Dragon Age 2 was not at all what I expected. Of course, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I knew the game wasn’t a true sequel to Dragon Age: Origins, and I vaguely knew it was going to be about the same time frame, but other than that, I went into the game with little knowledge, but high expectations of a good story. For the most part, Bioware has once again crafted a great game with compelling characters and a decent storyline. You play as Hawke, a refugee from Lothering who makes their way to Kirkwall, where you will eventually become The Champion. You can play as either a male or female, with the basic Mage/Warrior/Rogue classes. For this review I played through as a female warrior, and am currently on my second play-through as a female rogue. As with most of my reviews, I break it down to the Good, The Average, The Bad, and the Romance. This review is for the Xbox 360 version, and I will keep it as spoiler-free as possible, although expect some minor ones.
The Good: Some of the best parts of Dragon Age 2 are the characters and their interactions. Once again, Bioware has done a great job of creating characters that you not only care about, but are more than one dimensional. Some of the background dialogue was hilarious, and there were times when I stopped moving just to hear them finish out a conversation. The writing was so good I found myself bringing different characters to different missions just to hear the banter between them. Each character has a unique personality, and learning how to interact with them to get their friendship or rivalry up was a challenge. The rivalry/friendship aspect was also fascinating. Making someone a rival wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as competition is good. Someone with 100% rivalry unlocked different skills and still made them loyal to you, though in a different way.
The graphics and the voice acting were also excellent. Without giving away any spoilers, some of the characters from Dragon Age: Origins return at different times, depending on if you imported a save from Dragon Age: Origins or went with a set background of your choice. The graphics and visual style were given an overhaul, for the better. The art direction was excellent, and some of the areas were gorgeous. Your main character has a voice this time around, and the dialogue tree is styled similar to the Mass Effect games. Icons show you how your response is going to sound. You can tailor your responses to 3 overarching types: the helpful, peaceful personality, the smartass who jokes around, and the hardass who is slightly arrogant. The more you use a certain personality type, the more your character begins to spout lines in cut scenes that match how you have been playing. So if you have been playing as the joker, during a random cut scene your character automatically jokes around. This system makes you feel invested in your character as a whole, and makes you feel like you created someone that is true to you and your style.
The Average: The combat system has been changed since the original story. I have heard mixed reviews of it, but overall I enjoyed the combat system. For those players who enjoy a true RPG experience where you micromanage every movement of your party, you will be disappointed. It’s still possible, but takes a lot of work. I was happy to set up some tactics for my party members (for some reason none of them had any healing tactics set automatically- and it took me forever to figure out why they all kept dying,) and then letting them go about their business. The combat was much smoother- you press a button and your character just flies into action. At the beginning, there is a little of button mashing and hitting the “A” button, but after you level up a few times, you can map your talents to different buttons. I found myself increasingly using different tactics for different bad guys, and the button mapping helped.
The inventory system has also been streamlined. The good part about that is all the junk you pick up is literally put in a slot called “trash can.” There is no secret trick- if an item you pick up shows up in this part of your inventory, you can safely sell it. The not great part of the inventory system is that most items don’t have a name anymore. For example, all rings are just called “ring” and have a different number of stars next to it. The higher the stars, the better the ring is. Once again, for someone who loves a pure RPG, this will not be a welcome change. For the casual player though, this is a welcome relief.
I personally loved the story, but I know there are many people who weren’t as fond of it. And since this review isn’t just all about me, I will look at the different aspects. The story is a break from Dragon Age: Origins. There is no real “ending goal” that you know of at the beginning. The story is told in a framing narrative, with one of your companions, Varric, telling the story of The Champion of Kirkwall (you) to a Chantry Seeker named Cassandra and the fight between the Templars and the Mages. You know something big happens, but not exactly what that thing is. It is truly a story of your life over 10 years. The story is broken up into a prologue and three acts, with a few main quests in each act, but a ton of side and companion quests too. People have lamented that there are too many side quests, but side quests do play an important role. They shape how people in the city look upon you, and slowly you begin to take a side:- Templar or Mage. I found this storyline to be fascinating, and watching someone you helped (or didn’t help) show up 3 or 4 years later could either be an awesome thing, or bite you in the ass. That mage you helped in act 1? They could come back as a blood mage in act 3 and try to kill you. Your decisions have consequences, and all the choices are morally grey – very few are black and white.
The Bad: The only really bad element to me was the lack of dungeon/mansion maps. They reused the same 5 or 6 maps for every dungeon or mansion you went into. This got to be boring and repetitive over time. Would it have killed them to create a few more different maps?
The Romance: Bioware really outdid themselves with the romance options this time around. There are four romance options, two men and two women, and they are all able to be romanced by either a male or a female protagonist. Well played, Bioware. It’s so rare to see bisexuality in a video game, that this pretty much blew me away. The two male romance options are Anders and Fenris, and the female options are Merrill and Isabella. In my first playthrough I thought for sure I was going for the rogue sea captain Isabella…. and then Merrill opened her mouth. Merrill is played by Torchwood actress Eve Myles, and I had no clue she was doing a voice in the game. In about two hot seconds I had changed my mind and went after Merrill. It takes awhile to be able to romance anyone (think in terms of years) but it was worth it. I did have a good laugh that you can ask her to move in with you the day after you sleep with her. I had about a thousand lesbian U-Haul jokes running through my head, but I’ll refrain from putting them in this review. Merrill was pretty easy to romance, and in my current game I am going after Isabella, and it is much trickier to win her heart.
If you have bought the DLC The Exiled Prince, you have the option of a fifth romance with Sebastian. Only women can romance him, and from what I hear it’s a very chaste romance with no option of “closing the deal.” Not really my thing, but some people might enjoy going for that.
I enjoyed that the romance wasn’t just a one-time thing. If you visit your home at night, your love interest might be there and start up a unique conversation. If you bring them along on a quest, there might be some hilarious dialogue between them and the other companions about your relationship. During one quest a NPC (non playable character) was flirting with me and Merrill got jealous. Her comments made me laugh out loud. In general, the romance aspect was well written, well acted, and well thought out.
Overall, I thought the game was fun, the storyline compelling, and the ending made me scream “there better be a third game!” They ended the story on a cliffhanger that will make me storm the Bioware offices if they don’t make another game to answer the burning questions they left the players with. The gameplay was decent, the graphics excellent, and the chances of you playing this game multiple times to see different scenarios is quite high. As a lesbian gamer, the romances were just the icing on the cake, albeit a very tasty rainbow-uhaul-gay cake. I would recommend picking up this game, but be prepared to have 50+ hours of your life sucked away…. in a good way.
Review by: Dany, aka Xan
“Dragon Age II” gets the L Word group scene rating. That is to say some of the greatest parts of The L Word were always when the gang got together, the banter, the adventure, the friendship and loves. “Dragon Age II is brilliant fun and will keep you busy for many many hours.