon Age II will let you know what kind of person you are. But the simplicity doesn’t end there.

At one point in the game, you are given the option to join either “the smugglers” or “the mercenaries” in order to gain access to the town of Kirkwall. These sort of simplified choices really reminded me of GTAIV’s unfortunate “choose between two mentors” scenarios, which wasn’t a good thing, given how cheap it feels in presentation. In another altercation, a particular group of people are sick of waiting four days to gain access to the town’s gates, so they try to force their way in. Without any sort of emotional input at all from the player, you’re thrusted into combat with these NPCs, who, depending on your point of view, may be justified in their actions .

You have no ability to “avoid the situation”, or “try and talk your way out of it”, like one very similar instance in Dragon Age: Origins involving Elvish slave traders. It’s a bit disappointing to pick up a Role Playing Game, and be forced to play, well, someone else’s role. In fact, I ended up pressing “X”, to skip Hawke’s dialogue after I chose an option quite often, and just imagining I was using Origin’s mute hero (try it!).

Another one of Dragon Age II’s biggest vices is that a lot of questing elements feel the same. A number of dungeons and caves are shamefully 100% copy and pasted from others (not just in design, but with their layout), and you’ll find that a large number of non-story quests are “go find this person”, or “go get this” fetch and courier quests. Of course, given all those complaints, that isn’t to say that Dragon Age II doesn’t succeed on it’s own merits, as an action game.

Combat is also basically a hack and slash affair in, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. While you will barely ever find yourself pausing the action KOTOR and Origins style, it’s an absolute blast to use some spells to completely trip up enemies, and send them flying across the screen in the blink of an eye. There are also cross-class combos, allowing you to have fun mixing it up, and imploring you to explore all the nooks and crannies of your talent trees. Casting is basically instant, and your spell’s effects are more visible on your enemies, making combat more of a visceral experience.

Keep in mind, my tactical PC brethern, that the game hardly ever requires you to pause the game and issue commands (if at all). Not only is the difficulty of the game fairly simple, but all of your abilities never cause friendly fire unless you’re on Nightmare difficulty, and the abilities are streamlined where you don’t really have to aim them. The end result is a very different game that feels less like it’s die-rolling KOTOR and Baldur’s Gate-esque predecessors, and more like Mass Effect 2 or Fable. While the market is over-saturated with enough Action RPGs as it is, Dragon Age II still manages to trump most of it’s competition regardless.

In addition to the lack of required strategy, you won’t really be spending much time gearing up your party either, because most of them have pre-set weapons and armor that they can’t change out, that scales with their level. Instead of the “do whatever you want with whomever you want” style of Origins, where every Mage could be a healer, for instance, characters in DAII have preset class restrictions and spell trees. It makes them a bit more unique in terms of combat prowess, but it also definitely cuts down on the customization of your party. However, similar to the lack of customization when moving  from Mass Effect 1 to 2, most gamers will get over it, as it lets you spend less time in menus, and more time in the game, which for most people, is a good thing.

Also, you’ll find that the world map is much more simple this time around – you don’t need to slowly get from one area to the next following a blood trail – you can simply select an area, and go (there are three areas – Kirkwall Day, Kirkwall Night, and the Wilderness). Even more inituitive than the actual travel system is the fact that all of your quests are conveniently laid out for each area’s summary. In a nutshell, even people who hate RPGs will find an easy time adapting to Dragon Age II.

At the end of the day, it’s best to completely divorce Dragon Age II from Origins: it really shares very little with it’s predecessor. While many elements from Origins were lost, the Dragon Age series gained an extremely competent battle system, and superior art direction. If Bioware really takes the shortcomings of Dragon Age II to heart, I have no doubt their next Dragon Age will be a surefire hit with critics and fans alike.

