Thoughts: What Went Wrong In Dragon Age II

By John Walker on March 31st, 2011 at 8:05 pm.

There sure are some dragons for some reason.

You may have noticed the lack of a full Dragon Age II review on RPS. This has nothing to do with slacking. I’ve been playing the game almost every day since my WIT of the first few hours, now on my second play through, just trying to get my head around what it is they got wrong. That’s what I’ve tried to process here. As such, the below contains information that could spoil the story of the game.

What exactly was Flemeth doing there?

It would be madness to say that Dragon Age II is a bad game. Such is the lunatic binary nature of people’s responses to games that its having fallen short of its own predecessor, and indeed its own expectations, seems to create a desire to loudly deride it. The iTunes rating system of 1 or 5 seems to be infesting our realm, and it’s important to recognise disappointment in context. Am I disappointed by Dragon Age II? Very much so. Does that mean it’s terrible? Absolutely not.

What follows is a critique of where I think Dragon Age II went wrong. Read without bearing this in mind it could look like an overtly negative review. It’s not. The game gets much right, with some lovely quests, fun chats, interesting characters, and moving stories. There’s tough subjects covered, including a plot that asks whether you can sympathise with a paedophile, the pursuing of serial killers, and fights with giant bronze statues. As an RPG it succeeds in many ways. This isn’t about that. This is about trying to understand why this time that’s not enough.

What’s taken me so long is in trying to identify how it fell short. I’ve tried various mental exercises, most frequently: If this weren’t a BioWare game, weren’t a sequel to Dragon Age, what would I think of it? Where would it rate in the history of RPGs?

Obviously the original Dragon Age was a divisive game, and my adoration for it is not shared by all. Sitting with colleagues who were also reviewing it, many loud-voiced, arm-waving conversations took place as we passionately disagreed with each other about its merits. But almost all of these discussions (once you’d removed the details relevant to someone’s playing the weaker 360 version) seemed to come down to expectations.

I played the first game in interesting conditions. While I’d seen the terrible marketing campaign, and the laughable E3 2009 demonstration, I had played the game to completion, over 120 hours (including all the openings, multiple endings, etc) in my own time, over a month before the game was released. I was not confronted with conflicting opinions – indeed, no opinions at all but for my own. And I adored it. Because what I wanted from an RPG was an enormous, involving world, vivid characters, a strong, interesting narrative, and most of all, relationship. And I believe Dragon Age offered me that in droves.

Yes, there are some corny bits, some ploddy sections (Deep Roads, etc), and some ghastly lines of dialogue. But over all it was a game imbued with passion, a decade in the creation, in a world with an astonishingly rich history, inhabited by a mix of characters who while certainly stereotypes, often avoided cliché.

I didn’t mention combat. I think the combat in Dragon Age is great, micromanaging the battles with my four characters, employing tactics, freezing the action between every blast to issue orders, negotiating tricky battles on a number of fronts. Excellent stuff. But it wasn’t very important to me. It wasn’t one of my expectations.

Of course it’s impossible to come to Dragon Age II with such a clean slate. Because at the very least, you’re expecting Dragon Age: Origins. And you’re not getting it. Any sequel that’s a regression of the original, however intentionally, is always going to struggle in comparison. There can’t have been any surprises at BioWare that a game one third the length (in fact, not enormously longer than the half-price follow-on for Origins, Awakenings), set in a massively smaller world, was going to met with at least raised eyebrows. You can’t really stick “II” on the end of your game title and expect otherwise.

I think it’s also important to get some perspective on scale here. The average full price cross-platform coming out today has about eight hours of single player content. Dragon Age II has a good 40. (Those who are finishing it in significantly less are missing huge sections of the game in order to be able to do so, which is fine, but it’s also not representative of what the game can offer.) DAO may have had a mad 100 or so, but 40 hours is still a remarkable amount of game. Let’s not lose site of that.

The most interesting thing about Dragon Age II, and indeed its biggest failing, is the setting. But first let’s look at how we get to it.

This time your choice of character is much more defined. You can be a human rogue, mage or warrior, male or female. This is still a significant choice, especially if you pick mage, but of course not nearly so impacting as DAO’s mult-race, multi-class options. There’s only one opening (which differs slightly depending upon whether you’re a mage or not), and it’s not an interesting one. In fact, it seems to be deliberately dull. Told in hindsight by the dwarf, Varric, to his interrogator, you flash back to the start of the “Champion of Kirkwall”’s story.

It’s the time of the Blight, Lothering has fallen, and you and your family are fleeing Ferelden to escape to Kirkwall. You’re already mid-flee, encountering Darkspawn and learning the ropes of the combat. Which is much the same as DAO’s combat, except executed in such a way that there’s less need for tactics. We then get the flashback joke as it’s revealed Varric isn’t telling the truth, and mystifyingly have to repeat the same dull section, this time with complaining companions.

It ends in a fight that, well, I was doing just fine at that’s interrupted by the arrive of the Witch of the Wilds, Flemeth, in the form of a dragon. She asks for a mysterious favour, and then in some unexplained way helps you get to Kirkwall.

As a beginning it makes innumerous mistakes, but the most resounding is the complete sense of disconnect it gives you to your character. Picking him/her up in mid flow (for me it was a her, so for simplicity we’ll stick with that), she’s independent of you in her struggle. Not only is it made clear that the events you’re playing have already happened, but its emphasised upon you that you’re just an observer of an already complete family in the midst of their struggle. Why didn’t we see them in Lothering? Play as our character in our own home, talking to our mother and brother/sister about the threat, and then see it destroy our lives? It’s something DAO understood so well, each of the six openings establishing brief normality before the abnormality broke out. It’s such a critical mistake here, dumping a life on you in the middle of its story.

It certainly isn’t helped by BioWare’s strange determination to make all their starting companions as tedious as possible. While Alistair certainly bucked that trend for DAO (don’t you dare say he didn’t!), here we have people that rival Mass Effect’s Ashley Williams for the personality of a sponge cake. Playing as a mage, I had the delight of keeping my brother, Carver Hawke, alive. What a pleasure he was to have around, vacuously moaning the entire time. And I’m not sure they’ve written a major character as poorly as your mother, who stands around feebly, and flutters in the background for half the game. She’s such a shell of a character, displaying none of the gumption one might expect from a woman who’d defied the nobility of her family to marry an apostate mage.

The sister character, Bethany, is still unpatterned cream wallpaper, but at least not actively draining to be around, as I’m discovering on my second play through. But perhaps worst of all is warrior Aveline, another Ferelden you pick up during the early sequences. Playing a huge role in the overall story, her monotonous voice sounds as though she’s delivering options for an automated telephone answering service, yet somehow less interesting. The insta-death of her husband is one half of the attempt to inject an emotional tone to what’s essentially an enforced tutorial, but her robot tones make it seem ridiculous. “Press 2 to cry now.”

But that’s as nothing compared to the sheer idiocy of the way either Carver or Bethany is killed seconds earlier. People we’ve never met, people the game hasn’t even tried to tell us anything about, let alone care for, get killed in a sequence that’s essentially an enforced failure. It reeks of desperation, of a desire to create a dark tone to the opening, that misses so widely that you’re basically taught that your family is disposable.

So this takes us to our setting: Kirkwall. “The City of Chains”, Kirkwall was once a hub of slavery, and the shadow still haunts it. Divided by money, the rich Hightown looks over the poverty of Lowtown, the Gallows, the Docks, and worst off of all, Darktown. But this is not the starting city, from which you explore the larger reaches of the lands. This, but for a few fixed locations in the nearby hills, is it. It’s a bold move, restricting a lengthy game to such a small area, to something not much bigger than DAO’s Denerim.

The idea is, and I love this idea in concept so much, that you’re not playing as the last hero in the land, saving the universe. You’re just some refugee, trying to survive in a city that has no fondness for Fereldens, working you way up through the ranks from villainy to nobility, seeing the city change shape through time. I wish I could have played that game.

Instead, from the opening moments, you know that your character isn’t just some refugee. She’s going to be “The Champion”, revered and terrifying. You don’t know how or why, but you’ve no choice but to know. So you can never relax into being a citizen – you’re waiting for this constantly teased progression to occur. And you’re waiting for a really long time, with seemingly little purpose.

The first third of the game has you looking for money to make an expedition into the dwarven Deep Roads. It’s a strange target to pick, the Roads generally agreed to have been DAO’s point of bloatedness – they’re not the most appealing prospect to return to. And why this particular expedition is of such import is scarcely explained. So you’re completing quests to raise money, and that’s it. That’s your motivation. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but without a better sense of the troubles to come, it just feels aimless. Which is twice as weird when you begin the second act and things are still just as aimless.

The trouble is, each time the game jumps forward three years, any sense of having connected to anything that’s going on is torn from you. Suddenly you’re not who you were before, with the seemingly interesting bits happening while we were off watching an animated cutscene. Oh, I’ve got my own place now? I’m rich now? Then how come I have the same amount of gold as before, the same equipment, and so on? Oh, I’m the Champion now? That little fight was enough? Really?

(The most hilariously daft aspect of these three year comas must be the man queuing up to see the Viscount, who moans every time you walk past him that he’s been waiting all day. “For six years!” I would helpfully tell him as he repeated his only line deep into the game.)

And the city doesn’t change in any interesting way. Sure, the Qunari (the oversees race who seem to be in town to cause some sort of trouble) eventually are gone, so that bit’s closed off, or whatever. But the same people mill in the same places, the same merchants stand at the same stalls, the same buildings stand in the same places. It’s a conceit that the game seems entirely unwilling to deliver on in any imaginative way.

Which brings me to the issue with the overriding themes of the game. DA2 picks up two of the more compelling aspects of the first game to run with here. The conflict between the Templar (the military order of the area’s main human religion, the Chantry) and mages, and the complexity of a mage’s vulnerability to infestation by demons. Both were fascinating details in DAO, carefully left in the background for you to explore at whatever depth you preferred. Here the two heavily linked subjects are brought to the front.

So the Templar want mages to be kept in Circles, essentially mage open-ish prisons where society is protected from the potential danger of their letting demons in from the Fade. The mages, who are born that way, want to be free. And this is made more complicated by Blood Magic, a form of magic that requires deliberately opening yourself up to demonic possession.

This latter part is explored from two angles. You’ve got Anders, the formerly fantastically grumpy character from Awakenings, possessed by an ancient spirit of Justice, and Merrill, a delightfully cute Welsh elf who just happens to dabble in blood magic in order to pursue her fervent passion for the recovery and preservation of elven history.

