Dragon Age II has been out for a few days now, and I have successfully managed to lose nearly all of my weekend diving into Biowares epic sequel. I have previously played and completed the demo (several times, in fact) and reviewed it here so I’m not going to go over already-covered ground. This review covers everything that I couldn’t experience in the demo.
***There are SPOILERS in here, so skip ahead to the ‘Companions’ section if you don’t want to spoil your enjoyment***
The storyline is big; this much I already expected from Bioware. While still being on my first play-through I still don’t truly know how big it is. Though I can say that after three days of near constant playing I don’t even have a complete picture of what the main plot is. In Dragon Age: Origins as soon as Ostargar was destroyed, you knew what you had to do and the main quest started in earnest. The Dragon’s Age II story plays at first, like a string of seemingly quite unconnected events; some beneficial some not so. Although Varric’s interrogation hints at the upcoming plotline. More and more details are given between the lines of each cut-sequence you see. There is clearly a storm brewing but that will all become apparent with time.
When you start a new game you are asked to choose a previous story-line to continue from. This can either be from one of the three pre-set options or you can load up any save game from Dragon Age: Origins. The story will then adapt itself around those details. For example, I have already heard mention of the benevolent King Adrian, I have had to raise Flemeth back from the dead which is presumably quite an effective reference to the fact that I killed her in DA:O. It is not only through conversation, these changes are also evident in the quests that you can attain. One quest has had me finding special ingredients for a potion that will help cure the Werewolves’ increasingly feral nature. This references to the fact that I helped the Werewolves destroy the Dalish Village.
As well as taking details from save games, the storyline of DAII also changes in a number of ways at many points throughout the game. The latest event which really got my mind wandering is when we were traveling through the Deep Roads. I took Bethany, my Mage younger sister and Anders an ex-Grey Warden. During this expedition Bethany took ill with the taint, however Anders knew of the Grey Warden cure and took her to some Grey Wardens. Bethany has now left my party but she is now a fully fledged Grey Warden. Now, my mind wants to know what would have happened if I took other combinations of people. What would have happened if I didn’t take Anders? She wouldn’t be a Grey Warden, but maybe Merrill (if I took her) would know of some Dalish ways and she would have lived with the Dalish (Unlikely I know). If I took Meryll instead of Bethany would the same situation have played out there or would her blood magic have forced the story in a different direction. The game is littered with so many of these points that I can’t wait to complete it, just so I can play it all again to see the other possible options.
The character creation part of the game has not changed that much from the original. With the exceptions of only being able to be human and not being able to change your voice, the character creation process includes the same number of options and level of personalisation for your character.
Though, one aspect that has completely disappeared is the ability to put points into things such as Survival, Combat Tactics, Stealing etc. These have either been absorbed into the character leveling process such as Coercion, Combat Training and Combat Tactics have, or they have been changed significantly such as Herbalism, Poison Making and Runecrafting. (See the ‘Inventory & Crafting’ Section for more info.)
Companions in Dragon Age II have been simplified. They have lost some of their personalisation options, but each companion has become more individual having some different skills and abilities to that of all the other companions.
Firstly and probably most noticeably, unlike DA:O the personalisation options of your companions have been reduced. You can no longer decide the clothing that they wear (apart from amulets, belts and rings.) however there are several armour upgrades available for each companion. The plus side of all this is that you don’t have to carry round lots and lots of different pieces of armour, on the off-chance another character might need it later on.
Each companion has a bar that tracks how much of a friend or rival that companion is to you. In the original Dragon Age, you only received benefits if your companions liked or loved you. In DAII your companions will be granted bonuses for either extreme. Whether you are their number one friend or number one rival they will receive a bonus skill. For example, Varric’s ‘Rival’ skill will increase his own damage while his ‘Friend’ skill will provide a party buff.
Companions level up in the same way as Hawke. Once you have gained enough experience your companions will be granted several attribute points and a skill point. This time around, companions are no longer able to ‘specialise’, only Hawke can do this. Though each companion has their own set of skills that are unique to them. You can of course completely ignore these if you want, and only put points in the standard mage/rogue/warrior skills. It’s still up to you.
The inclusion of several different accents through the game helps to differentiate between races. Merill the Dalish elf has a wonderfully demure Welsh brogue whilst Fenrys the Citi Elf has a strong American accent are two examples. Though several northern English accents have also cropped up, as well as cockney and irish.
The same level of inter-party banter has also continued in Dragon Age II. My favourite being this exchange between Merill and Anders…
- Merrill: I heard Varric say you used to be a Grey Warden.
