Dragon Age II review

  • Surprisingly compelling story and characters
  • Bevy of abilities and items
  • Easier difficulty level
  • New, button-mashy combat system
  • Repetition of levels and dungeons
  • Easier difficulty level

It's probably inevitable that successful franchises will gravitate toward the same paradigm - and this is probably even truer when it comes to successful series from the same studio. And so it is with BioWare's newest Dragon Age title, a game that moves away from its predecessor in just about every area, and moves toward another BioWare blockbuster RPG: Mass Effect.

The Mass Effect-inspired modifications in Dragon Age II range from cosmetic (the dialogue system) to foundational (the combat system), and from well-taken (the dialogue system) to nigh-on disastrous (the combat system) - heck, you can't even buy your companions new armor, just as you couldn't in Mass Effect 2.  In short, you can think of Dragon Age II as being more console friendly, more action-RPG, and less wide open than Origins, but the heart of the game, thankfully, remains unchanged.

Set in the same world as Origins, and just after the events of that game took place, DA2 will be immediately familiar to fans, and is so filled with background text, expository dialogue, and flashbacks that complete newcomers will pick it up in no time. Indeed, the game seems to have been keyed a little too much toward absorbing new blood: combat has gone from an intricately planned, isometric affair to a 3rd-person, beat-‘em-up style of fighting.

You can still program AI characters with subroutines that will cause them to activate the powers you want more or less when you want them to, but it's far more cumbersome to issue orders en masse or to set up a coordinated series of attacks as you would've done in Origins. Instead, you'll spend most of your time in control of a single character (you can easily switch among them with the tap of a button), whacking enemies and unleashing powers. Most of the time, this means mashing the attack button, with the occasional use of a special ability/magic spell every so often. It's straightforward, sure, and easy to pick up, but it lacks subtlety, panache, and most of all, the feeling of real tactical engagement that Origins had.

On the other hand, your time spent between combat is enhanced considerably from the previous Dragon Age title - now, characters are more fully fleshed out without being as expository about their thoughts and feelings as they had been. The storyline, too, constructed as a frame-story series of flashbacks, goes from "go-here-find-this-blah-blah" to one of the more compelling fantasy tales in videogames. In short, the writing is better - and that's a very good thing.

And the game looks nice, too, with more colorful environments, more detail in character and enemy models, and a grander, more cinematic vibe. This is helpful, because the scope of the action - in terms of level design - is actually narrower and more linear than it was in Origins. To be sure, you'll complete plenty of side quests (some of them purely by accident), and the story will branch depending on your dialogue choices (and on what you did in Origins), but because of the way the narrative is laid out - primarily in flashbacks with an unreliable narrator - and because you spend a lot of time retreading the same levels and dungeons, you feel much more "on rails" than in other, truly wide-open RPGs.

Another reason the game feels less free is, ironically, because it's so easy. While you can futz with the difficulty level to give yourself a tougher challenge, your characters (especially protagonist Garrett Hawke) can take and deal out far more punishment than they could in Origins - especially at the outset of the story. We never felt particularly challenged in combat, except with the occasional boss fight - and we never felt we needed to be very concerned with what our AI-controlled companions were doing, either. While this is nice if you're interested in a sort of interactive movie experience, we would've liked to have had to think about our decisions (at least insofar as combat and action are concerned) a bit more carefully.

In the end, DA2 is sure to be a divisive game. The purist, PC-RPG crowd will hate it for "dumbing down" one of the last remaining hardcore RPGs, while the console clan will love it for making a fantastic series more accessible. Everyone should cotton to the clever, twisty story and fully fledged characters. It's hard to say that DA2 is an overall improvement on Origins, but you can't deny that it's a bold step toward remaking the entire action-RPG genre - something we'll have to evaluate the success of with Dragon Age III.

Mar 15, 2011

More Info

Release date: Mar 08 2011 - PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (US)
Mar 11 2011 - PS3, PC, Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: BioWare
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Language, Violence, Sexual Content
PEGI Rating:


  • DeliciousPie - July 8, 2011 1:09 p.m.

    You can turn off the button-mashing in the Game Options menu.
  • Cloudlv6 - May 5, 2011 6:36 p.m.

    The Mashy combat system makes sense if they were going for a Mass Effect feel how do you emulate gunfire with swords and shield exactly like they did. If you think about it gunfire is button mashy combat too lol.
  • babyhenchy1 - March 24, 2011 10:56 p.m.

    After completing it, I have to say that while this game has some inexcusable flaws and is not as good as Origins, the story in this game IMO blows Origins away. And I loved the story in Origins. The conflict is grayer, the characters more interesting, Kirkwall (despite getting a little repetitive) feels real, and even the kind of annoying cliffhanger has gotten me excited for DAIII. Just fix some of the flaws BioWare and it will still be a Day 1 buy for me.
  • FVDub - March 19, 2011 8:01 a.m.

    It's nice to see not all the GR readers are raging on this game like the rest of the gaming community. The game has faults, especially the lack of environments, but the gameplay is more enjoyable on consoles than DA:O ever was and the characters are great.
  • publicanemone - March 19, 2011 7:38 a.m.