This review was written based on the Signature Edition of the Xbox 360 version

Rating Category
7.5 Presentation
Dragon Age II, on consoles, is a bit rough around the edges (and most of the character designs are pretty bland), but overall, the set pieces are extremely well done, and feature some of the best the gaming world has ever seen. If you pick up the 1GB texture pack on PC, your visuals will significantly improve.
How does our scoring system work?
7.0 Gameplay
Dragon Age II features a "pick up and play" action system that's extremely streamlined and rewarding, but the lack of true "role playing" is extremely disappointing, given the series' old school roots.
7.0 Sound
The voice acting in DAII is pretty flat - a lot of the female characters sound the same, and Male Hawke feels like he's reading his paycheck. Musically, the score fits the game's theme, but isn't spectacular. The only real character that stands out is Isabella - make sure you take her on your travels for the added jokes and banter.
7.5 Longevity
Although Dragon Age II isn't nearly as replayable as Origins (given that there are no Origin stories to tinker with, and very little actual choice), many gamers will want to complete this giant 30-40 hour (with multiple playthroughs)) RPG at least twice.
7.0 Overall
While Dragon Age II doesn't quite measure up to it's predecessor, the streamlined approach was a solid effort - if Bioware can somehow marry the best parts of Origins and Dragon Age II, it will produce one of the best RPGs the world has ever seen.

  1. Well written! It’s good to know that the game is still solid despite the growing pains the series seems to be going through. I’ll get to this after I finish up BG&E HD!

  2. Nice review very well said. I am about 8 hours in and I am feeling you hit the nail on the head. It feels like you are forced into situations far too quickly and many times you see results but you never had enough time into the situation to care how it turned out anyway.

  3. avatar Dave

    “In a nutshell, even people who hate RPGs will find an easy time adapting to Dragon Age II.”

    I found this line hilarious, if you hate RPGs why play a game like Dragon Age? Then again Bioware main target is the RPG noobs as proof of the steamlining they did to Dragon Age II. I may be fine with this on Mass Effect but not the DA series. Bioware just lost a customer as I’m buying abomination but they probably won’t care because they’ll attract the many hack and slash action/adventure fans out there for every hardcore RPG fan ditching this game.

  4. avatar sean

    Having read and played a few games recently, there must b an industry wide adjustment to review scores. From lbp2, dead space 2, killzone 3, to dragon age 2, we have hit some of the biggest games to release this year. They may suffer from sequel syndrome w high inclusive expectations, but …damn. Scores have ranged from 6 to 9, w not much higher than that. These are all games whose originals were 9-9.75, goty consideration, and i believe all are improvements, introducing new concepts, better graphics, better gameplay, and much lower review scores.

    I mean how high are our expectations. I wasn’t happy w everything from DA2, but i couldn’t go lower than an 8.75, more like a 9. This IS taking into consideration that it is a sequel. The irony of it all is that most reviews are quite positive w mediocre scores. For example K3 was a phenomonally gorgeous game w unparalleled brutality and immersion. They managed to implement move and 3d to great success. And they provided, in my opinion, one of the best multiplayer games ever crafted. Was the story great?…no, but cmon.

    We put expectations on sequels to basically craft new IP’s. They aren’t. They are all better versions of themselves. Dragon age 2 feels very familiar to the first w many improvements, especially for the consoles. If u want to write a separate review for the PC, echoing the disappointment of the lack of another isometric, pause and play RPG, fine. But for those of us on consoles, I’m loving it.

    And if i remember correctly, bioware made this quite clear a year ago. I don’t know your motivation for giving it a 7, but is it really. What would u have given it, had it been the first DA. I’m sure we will see a concensus of high scores later this year when cod hits, until then ill keep reading reviews that must reflect what is becoming the most disappointing year in gaming history. Oh well, at least I’m having a damn good time.

    • The motivation behind giving it a 7 is that it’s a good game that is above average but not quite perfect. Some people will really dig it, others won’t. Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinions and preferences. I sincerely hope that someone’s opinion doesn’t impact your personal enjoyment of the game.

    • @ sean
      The thing you have to keep in mind, is that a 7 is a good score.

      I try to use the entire review scale, not just “3 or 9″, like some people do. Big sites have changed people’s thinking on what review scores should be – check out my piece here for more on what I mean – http://gamerlimit.com/2009/06/sunday-soapbox-is-below-an-8-really-that-bad/

  5. Ugh I wrote a long comment, but it didn’t go through.

    Long story short: I’m enjoying the game a lot so far. I’m fine with it being a little more hack n slash-y. I never played the original so I didn’t come into this with expectations of it being a more in depth RPG like Origins was.