Unfortunately, as interesting as this all certainly would have been when it was written in the story documents, the game itself cannot sustain them. For instance, playing as a mage, I frequently unleashed magic in front of Templars who would then express astonishment if I mentioned that I was an apostate too. In fact, I unlocked blood magic as an skill just to see how it would affect a story that was primarily about helping or killing blood mages. It, er, didn’t make any difference whatsoever, to the point where it was just ignored. Which makes beyond no sense.

Sometimes the game’s conversations would recognise that I was a mage, and allow me to mention that. Other times mages would be discussed as if they were other people. All made laughable by my standing there in a mage’s outfit, carrying a bloody great magic staff.

But the issue goes deeper than just mechanically. The game doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to manage such a complex and nuanced story in its own narrative. At a certain point I had no idea which blood mage was which, as every single quest blurred into one. I’d deliberately defy orders to kill them/arrest them, and try to set them free (the angle I’d chosen to take for my character), and nearly every time they’d turn into a demon and I’d have to kill them anyway.

Which is, in fact, the model for most of the game. Where BioWare’s wonderful Knights Of The Old Republic offered the illusion of choice, changing the way you behaved in the fixed events, Dragon Age II offers not even an illusion. Do you want to open door A or door B? Both open up into a fight where you kill someone, but door A meant you wanted to. And this, tragically, even applies to the game’s floppy, hapless ending.

I’ve carved out a path through the game – at every junction I’ve chosen to fight for the mages against the Templar, I’ve argued the mages’ cause in every discussion. So why am I being asked whose side I’m on at all?! Let alone why does that make absolutely no difference whatsoever to what I’m actually going to play?

In the end Dragon Age II has nothing to say about slavery, subjugation, or acculturation – themes that shone in Origins. It pretends it does, but it’s all flap and waffle to excuse some more fights. It has nowhere to go, nothing to reach for.

The plight of the elves, either City or Dalish, is trivialised to a couple of asides, and the dwarven caste system that surely provided Origins’ most controversial elements is completely absent, maybe alluded to in one or two lines. We’re just left with the mages, and it’s offered to us in such a silly way that it doesn’t allow us to think anything interesting. Every blood mage turns into a demon, and yet no one seems to notice. Fighting for them begins to make blurry sense, and yet fighting against aligns you with psychopaths who wish to see horrific acts of mental abuse and eugenics.

In the end, what it came down to for me was my realising that I didn’t care what other characters thought of me. In most of BioWare’s RPGs, my relationship with the companions I care about is paramount. And not even including the romance. Oh, let’s look at that quickly.

Female Hawke is not a very nice person to start with. The decision to voice the player character, and to give them Mass Effect 2’s ambiguous dialogue wheels, was I think a very bad one. I was left with someone who just seemed unnecessarily rude to people, despite my desperately picking the nicest options. But when it came to flirting, Hawke was not exactly subtle.

The conversation options with a heart symbol really would have been better represented by someone shaking a vertical fist over a horizontal arm, shouting, “WUUURRGGGHH!” Hawke’s predatory attempts to convince people to fuck her are so far from any notion of “romance” that they’re only laughable. Which is all the more awkward when you’re saying them to someone who’s being tender in response. Poor Anders. It’s bad enough that they emasculated him to become such a weedy drip, but I wonder if he felt he had any choice about shacking up with Hawke once she set her sights on him.

Such extremes meant I stopped caring. Who cares if Aveline is offended by me? Why should I be bothered if Varric doesn’t like a decision I made? In fact, can we all just shut up so I can ding the next quest?

It’s certainly not helped that every character has so few barks. They have about fifteen million lines of great dialogue written for each of them, but only three things to say in a fight? It’s hard not to start to hate them for that alone. It would have been so little effort to provide some variety in the thing players would encounter the most frequently.

And sadly, by the end, I stopped caring altogether. I switched the combat down to “casual” because I was so bored of having the same fight sixty-three times an hour. Without the need for tactics, and with the mindlessly stupid decision to have repeated waves of enemies, once I’d unlocked enough abilities to spam through combat it became an incredibly frequent irritant. And boss fights didn’t ask for any skill whatsoever – they were just long, boring sequences where the only challenge was to see if I culd time my party’s heals such that they stayed alive long enough to watch the baddy finally keel over.

The game then betrayed me in two extraordinary ways. Firstly the biggest plot point in the game – one that changed everything that I’d been working for – happened in a cutscene, caused by one of my companions, and would have happened no matter what actions I’d taken before. It was such a strikingly bad decision, yet again making me feel irrelevant to the action. Sure, it’s great that an NPC can heavily impact the world. But surely I should get to be involved on some level?

And then the fudged ending forcing me to go down the same path whichever major choices I’d made, left me feeling cold. That it ends on a mother-sodding cliffhanger felt par for the course of the frenzy of middle fingers being stuck up at me, and when it didn’t bother to tell me what happened next to any of my companions, I realised I didn’t care.

So yes – I have a lot of negative things to say about the game. Things that meant that at the end, despite its genuinely being a solid RPG in many respects (I could talk about the improved crafting, entertainingly daft side stories, companion quests (although what the bloody hell was Merrill’s actually about?), refined skill system, amazing background conversations, excellent voice acting, interesting Qunari plot, and much more), I ended up not really liking it as a whole.

I think saying “II” was probably this game’s biggest mistake. When it feels more like a sister product to Awakenings than a full, unique game, surely it would have more sense to market it that way, even at full price? It’s not a sequel to the epic Dragon Age: Origins, in any meaningful sense. When I think about the breathtaking scale, the depth of history, the religious conflicts, the horrendous racism and classism, and moving, emotional narrative, it seems daft to have considered this the second incarnation of that. It’s a game set in a single city, with nowhere else to go, exploring six years of a group of people’s lives. It’s confined, which is fine, but it’s not the epic RPG we were reasonably expecting.

Another mental exercise I’ve done is to wonder what I’d have thought had this been sold to me as another Dragon Age sub-game, a different perspective on the same world. And while I’d have had the same issues with the same significant mistakes, I don’t think I’d feel quite as thrown by it.

Can we agree to call a mulligan on this one? Let’s retitle it, “Dragon Age: Kirkwall”, and BioWare can take a lot more time making the real Dragon Age II.

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387 Comments »

  1. Hardtarget says:

    Finally beat it last night, took me 33 hours, played every quest I could (somehow Fenris’ act 3 quest never was offered for me though) and I must say I really enjoyed it. I don’t get all the bad press the game is getting, i dug the story and the combat. Only thing that grated on me was the reuse of dungeons.

    • Wooly says:

      Agreed, I loved it! It certainly had its flaws such as the repeated dungeons and lack of a tactical camera (grr), but I overall enjoyed it immensely. The story , combat, and characters were all amazing. I feel like a lot of complaints are stemming from the fact that it’s not Dragon Age: Origins II. There are certainly legitimate complaints out there, but to me the refinements and qualities of the game vastly outweigh its detriments. Hopefully the internet’s reaction will not put Bioware off of innovation and instead get them to fix the minor errors for Dragon Age III.

    • Wooly says:

      As an addendum, they should probably have named it Dragon Age: Kirkwall or something to that effect to lessen the rage of the AIMs

    • Jesse L says:

      But what does that have to do with this article I just read?

    • noodlecake says:

      I completely agree.

      I thought this was more enjoyable than Origins. They tried to do something completely different, unlike with the first one and it paid off, more or less. It’s a shame that people want to play the same generic PC style RPG over and over.

      While most of what this article says is true, to a degree, Origins was slow and felt like a grind, which is a shame. If there was some way of implementing the improved combat system into the old game I might give it another go. :) It was very bland and generic (as was the story!)

    • Wizardry says:

      Hey, noodlecake. What is the generic PC style RPG? Can you give me examples?

    • Nick says:

      “Hopefully the internet’s reaction will not put Bioware off of innovation”

      What innovation?

    • Ovno says:

      “It’s a shame that people want to play the same generic PC style RPG over and over.”

      I know I mean theres been so many of these pc style rpgs in the last 8 years, theres been DA:O and errrrrrrrr, oh yeah no others well one is certainly the defintion of over and over so you must be right.

      And after all there have been so few console style shallow action rpgs during that time as well, so few I can’t be bothered to list them, becuase it would take hours…

      Why oh why could we not just have DA:O 2 instead of DA:ME:DLC:2…

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Wizardry:

      Stuff like KOTOR, which was derived from Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, and Planescape, which were derived from early (commodore early) SSI DND games.

      Dragon Age 1 was definitely a member of this lineage.

    • Wizardry says:

      There is a huge difference between Baldur’s Gate and SSI’s Gold Box games. There is also a huge difference between Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. The Gold Box games have more in common with Japanese tactical RPGs than Dragon Age II.

    • akio_outori says:

      I’m with the people that loved this one, and as strange as it seems one of the reasons I loved it was because it was on rails.
      I agree that typically PC RPGs, certainly Bioware RPGs usually have the same story. In fact, the similarities between the gameplay/storyline/npcs in KOTOR, NWN2, and DA:O make me want to choke. DA:O was good, but as another reviewer said, it was like Bioware put thousands of hours into making a really interesting world, and then forgot they made it and put a stock plot overtop of it.
      By stock plot, what I mean is “oh, I’m a random generic hero that will need to travel around the world gathering my allies in order to fight a giant demon.” Don’t get me wrong, its not a bad implimentation at all, but the story arc for DA2 definitely has more character.
      That said, and while I agree with a number of the reviewers comments, I want to put in a few words on what I feel like Bioware did right with this:
      Making a cohesive story that I CAN’T change everytime I feel like it. I appreciate that there actually is a story unfolding here, and I’m not always in the middle of it. Its something that helps that story come to the forefront and actually makes me want to complete it, knowing that there’s a narrative unfolding and that I’m not going to shortcircuit it in a random character interaction.
      Most character and companion development is intentional and woven into the story. This, IMO, is the best change in the game. Nothing detracts from previous titles more than having to spend 20 hours in conversation with my characters, carefully choosing dialogue options so that I don’t offend them. In this title, my interactions have impact (in my game, Merrill hates me) and happen at significant times, rather than in random back alleys where I finally got the notion to click on that person. The story can continue without massive impact. There’s probably a balance here, but its nice not to spend the entire game worried that I’ll break my favorite companion because I talked to the werewolf wrong.
      Combat – the combat and strategy in the game could be better, but I’m glad that character creation and party makeup are lenient enough that they kindof fade into the background to let the tension between the templars and mages come out.
      Loved the ending, wonderful setting up for an expansion that I’m dying to play. Mage wars please!