    I really don't get how you're faulting the game for having an "easier difficulty level" when you can adjust the difficulty at any time. I found normal to be a breeze all the way through but hard presents a good, interesting challenge IMO.
  • mockraven - March 17, 2011 4:45 a.m.

    I posted earlier, but now I've beaten the game. Still liking it a lot, even with its short-comings, and plan on playing through again to see if how you treat your companions affect the main storyline much or if some of the main story was just hard scripted to go certain ways no matter what you do. One thing that irks me, though, is what the point was in carrying over your DA:Origins save. The only benefit I saw was cameo appearances, otherwise it didn't seem to do anything for the main storyline or anything else for that matter. That somewhat disappointed me.
  • texasgoldrush - March 17, 2011 4:34 a.m.

    @ TriforcePlayer Hell, no. By making Hawke silent, you would kill much of the emotion and the personality the game had. In fact with a silent protagonist, the big sad even in Act II would fall flat. The story's ending was great..not every story has a happy ending. This game story is more of a tragedy than an epic hero tale. This is by far bioware's darkest work. Your companions can even be as big of "villians" as the antgonists are.
  • farsided - March 17, 2011 2:05 a.m.

    just picked this up and it's absolutely incredible. 9/10 easy.
  • revsears - March 17, 2011 12:03 a.m.

    Played more last night... and this is fable II.5 isn't it? I never played fable III because of how much i hated fable II, but that's what this game reminds me off. It's fable II with better graphics, and boss fights. It's certainly better than fable II but if not for some text here and there it wouldn't feel connected at all to DA 1.
  • Yeager1122 - March 16, 2011 11:56 p.m.

    I just started playing the first one and am loving it so dont know about this one now.
  • OrionOnyx - March 16, 2011 9:08 p.m.

    They aren't giving this game enough credit. I spent almost 20 hours on my first playthrough and it was fun all the way through! The combat is ALOT better than Dragon Age: Origins, so I don't know why people are complaining about the combat being dumbed down. Sure, it HAS turned into somewhat of a button masher, but it is a helluva lot better than the first combat system! This game deserves at least a 9 or a 10.
  • Cleanser247 - March 16, 2011 8:26 p.m.

    I personally can't wait for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I'm sure it will score high, and possibly be game of the year no doubt. I've tried out Dragon Age: Orgins, and I enjoyed it a little bit, but I still would rather play The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion : ) Great review Eric!
  • TriforcePlayer - March 16, 2011 8:09 p.m.

    I like DA 2 a little bit more than Origins but I hope they combine the faster combat and menu upgrades with the more open and adventurous Origins if they make another one. I wish they'd have kept Hawke silent and given us more chat options than taking from Mass. I hated the story ended too. Varric and that Seeker were annoying.
  • freakyfro99 - March 16, 2011 7:10 p.m.

    The story really isn't as great as you say in here. It just kind... ends. I thought I was at the halfway point, or maybe 3/4 point, when the game ended. It just didn't have that grand end-of-game feeling to it. The UI pissed me off too. It was definitely geared towards a more console audience than PC.
  • OHMYGODIMONFIRE - March 16, 2011 6:13 p.m.

    I actually think I may prefer this to the first one. The thing is, I know the combat system in the first one was definitely more tactical, but I was never a fan of the "click attack and they keep attacking until you tell them to use an ability" style of combat. I always preferred it when it was more beat-em-up style. I guess the only combat I can really compare what I perceived it to be in the review to is kind of like fable 2, but with more abilities? Please clarify if you could.
  • LSZ - March 16, 2011 5:48 p.m.

    The difference between this and Mass Effect 2 is that the streamlining in Mass Effect was needed and worked great. I didn't see a need to change DAO (a fantastic game). Also, if some of the changes didn't work, at least Mass Effect had a an epic story and great characters to fall back on. With Dragon Age, a medieval RPG setting isn't exactly anything unique in gaming these days. With DA2, I liked Merrill and Varric and everyone else was very forgettable.
  • presc1ence - March 16, 2011 5:42 p.m.

    Had started to get bit interested in this one , but one sentence kills it for me. Its like ME2, the most un rpg , rpg i have ever played.
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - March 16, 2011 5:38 p.m.

    We received review code on the day that the game came out, instead of early as we might expect, so it was impossible to post the review on release day.
  • babyhenchy1 - March 16, 2011 5:15 p.m.

    @Clovin64 I agree with the dungeons being inexcusable. The story on the other hand was brilliant I thought. When it comes to delivering gray morality, Dragon Age II is about as good as it gets.
  • Clovin64 - March 16, 2011 4:08 p.m.

    I beat this game a few days ago, and I quite liked it. The combat felt much better suited to consoles than Origins, and I love how much Hawke is an improvement over your blank-slate Warden in Origins. Storyline, on the other hand, is a big let down and revisiting the exact same dungeons 8 or 9 times is unforgiveable.

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