Dragon Age II
We review Dragon Age II, a fantasy RPG from Mass Effect developers BioWare.
Harley Ogier | Monday, June 13 2011
Platform: PC; PS3; Xbox 360; Mac OS X
Test Platform: Mac OS X
Developer: BioWare; Publisher: Electronic Arts
A great introduction to the fantasy genre, but suffers from repetition.
In May's issue of PC World, Zara Baxter previewed Dragon Age II: a fantasy RPG from Mass Effect developers BioWare.
She was all set to bring you a full review this month, but I developed a wee addiction to the game myself... 68 hours later, I’ve finished one of those completist playthroughs I brought you for Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas.
What’s 68 hours in the Dragon Age universe like? Awesome, once I fought my way past camera controls that were sent from hell to infuriate mouse and keyboard users alike. My solution? I went out and bought a trackball (Logitech's M570, to be precise), the only thing that mapped nicely to Dragon Age’s controls. Without that, I doubt I’d have made it past the first chapter: factor that into your purchasing decision.
I’ve read some bad player reviews, but honestly? I enjoyed Dragon Age II. That’s really saying something, as I have a rabid dislike for the sword-and-sorcery setting in general. I found myself caring about the characters, becoming interested in their world, and not even grimacing at every mention of ‘magic’ or ‘dragons’. Perhaps this suggests a toned-down, ‘mainstream’ version of sword and sorcery, not enough for true fans of the genre. BioWare have also made a lot of changes to the gameplay since the better-received Dragon Age: Origins. I might be wrong there, but it would help explain some of the criticism.
The writing and voice acting are great – as anyone that’s played a BioWare game will expect – though there’s a bit of an odd disconnect between speech and facial expressions that can break immersion (also a noted BioWare trait). Another immersion-breaker noted in our preview was the constant intrusion of dialogue and scripted events during combat. That seems mostly limited to the earlier portions of the game, when characters are being introduced and the plot is outlined. As you get deeper into the story, events take on a much more natural flow. Dialogue choices seem to have some impact on how the story turns out, but perhaps that’s just an illusion – I’m currently playing through a second time to test that theory.
Combat is strong, for both the Rogue and Mage player classes with their ranged weapons. You can pause the game mid-battle to issue instructions to your character or their followers and to activate talents such as special attacks and spells. A well thought-out strategy is essential when besieged by a multitude of better armed and armoured foes, or one of the game’s ‘boss’ enemies. ‘Warrior’ characters will find combat involves fewer tactics and more button-mashing – fun for a while, but keyboards can only take so much punishment.
Side quests are numerous and varied, though a disproportionate number of them do seem to involve stabbing a bunch of people in the face. Mass Effect was a great source of non-violent side quests; apparently in the Dragon Age, stabbing was a primary form of communication.
The greatest downside I found (camera controls aside) was incredibly gratuitous use of the clone brush. I think I explored the same underground passage ten or twenty times throughout my adventures, each time the only variations were which doors were open, and how many people I stabbed in the face.
Dragon Age II has some beautiful environments, but repetitiveness sucks that beauty out and leaves them looking drab and overused by the end of the game. I thought BioWare had solved that problem with Mass Effect 2; apparently the lesson wasn’t shared among development teams.
Overall, Dragon Age II is a good game with awkward camera controls, and far too much repeated scenery. If you‘d like a gentle introduction to the dragons-and-magic genre, it’s a safe bet.
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