Dragon Age 2 Review
7.6our score

I’ve come to the conclusion that petty criminals in the city of Kirkwall are idiots. Any normal person after seeing his friends on the receiving end of explosive arrows, being frozen solid, shattered into pieces, or just plain having the crap kicked out of them by my party should be running a mile and yet they stoically continue on, regardless of how effectively I end their objections to my presence. Dragon Age 2 has arrived, and my smiting of people opposed to me can continue.

Why yes, my character is a green eyed redhead. Why do you ask?

Let’s briefly recap. Dragon Age: Origins was released back in 2009 and was widely considered to be one of  best RPG games of the year, if not the decade. It did so with a dark yet rich and engaging world that you could hack, slash, fireball or negotiate your way around while accompanied by interesting characters that were very well voice acted.

Having spent the first several hours of the first game swearing in delight at how wonderful it all was, I had high hopes for Dragon Age 2, and to be honest it hasn’t lived up to them.

Dragon Age 2 is all about you. So much so in fact, that at 20 hours in I was left wondering err, where the hell is the Plot? While there are some city politics and conflicts, for the most part the plot is all about you, which feels weird to be honest and left me feeling as if there wasn’t one for quite some time.

Of course, sequels are always tricky. It’s a difficult balance between repeating what you got right the first time around, fixing things you didn’t, and making enough changes to still keep things fresh and interesting. Sadly, it seems to me that Bioware have (rarely for them) gotten this wrong.

Where’s my varied scenery and environments?
In the first game, there was a whole country to explore. There were fields, forests, mines, dwarven cities, elven camps and much more. Dragon Age 2 has the immediate problem that it’s set in (plus a few short ventures out of) a single city. Clearly they have tried to keep this varied in places – there’s a variety of different ‘sections’ each with their own style, as well as basements, sewers, docks and so on – but you still find yourself running back and forth around the same areas a lot, which after a while is just, well, boring. Many of the smaller quests also take place in the same areas (often with one branch closed off), as a lazy way to put a ‘new’ area in without creating one. Basically after your first few hours or so of game play, you’ve seen all the different scenery the game has to offer.

Where’re my interesting companions and enemies?
Dragon Age: Origins was the first RPG I’ve played where I really hated some characters. I thought some of them were annoying, irritating, and downright rude, which of course was all down to the excellent way in which they were portrayed and voiced. There was a range of romances to choose from if you wanted, and interaction with your companies was a pretty regular occurrence for no reason other than because it made the game better and told you more about them. You might love or hate them but there was no doubt that they were all very well done, and all had strong back stories, secrets and so on.

This guy looks cool. Maybe he can tell me where the plot is ?

By contrast, Dragon Age 2′s characters I can barely name any of after playing through the game twice. They are competently voice acted, and you can romance anything (all characters in this universe are now bisexual, it seems). You can’t get information from them because interaction with them is limited to ooh, I have a quest for you! a few times each, and that’s it. You can’t ask them their histories, their stories or find out anything about them, as the game doesn’t let you. You can do some quests to make them like or hate you more, that’s your lot.

What happened to the varied and interesting combat?
Dragon Age: Origins had a pretty varied array of combat opponents. There were Darkspawn of several types, humans, elves, wildlife and so on. They had different abilities and skills to contend with.  Dragon Age 2 has a few Darkspawn in the intro part (complete bizarrely with a new graphical look which I don’t approve of and which jars against the supposed connection with events in the first game), and then the majority of your opponents are humans with the odd mage thrown in.

On the plus side, the combat in Dragon Age 2 is faster and smoother flowing. Actions are quicker and generally feel more as if you are fighting for your life. There are some new combat skills, as well as many of the original ones from Dragon Age: Origins. However, because combat is now faster, Bioware has decided that the answer to this is to spawn in new waves of enemies during the fights to make up for it. Sadly this has had the effect of making every combat sequence feel drawn out for too long and after a while it just gets pretty repetitive and boring. By the end of the game I was dreading getting pulled into another combat sequence.

One interesting addition here is the ‘leader’ type characters which you have to engage quickly or their spells/attacks/buffs will make things much more difficult for you. The downside to this is that failing to spot one means certain death for party members, even on the easiest difficulty settings, which means that until you know to expect them you can lose combat and have to start from the most recent save without knowing why.

Lately when i point my sword at things, they tend to explode.