  2. kyrieee says:

    I think this game proves that 40 hours doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t mean it should cost full price. It’s 40 hours of the same content recycled.

    • John Walker says:

      No it isn’t. Don’t be silly.

    • Bhazor says:

      Recycled dungeons much?

    • John Walker says:

      Certainly, which is a bit tacky. But it’s hardly the game’s biggest flaw.

    • Rangersix says:

      This isn’t just a step backwards compared to DA:O, this is a step backwards compared to all their titles. How they managed to create and release this when they have a whole line of inhouse examples of how to do it right, baffles me.

      Oh right EA.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      If you feel the need to turn the difficulty of a game down to get through it quicker its’ length is perhaps not that much of a reliable measure?

    • Bhazor says:

      Especially when by your own admission “I was so bored of having the same fight sixty-three times an hour. Without the need for tactics, and with the mindlessly stupid decision to have repeated waves of enemies”

      So apart from combat scenarios, enemies and locations there’s very little repetition?

    • Jimbo says:

      There’s tons of padding which could have been stripped out without harming the game one bit. And an awful lot of the quests revolve around very slightly different takes on a mage becoming demony, just to really hammer the point home. At some point there should probably be an option to suggest simply not having a Circle of Mages in a city where so much bad shit has happened.

      I can’t help but feel that, given the main thrust of the story, the game would have been better served by placing you inside the Chantry as either a Mage (forced into the Circle as a child) or a Templar (rescued by them as they flee Lothering, and raised in their ranks) and letting you see how the situation evolves first hand.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      40 hours, or whatever, is exactly one of those BS sales-pitches you get nowaday… 40 hours of what, they won’t tell you exactly. It’s a number without any real context.

      How many lines of spoken dialog… doesn’t matter if it’s all terribly insipid dialog in a dull and terrible plot.

      Sure, there are certain limits where you take notice. “Only 4 hours gameplay” would probably prompt a lot of people to question what exactly they’re buying. “An A4 page of text-only dialog” isn’t going to sell you anything.

      Older games had 120 hours or whatever (I think that’s the length BG2 was said to be), so they’re selling us a shorter game as if that’s going to impress us (or hoping we don’t remember)? Is this a 8.5 out of 10 game, or a 9 out of 10 game? Does this shampoo make my hair 95% glossier than brand X?

    • Archonsod says:

      “Older games had 120 hours or whatever (I think that’s the length BG2 was said to be), so they’re selling us a shorter game as if that’s going to impress us”

      I finished BG2 in about 40 hours or so. After the first run you can finish it considerably quicker too.

      Agree with the point though, saying a game has X hours of content is meaningless without defining what that content entails. If I load up BG2 on a spare PC now and simply leave it running for a year I don’t think I’d be right to claim it’s a game of 8765 hours.

    • Kadayi says:

      ‘Recycled dungeons much?’

      Recycled locations maybe, but certainly not recycled missions.

      Sure unfortunate, but game development in this day and age of multi-platform releases has to accommodate the limitations of the weakest link in the chain and that’s the 360 at present. Developers have no guarantee of a hard drive to install game files to, and going beyond the standard 1 DVD for a game size means they fall foul of Microsofts hefty multi-disc licensing charges.

    • TheTingler says:

      It’s close to one of the game’s biggest flaws. There’s only one type of mansion, one type of basement, one type of cavern, all of which you’ll visit multiple times with very little changes made. Considering the lack of locations in the game anyway, I felt utterly ripped off by this. It was padding, and not even subtle padding.

  3. Pollo says:

    - No tactical view
    - Enemy reinforcements dropping out of the sky (you think you fight 4 enemies, only to discover 4 more suddenly rushing at you.)
    - Horrible UI (console owner must love it)
    - Fully voiced protagonist and the dialog wheel — I prefer my silent DA:O char and a richer dialog choices.
    - Simplified inventory
    - Bland companions
    - Bland setting
    - Voice acting (while it’s not bad, it simply cannot compare to amazing voice acting done in DA:O).

    • Hardtarget says:

      saying the companions are bland or that the voice acting is bland means you must have played some other than than I did…. Varric in particular is fantastic and the various companion quests are all quite well done.

    • John Walker says:

      Yes – beyond Aveline’s somnambulistic drone, the voice acting is really superb. Varric and Merrill especially. My next planned piece on this game is one of making all the cruellest decisions all the way through, and Merrill makes this a heartbreaking experiment.

    • Hardtarget says:

      John, I think that it’s super interesting, and I’ve heard this from a few people on other sites, that you did not really enjoy the game but are already paying it through a second time and plan to play through it a 3rd time. The game must be good enough for you to play through it 3 times that the super negative tone in the article can’t be as negative as it seems.

      I think you make a lot of good points but overall I had a lot of fun with DA2 and comparing it to Awakenings (which was a great expansion pack) does it a disservice.

      Should it have actually been called Dragon Age: Kirkwall? Yes, absolutely. but is it a fully fledged game? yes as well.

    • John Walker says:

      It’s my job to play the game. And my second time is the meanness attempt, because I want to understand what will really change as a consequence of that. Were it not my job, I’d move onto a new game now.

    • Hardtarget says:

      well fine!

      as an aside Aveline really grew on me by the end of the game, I even started to like her voice. I dunno what that says about me.

    • Archonsod says:

      Aveline’s voice never bothered me. It stands out somewhat because she’s flatter toned than the somewhat plummy Hawke’s but I didn’t think it sounded terrible. It was the Oirish Dalish I didn’t get on with.

      I wonder how much that would be influenced by the player’s own linguistic background though.

    • Kadayi says:

      You know the more you dig into the dialogue system the more interesting it gets. Figuring that the prologue stuff kind of established a template for your character I did three short playthoughs up to around year one. Making sure that each character was polite humorous or stern accordingly. One thing I found interesting was that in each case, sometimes NPCs initial dialogues were different for me before I’d even gotten into actual dialogue choices, as well as how I dealt with people. If generally you are a smartarse, then your general dialogue is always coloured smartarse. It’s been a while since I played it, but I’m fairly sure ME2 didn’t operate like that.

    • Archonsod says:

      It didn’t. The only thing comparable in ME2 was the Renegade / Paragon system, since some interrupts required you already had a given rating to appear.

      It is a brilliant system though, it’s just surprising it’s taken this long for anyone to think of it.

    • President Weasel says:

      The romance sub-plot between Aveline and the guard really changed my opinion of the character. It showed her as human rather than a guard-bot, and (I think) implied that one of the reasons the character was a bit wooden is that she was emotionally closed off. (Or possibly her voice actor picked that part of the recording session to up her game, or perhaps I am just imagining a change in her voice acting towards expressing a bit more genuine emotion, because I was feeling some genuine emotion towards a companion other than irritation, for a change).

      As for the ending, it gave every sign of being hammered into the square hole despite all of the round decisions the player might have taken before. Support the mages at every turn, speak out against the templars and their boss, and the anti-templar conspiracists will still attack you, despite you being
      1) an avowed supporter of their cause
      2) the second most powerful figure in Kirkwall and the only one with a chance of taking power
      3) the most terrifying bad ass the Free Marches have ever seen

      Then when it all kicks off, if you choose the mages side, the chief mage decides that after speaking out against blood magic all game, after taking a stand against Meredith for suspecting blood magic everywhere, after saying it was too dangerous to use… he’s going to use blood magic, thus proving Meredith at least partly right.
      Worse, he is going to do it right in the middle of his allies, with no enemies in sight, abandoning any kind of narrative sense in favour of a “hey, we should put a mini boss before they fight the big baddie at the end!”

      bah.
      I did still enjoy the game despite my constant nagging dissatisfaction, and I entirely agree that if they’d put anything other than “2″ on it I would have almost certainly enjoyed it more.

    • vagabond says:

      I’ve had a number of people tell me about the dialog morphing to conform to your good/bad/smartarse choices. If this is true on as large a scale as I have been led to believe it exists, it bothers me for two reasons:

      a) They can track minor personality based stuff and have the game adjust accordingly, but they can’t actually alter conversations based on whether you’re a mage or not, or whether you use blood magic. You know, binary stuff that determines whether the plot makes sense or not…

      b) It feels to me like resources that would have been better spent on not having identi-kit dungeons. (I’m willing to accept that this may well be irrelevant if there is a permanent staff of voice/plot people who would have been twiddling their thumbs if it wasn’t done)

    • Gvaz says:

      I agree with everything in this post.
      The only good character was Varric, Fenris, then Avaline in that order. I mean in both character and VA. The rest of them were absolutely awful in characterization and almost flat. Sure there were decent VAs, but that doesn’t make up for the writing.
      In fact, party banter was ten times better than the actual interactions.

      Guess who banter was written by? Interns.

  4. Stardog says:

    It’s amazing how horrible every one of those screenshots is. Maybe the red guy can get a pass mark.

    I played the demo and found it awful. The battles weren’t easy to manage and it just felt b-rate.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I don’t think the screenshots really do it justice. It’s a much prettier game than the first. While there are less environments, they are more interesting ones.

    • Wulf says:

      It was the setting that got me. I just don’t want to go to medievalandia again. I did try, but… it’s not something that I can stomach. There are so many interesting things you can do with fantasy as I’ve noted elsewhere, this is something that RPG masters of old and Japanese developers have excelled at (I’m still fond of Wild ARMS 3 for being a crazy Wild West RPG, with magic-wielding native americans). And knowing this… I just can’t go back to ye olde Englande of yore. I can’t do it!

      Others can, and more power to them. I hope they enjoy it and have fun. But it’s gotten to the point where it’s a painful experience for me, and there are many lesser forms of discomfort I’d prefer to endure than to try to force my way through a setting that I find no passion, emotion, or inspiration in. And I want to be left inspired and emotional by my games. That’s important for me. But I get that that’s not what the majority want, I totally get that.

      I’m just happy that there are games on the horizon though which are designed to appeal to me. So… Dragon Age III will happen eventually, it’s bound to, and lots of people will enjoy that, but by that time there are likely games with more interesting settings that I’ll be playing. Hint: Golem battlesuit.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      I was disgusted with the demo.

