Dragon Age II PlayStation 3
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
It really felt with Dragon Age: Origins that BioWare had returned to their roots and had given longstanding fans an RPG that was more like games such as Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate than any of their more recent titles. On the whole the game was excellent and expectations were high for the game's sequel. Whatever else it may be, Dragon Age II is a fine RPG but there are some rough edges here and some changes that won't sit well with those who were hoping for more of the same that could be found in Origins.
You'll play as Hawke (a human who can be male or female and either of three classes) who will eventually become the Champion of Kirkwall. The game's main storyline is told through a dwarf named Varric who is being questioned by Cassandra Pentaghast, a seeker of the Thedas' Chantry. Varric's true story of the Champion of Kirkwall relays the storyline of Hawk and his/her fellow party members as a series of flashbacks. It certainly represents a big change of style from the storyline in Dragon Age: Origins but the quality of the storyline itself leaves a lot to be desired.
Taken on its own merits there are a lot of positives in Dragon Age 2, providing you were hoping for some Mass Effect streamlining of what was a traditional RPG experience. Character development and inventory management have been simplified to such an extent that it could be deeply unsatisfying to those who have enjoyed PC RPG titles for years. You only have minimal control over your inventory and you're not given full control over equipping all of your party members. Thankfully you can still control how your party members will level up and set behaviour routines for them (you'll want to do this as the AI party members aren't so good at looking after themselves) so that they can assist you in battle as you would prefer them to (you can switch which character you control during a battle too). Some may be disappointed with this streamlining but I've no doubt others will see it as making the game more accessible.
Dragon Age has its share of good characters and quests aplenty for you to undertake. I wouldn't go as far to say the characters in the game are as interesting as some of those you'll find in Origins however and the optional quests are mostly repetitive and only the truly dedicated will want to complete them all. I was disappointed to only be allowed to play as a human and that you are limited to just three classes. Being limited with your character options is disappointing and this definitely hurts the replay value of the game.
The combat, which is easier and faster paced this time around, is nowhere near as tactical as it was in Origins. Icons have been placed next to dialogue choices to spell out the consequences of your choices. In truth however whilst these icons initially seem like a nice touch they are rarely needed as for the most part it's pretty obvious what the consequences will be for a specific dialogue choice. Whereas Origins felt like it was trying to give us a more traditional RPG experience, Dragon Age 2 feels more like an action game that at times is cloaked in a thin RPG veil.
The game's storyline is the most disappointing aspect however. There is no strong storyline here to drive you through the game's content as there was in Dragon Age: Origins. At least the main quests in the game and the decisions that are thrown your way do allow you to shape the game in some rather dramatic ways and that does compensate somewhat for what has to be one of BioWare's more disappointing storylines to date.
Dragon Age II in some respects pleases and in other respects really disappoints. The character models and the various environments look quite good but there's an unfinished quality to the game that I would simply not expect from BioWare. Some of the character animations are rather stiff. You don't have the variety of locations here that you had in Origins and that means there's less variety in the environments that you'll find yourself in which is a little disappointing. I've had a few cut scenes that have played multiple times in succession. Thankfully the game sorted itself out and continued without any intervention on my part but this is something I wouldn't expect from a small development team on a miniscule budget and certainly not from a developer with BioWare's pedigree. The game's frame rate could be better and the load times are rather long which slows the pace of the action down somewhat. On the whole the game looks better than the first game did on the PlayStation 3 but there's no denying it could look better.
BioWare have a pretty good record of including subtitles in their games and Dragon Age II is subtitled. Whilst it's great that the game is subtitled however, it's a shame that you'll probably miss most of the subtitles in the game. The dialogue between bystanders and the banter that your party members share is subtitled and placed next to the characters who are speaking. Unfortunately the camera is zoomed in too close meaning the subtitles are usually outside of your view which means you'll be unaware of them. This is disappointing as the dialogue is actually pretty interesting and missing out on it does spoil the experience somewhat. In other respects you'll find that quest information is given in text and can be accessed at any time in the journal. The game also uses a variety of icons to convey information and the general use of icons in the game is pretty impressive. On the whole it's a good experience for deaf gamers but it's a shame you won't be aware of all of the dialogue.
Opinions of Dragon Age II are going to differ wildly. Those wanting the game to simply be a continuation of everything that was good in Dragon Age: Origins might find themselves disappointed. The whole thing feels as though it's been streamlined to such an extent that there's been more of a shift towards an action game rather than a hardcore RPG. If you played Origins and wanted a streamlined experience with a greater slant towards action then you're probably going to prefer what the sequel has to offer. Preferences aside, the game has some technical issues and the subtitling could have been better. With that all said however, Dragon Age II is still a game that's well worth your attention.