All the best role-playing games (RPG) we’ve known and loved like Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion have usually been part of a larger franchise. That’s why last year’s Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O), a completely new RPG in its own right, was so important. Even though it was the dark horse, it was a runaway success.
A year later, Dragon Age II (DA2) spins another yarn in the same beautiful medieval-fantasy world of dragons, mages, knights and gold. In the previous game, a hero joins an order of legendary soldiers called the Grey Wardens and quells a demonic invasion. DA2 occurs around the same time, but in another region. You play the game as Hawke, a refugee who must work their way up the ladder of fame. If you have your save-game files of DA:O intact, the story seamlessly continues.
Taking cues from the movies, the story unfolds through exposition. It begins with Varric, a character whom you befriend, talking to a stranger about your past. After a short cut-scene, the game goes into flashback and leaves you to play the events through. This technique is highly innovative and possibly the first of its kind.
RPGs are all about customisation and game developer Bioware has left no stone unturned to ensure that you’re satisfied. You can choose whether Hawke is a rogue, warrior or mage and accordingly invest limited points in attributes like strength, magic, willpower and dexterity. Furthermore, you can fine-tune how Hawke looks and decide their gender. The game artwork shows the character as a bearded male human brandishing a sword, but nothing’s stopping you from turning Hawke into a high-cheekboned and aquiline-nosed female elf wielding daggers.
The most immediate difference between DA2 and its predecessor is the manner in which the game handles combat. In DA:O, fights seemed calmer and less ‘out there’. This game is far more dynamic with frequent explosions, and big monsters shaking up your screen.
A worthy sequel
Purists will gripe that DA2 is more action-oriented and less RPG. Fair enough. But this game pulls you in, making you forget about that cup of tea on your desk. It’s that engrossing.
While the game shares common history with its predecessor, the visuals are slicker. Races like the elves and dwarves have all been spruced up with reworked features. Graphics are impressive too, but you need good current-generation hardware to really get the best out of it.
The only drawbacks of DA2 are a) it’s not as extensive as the first game and b) the dumbing down of role-playing elements. For example, you can’t equip armour on your teammates; neither can you create as wide a variety of traps, poisons, potions or magical runes. Game length too, at 35-40 hours, is much shorter DA:O’s 75 hours of playing time.
What we like
Combat is engaging
What we don’t
More casual, less RPG
Reduced game length