      I loved DA:O and I liked all previous bioware games. The trailer campaign and new art direction felt wrong (fantasy sims) but still I was prepared to give them money and enjoy simplified DA:O.

      But I just couldn’t –
      I tried the demo…
      I wasn’t just disappointed with the SEQUEL, I was disgusted with the overall game – even if it was a completely independent game called “Dragon Empire: Quest for Immortal Sword” I’d still hate it based on: terrible combat, UI, story telling, characters, corridor gameplay, weird graphics that feels like everything is props made from paper.

      Sequel or not – this game shows, that something has fundamentally changed in the bioware – the fact they greenlighted such a product means they’re on a wrong path as a studio.

      (Probably a good path economically – as producing this game must’ve been way cheaper than previous opuses, but their goodwill went down with this game.)

    • Jeremy says:

      I will say this: the demo literally shows the worst moments of the game. The worst characters, the worst dialogue and the worst aspect of the fighting. Having played through the game once and working on a second time, it’s kind of weird that they created the demo that they did in the first place.

    • kongming says:

      Yes Wulf, I too am sick of “ye olde Englande of yore” fantasy settings. Oh wait, none of those exist.

      If you think that any fantasy game actually resembles or is half as interesting as real medieval England (or France, or Spain, or Germany, or Italy, or…), you’re dead wrong. I would love a historical fantasy game that actually convincingly portrayed the Middle Ages, it would be a breath of fresh air in this swamp of renfaire caricatures we call PC roleplaying games.

  5. Coins says:

    These are all great points, and very true. I often wonder if I could have prevented several things ( which I won’t mention here because of spoilers), but from this write-up I assume I can’t. I think the biggest disappointment for me was the supposedly changing city, which didn’t. I would’ve loved to see the city evolve based on your choices, but it didn’t at all. Even the two ‘war city’ themes were exactly the same.
    Which brings me to the second point, as I think mister Walker has only reviewed the storyline problems, and not the technical noes. I still liked the game, though it should indeed be named Kirkwall, not 2.

    EDIT: Am I the only one who -likes- LadyHawke’s voice?

    • CaiusCaligula says:

      I liked LadyHawke’s voice. In these kinds of games, I’m usually playing the snarky bitch anyway.

      Personally, though, the only problem I had with the game was at the very end of things. I didn’t like the ending as I thought everything was kind of handwaved (seducing any of the characters– and it was pretty subtle for me– seemed almost tangential, as did the relationships), meaning that nothing I did with my companions mattered, and the act-end bosses royally hacked me off. Particularly the act two boss, which I fought without any of my party members. I did, however, get a sense of accomplishment from finishing the fights. The sequel hook made that all feel futile, though.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I didn’t like the ending as I thought everything was kind of handwaved ”

      To be fair, a wizard did indeed do it.

  6. Theoban says:

    It’s a shame because I really adored most of the original Dragon Age (I didn’t really mind the deep roads either) and this just doesn’t sound like it’s been wrought of the same iron. I do still want to play it but this is defintely now a ‘wait until it’s a bit cheaper’ sort of purchase.

    I’ll probably enjoy it well enough but the original Dragon Age was brilliant for most of it, rarely have I had a game present me with choices where I’ve had to back away from the computer and have a think about what I’m going to do. It’s hard for anything to live up to that really.

    I guess what I’m saying is; ‘oh well, Witcher 2 then’

    • Grygus says:

      The biggest problem is that this isn’t a role-playing game at all. Oh sure, the game lets you choose the mood of your dialogue, but it’s not reliably the sentiment you really meant to express and (more importantly) it doesn’t much matter which one you choose, anyway. And yes, the game does have a few agonizingly hard decisions for you… it’s a shame that it doesn’t matter one bit which way you end up going. Of course, you do get to choose a side at the end of the game, but both sides are so relentlessly and pointlessly self-destructive that if I could have simply walked away from the whole thing instead of fighting the final battle, I would have. It isn’t that it was “dark” or “gritty,” it was that both sides deserved to lose. Maybe I would have stayed if the game let me kill them all.

      And that’s where most of the value is. This is a pretty great RPG in the Diablo sense of endless, repetitive, boring combat, picking talents and playing dress-up. In fact, that’s the only way to really enjoy the game; play it like Diablo, with the story running in the background and the main event being watching your character become unbelievably powerful. THAT is well-done and by the end you are gratifyingly unbeatable. It’s a shame that I can’t take that character online to pursue some fun with friends; it would at least lend some sort of point to the proceedings.

    • Archonsod says:

      “the game lets you choose the mood of your dialogue, but it’s not reliably the sentiment you really meant to express”

      Erm, how can a system which relies on you choosing the sentiment you wish the character to express not reliably let you express that sentiment? Particularly when it’s divided into three.

    • suibhne says:

      Maybe because dividing all human sentiment into three buckets is a bit broad-brushed, meaning that there will almost always be some disconnect (ranging from minor to massive) between your intended sentiment and the particular approach chosen by Bioware writers to represent the totality of Bucket #2?

    • Grygus says:

      Exactly; for example, I once chose an option that said, “I take responsibility,” which I chose intending to take the heat off my party member, only to hear Hawke say, “it’s totally my fault I let the party member screw this up,” throwing the party member under the bus – the exact opposite of my intent.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Hypatian says:

    Like the previous WIT, I’m amazed at how diametrically opposed my opinions are from Walker’s. What he hates, I love. Which matches well with my experiences talking with other people: It seems about half the people think the new approach is great, it increases their sense of immersion in the story, and is overall more fun and deeper. The other half think the new approach is awful, can’t identify with any of the characters at all, and can’t enjoy the game much at all.

    Since I’m in the “loved it!” camp, I really hope this doesn’t make BioWare back off from taking chances with further experiments in the narrative structure of their games.

    (Well. Okay, the one thing everybody agrees on is that the “we’re going to use this same map five times, but different doors will be locked each time and you’ll come in from a different entrance” thing is wretched. :)

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      I enjoyed the combat much mor this time round, a shame they didn’t go the whole hog and turn it into something Bayonetta-esque, but so much esle was lazy and horrible. Chiefly the plotting and storytelling.

    • Kdansky says:

      As for reuse of maps.

      Think of it like this: They obviously cut corners to save money and development time there. And it was by far the best spot to choose for that. I’d rather have less maps than less interesting combat, plot, dialogue choices, characters or visual quality instead of quantity.

    • Gvaz says:

      As a sequel to DA:O, there was almost nothing redeeming about this game. I’d rather eat feces than play this game again.

  8. The Army of None says:

    I completely agree with you, John, both on the good bits (the inter-companion chats were pretty well written, for example) and the bad bits (the utter lack of any sort of unifying plot or real choice).

  9. Premium User Badge

    Schaulustiger says:

    John, you have probably become my favorite RPS writer and this is why. It’s an incredibly well-written piece and from what I read (and play), it seems that Bioware didn’t quite get what made the first part so very, very enjoyable.
    In ten years or so, I will talk about Dragon Age: Origins and Baldur’s Gate in the same sentence and I’ll most likely not remember DA2, but I’ll reserve my final judgement until I have completed it.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Lacero says:

    Is it just me that would like these games more if they were 4-5 hours long and had no combat?

    • JFS says:

      No. However I’d probably prefer them being about 10 hours long and having some combat inserted where it really mattered. Believable combat. And story and chatter and characters with personalities. Like, closer to a good book, but with added interactivity. That’d be nice. I think DA:O got that quite right in some spots, bar the endless mook fights, which were fun sometimes, but not always.

  11. orta says:

    +1 on the agreement

  12. Plinglebob says:

    I agree with your final comments. It felt more like an expansion then a sequal, and a poor one at that.

    My biggest problem with the game was that the design felt lazy. While I liked the idea of having bigger stories for your companions, it seemed like the only reason they did that was so they had an excuse to keep you in a maximum of 4 locations so they didn’t have to build many maps. This was forced home to me when I went to the same cave for every side quest with different doors closed off and the Minimap still showing the same large cave network every time. Please Bioware, give us the scope of DA:O with the companion depth of DA2 in your next game.

    • Hardtarget says:

      if they had bothered to update the damn minimap to show a true version of which ‘version’ of the cave you were in this time it would have made the same cave over and over again a bit easier to swallow. such lazy design.

    • John Walker says:

      Hardtarget – that is an excellent point. That they didn’t is mystifying.

    • Bhazor says:

      It seems a bewildering step back into those terrible identi-kit missions from the first Mass Effect.

  13. michaelfeb16 says:

    I think your conclusion is a perfect summary of my feelings on this game. If it had been DA:K instead of DA2, I probably would have loved this game.

  14. Premium User Badge

    Diziet Sma says:

    For my few pence worth forgiving it’s odd 3 year comas as you quite accurately put it I thoroughly enjoyed the game having played it through once, especially a twist I only later realised not everybody else got to experience (unless they followed a guide I suppose). Thoroughly enjoyable and soured only slightly by expectations being so high. I quite enjoyed the focus on one character leading up to something big, which I assume will be dragon age 3, rather than the large scale conflicts of the original.
    I also found myself massively disliking a companion for the first time, Fenris really got on my tits. Merrill and Varric were excellent as characters and their voice acting.

  15. MrEvilGuy says:

    It’s too Americanized.

  16. Spinks says:

    I thin Aveline is one of the better characters they’ve written and if you dismissed her straight away, you’re missing out. She’s a proper lawful good paladin type with a strong moral code but who isn’t an idiot about it and knows when to look the other way. And a strong woman who wasn’t put in just as a love interest and isn’t really supposed to be conventionally attractive anyway, which is always good to see.
    I kind of agree about the romance dialogue. However hard they try, it was written to be said by a male character and would probably have felt less predatory coming from one.

    I also thought femHawke’s plummy posh girl voice was a bit offputting.

    • John Walker says:

      I did have her in my party a lot, whenever Merrill was getting a bit too much, and I found her always insufferable. Especially struggling through her ghastly getting a boyfriend plot.

      Also, I don’t really understand the thing about her not being a love interest. Since I’m constantly given the option to try to smuttily seduce her, I’m not sure how there’s a distinction.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I’ve been enjoying having her in my party so far, haven’t finished it yet though. She seems to be a reasonable and intelligent person who dislikes mages, possibly the only one in the game. So I like having her around.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      I’m also an Aveline fan, she’s one of the better Bioware characters in my opinion. She has a face with character, I think she looks good, but she is not conventional Hollywood pretty. Liked her voice acting. I haven’t finished the game, but she seems to go through some stages of character growth too.

