Video game reviews – Dragon Age II


Dragon Age II
XBox 360/PS3/PC

Am I friends with Dragon Age II, or am I its rival? It’s hard to tell. A bit of both, I think. Granted, I’m basing the question on the game’s relationship system, which is counterintuitive and broken, so it’s tough to tell where I’d stand between the two. But odds are good that it’d be around dead centre.

There is a lot to like about the game. It’s a welcome return to the land of Thedas, which remains memorable thanks to some clever subversions of typical high fantasy subject matter – Elves live in a ghetto! Mages are oppressed! – and the intricate socio-political systems its characters inhabit. It’s also much nicer-looking than its predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, and has much snappier real-time role-playing combat.

But in several other cases, DAII actually seems to be totally regressive. Especially egregious is the level design; it’s bad that the game cycles through the same six maps for its sidequests, but it’s even worse that the maps are so boring. The fact that almost every battle boils down to fighting off waves of dudes that literally jump from the ceiling like the bad guys in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t help.

Bioware, the game’s developer, has also neutered much of what made the first entry in the series really shine. Origins had a 1ot of dorky stat crunching, sure, but that stuff was fun, in its own way – you were encouraged to experiment in order to emphasize your preferred style of combat. But DAII restricts armour to Hawke and makes gear rely heavily on sparsely-dealt attribute points, which basically railroad your build choices.

The feeling one gets is that this game was rushed, big-time, and it shows up almost as soon as you start playing. Usually, big-budget game character creators give you a lot of leeway; in Mass Effect I produced an eerily accurate Montel Williams, while in Origins I played as legendary rock producer Steve Albini. I wanted my DAII character to look like The Wire’s Michael K. Williams, but the character creator is so shitty that black people just look like burnt white people. Omar came out looking like a toasted Bruce Willis. I didn’t want to play as any Bruce Willis so I made my guy look like Gary Oldman instead. Nothing against Gary Oldman, but it was a bit of a letdown.

Which, now that I think about it, is a perfect metaphor for DAII.

John Cameron

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