Game: Dragon Age II

Genre: RPG

Developer: Bioware

Publisher: EA

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac

Score: Disappointing

When I’m playing a console chances are I’m on the couch, horizontal, with controller in hand and a Mountain Dew nearby.  I’m like many video gamers in that respect.  I buy a game, retreat to my man cave, and enjoy some quality alone-time with my escapist vice.  But then there’s a knock on the door and it’s a salesman.  He wants to sell me shit.  I don’t want to buy shit; I want to play shit.  I’ve already bought shit.  Don’t they understand?  Anyway, the PS3 did what it always does when I buy a new game, installed some new update because I bought a game.  This has become part of The Ritual.  The bar moves across the screen for 20 minutes.  I prepare my domain.  Doritos and a cube of mountain dew are tenderly placed in close proximity to the couch to ensure I never have to move.  I then sit down.  Ready.  Eager.  A sweet dragon, some blood, the EA logo, Bioware!  Fuck yeah, I’m ready!  Then the salesman intrudes.  He insists that I log onto some EA server for achievements, community, and some DLC before I begin my adventure.  Request denied; I want to play.

After I turn the salesman away, I select new game and immediately am thrown into character selection.  My class choices are between the brain, the big, and the prick.  Well not really because, like in Dragon Age Origins, the wizard is a Bad Choice – more on this later.  My real decision comes down to ‘Big stupid fun’ or ‘Go anywhere, do anything with no downside fun.’  I choose the latter as I cannot abide playing an RPG in which I’m not allowed to loot every chest or open every door I come across.  The decision made, I’m immediately thrust into battle after a brief cut scene involving a dwarf being interrogated.  I follow the tutorial’s prompts and smash the X button and proceed to cartwheel around my enemies, tearing them to glorious visceral ribbons.  The camera doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as me.  Its control has been relinquished to the hands of a seizure prone geriatric.  I’m forced to readjust the camera approximately every four seconds – whenever my character leaps to engage a new enemy.  Despite the bad camera, I manage to have fun flipping around and exploding into smoke.

I eviscerate all the Darkspawn (they’re orcs by the way, just fucking orcs.  I’m not sure how much a name change can distract me from the fact that I’m fighting the most overused villain in fantasy settings but I digress – slicing them to ribbons is still fun).  It’s time to move onto Kirkwall.  It’s a town free of the Darkspawn blight because it’s an island.  A town my mother promises we have an estate in.  I won’t spoil how I get there but I’m happy to see a game with “Dragon” in the title have a creature resembling a dragon within the first few minutes of gameplay.

I end up in servitude for one year upon arriving in Kirkwall, the opposite of kicking my greaves up on the back of an elven handmaid.  Thankfully I don’t have to endure playing an indentured servant.  A quick fast forward and I’m thrown into the real plot of Dragon Age II.  I want to make money for my family.  Naturally the best way to do this is to enter the Underhell, or the Deep Roads as Bioware calls them, and pilfer treasure from a forgotten world.  I suspend my disbelief for a moment before the dwarf leading the expedition agrees I can enter Underhell with him if I farm up 50 gold and co-fund the affair.  I grimace.  The main story arc just informed me that to follow it I have to spend sixteen hours doing side quests in an MMO-like manner.  I almost tolerate this until the sidequests begin recycling the same maps.  It’s at this point that I begin to feel let down by Dragon Age II.

Dragon Age II, we need to talk.  You really promised me some good things here.  When I called the first one an overly celebrated cash cow aimed at MMO-fans looking for something to do between raids, I didn’t want to believe the second would follow suit.  You told me you’d changed.  Now you shove DLC in my face before I even log into the game, go back in time ten years to find a camera this bad, recycle maps, and feed me a down-right boring story. I mean really: “Run from the orcs! We’ll be safe in this city. Spend one year sitting on my ass doing nothing. Ten game hours of World of Warcraft fetch quests later, let’s go to the Underhell for awhile. At least when I get back I can keep doing fetch quests in town again.” I would be merely unimpressed if this were some garbage RPG company, but this is Bioware: I’m disappointed.

When I play a Bioware game I expect a brilliant story with fantastic characters hidden behind flawed but functional gameplay.  Dragon Age II seems to be the opposite of what I expect.  Barring the bad camera, the gameplay is mostly good.  The characters and story just aren’t terribly interesting.

I tolerated your sixteen hours of boring sidequests and something totally awesome has finally happened.  I just ganked a badass rock demon (even got a cool cutscene fatality) and was betrayed by the executive producer of I’m Totally Going to Go Crazy and Betray You in the Underhell: The Movie.  Presumably there are demons everywhere now and when I crest the mouth of the cave leading back to town the fuck will have hit the fan.   The city wasn’t even on fire when I got back.  What the fuck?  I guess I have my estate now and racked up another few hours of fetch quests.  Boy wasn’t that interesting?  No it was not, I’m being facetious.

Who am I kidding?  Chances are you already know if you’ll like Dragon Age II.  If you played the first one, the second Dragon Age is certainly an improvement.  Don’t expect too much of a tie-in from your the first Dragon Age though.  The occurrences of the first game are only ever in passing and seem to have little impact on the story of Dragon Age II.  The combat has much improved and is quite fun in a rewarding press X for gore way; the social wheel even saw some improvements with the addition of icons.  That is to say little pictures next to your dialogue options give insight into your responses.  It’s a shame most of the characters are unremarkable.  You’re left to use the improved social wheel on cardboard cutouts of fantasy character archetypes.  Mind you there are a few exceptions.  I found Varric, the Narrator, to be a well developed character.  He was just downright fun.  I even enjoyed my own character’s attempts at humor when choosing The Smartass dialogue responses.

The classes are all well imagined with several ways to level and customize them to your own playstyle.  Early access to the advanced classes helps you feel more unique.  The rogue can stab in at least three different ways, and the warrior can tank with a sword and board or deal AoE damage, have fun, and still tank with a two handed sword.  As I said earlier, there’s still a fundamental flaw in playing a wizard.  They’re totally awesome but they don’t have a spell to open chests or doors (despite being able to sculpt reality to their will) and Dragon Age II has a nasty habit of spawning monsters immediately fixated on the selected character.  This isn’t a problem for the rogue who can immediately vanish or the warrior who wants aggro anyway.  For the squishy wizard, however, it means he begins every fight at half health, especially late game.

If you’re in the market for a fantasy game I suppose you could do a lot worse.  The gameplay is at least fun if you can get over the frustrating camera.  The story may be rubbish but Bioware still holds a place in my heart.  Unless they remove Tali from the love interest rotation in Mass Effect 3.  They have been warned.

This game was reviewed on the PS3.