    • Nichael says:

      Aveline was one of my favorite characters in DA2. She seemed like a realistic and reasonable woman in a party full of the typical RPG melodrama, which made her interesting and relatable.

    • bleeters says:

      I don’t mind Aveline quite as much as some, but I have to resent the fact that she and Anders are (unless you fulfill one of their roles yourself) essentially mandatory party members once you crank up the difficulty, and yet both are tiresome and drab to have around. Origins had the same issue in some respects, but at least the two available tank characters consisted of a light-hearted humour dispenser and HK-47 in stone form.

      I happily had Alistair tag along whilst playing a sword-and-shield warrior myself, optimal setup be damned. I made myself a warrior character specifically so I could ditch Aveline.

    • Nichael says:

      I played on nightmare all the way through and only very rarely felt forced to bring a tank or healer along. Most of the time, I played with Isabella, Fenris, Varric, and my own debuff/damage mage with no healing skills.

    • TariqOne says:

      I was actually a little moved when Aveline, despite her full rivalry bar and disagreement with my stance, stuck by me at the end.

      She’s a painfully awkward person hiding behind a painfully awkward hard shell. The semiplayful barbs between her and Isabela — “Lady Man-Hands” — really endeared her to me over the 75 hours I spent on my playthrough.

      And yeah, the ending was more than a bit dumb. But the rest, including Aveline, was overall terrific.

    • Derk_Henderson says:

      I agree – Aveline really grew up on me by the end of the game (and I really didn’t like her in the beginning). It was definitely worth having her and Isabela in the same party a lot – their progression from people who simply couldn’t stand each other to good friends by the end of the game was pretty cute. Also, Isabela’s “Oh, take a hint and bend her over a basin” during the romance quest was hysterical.

    • malkav11 says:

      In act 1 and 2 you can flirt with her some, but she’s not one of the possible romance options. She and Donnic are a thing. And I really liked her, personally. Aveline, Varric and Merrill were my companions throughout the vast majority of the game, not because they did anything I particularly required in combat (Merrill in particular never really came into her own for me in combat), but because they were easily my favorite characters. Aveline’s a bit closed off, but she’s sensible, motivated, good hearted and (in act 2 and 3) having the Captain of the City Guard tagging along with you is a nice bonus. Varric, of course, is consistently a hoot. And Merrill’s so daffy and cute that I really hated how her personal quest played out. (It would be a bit like how I’d feel about Anders if I actually liked DA2′s version of Anders, which I can’t imagine anyone actually doing.)

    • Archonsod says:

      “I played on nightmare all the way through and only very rarely felt forced to bring a tank or healer along. Most of the time, I played with Isabella, Fenris, Varric, and my own debuff/damage mage with no healing skills”

      Yeah, you don’t need a healing mage or a tank. You’ve got plenty of pots for healing and a buff mage can turn virtually anyone into a tank. Fenris can also do a decent job of tanking if specced for it too, or you can avoid the necessity of tanking altogether via the threat control capabilities of rogues.

      You can pretty much work with any party configuration in fact, providing you adapt your playing style to match.

  17. Yosharian says:

    Why does nobody point out that the skill trees are VASTLY improved from the original?

    For me this was a major point. I enjoyed combat immensely – everyone says it’s less tactical than its predecessor but has everyone forgotten how piss-poor the combat trees were in Origins?

    Everything else is shite, though.

    • D3xter says:

      I will agree with you that the Skill trees are an improvement over what DA:O had (because they were horrible), but that doesn’t translate to better combat… I found the combat considerably worse and not tactical at all… just a chore at some point… they also removed most of the good parts from Origins like the spell-combos and replaced it with that “class-combo” BS and there’s a lot less active skills… as a 2H-warrior I had like 3-4 Active Skills till the very end of the game I had to basically use over and over again. Almost every single MMO I’ve played in the past few years had a (imo) better and more involved combat than DA2 and no… dropping 4-5 enemies on your mages while you’re not looking isn’t enhancing difficulty or tactical at all…

    • Yosharian says:

      Spell combos in DA:O were either shit or horribly overpowered… uh, Storm of the Century anyone? Paralysis Glyph combo?

      The stagger/disorient/brittle mechanic is pretty damn awesome. One of the few things that’s actually good about the game. (although the bonus damage is WAY too much)

    • Chesterton says:

      Completely agree with you. If we could take DA2′s skill trees & combat (minus the waves of enemies) & art style mixed with DAO’s story, scope & narrative I’d be happy with DA3.

    • Nichael says:

      I completely prefer cross class combos of DA2 to the spell combos of DA:O. It was great having to mix and match the abilities of different characters for what would always be an interesting pay off. The spell combos of DA:O could all be performed with one character which limited the tactical depth.

    • malkav11 says:

      I could see holding that opinion as a warrior or rogue Hawke, as their trees did kinda suck in DA:O. The mage trees are a substantial downgrade from the first game, though, both in breadth and depth. Instead of getting to pick a new spell every level for a wide variety of potent offensive, defensive and utility magic, all of it offering distinct tactical value, you get to pick maybe 8 or 9 spells over your whole career, then invest a bunch of levels in making them actually useful. In some cases they still don’t reach the potency they had in the original game. And I haven’t actually counted, but it sure looks to me like DA2 has at most 50% as many spells as base DA:O (not even Awakening, which added a bunch). Which would be a bit more tolerable if they were at least significantly composed of new spells, but they aren’t. There’s the Force Mage specialty tree (which seemed largely useless to me, aside from the antiknockdown passive), and maybe 2 or 3 others, tops.

      I’m also miffed by the existence of several trees in the warrior and rogue classes that start with branches into multiple, mutually exclusive sustained modes that you nonetheless have to invest in all of in order to progress to the useful stuff. And the inability to spec NPCs in other than their arbitrary pigeonholes.

    • Yosharian says:

      Ah well I’d agree that some of the mages are lacking in trees, obviously we’re talking about Merrill’s lack of Creation and so on.

  18. TillEulenspiegel says:

    It’s a game set in a single city, with nowhere else to go

    When people were complaining about how DA2 was restricted to one city, that didn’t bother me so much. A city can be a huge, huge place. An urban fantasy game set in the five boroughs of New York could be *massive*.

    Or even a well-developed fictional city like King’s Landing or Lankhmar.

    Unfortunately, a city can also feel very small. Like Kirkwall.

    • Bhazor says:

      I really do like the idea of an rpg focused on one small town but filled with depth and detail. Small but deep settings where every peon on the street has a name and role in the town or story. Where every door can be opened and every building explored. Where small decisions matter because you know the people who will suffer for your choice.

      But when almost every single door is painted on and the streets are littered with nameless one line npcs who never move from the spot the phrase “Missed Opportunity” doesn’t even come close.

    • Nichael says:

      I hope someday another RPG comes along and really perfects the intimate setting that DA2 totally missed the mark on. DA2 would’ve been amazing with an evolving Kirkwall that had depth. The Kirkwall that shipped with DA2 makes me think the game was a complete rush job.

    • Nick says:

      Amn was bigger and more varied… and there was almost a whole other games worth of content NOT in Amn.

    • Kdansky says:

      Captain Obvious to the rescue! Sigil in Planescape:Torment anyone? But then again, PST is on a different plane. Hah!

  19. Sardukar says:

    I’m enjoying DA2 more than DA 1. That said, the recycled areas are making me a little nauseous. Not sure why.
    I found DA1 tedious, though. Perhaps if I hadn’t recently replayed Baldur’s Gate 2. The DA1 writing was predictable and bland. I like the intimate setting and localization represented in DA2 writing.

    The combat in DA2 is more fun for me, on Hard, than the combat in DA1 was on any setting.

    The companions are much more interesting to me, even Aveline. I found Alistair to be a somewhat whiny prat. I miss Zevran and Shale, of course.

    Mind you, I haven’t finished DA2 and if I see any more fights like that Rock Wraith or have to kill my way through that same cavern with the inexplicable water-wheel style half-finished construction, I’m done.

    • Archonsod says:

      Only one more at the end of the second act, but it’s avoidable depending on how you handle it. The boss fights were pretty dire though.

    • Jeremy says:

      The Rock Wraith is easily the worst fight in the game, I actually ended up kiting him with Varric and getting him stuck in a pillar, then shooting him, stealthing if he warped, getting him stuck again and then shoot… repeat for 15 minutes. Worst thing ever. I didn’t even feel bad cheating the game, because it was such a horribly designed encounter it didn’t deserve my tactics.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s a design flaw really. They were going for a pattern boss at that point which would work. If they’d scripted the AI to play along rather than simply stand around like lemmings or embracing death.

      I wouldn’t say it was the worst fight in the game though. That prize either goes to the Qunari duel or the High Dragon. Although neither of those are forced upon you, which I guess counts for something.

    • Dave Toulouse says:

      I was beginning to think I was the only one who enjoy more DA2 than DA:O.

      Of course I play those kind of games while relaxing with a beer keeping the difficulty level at normal (specially when I get to the whisky phase of the night…)

      There are times I get back to the game not quite remembering what I did to get there. That means I’ll get to play a 2nd time and it will still feel like a new game! :)

    • TariqOne says:

      I also found the story and writing in DA2 to be superior to that of DA:O. It’s a smaller, tighter, more modern, character-driven affair. And with its sweeping temporal scope — events unfolding over a decade — at the end I really felt that I had been a part of a journey with the characters.

      DA:O was much more of the generic go-save-the-world storyline that so often fails to convey the scope and punch it wishes to. It felt quite routine in the main, despite its many flashes of inspiration.

  20. ablears says:

    Excellent, thoughtful analysis – the kind Rich McCormick has nightmares about.

  21. Michus says:

    Totally agree.

    I enjoyed Awakenings more than DA2 (DA:K morelike)

  22. Om says:

    I don’t know if I’ve changed or they did, but Bioware as a company have lost me. My tastes may have matured (and in hindsight my preference for KotOR2 over the original may be considered a breaking point) but the increasingly simplistic game design and plotting does not do any favours. I just don’t see any reason to be interested in their later games; which is a pity since I’d been an avid fan since BG introduced me to RPGs

    • vandinz says:

      They’re still great games. ME2 is WAY better than one in my opinion. It’s just DA2 seemed more limited than I’d hoped. I was desperate to get away from Kirkwall and explore the land around, as in the first one. I hope they read people’s comments and take it what we say for the future, if they carry on this way then I’m with you. At the moment, I’m still loving their work.