    Chris, I wonder if you would have enjoyed it more had it been the first in a series rather than a sequel to a highly praised and very traditional RPG? I’m not bashing your review at all. I’m just curious.

    • I don’t think I would have enjoyed it any more if I didn’t have expectations.

      As I said in the review, most of my disappointment stems from the fact that the industry is already over-saturated with Fable style “black and white” action RPGs, and it felt like more of the same – albeit with a superior battle system, and better art direction.

    • avatar Satyam

      Thanks for another ioavrmftine internet internet site. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal way? I have a project that I’m just now working on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information and facts.

  6. avatar David smith

    A 7 is being very generous this ‘game’ I feel disgusted to have been a frequent browser of this site

    • Considering I’m the second to lowest score out of 26 reviews on Metacritic, I wouldn’t consider myself generous.

    • Not to mention all reviews are subjective opinions.

    • This is why I dislike scoring reviews =/

      Certain readers will ignore the review itself and focus entirely on a number. I find it pretty aggravating…

      Well written review Chris, although I was hoping the game itself would be a lot more convincing. Oh well, I’ll let you know what I think over the weekend!

  7. I’m curious…did you beat this before writing the review, Chris?

    If not, how might seeing the totality of the narrative arc, if it wrapped up really well and the whole story turned out to be of very high quality, have affected the score you gave?

    I’m not setting you up for criticism, mind you. This just touches upon larger questions as to how we review RPG’s as an industry. The game just came out two days ago, and a LOT of outlets never received their retail review copies. A lot of critics have barely had any time to play this game considering it’s an RPG which is ostensibly dense with content.

    • avatar JustPrincessPeachy

      I’d just like to point out that often times reviewers get copies of major titles days before they come out, JUST so that they can complete the game in its totality. I can’t say if this is the case for Chris, but I wanted to point that out as possibility before make such a suggestion

    • Yep! I got it at midnight at launch, and my clear file was around 13 hours in total when I finished it – it wasn’t long, actually, and to answer your other question, the narrative at the end was still a mess. The way the story essentially works is that there are three acts – act three is very similar to act two, except you get a choice at the end that sort of effects the last five minutes of the game.

      But, unlike Origins, you don’t get an epic fifteen minute conclusion that details *everything* you had an effect on – you just get a one minute FMV with a cameo character (no, not Morrigan; it’s not that cool), like it’s supposed to be shocking. So, in summation, I think the narrative is just as poor at the end as it is in the beginning. Hope I answered your question!

      I cleared it as a Male Mage Hawke, going completely in the Blood tree (just as I did with my main in Origins).

    • avatar no homo

      Wow Chris are you serious I just finished the deep roads and I am 12 hours in. Thats with doing most side quests not all. I didn’t spend any time other than doing back to back quests. You must have not done one single side quest or character quests to “clear” the game in 13 hours. All other reviews clock the game in at least 30 hours. What a failure of a game “reviewer” you are. All that tells us is that you didn’t give a shit about the game world and weren’t into it at all.

    • I’m near the end of Act 3 on my second playthrough, and I’ve done *every* sidequest in the *entire* game, I have every companion, almost all my companion’s armor is maxed out, I’ve beaten the High Dragon and the Crawler secret bosses, I’ve done all the DLC and gotten Sebastian, I’m level 19 (1 away from max), and I’ve done every companion quest in the game – my gameclock says 11 hours, 5 minutes.

      I have no idea how you aren’t even past Act 1 yet.

    • I’ve seen other people say they’ve beaten the game anywhere from 12-14 hours. I’m doing all the sidequests (on my first playthrough) as a Warrior and I’m 15 hours in. I just go to Act II. These people just must play faster than I do.

  8. avatar no homo

    Just to clarify for others the deep roads is at the end of act 1.

  9. avatar Gary Alexander

    Chris, what difficulty are you playing on?

    • My first playthrough was normal. It took me around 13 hours the first time, doing about 50% of the sidequests I came across.

      My second playthrough was hard, then I changed it to normal for the fifth to last encounter (I believe), with the Blood Mage, 30 Shades, and Pride Demon. I don’t think there’s any dispute that I’ve experienced pretty much everything the game has had to offer, and I even posted some of my findings here, before any information was available (outside of the guide, which I didn’t buy).

