BioWare is renowned for their remarkable ability to create interesting stories, characters and dialogue. The quality of their games’ visuals and controls can vary sometimes but the stories are universally well-written. Origins wasn’t a very good looking game and the combat was less than satisfying but the story it told was enough to make it a hit. With Dragon Age II, it’s obvious BioWare wanted to offer another great story, told in a much different way, in a world filled with great characters and a more realistically realized world.
I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Origins. I’m not saying a game has to look good for it to be great, but I was never able to get past the steep learning curve that’s required if you want to know how to do everything (or even a fraction of everything) that’s available for players who like to strategize. That’s why its sequel has taken a few pages out of Mass Effect’s book. This means it’s more refined, easy to navigate and far more accessible to players who don’t necessarily want to spend an inordinate amount of time learning the deeper intricacies of the game. So does this new approach work? Find out in my spoiler free (and sex-laden) review. The Baby Factor: If an incredibly nerdy fantasy RPG filled with elves, magic, demons and good versus evil strolled into a brothel and met Mass Effect’s streamlined controls, menus and steamy gay sex; Dragon Age II would be their sexually charged offspring with a tendency to kill bad things.
Let’s talk about sex, because for me gorgeous visuals, immersive stories and improved combat come second to my ability to hit on my companions. I’ll confess that in games like these (meaning the few that actually let you do such things) my inner manwhore tends to reveal itself. I must have made sweet, passionate love to at least three people my first time in the game. One, possibly two, of these encounters took place when I was romantically tied with Anders, a fellow mage with a brooding disposition that I just couldn’t say no to.
I do the same thing in Mass Effect where I play the compassionate captain of the SS Normandy that’s both a passionate lover and a great shoulder to lean on. I had the growing affections of a few members of my crew until they got jealous and made me choose between them. Wait. What was I writing about? Oh yeah, Dragon Age 2. So yeah, you can also ravage your companions in this game and it’s just as fun as we’ve come to expect in a BioWare game.
Arguably one of the biggest improvements in this game over its predecessor are the vastly improved visuals. Not only does the game look like it was actually made within the last five years (though it still doesn’t hold up well to more recent games) but the environments are more detailed and the city feels alive. There are a few interesting areas you’ll explore though there aren’t really any spectacular set pieces, and you’re rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny with hidden items and money to spend on luring any unsuspecting companions to your bedchamber.
Unfortunately, there’s very little variety in the environments. Sure, they look good but when I’m forced to explore the exact same cave for the third time things start to get repetitive. Dragon Age II makes the critical error of reusing the same environments over and over again and all they do to make it seem new is block off parts of the area so you have a set path through the location. There are probably 3-4 different cave layouts, 2-3 underground lava passageways and since this is a 25+ hour game where you’ll be exploring said caves and passageways a dozen or more times, some extra variety in this department would’ve been a welcome addition.
The menus have been streamlined beautifully to make casting spells and talents, using potions and organizing your inventory as painless as possible. The skill system specifically makes more sense as each of your spells and talents have been neatly organized according to what type ability they are. For Mages there’s the fire/ice group, earth/lightning, etc. Rogues have stealth, archery, dual-wielding, etc. And finally, the Warrior’s groups include two-handed talents, sword/shield combo, etc. If you want to focus on the skills that make you the best archer you can be, it’s easier than ever to do so.
The three classes play far different from the next with unique skills to suit each of their strengths. The Warrior is perfect for being the center of attention as he/she can take quite a bit of damage (as well as dish out a good amount in the process). The Rogue is ideal for one on one combat and aiding allies with debilitating talents. After playing all three the Mage ended up being my favorite as they can cast a wide assortment of spells that damage many enemies at once and they’re great for healing allies or giving out team bonuses.
Dragon Age II’s tale spans a decade and while it doesn’t have the same epic feel Origins had, the story is well told, always interesting and there are more than a few tough decisions you’ll have to make along the way. I never thought I’d say this but this game actually made me want to try Origins again just so I could get filled in on more of the story, and I might do just that. If you’ve played the first game you owe it to yourself to give this one a go and for those of you who have yet to dive into this world of sex, spells and sidekicks, Dragon Age II is a great entry point for the series.
The Final Word: Try it. This is storytelling at its best and the revisions to the combat and menus make it easier to swallow for the more simplistic gamers, including myself. I’d say more but I need to return to Anders. He needs me.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Dragon Age II, which was provided by the publisher.