    • Om says:

      I’m not saying that these are necessarily *bad* games, because clearly millions of people would disagree, but that they’re just not for me any more. Perhaps its inevitable that I’d outgrow them, in the same way I moved from Civ to Europa Universalis, but I can’t help but feel that Bioware made it easy by recycling the same old tropes and design decisions, game after game.

      I guess that I’m just disappointed that Bioware want me to be the Champion or the Grey Warden or whatever instead of that scared kid from BG trying to find out who murdered his dad. I’ll not get that experience again from this company

    • Lilliput King says:

      “I guess that I’m just disappointed that Bioware want me to be the Champion or the Grey Warden or whatever instead of that scared kid from BG trying to find out who murdered his dad.”

      Totally with you there.

      Still, and I don’t mean to nitpick, but are you talking about the KoTOR2 that casts the player as a being of such ludicrous awesome that he is required to transcend this existence in order to fight an evil of such malign magnitude that it cannot even be conceived of by lesser minds? It’s not exactly the thinking man’s RPG. It might even be the greatest level of gamer-as-superhero wish-fulfilment I’ve ever come across.

    • kongming says:

      ITT, Lilliput King demonstrates that he didn’t “get” KotOR2.

  23. vandinz says:

    The fact is this, if this was a new game without any preconceptions, most would love it. It’s a great game, brilliant infact but it’s NOT as good as DA1. Because of the console kiddies? Maybe, but I still feel had they allowed more exploration it’d be looked upon as a very good sequal to the first. The RPG is not for the majority of console owners so don’t make such a game for them. Leave that to PC gamers that are willing to sit and read, listen and tinker with the game to get the best from it.

    • JFS says:

      DA:O plays quite well on consoles, thank you very much, apart from the improvable combat controls, that is. I think RPS doesn’t need to condescend on consoles, making them the scapegoats for bad or sub-par game design. We are above that. At least we should be.

    • vandinz says:

      I’m not making them a scapegoat but it’s there for all to see. It seems that any games being pushed heavily on the consoles are dumbed down. Maybe because of the controls? I don’t know, but it happens. It may be because people on consoles want a more pick up and play game and you don’t get that with RPGs. I agree with you though, using that as an excuse if not good enough, I’m not using it though, just statiing what I see, or at least think I see. It’s the developers that seem to have this mindset.

  24. omgwtflolbbqbye says:

    In terms of narrative, I think “Dragon Age 2″ has a genuinely interesting premise and storyline, but it does a pretty poor job of telling it; conversely, I think “Origins” had a generic premise and storyline, but it manage to tell it extremely well.

    I agree about the “time-jumps” being used ineffectively too. If the game didn’t give me a 5 second cut scene saying ‘x’ years passed between each act, I could have believed that the entire story took place in the span of 1 year. Hell, I sort of suspect that the 10 year structure is just an excuse to sneak in more DLC content in the guise of ‘lost years/episodes’.

    As for gameplay, I did 2 playthroughs, first on ‘Normal’ difficulty and the 2nd on ‘Hard’. Normal was a total cakewalk, and while the fights were viscerally fun, I never felt challenged and pretty much hack and slashed through the game without giving a second thought to strategy or companions. The only time I felt challenged was fighting the ridiculously tough Act 2 boss and the optional Act 3 boss.

    On the “hard” difficulty though, I found the gameplay to be much more balanced, and had to actually put some thought into my encounters and come up with actual strategies. It basically felt like the ‘normal’ difficulty in “Origins” and made the game more enjoyable. I think it should have been the default normal difficulty.

    • Nichael says:

      Your first paragraph is an excellent criticism of both games. DA:O really did take a bland story and execute it masterfully. DA2 did the opposite in pretty much all regards except the companions-who were just as good as DA:O’s great companions.

  25. D3xter says:

    You sound a bit diplomatic in your disappointment at the start, as if the fact that it’s “Dragon Age” is hold you back properly tearing it a new one :P

    Anyway I agree with a lot of it and made fairly similar points in my review: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.271648-Dragon-Age-2-A-Review
    Although I was also a lot more disappointed by the technical side of the game, which (aside of the character art) was a lot worse than its Prequel and the companions (not that they were all great, but the way they were intertwined with the city and story) were one of the very few saving graces for the game.

  26. quantumcatphd says:

    SPOILERS!
    A mental exercise I used was “what would happen if the Champion never existed?” This is just my imagining, YMMV.
    Act 1: Deep Roads expedition doesn’t happen, or happens with different sponsors. No one really cares either way.
    Act 2: Qunari uprising takes place, considering Meredith and Orsino were hot on your heels anyway, they probably could have taken the big bad out had you not been there.
    Act 3: Anders blows up the chantry, mages and templar fight. One could argue the lyrium made Meredith go insane, which I would agree with. Still, I don’t think it was ever out of character for her to call for the right of annulment even when sane. The main difference would be you’re not there to put her down afterward.
    I just felt like a spectator, where nothing I did really mattered–not even just “the illusion of choice”, but that I was just a killing machine that happened to do the dirty work at critical times and places.

    • Archonsod says:

      That’s a problem with it being obvious sequel fodder. A more interesting question though would be what the important decisions Hawke makes in each Act are. I very much doubt it has anything to do with the Qunari in Act II for example.

    • quantumcatphd says:

      I read once a key to good story telling is the start the story as late as possible. I would have loved to play the story described in the aftermath. Mages rebelling? World ablaze? Yes, please! DA:K feels like it could have been done just as well as a prequel expansion or DLC to that game.

  27. Farkeman says:

    biggest fail imo :
    -stupid dialogue wheel , you pick something that might sound awesome and hawke just spits out something cheesy and lame , and 3 stupid options ir just lame , i mean its made for extremely stupid people.
    and why hawke had to be voiced ? it just ruins my immersion …

    Why would you fix something that is not broken BIOWARE ? why ?

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      This same system worked brilliantly in Maffect2, better to ask why they implemented it so badly this time round.

      Also, lack of origins was an atrocious idea.

    • malkav11 says:

      The very similar system in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 had very similar issues.

    • vandinz says:

      I sort of agree with the wheel options. Sometimes what is written on the wheel is nothing like what he actually says. That pissed me off.

  28. skraeling says:

    I’m just disappointed that they never seem to explain the nature of dragon age. Is it different than human age? I don’t know since every character seems pretty tight lipped about the subject.
    The developers, right off the bat, should have asked themselves the following questions: “At what age is a dragon mature enough to be allowed to drink alcohol? What should the dragon age of consent be? Is dragon aged cheese better with wine or on a sandwich?”
    But they didn’t. I think that’s what went wrong.

    • Nichael says:

      I feel like a loser for knowing this, but “Dragon Age” refers to the name of the century that the game takes place in. Centuries in Thedas are named by the Chantry in the 99th year of the previous century. Chantry leaders typically see a sign of some sort, and name the coming 100 years after that. In the case of the Dragon Age, there was an incident with two High Dragons after people thought they were already extinct. The Dragon Age is the ninth century since Andraste started the Chantry.
      And now I know longer feel like a loser for knowing that. I am a loser for knowing that, through and through.

  29. BloatedGuppy says:

    That’s a pretty reasonable and objective summation of the game, and while I enjoyed it more than John I can’t say that anything he’s saying seems unnecessarily over the top or unfair (like some of the criticisms I’ve read).

    I am, however, completely baffled at his continued issue with the cold opening. It’s not as if In Media Res has never been encountered by anyone before. It’s even been used heavily in this medium. What’s this? I’m awake in some kind of Masoleum? I’m covered in tattoos? Who is this skull? Why should I care? What the hell kind of game is this, dropping me in the middle of the story?

    Certainly you can argue that it’s a cold opening done *badly*, but that doesn’t mean we needed 20+ hours of “Growing up Hawke” in order to be able to emotionally invest in what’s happening onscreen.

    • Archonsod says:

      The problem with the opening isn’t so much that it drops you in mid-story, but that it drops you in to a different story. There’s little characterisation of Hawke’s family done, and virtually none of the events are ever mentioned again.

      From a story perspective, you could drop the entire thing and simply put it in the codex or a cutscene without it making any difference to the rest of the narrative whatsoever (well, explaining how you come to be in possession of Flemeth’s amulet might be tricky, but apart from that). In many ways that would possibly have worked out better.

    • John Walker says:

      My issue is not that I don’t know my character’s background, a la Planescape, etc. It’s that someone I’ve just hand-crafted in the character generator is given to me with all the establishing done. It’s not like Hawke has an interesting past to uncover. It just feels like I arrived late, and don’t know why I should care about any of these people.

    • Bhazor says:

      Planescape Torment’s opening is an amnesiac waking in a bizarre world and the whole story is built around answering who he is and how he got here. A classic mystery setup.
      Dragon Age 2′s opening however is like walking into the cinema ten minutes late.
      Basically theres no narrative reason why you shouldn’t know who these characters are. There are no mysterious pasts or great revelations, no memory loss or secret destinies. It just doesn’t tell you. This is why amnesiac heroes are so popular, it gives the player a chance to discover who they are actually playing as and gives the characters an excuse to explain in game/world concepts that are common place to everyone else.

    • TariqOne says:

      IIRC, there wasn’t much between “hi Mum” and “OMG MY FAMILY’S DEAD AND I’M ON THE RUN” in the human beginning of DA:O either. It didn’t bother me at all in either game.

    • Cradok says:

      The Origin stories in DA:O took somewhere in the region of an hour, a lot of which involves conversations and the usual fetch quests, so you get plenty of time to get to know the various peoples before they all get killed and maimed in horrible ways. In DAII, your sibling gets five minutes, most of which is spent watching Darkspawn either fading into view or their corpses fading out of view again.

      I cared when the Couslands died, or when my friend got taken away and mindwiped. I didn’t care a whit about Hawke’s sibling.

    • Archonsod says:

      Not all the Origins were at that standard. The Dalish one was awful (I’m supposed to care about some random guy who’s only contribution to my life thus far is to threaten some innocent farmers?, or a clan that seems to be populated exclusively by arseholes?), the casteless Dwarven one wasn’t much cop either (hi sis! Oh, Sis has become a prostitute. Wait, which one was she again?). The City Elf one wasn’t so bad (not that I cared about the wife I’d met for all of two dialogue boxes, but the antagonist was sufficiently a bastard that it didn’t matter). Only the mage one seemed to make any halfway decent effort at anything.