      One of the reasons I feel like the game doesn’t take that long is because the choices are poorly done. In Origins, you often had to think long and hard about your choices, and sometimes you had to choose between over 10 options.

      In DA2, you always get no more than 3 choices per dialogue, and 90% of the time, they always end up being the same result. Like for instance, when you’re encountering the Qunari in Act 2, I believe the three choices were:

      “Do you think you’ll get away with this?”

      “You won’t stop us”

      “Prepare to die”

      All of them had the exact same result. This image does a decent job of illustrating how little your dialogue wheel affects anything:

      http://i.imgur.com/Ap7HR.jpg

      I realized this fact pretty quickly, after back loading some saves during my first playthrough to see if they would change anything. So if you’re taking a while, tiptoeing through some decisions, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

    • avatar tgr

      Chris,

      The dialogue wheel is phenominal. It actually sets the tone of the character the more you use a certain response. So if you are diplomatic most of the time, an occasional aggressive response will be softer in tone to fit the personality. Also sets his or her dialogue outisde the wheel.

      Tone also means the difference between friendship and rivalry points.

  10. avatar Aedorei

    I have to agree with most of this review. What bothers me most is that I, like most others, purchased DA2 based on the strengths of DA:O. It was a huge disappointment to see all the things I liked about its predecessor conspicuously absent. It is true that the combat system is much better, but the lack of customization and the largely linear storyline sabotages much of what should have been a stellar title. The player has limited impact on events and the npcs, both villains and companions, are all fanatical and unlikable or uninspired. I enjoyed the game, but I can’t help feeling I was the victim of some clever slight of hand, robbed of what DA2 could have been and should have been.

  11. avatar Zinho

    Just passing through. First time on the site but stoped to congratulate you guys for a very cool review – without hype, concise and very balanced. I have to agree – 7 is a pretty decent score and, more importantly, you didn’t shy away from what is not that good with the game.

  12. avatar Adam P

    Good review. I enjoyed playing the game immensely but the criticsms against the game are pretty valid here and elsewhere. The ending left a *LOT* to be desired, in fact the whole of Act 3 kind of made me *cringe* a lot–though Acts 1 and 2 were well done. Hopefully DA3 will have a satisfying/well written ending, take longer to finish, have better choices throughout.

  13. avatar wocv

    Chris there’s a glitch on the game that doesn’t allow to see most of the side quest on the game this glitch is more effective in the second arc. how do i know because i’m paying it with the official collector’s edition guide. If you do all the side quest, companions quest and find and deliver quest (side quest) your gameplay will go up 70hrs. without skipping the dialogue. I believe a patch is coming up. But i agreed with your review and score. If the story of DA2 would been the first introducing Hawk, then in DA2 we follow Hawk as he saves the world from the bligth it will make better sence and end up with better sequence. If they mix the goods of dragon age origins (epic story) and the goods of dragon age 2 (combats and graphics) then it would be something to talk about for Dragon Age 3.

  14. avatar wocv

    Go to G4tv.com and read Adam Sessler review. It took him 75hrs. to beat the game. gave it a 3 out 5 star, meaning 6 out of 10. And if you watch talkabouts they speak their mind of the goods and bads of DA2.

  15. avatar wocv

    And there’s a couple of extra missions if you import your DAO files. Probably you can beat the game in 40hrs. doing all missions, but i like speaking to people and exploring. But i know how people would like to rush in this game cus kirkwalk can get pretty boresome!!

  16. avatar tgr

    wow…Chris Carter you missed the boat on this one.

    “Unfortunately, Dragon Age II falls victim to a pretty familar trope found in most action RPGs like the Fable series: black and white morality. Every time you’re given a choice, the conversation wheel has an icon in it – whether it’s a peace leaf for “good”, a fist for “mean”, or a comedy mask for “lighthearted”, Dragon Age II will let you know what kind of person you are. But the simplicity doesn’t end there.”

    wow…no. This game is far more morally grey than Origins, in fact, sometimes the direct/aggresive action can be the most morally sound decision. The endgame is far from black and white.