- Anders: I was.
- Merrill: I met a warden once, back in Fereldan. Duncan, I think his name was. Very odd man. He had a marvelous beard though. I’d never seen one before. I thought a squirrel had grabbed him by the chin.
Combat is now more action than the ‘pause-and-select’ method of Dragon Age: Origins, Although that option is available at anytime it is a lot less vital on the easier difficulty levels. I suspect this change has been included in order to make the game more accessible for console users.
Companion tactics have returned and have been tweaked to make them more useable and a lot less of a chore to maintain. Each companion has a variety of pre-set tactic sets such as tank, healer, supporter, damager etc. which will utilise their entire skill repertoire in order to fulfil that function more successfully. You are still able to create a custom tactic sets at any time. The biggest benefit of the pre-made tactic sets is that new skills are automatically added to the appropriate tactic sets when they are purchased. So with very little effort the new character skills are included within the repertoire of your companions and are quickly in play.
Inventory & Crafting
Firstly, there are no ways to increase the amount of inventory space you have, at least none that I have come across yet so inventory management is much more important. Bioware obviously recognised this and have added several changes to help you. Not needing to worry about companion armour (explained earlier); crafting items are no longer carried with you and finally, you have the ‘junk’ area of your inventory. As you quest and pick up every bit of loot that you can; your inventory gets quickly filled with all manner of rubbish that has only a small monetary value. When you visit any vendor, simply click on the ‘Sell Junk’ button and all those relatively worthless items get sold all at once.
Crafting has also been made easier to utilise and much less work overall. All types of crafting are now available to Hawke. You no longer need to purchase skills. As you start exploring you will meet several NPC’s who will each open up various trade skill abilities. These skills manifest as various crafting tables within your abode. When you have gathered the right crafting materials (which are still strewn through the land) visit one of these tables and purchase the poison, potion or rune you want. This will then be instantly delivered to you. You start off with a small amount of recipes but more can be found as you quest and progress through the game.
Ok, so those are all the nice flashy and well thought out changes, but nothing is perfect so it wouldn’t be fair of me to completely gloss over these less than perfect things…
The game has on occasion shown various graphical glitches. My ‘favourite’ of these (If that’s the right word) is the environment graphics changing from its realistic stone greys, and wood browns etc. to a crazy 1960’s drug induced vision of psychedelic proportions. I overlook this as best as I can, but it’s certainly a mood breaker. Leaving the area and re-entering is enough to resolve this issue at least temporarily. There have also been strobe-like flashing effects that affected the whole game causing me to restart, and in some causes giant black geometrical planes appear and shift as I play, although changing areas often resolves these as well.
I’m sure all of these glitches will be resolved in upcoming patches, and they’re not exactly game breaking but the ‘fourth wall’ is certainly showing quite a hammering.
Layouts of dungeons, caves etc. are re-used with different areas available or closed off depending on the situation. Though from a map perspective it sill looks like you can go there until you find the entrance sealed with what likes concrete. This really isn’t a major issue admittedly, but it makes the map re-usage much more apparent. If they find a way to alter the maps accordingly depending on the areas that are actually available to walk this would be much less of an issue.
My final point of negativity is your dog companion. In Dragon Age he was a fully fledged companion that you could level and formed a part of the companion structure of your entire group. In DAII he is summoned by way of a skill that Hawke has, who can attack and has little to no other function. This could be tolerated, although whenever you change areas or have a cut scene or conversation, your pet is de-summoned. This has invariably meant that I have spent most of the game so far without my dog being summoned. In fairness, I never used him much in the original game, but to have him only half available seems worse than for him not to be available at all.
It’s good… very good. The entirety of just how good it is, is still being revealed to me as I have not yet completed the game. Though the fact that I am already planning my second play-through is definitely a very good indication. The graphics are very crisp and elegant, and Bioware have made available a high resolution texture patch for anyone who wants to get the best out of their DirectX II rendering. The voice acting is superb, and I have actually laughed out loud listening to some of the party banter which is quite rare for any game.
It’s quite highly priced around £35-£40 depending on store and system. So if you’ve never played Dragon Age: Origins and the free demo of Dragon Age II hasn’t been enough to help you make up your mind then the original Dragon Age may help (you’ll get more out of the Dragon Age II storyline as well if you have previous Dragon Age save games).
For those that enjoyed Dragon Age, you’ve probably already gone out and bought Dragon Age II. If not, what are you waiting for?