    • Stitched says:

      “My issue is not that I don’t know my character’s background, a la Planescape, etc. It’s that someone I’ve just hand-crafted in the character generator is given to me with all the establishing done. It’s not like Hawke has an interesting past to uncover. It just feels like I arrived late, and don’t know why I should care about any of these people.”

      And killing them off is a poor substitute for establishing some kind of emotional attachment. If anything, it felt really ham-fisted and awkward.

  30. smi1ey says:

    Thanks for detailed and honest review. I am someone who plays these kinds of games for the immersive storyline. When the characters in the game don’t acknowledge things I’ve done, or say things that don’t make sense being spoken to a character of my class or reputation, it really pulls me out of the game. I also REALLY hate not being able to truly choose what I want to do in the game. This is one of my biggest problems with MMOs. If I’m an evil character, why would I want to defeat other evil characters? That kind of things. What’s funny about DA2, is that it’s NOT really getting a ton of bad press. The game is sitting around 8/10 on metacritic. But the USER scores, with over 2,000, are holding at around 4.4. Yikes.

    • Kadayi says:

      That 4.4 score was as a result of some 4chan inspired 0 score zerg on it because apparently some EA dude had user rated it 10 and the interwebs went balls deep crazy about it (is there any other reaction level?). Go wade through a few of the negative reviews and you’ll see by and large most of them are nebulous fluff. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think DA2 is a 10/10 game, but I wouldn’t take that user score particularly seriously.

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      That probably says a lot, ie in that professional critics will try not to let DA1′s quality get in the way of acknowledging DA2′s worth, while users/customers overall seem to be disappointed overall at the things Bioware tried to do with the game.

      I can’t blame them, I played the demo and it was just…yuk. I don’t know how they even managed to make the game look worse than the original. Thanks for the opinion John – as a fellow DA1 lover I will go on your judgement and postpone any buying of DA2 to a steam sale.

      @ Kadayi
      I don’t think anyone actually believes the game is THAT bad (4.4), I just think it’s more an expression of disappointment than an orchestrated action. Anonymity breeds exaggeration and all.

    • Nick says:

      Actually it was sitting around 4 before the Bioware guy rated it 10 and before any particularly suspect bombs took place.

    • SuaveMongrel says:

      @Kadayi You’d be terribly wrong in saying that. Firstly, the supposed “raid” never happened. David Gaider (lead writer on DA2) said it happened in a forum post long before that Bioware bloke reviewed his own game, but the reality is /v/ (the videogames section of the 4chan) is too disorganised to do such a thing.
      What happened instead was /v/ amassed a rather large collection of images taken from the forums by official Bioware employees citing a few gems like Gaider saying he rather enjoyed Twilight for its literature, one of the female writers “gigglesqueeing” and wanting to “nom” Merril’s head. Then it went into detail about how certain reviewers criticised the game yet gave it a high score. PCGamer was on there I believe. Didn’t even mention the copy and pasted dungeons.
      I’ve got the 20mb png saved with all the quotes and criticisms etc. and they spammed it all over the forums, resulting in many Biodrone fanboys getting rather upset at the somewhat valid points.

      It’s a rather interesting read, purely because the majority of people on /v/ are a fairly passionate lot about videogames.
      It’s all died down now of course.

  31. flakmonkey says:

    I really enjoyed it, which I didn’t expect. I much preferred DA:O to either of the ME games, just because of its rich lore and enormous world, but something about Dragon Age 2 really kept me interested.

    I think the most likely reason for this is the characters. I fell for Merrill just like I fell for Tali, Varric was like a more caustic and rugged Alistair, Isabela made me giggle a few times before totally throwing me by running off, I genuinely felt sad when I lost Bethany to the Circle, and was overjoyed when I could put her back into my party for the final battle. Avleine and Fenris felt like the least involved of my companions, but I think this was because Aveline had an important job outside of following me around, and could always be relied upon, both in story and in combat. I enjoyed my rivalry with Fenris, as it led to some interesting debates about mages and an incredibly satisfying end where I got to cave his whiny, ungrateful fucking head in. Anders was the only character I had a real problem with, as he never seemed happy, even though I sided with the mages at every opportunity.

    I also came to love the city, even though I spent all my time there; becoming familiar with the banter of the NPCs I’d walk past, and sitting in the Hanged Man just to listen to the awesome folk tune that plays while you are there. I don’t know. The combat was really fun and slashy though. Stab stab.

    • Kadayi says:

      I rogued it on my first play through and had Fenris, Anders and Merill as my main companions and that got pretty interesting during the second and third acts with Anders raging on Merill and Fenris raging on both of them. ;)

    • Spinks says:

      Anders reminded me uncannily of one of my first ‘real’ boyfriends, who was pretty smart, had really annoying political opinions, annoyed all my friends, and I was too into him to care. I mean, if the RL guy had been a mage and liked cats and gone psycho instead of joining the young conservatives and been blonde, it would have been uncanny ….

  32. Deano2099 says:

    I do wonder if part of it is the lack of that sense of discovery. Not played it much yet, but recently went through Awakenings and it really bored me. Partly as what I loved about DA:O was discovering the way the world worked. It was a bit off-kilter from your average RPG. All the Templar/Mage and Dwarf stuff was brilliant. But we already know all that now. We know the basics of how the world works. That discovery doesn’t come back.

  33. Vrokolos says:

    Have to agree with pretty much everything you wrote

  34. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    Careful, John. If you keep writing such thoughtful, intelligent pieces, Gillen’s going to have you assassinated.

  35. Jimbo says:

    I agree with most everything you said. I found the combat relatively entertaining on Hard though – seems like instead of Normal and Hard they should have called the settings Action & Tactical depending on how you wanted the game to play (Nightmare could be called Afterthought). The Rock Wraith and High Dragon required a fair bit of effort on my part.

    The game has plenty of problems, most of which are well known by now and I think can be summed up as a blatant disregard for suspension of disbelief. Overall I probably enjoyed playing DA2 more than I did DA:O though. Origins was a higher quality product (clearly a lot more time and effort went into Origins), but the main story was just way too LOTR for me. I clocked 58 hours on my first DA2 playthrough.

    I agree that this game should have been called Dragon Age: Kirkwall (or similar), but I don’t think any of these games should ever be numbered. They should follow the Elder Scrolls approach where each game can stand on its own two feet and where new players can jump in at any time, because each game is a contained story.

    By keeping each game at least somewhat detached from the others they can give you the option to make important choices within an individual storyline without those choices sending the whole world off in crazy directions which they then have to retcon (the outro to DA2 implies that my Warden, who is actually dead, was simply ‘missing’, which was a disappointing note to end the game on). The events of DA2 have such far reaching consequences that they are forced to give you no influence over them at all.

    Just for the sake of saying something positive – Kate Mulgrew is great.

    • Archonsod says:

      I think the problem with calling it DA:Kirkwall is that the whole thing is a pretty obvious set up for DA III.

    • Jimbo says:

      You’re right, but I hope they just end up using it as a rebalancing of the world, rather than as a direct setup for DA3. I really don’t want the next game to be about putting the Chantry back together or playing as somebody else trying to find Hawke to put the Chantry back together. Maybe have the Qunari take the opportunity of the broken Chantry to launch a new invasion of Thedas.

      I also just don’t think this ‘continuing story over multiple games’ approach is working out very well commercially for Bioware. They’re too hamstrung by requiring the player to have played the previous games.

    • Archonsod says:

      The ending mentions both the Grey Warden and Hawke, so I suspect III is going to tie it together somehow (and my bet is Flemeth, she being the only thing the two seem to have in common).

      I’m not sure about the carrying on though. In many ways I think they’re more constrained in having to allow for players who are new to the series at that point, which means you pretty much have to design each game as both a stand alone story while at the same time a continuation of the previous one.

    • Zenicetus says:

      The problem I had with trying to ramp up to Hard to make the combat more tactical, is that I was still given situations that were too repetitive — repetitive clumps of enemies, repetitive environments that I’ve already been in.

      I ended up doing the same thing Walker did in the article; I switched difficulty to Casual about 2/3 of the way in, because I couldn’t stand wading through all that cookie-cutter combat and environments to complete the story at a slower pace. And then I find out that my decisions make no difference anyway. I played a Rogue who tried to protect the Mages, and had the same reaction about feeling forced to kill almost every story-significant Mage I ran into.

    • noodlecake says:

      Really? More repetitive than genlock, hurlock, hurlock, genlock, hurlock emissary, hurlock, genlock, hurlock, hurlock, genlock, hurlock? There were tons of different enemies in comparison with origins.

    • malkav11 says:

      Perhaps you played a different DA2 than I did. The one I played omitted swathes of enemy types that Origins had in its bestiary (to say nothing of the new foes encountered in Awakening, also absent), including genlocks. Sure had a lot of shades, though. Shades, corpses, and utterly generic interchangeable human/elven/qunari enemies. (The qunari were awesome as characters, but in combat did not do anything noticeably different as far as I could tell.) Oh, and spiders.

    • viverravid says:

      DA2 also tones a lot of monsters down. Revenants were srs bsns in DA:O. Punishing optional boss fights.

      With the exception of one optional encounter, Revenants in DA2 are pretty much trash mobs. First time one popped up, I got scared, then it was dead in 4 hits. On Hard.

    • Stitched says:

      Considering the cameo of such a big DA figure, I am surprised Flemeth didn’t take a bigger role in the game.

  36. Archonsod says:

    “The most hilariously daft aspect of these three year comas must be the man queuing up to see the Viscount, who moans every time you walk past him that he’s been waiting all day. “For six years!” I would helpfully tell him as he repeated his only line deep into the game.”
    No, the most hilariously daft aspect is he’s still there in Act 3 and still giving you the same line.
    I disagree on the story aspect. As you yourself note at the start of the review, the entire premise is you’re just an immigrant trying to make good. It would be quite strange (or at least suggest certain things about Hawke’s character) if you had any greater goal style plot over-arching the game. I mean there’s not many people who plan three years ahead on a regular basis.
    Plus it does work with the background story. You know Hawke ultimately becomes important, therefore each year you get to play you know something significant will happen, though not what. Which keeps you guessing, the Qunari plot is the climax of act 2, but I don’t think it’s the important part of Act 2, or at least certainly not what the Chantry are looking for.
    I don’t think having foreknowledge of Hawk’s importance is a big deal either. You know going into a Bond movie James isn’t going to die, but it doesn’t make them any less watchable.

