As I look back on Dragon Age II in wake of finishing it and letting it stew for a while, it fascinates me. Not because of the game itself, but because of the build up and eventual aftermath of the game. Bioware is a video game developer that is known for well-written storylines more than anything. In practically all of their games they have developed the story was always solid, moving, and epic. This is why Dragon Age II fascinates me so, because it isn’t well written at all. The first game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins, was a fairly straightforward “save the world” fantasy plot. I originally criticized this game for almost being too generic. It was a plot that we had all seen a hundred times before. A ragtag group of warriors must set aside their differences and work together to save the world. They move throughout the world and see lots of interesting locales on their epic quest. Eventually, they succeed and everything works out. Oh I liked the game; I enjoyed playing it. I just felt that it was getting a lot praise for being innovative when it really wasn’t.
That’s why I was excited for Dragon Age II. When I first started hearing details about how this game was going to be epic, how It was going to take place over a whole decade, how it was going to chronicle the rise of the champion, how it was going to have revamped, fast-paced combat, and how it would deliver a much better gaming experience than the first one, I was sold. When the date came, I raced over to my local game retailer, picked up my copy, and raced home. After finishing it a week later, it all felt wrong. It’s the same feeling everybody gets when they drop sixty bucks on a brand new game and don’t end up liking it. You try so hard to find things you like, but deep down inside you know that you just can’t.
The most baffling aspect of this game is of course the story. It’s baffling because of how poorly written it is. Never once in the story do I get a feeling of being in an epic fantasy adventure. The game itself is split into three acts and features a frame narrative structure as one character is telling the story of Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall. This style could have been utilized effectively, but it just isn’t. During each of the three acts, I’m never really told about what the point of all this is. The main goal of the first act is to make money. To that I ask: why? The answer is that so you can go on this expedition in caves. Then I ask: why do I want to go on this expedition? The answer is so that you can make more money. At first I think that this is just a small goal for me at the moment and that, on this expedition, something bad will happen and our characters will unearth a demon or something and he will be unleashed on the world and we have to stop it or whatever. But nothing like that happens. The expedition is a success. Then there is this awkward transition to act two, where the main point is to put down this rebel uprising of sorts, that was just barely mentioned in act one. Then you do that and it awkwardly transitions to act three, where you choose sides on this conflict between mages and templars. I found this to be interesting because, as far as I remember, there was no conflict like this in the first game. And part of Dragon Age II takes place during the same time period of the first game. So anyway, you pick a side and then boom. The game is over. There is this little epilogue thing that evokes bad memories of Knights of the Old Republic II’s ending. It all ends on a cliff hanger.
The thing is, there really is no greater sense of actual story. It all just feels like a massive waste of time. A sign of a good story is that the characters will start somewhere and end somewhere different. The experiences that these characters face should change them, literally or figuratively. The thing is, none of the characters in Dragon Age II are any different in the end from where the started. Depending on your choices, the characters in the first game ended up differently. This whole storyline just feels really rushed, like Bioware needed to get a sequel out the door in order to keep the memory of this franchise fresh and build hype for this much better third game they were working on. I thought Bioware was above stuff like. This, to me, is the most disappointing thing about Dragon II.
Gameplay for this game is a lot different than the first as well. Instead of the traditional RPG formula where you click on an enemy and your character starts attacking him, Dragon Age II tries out this new method where you have to constantly press A to attack. This livens up the action a bit and does make it faster paced, but it isn’t perfect. The camera is uncooperative at best, and by the end of the game, combat is just boring. There isn’t enough variety in the enemies which makes almost every battle the same. The only time it’s different is when they throw the odd ogre or two at you.
Graphically, the game is as ugly as the first game. One of the big complaints about the first game was how bad it looked compared to the graphics we normally see. In fact, my copy of the game glitched so bad that often times cutscenes would struggle to render, characters faces wouldn’t move as they spoke, and the environments themselves look pretty lackluster. Which reminds me; I hated the environments in this game. First of all, the game takes place in one city throughout the whole game. The only time we leave the city is to go to a cave or two outside town. Every single cave and alleyway looks exactly like every other damn cave and alleyway that it becomes one of the most visually boring games ever. I mean come on now Bioware! The original game took us through big cities, castles, an elven forest, caves, the dwarven mines and dwarven city, and a region beyond the void of time and space. Dragon Age II takes place in the same place for the whole game. All twenty hours of it.
I cannot really recommend this game. Maybe rent it if you’re curious, or if you’re a die hard fan of the series, but all in all, stay away from it. Save yourself the disappointment, I know I wish I had. The only real positive factor of this game is maybe the combat, and even that gets old fast. The graphics are ugly, the game gets boring fast, the story is rushed and not put together well at all, and a million other complaints. There are tons of little things that I could complain about like how some of the voice acting is pretty bad, but that’s not important. Dragon Age II fails at all the most important levels. It fails in its story and gameplay. And when you lose those, then you lose the game. Looking back on this game, I now realize that the whole game is just a cash in. It tries to cash in on the popularity of the first game while it can and set it up for a sequel. The people at Bioware didn’t make this game because they wanted to tell this story or show off their new gameplay innovations, they made it because they wanted more money. I always held Bioware in high regards, but now my faith was shaken in them by this game. On the plus side however, it made me realize how much more I like Dragon Age: Origins.