So, in a lot of areas, Dragon Age 2 just isn’t as good as the first game was. Bioware gets a fair bit of criticism for their RPGs following the same formulas, and they’ve clearly tried to spice things up a bit here by changing some things, but the changes for the most part have made things either shallower, less interesting or just plain frustrating.

Despite these flaws, there is a good RPG of sorts here, the presentation is well done in the usual Bioware fashion, there’s the standard array of weapons, armor and crafting things to collect and use and plenty of quests to complete.  There are improvements in areas such as crafting and the game now shows with icons the expected results of conversations.

In isolation it’s a solid game, with around 30-35 hours of game play per play through (by comparison, Dragon Age: Origins had roughly twice this, not including DLC and expansion), and it even runs on the same PC I played Dragon Age: Origins on 2 years ago, with decent loading times.

It’s just that… this is Bioware. They are supposed to be better than this at producing deep and involving RPGs and their sequels, and I’ve come away a little shocked that this isn’t what I was expecting at all.

The situation then is this. If you liked Dragon Age: Origins for being a deep and involving RPG that you could lose yourself in for quite some time then the changes here will not please you. If on the other hand you thought Dragon Age: Origins needed to be shallower, with faster combat, simpler character interaction, and fewer areas to explore and quest in, then you’ll approve of what they’ve done.

Personally, I find that I have a preference towards receiving more things in exchange for my hard earned (yeah, stop laughing, co-workers!) cash. I expected to receive a sequel with more things in it, not less, and that’s hard to take given the calibre of the developers making it.  While there are some improvements, on the whole I’m left with the feeling that I’ve just paid the same money for half as much game as I got first time around, which makes it difficult not to feel cheated.

the author

Regular ManaPool writer and good friend of ET. I live and work in York, UK and try to provide a good honest opinion about the games i play. I like variety, strategy and to be challenged by games. I also provide technical backup to fix any problems with the site.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Thanks James, you kind of summed up my fears. I’ll undoubtedly still play this as well at some point (need to get it cheap somewhere) but it looks like they’ve degraded one of my favourite new gaming franchises into a pile of crap that too closely resembles the shallowness of Mass Effect. Pity.

    Oh well – Steam sales ahoy, otherwise it can wait for a free weekend a few years from now.

  • Shawn Smith

    I loved the first game, and have played it a lot. I like DA 2 even more….I seem to think you just aren’t very good at it.

    One interesting addition here is the ‘leader’ type characters which you have to engage quickly or their spells/attacks/buffs will make things much more difficult for you. The downside to this is that failing to spot one means certain death for party members, even on the easiest difficulty settings, which means that until you know to expect them you can lose combat and have to start from the most recent save without knowing why.

    That paragraph in particular tells me a lot. Really? You let characters die without knowing why. YOU HAVE A MAP THAT SHOWS EVERYTHING.

  • UKDude

    Have to say, I preferred the depth of interaction in DA2, its more fluid.. This is obviously the first installment of a long line of “extort dollars from the fanbois” DLC as there *IS* some plot development, but it’s not quite finished.

    The mirror, actually explained in morrigans DLC in DA1 has a role to play in DA2 as well.. The deep roads have plenty of room for expansion..

    Yes the reuse of scenery was a bad call (at least dynamically change the assets BioWare) but character interaction (Minus the backstories which came out in some of the plot lines) was acceptable.

    Elfin relationships are shown to be complex, The palidin like Captain of the guard has “relationship trouble”.. all of these are quite well executed.

    not everyones cup of tea, but I went back and replayed DA1.. and I prefer DA2

  • http://www.idcredit.org/ Charle

    I agree with every word you said. The game was far from perfect, and clearly needed more time, but I still had a fucking blast with it. I certainly can’t argue with complaints about the repetitive environments, for example, but many of the complaints don’t even make sense to me. It often seems like some of the people complaining haven’t even played the game.

    In terms of character depth, this was so much better than DA:O. The characters are far more interesting than in the first game. Anders alone, by the end of the game, should provide more to think about than the entire cast of DA:O combined. Who exactly were these deep characters in DA:O? Perhaps somebody could remind me. As I recall, they all fit into neat little stereotypical boxes, and none of them change as the story progresses.

    People complain about the story, too, but I’ll take what this had to offer over a generic “hero saves the world” story any day.

    And when people say the combat is “ruined,” that’s when I really get confused.

    I actually liked DA:O a lot, but this game really did fix a lot of its flaws. I will not go so far as to say that DA2 is better, but I think that if they’d taken more than a year with it, it would have been.

