Most of the storyline entails dealing with one conflict after the next. What I often liked about the Dragon Age franchise was the ability to explore situations rather than always have to immediately deal with the repercussions of them. For instance, the Qunari are a big threat in Dragon Age II, but I never felt I was given enough time to explore what is obviously a deep culture. I wanted to interact with their leader on a larger basis rather than just from his seat in his square of the city while he condescended to me. I would have loved to interact with him in other instances to see the story from more than just one angle. It often feels like BioWare took too much on their plate to give each storyline component the depth it deserved.
Another aspect of the franchise I have always appreciated has been the development of relationships during your journey. Fortunately, there still are a slew of companions for you to interact with. You are constantly interacting with characters who have entirely different back stories than yours. While this is a single player game, this experience feels social. However, as intriguing as the side dialogue between characters is and as compelling as entering a romantic relationship with a companion of your choice can be, there weren’t enough interactions with them. In Dragon Age: Origins, you could interact with all of your companions as you chose in one location: the camp. Dragon Age II is less accessible. You’ll have to visit your companions in their respective bases. While this arguably adds to the experience of visiting your friends, one site to visit them all would have encouraged multiple visits.
BioWare definitely has a knack for creating believable, in-depth relationships between the main and companion characters. Varric became a very close friend of mine, as we shared a love for banter and sarcasm. Fenris, on the other hand, despised me and my ideals. As a mage, I of course had to stand behind the advocacy for my people’s rights. Fenris, being completely against the mages and a supporter of the Templars, adamantly hated me. Of course, this didn’t exactly stop our relationship. It impressively just made it more complicated. There are no black and white rules in Dragon Age II, and you are free to mold the story to your desires. I do wish that BioWare went the route of Mass Effect 2 and re-introduced characters from the first title. Although you can meet with some characters from Origins - like Zevran, which was a great choice to revisit - your interactions with them are brief and limited. Although I understand the appeal of introducing fresh new characters to entice players with, there is something much more impressive about maintaining my interest in an already-introduced character to reveal more substantial characteristics about them.
Yet another design flaw holding back the experience of Dragon Age II was the inability to save before an important cut scene. Something I loved to do in Dragon Age: Origins was revert to previous saves to experiment with how conversations would pan out. Unfortunately, many of Dragon Age II’s cut scenes occur immediately after battle. If you’re quick enough, you can often save right as the battle is ending and the cut scene has yet to begin. Otherwise, you are not given a chance to go back if a conversation does not go the way you wanted it to.
Even the action elements to Dragon Age II felt more bothersome than challenging. Enemies appear from thin air, and surround you in packs. After this wave is complete, you’ll typically be immediately confronted by another wave of enemies. Rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment over having just orchestrated a well-thought out battle plan, you’re immediately bombarded with a practically identical wave of enemies.
I always opt for playing as a character with some sort of magic-like abilities because I am always interested to see what unique spells a developer can come up with. Although you can experiment with everything from elemental damage to blood magic playing as a mage in Dragon Age II, I often felt jealous of my enemies and their abilities like being able to teleport distances. This jealousy did nothing to make battles more intriguing.
There are many instances where polish time would have benefited DAII greatly. For instance, speech isn’t as fluid as I would have liked it to be. There is a very obvious pause between when one character speaks and the other attempts to cut him/her off. Almost every cut scene I viewed was blemished by animations glitching in and out of focus. Opening up your scroll wheel becomes an entirely new disruptive experience. It would often glitch and remain on screen even after deactivating it, or abilities would not be selected. Targeting specific enemies while on pause from the battle within the scroll wheel is also clumsy and inaccurate. It often wasted time during battle and therefore decreased the intensity of it.
BioWare’s Dragon Age II has a lot of good ideas. A social conflict between mages and Templars, struggle for power, ancient relics with mysterious powers, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that BioWare wanted to cram in more content than it could bring together in a cohesive, thought-provoking manner as they did in Origins. Furthermore, although the team opted for a more action-oriented gameplay to their RPG, the engrossing, challenging battles that were expected were replaced instead with tiresome and repetitive ones. Regardless, exploring character relationships and having the power of deciding the outcome of your storyline does Dragon Age II a great service. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not you will enjoy this game comes down to your preferences. Flaws and all, I still thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Dragon Age universe and the unique characters that make up parts of it.
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* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Faulty game mechanics and disappointing maps, combat scenarios and storyline direction aside, Dragon Age II still has a surprising amount of intrigue hidden beneath the blemishes. The depth of character relationships, as well as the complex nature of the world of the Dragon Age franchise are a savior to a game that would otherwise forever be remembered by its mistakes.
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