Dragon Age II - Bioware's Dragon Age Franchise (PC)
Publisher - Bioware/EA
Release Date - March 8, 2011
Platforms - PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Mac
by Matthew Hibben
Bioware brings gamers the next installment of the Dragon Age franchise in Dragon Age II (DA2). DA2 brings gamers many of the things lacking from the first entry as well as reworks and improvements on many elements that showed promise in DAO. For gamers that loved Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) but felt let down by Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (DAOA, the retail expansion to DAO), DA2 delivers a game that is entertaining and packed full of content to experience.
I am not ashamed to say that I was one of those eagerly awaiting this title and rushed home quickly to start the immersion. As expected DA2 installs like a breeze and easily links to an existing dragon age account. This becomes important when beginning a campaign, because you can import your Dragon Age Origins character background.
Starting the Campaign
The campaign begins as most do, with character creation. The biggest change is that the player will find they are limited to pre-selected body types. The reason at first is not clear and I'm sure disappointing to those that enjoyed making unique characters right off the bat, but, given that the character has fully scripted voiceovers,this is most likely the rationale behind limiting that facet of the game. I will point out that later on during the tutorial portion of the game that the player is allowed to change the model of their character. This is confusing, seeing as the intro cinematic during your first taste of combat shows the original male or female models.
The story is the big draw of the DA universe for most gamers. Multiple play throughs were pretty common in the DAO, as each character you made based on your class and race selection would have a completely different starting zone and subplot. The story in DA2 seems much more rigid, with different class choices not affecting story or starting zone but still very engaging. The story is told in a new manner with the addition of a third party retelling of events. Without giving too much away I will briefly say that one of your main party members recounts your conquests as you complete them. So players will see acts played out in first person and periodically witness a recounting or your deeds.
Character interactions, which were a big part of DAO and for some reason removed for the most part in DAOA are back in DA2. The chatter NPC's have with each other are a great way to learn their background stories and adds to the flavor that was present in DAO. Romances which were another facet removed for DAOA are also back in DA2, and without giving too much away, let's just say you are allowed to make much more diverse choices then in DAO.
Character morality and alignment versus the other NPC's in your party is also back in DA2. The largest difference in this respect, is how chat interactions work in DA2. Chat interactions now have icons associated with what effect a specific chat decision will have. This new icon based chat wheel allows a player to quickly get an idea of how a conversation will play out with given NPC's. With icons depicting positive, playful, flirtatious, and negative views towards the NPC you are interacting with, it takes a lot of the guess work out. Players that are familiar with DAO will be pleased to know that rewards for high levels of affinity are back as well with your NPC party. For those not familiar with DAO, NPC affinity refers to how well liked you are by the NPC's , and they improve in performance based upon this.
The story takes place in a new land called the Free Marches, an area spoken of but not previously shown in the DA series. The player spends most of the time in the new city of Kirkwall completing quests and simply exploring the expansive city. I was taken aback at first due to the seemingly small scale of the map and was afraid that this would affect playable hours (as was the case with DAOA). Don't let the small scale of the map fool you, the game is pretty massive in terms of quests and play time and includes some new features. The main new feature added to the setting is the concept of time. The player can toggle between day and night in order to both acquire and complete quests. The other new feature to the map is the inclusion of a home location for the character, which also serves to fix the problem many had with inventory in DAO.
DA2 follows the same formula as DAO did. Players can select from three basic classes: warrior, rogue, and mage. Within these umbrella classes the player can specialize to be a damage dealing warrior versus a tank warrior, for instance, or within the mage class the difference between a healer and a nuker. This system of classes carries over into the structure of the rest of your party as you gain NPC's to select from.
NPC's and Beyond
NPC's or Non Player Characters are a huge part of DA2 and the DA mythos in general. As players are aware the NPC's really add to the immersion in the story through side quests and interactions, and this is very much at the core of DA2 content. Players will find as I did, much of the DA2 content is based around side quests for some of the game's more notable party members.
Combat in DA2 is for the most part, aside from improved graphics, the same as it was in DAO and DAOA. The player can control one player at a time in real time, issue preset commands via the tactics tab, or scroll between characters via pausing and issue commands for all controlled party members. The player selects combat abilities from the action bar and actions follow the "use" or "sustained" ability formula.
Tactics refers to how your party members not currently controlled by you directly will behave. Want your party members to heal at a specific health percentage or use an ability based on enemy formation? Then the tactics UI is where you want to be.
Leveling Up and the Talent System
As the characters level up they gain both stat points and talent points just as in DAO/DAOA. The highlight here is the visual revamp of the talent UI. From a mechanics stand point it's not much different than it was before, however the UI changes sure gives it a great new feel. Players can pop open the talent UI and see each specialization shown now as branching trees. Players can pick and choose what abilities to focus on and improve.
DA2 is a very nice addition to the RPG marketplace. With both quality and quantity in supply, most gamers (myself included) will find this a great value in terms of playtime and enjoyment. The game has some shortcomings and changes that deviate from the original, but in order to be a truly new title and not merely an expansion gameplay will change. I think the changes made in the case of DA2 retain the core of DAO while giving the player something new as well.
Dragon Age II Video Review