  • Robert

    Dragon Age 2 was better than DA1 and heres the reasons, Graphically 2 is far superior yes the interaction with other characters was far fewer, but the reasons behind that was that in Origins you eventually run out of dialogue and the players repeat the same thing, at least in DA2 the interaction means something. The battle system is better than the first AI is easier to control and less stupid.

    I enjoyed the stories behind the character’s they on a scale they would be on power with the previous game. However i agree with the map although much better laid out there was fewer places to go and less varied as some of the caves are repeated and this is noticeable.

    Plus the Story is very easy to get immersed in if you don’t know what was going on then its clear that you weren’t paying attention through your playthroughs

  • http://www.mgsdude.tumblr.com MGSdude

    Hmmm I felt the story line in origins was vastly more superior than this, I felt kind of angry at the end of the game and shouting at my moniter “Is that it? Just a bloody excuse for me to buy the sequal is this a marketing ploy?!” The gameplay was okay just the plot was missing chunks, and to be honest as a sequal to a highly scored game, this was not good.

  • Lora

    I didn’t find the companions worse than in DA:O at all and in many cases I preferred them, so I wouldn’t agree with the reviewer about that at all. I didn’t find them DA:O cast deeper at all. I agree that opportunities to interact with the new bunch were constrained and that felt like a step back. It would have felt more natural to initiate dialogue without being told to. Still, the companion quest cutscenes often had far more impact than those in DA:O and felt more ‘show’ rather than just ‘tell’.

    The comments about being able to romance ‘anything’ and ‘all characters in this universe are now bisexual’ are just plain misleading. All potential love interests are bi (which IMO is a good thing – more choice for more players), but just like in DA:O four characters are potential love interests.

  • Jenny

    Everything you’ve said here is spot on, James. When I finished DA:O, I immeadiately wanted to go back and play the game again, to see a different side of the story – but I have yet to do that with DA2.

    There were things I liked about DA2 – some of the humour was actually pretty funny – but I can’t motivate myself to play through that same set of stock level layouts over and over and over.. again.

    I wish I’d waited for the Steam sales, to be honest. Don’t feel like I’ve had my moneys worth.

  • Guillermo

    1 thing:

    Charlie, it’s ok to have an opinion, but just out right say it as a fact pisse me off.

    no deep characters in DAO? fucking idiot.

    anyway, i agree with every single thing in this review.

  • Matt

    I agree with with a lot of things you said but I do have to disagree with a few things.

    I played through the game and about 5 hours in I was thinking “Wow, what is my overall goal. where is this story taking me.” After about 10 more hours I realized that the entire story was “Hawke” and I loved it. The character I played was a humorous sarcastic character who a lot of times ended up being drug by her ear by Aveline to do some sort of good deed. The comment she would make now and again “What makes you think I’m the leader of this merry band of fools?” says a lot. I love that the story isn’t some all engrossing “hero saves the world” archetype. I can honestly say that out of all the bioware plots this is the most original. It isn’t original, I’ve seen it before, but its the least cliche out of all their games, even Kotor and Jade Empire the two biggest bioware games in my heart weren’t as original as this plot.

    I also have to agree with what others have been saying. Though I loved alistair and hated morrigan (but was eventually swayed into liking her), they really aren’t that deep (I’d say Leliana is the deepest yet one of the more cliche characters). I’m not saying that the new characters are much deeper than the originals, but come on you can’t call a character like Anders shallow with a straight face. He has multiple layers of depth that come from his original personality, the spirit of Justice, and the new creation of vengeace all living as one in his body. It was executed quite well, though it could have used more screen time.

    Good review otherwise

  • Simon Kulberg

    To me being able to give a meaningful review of this disgrace of a game is a sort of litmus test. Tons of sites gave DA2 top marks, despite the hopelessly linear and uninspiring beginning, terrain repetition, and the horrible inventory. I demand to at least have the option to micromanage if I want to, but no: we must all be dragged down to the lowest common denominator. Apparently some people don`t mind being treated as if they`re brain damaged though, so perhaps sentience is going out of fashion.
    Played this miserable excuse of a game for about 3 hours before uninstalling it in disgust. Bioware also made it onto my list of untrustworthy game developers, where they`ll remain.
    I`d bookmark this site for no other reason than this review, considering all the undeserved hype given to DA2 by the sites I had been using.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    I never bothered playing DA2 myself for 2 reasons:

    1. Origin
    2. James’ review

    I never felt like I missed out, tbh.