    “At one point in the game, you are given the option to join either “the smugglers” or “the mercenaries” in order to gain access to the town of Kirkwall. These sort of simplified choices really reminded me of GTAIV’s unfortunate “choose between two mentors” scenarios, which wasn’t a good thing, given how cheap it feels in presentation. In another altercation, a particular group of people are sick of waiting four days to gain access to the town’s gates, so they try to force their way in. Without any sort of emotional input at all from the player, you’re thrusted into combat with these NPCs, who, depending on your point of view, may be justified in their actions . ”

    Because they attack YOU as well.

    “You have no ability to “avoid the situation”, or “try and talk your way out of it”, like one very similar instance in Dragon Age: Origins involving Elvish slave traders. It’s a bit disappointing to pick up a Role Playing Game, and be forced to play, well, someone else’s role. In fact, I ended up pressing “X”, to skip Hawke’s dialogue after I chose an option quite often, and just imagining I was using Origin’s mute hero (try it!).”

    Many situations let you avoid combat, in fact, in Act III, what I say can lead to a battle with the entire Dalish camp. I can peacefully resolve the Qunari incident, but with the cost of a party member. I would take a voiced Hawke over a stupid mute protagonist anyday. Hawke, especially the female version, gave the story more emotion. The dialogue and conversations are well written

    “But, unlike Origins, you don’t get an epic fifteen minute conclusion that details *everything* you had an effect on – you just get a one minute FMV with a cameo character (no, not Morrigan; it’s not that cool), like it’s supposed to be shocking. So, in summation, I think the narrative is just as poor at the end as it is in the beginning. Hope I answered your question!”

    The ending is excellent. Its not supposed to be a happy ending with closure. One of the stories main themes is uncertainity. This is a very dark story, by far Bioware’s darkest. And Leliana is a great character, better than Morrigan.

    Epic is overrated, this game wasn’t meant to be epic. Its supposed to be dark and tragic. This is a very uncoventional video game story.

  17. avatar tgr

    This is Bioware best written story since Baldur’s Gate II. It subverts almost every RPG cliche, and turns them on its head while dealing with the theme of escalation of conflict as well as dealing with uncertain futures. The sideuqests are very consistant with the games main themes and so are the party members stories. Merrill in particular deserves special mention, as well as Anders.

    While the ending is a downer and a cliffhanger, the themes the game addresses makes the ending appropriate.

    Here, your companions can be just as big of villians as the antagonists.

    This game is far better written, both plotwise and characterwise than Origins. The choices mean more, the rivalry path adds new depth to characters, its not afraid to delve into sadness, and subverts cliches (especially compared to the grossly cliched Origins).

  18. avatar Dave

    If this is the best written story since BGII then Bioware let their standards drop. I finished the game yesterday, the story was going along fine till the ending and it was disappointing much like the game itself overall. I won’t spoil for those who haven’t finished it yet, but your choice DOESN’T matter that much in the end. I have friends who picked different choices from me and still ended very similarly. Also, it ended in a way that you’ll need DLCs and/or expansion much like Awakening to get a complete ending. This is probably what EA/Bioware planned from the beginning. If DAII DLCs are anything like Origins’ DLCs, prepare to be letdown. Remember when Bioware said DAII isn’t about fighting ancient evil, well, that’s not 100% true. The game is average at best, imo and that’s disappointing from Bioware because a year ago, if you told me Bioware will be making an average game, I would have called you crazy. If they screwed up on Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic, I am through with Bioware games and I’ve been a fan of their work for over 12 years.

    • I completely agree.

      I have no idea how anyone could think this is the “best” story Bioware has written. Everything is just so shallow, there really isn’t even any “writing” there! It’s an action game first, ’nuff said.

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  19. avatar Dave

    Chris, there’s been news of a Bioware employee reviewing their own game by giving it a perfect score and calling DAII “flawless”. Not saying it happens for all positive reviews but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those people who are throwing around words like best and flawless regarding DAII are Bioware employees. They just hide their identity much better than the guy who was caught.

  20. I’m just posting to be a part of this epic thread. Peace.

  21. avatar Nataliya

    Robert, you write far too well for a video game review. You are dealetid but not nerdish, entertaining, and appreciative.You care, and it shows.I don’t game anymore, but well worth the read.

  22. avatar Lucinda Calender

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