    • Kandon Arc says:

      I think what John’s trying to say, and what I feel, is that when you have such a gap between the players knowledge and the characters knowledge is that it’s detrimental to roleplaying. When you’re watching a Bond film, you’re not taking on the role of Bond, you’re just observing him so it’s a different experience.

      I think that the problem here is that they didn’t fully commit to the ‘you’re just an ordinary refugee storyline’ instead informing players at the beginning of the game that they would become Champion. Therefore the player is constantly expecting something epic to happen, but Hawke is just trying to survive. IMO in order to connect properly with the PC, your in-game priorities and knowledge should align as much with his as possible. In Mass Effect, you never know more about what’s going than Shepard does and that allows you to better relate to him.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that as a player I felt like the person Varric was telling a story to, not the person he was telling a story about.

  37. Daedalus207 says:

    Thanks for the analysis, John. Reading your well-articulated explanation of precisely what you disliked about the game has helped me make sense of the wildly disparate reviews I’ve read around the interwebs.

    It relieves me somewhat to hear that the intro section is one of the more dull sections of the game. Since that was the section they chose to put into the demo, I was concerned that the entire game would feel that way.

    Since I do plan on playing the game eventually, perhaps waiting for a Steam sale, you’ve helped to set my expectations, and thus likely make my first playthrough more enjoyable.

  38. Namos says:

    Really great point about how the momentum is lost after the first act is over. Bioware seems to suffer from this problem when designing quest hubs – it took some willpower for me to power through Orzammar and the Deep Roads in DA:O, and I’ve heard similar things about the Citadel in Mass Effect. This is only exacerbated in DA2 because you have to go through the same exact quest hubs. I’ve reached the second act, and am really loath to boot up the game because of this (and because it crashes much more often in the second act).

    The biggest problem with DA2 is that it feels like such an unambitious game, while DA:O was so very ambitious.

  39. Zogtee says:

    I think what troubles me most about DA2 is the direction the series is taking. I’ve been following this from the beginning, when Bio distanced themselves from the D&D franchise and started work on their own world and rules system. When DA1 was released, I thought they had succeeded and I really liked the game. At a glance, it was a traditional fantasy world, but when you looked closer, there were several unique and interesting aspects about it.

    In comparison, DA2 is severely reduced in size and scope, the things that made the world unique are largely ignored this time around, and the character options are shrunk down to one race and three classes. It is a big step backwards and sideways, and I can’t help but wonder if Bio has doubts about the merits of their world. The world is a pretty big deal. As I mentioned, it was created to replace D&D (which essentially made Bio what they are today), years of work has gone into it and yet, they manage it so carelessly here.

    Yes, DA2 would have been better off as an expansion and not as a sequel, absolutely, but the fact remains that they DID present this as a proper sequel. Where will the series go from here?

  40. Ubik2000 says:

    I haven’t finished it yet, but everything in this article seems right to me.

    I love DA:O so much that I actually stopped playing it for a while just so it wouldn’t be over. With DA2…well, I haven’t played it in over a week, and it’s not exactly calling me back.

    While I agree with John that IN CONCEPT the whole idea of this game sounds great, but in practice, the lack of story and the knowledge that I’m going to be seeing the same stuff over and over and plowing through the same fights over and over is really robbing me of my desire to play. Leveling up to get cool new abilities is the only compelling reason to push forward (something I NEVER felt in DA:O, for good or ill). I will finish it sooner or later, and I’ll probably even have some measure of fun doing it, but it’s never going to be one of my top games. I know we hate number ratings around here, but if DA:O was, to me, an 8 or a 9, DA2 is about a 6.

  41. Nameless1 says:

    Nice work John, that’s what I expected from this (awesome) site and reviewers.
    I’d have probably been A LOT more harsh in evaluating the shameful product they released, not worth half the price it was sold and not worth 1\10 of the sales numbers it probably scored.

  42. Lobotomist says:

    It can officially be called Bioware’s worst game

    Problem is – I think real bad games are yet to come. Its EA now, not Bioware

    • Archonsod says:

      “It can officially be called Bioware’s worst game”

      Not while KotOR exists, no.

    • Jimbo says:

      Lies. Kotor is their best game. Neverwinter Nights is worse than DA2 though.

    • Archonsod says:

      KotOR is Neverwinter Nights. IN SPACE!

    • Jimbo says:

      I see no contradiction :)

    • Anguy says:

      Are you mad? KotOr was great!

    • Archonsod says:

      To this day it’s the only Bioware game I played through once, uninstalled and forgot about. I even played Jade Empire twice.

    • gorgol says:

      Both KOTOR and NWN2 were great. Everything after that from BW was rubbish imo.

    • Jimbo says:

      Obsidian made NWN2. It was about a billion times better than NWN 1 (but still not as good as KOTOR).

    • noodlecake says:

      Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 2 have been two of the my most enjoyed gaming experiences of all time. I enjoyed origins too but the combat got repetitive and boring and the same enemies over and over and slow pace killed it for me. After playing loads of other games with generic RPG combat it just felt tired. The only thing that stopped me from getting bored of Origins sooner was the story and immersive world which were pretty decent. Dragon Age 2 made me feel a lot more though and the combat is hugely satisfying. :)

    • Wizardry says:

      Hey, noodlecake. If Origins had repetitive combat (which it did), why would you want to compare Dragon Age II’s combat to it? Surely we should all be comparing Dragon Age II’s combat to the combat in games with good combat. “Well it’s less repetitive than the combat in Dragon Age: Origins” isn’t a reason to rate Dragon Age II’s combat so highly.

      Also, what exactly is generic RPG combat? Can you give me examples? You’ve made exactly the same mistake again. There is no generic PC RPG style. There may be a generic BioWare RPG style, but there certainly isn’t a generic style that encompasses all PC RPGs. There is plenty of room for change without heading in the direction of action games. Action games, by their very nature, are not RPGs.

    • gorgol says:

      Ah thanks for the correction Jimbo. Then yes, every thing after KOTOR was rubbish from BW.

    • jacobkosh says:

      The idea that “action games can’t be RPGs” is the most exquisite nonsense. Roleplaying is about taking control of a character and making choices about how their story unfolds. The fact that in the past games like this have often compensated for their storytelling limitations by focusing on numbers-crunching stat and inventory management doesn’t mean that a game without those things suddenly isn’t a roleplaying game.

      Diablo lets you pick a character class and fetishistically gear out your faceless, voiceless little unperson in exactly the way you’d like. The tabletop roleplaying game Smallville has no stats for things like strength or dexterity – your character sheet instead lists story characteristics like “crusader for justice 2d8″ or “always in the nick of time 1d6.” One of these things is a roleplaying game and one of them isn’t, and the distinction is obvious to anyone who’s spent any time in the real world rolling dice with real people.

    • Kaira- says:

      I thought the worst game was that godawful Sonic-game that nobody ever remembers? You know, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood? It holds metacritic-score of 74, whereas DA2 has 82 (PC) and KOTOR has 93. That is, if Metacritic is anything to go by.

  43. nayon says:

    Am I the only one who was put off by the extremely terrible animations? The characters’ faces looked so wooden and low quality, and the way everyone moved, especially during conversations, made the game awkward to the point of being unplayable for me. That and the controls/UI being very clunky, combat was a pain, I had to keep pausing not because I wanted to use tactics but because I wanted to actually be able to control the characters.

    If this game didn’t have Dragon Age in its name, no one would have cared about it, and it would get much lower review scores imo.

    Btw, there are a few typos in the article, “lose site” instead of “lose sight” is the only one I can remember, but I recall seeing at least one more.

    • Thursday says:

      I don’t know how long they’ve been using those cookie-cutter animations, but it’s been on my nerves since I started noticing them in ME2.

      Walk onscreen from stage left. Stop. Face protagonist.
      Pace left. Stop. Pace right. Stop. Turn to face protagonist.
      The worst is perhaps the hideously-rigid bowed-head-of-over-emotive-shame.

      P.S.: Sorry about the hyphen attack, they just kinda squirt out sometimes.

    • Archonsod says:

      They’re an improvement over ME1, with it’s “over dramatic look to the side, walk that way” method of finishing conversations. It felt like Shepard was being followed the entire game by his mother, lurking just off camera and about to give anyone he spoke to a stern telling off about their lack of manners.

  44. Tuor says:

    Consolization of plot, structure, UI, AI, dialog, content… basically everything. That’s what I take away from this review. If I had any doubts about my decision not to buy this game, this review has put them to rest. Even if it hits bargin bin prices, I probably wont buy it out of principle.

    Witcher 2, you carry all my hope now in the RPG genre.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      See that Mass Effect 2 – that was a console game. So your, err, point, really makes no sense. Its enough that a bad plot and structure is bad without trying to blame it on teh consolz…

    • gorgol says:

      Not looking forward to Skyrim? I certianly am. Proper open RPG :)

    • TariqOne says:

      Will you even be able to pick a gender for your guy in Witcher 2?

    • Tuor says:

      FunkyBadger3 wrote:
      ‘See that Mass Effect 2 – that was a console game. So your, err, point, really makes no sense. Its enough that a bad plot and structure is bad without trying to blame it on teh consolz…’

      Er… what? What does the fact that Mass Effect 2 was consolized (a point I agree with) have to do with Dragon Age 2 *not* having been consolized? Because it wasn’t as extreme as ME 2? The reason I brought up the plot is because by narrowing it the way they did, they didn’t have to include a bunch of locales: the plot is part of what *allowed* the other sorts of changes that were made.

      Gorgol: I’d forgotten about Skyrim. I’m trepidatious about it after Oblivion. If they make it (much) more like Marrowind, then I’ll be pretty happy. But I’m going to wait until the reviews for it are out before I decide whether or not I’ll buy it.

      TariqOne: What?

    • TariqOne says:

      It’s not that complicated. I find all this praise for the Witcher as as a crowning achievement in RPGs to be a bit odd, inasmuch as it doesn’t even allow the player any choices as to the type of character he or she wants to play. You’re stuck playing Guy Generico and that’s that.

      I have a hard time playing (and as I age am starting to refuse to play) games that don’t offer some degree of avatar choice (and for the girl gamers in my life, that includes gender choice). I started in pen and paper and adore the RPG genre and quite honestly, not being able to design your guy pretty much blows your RPG cred right there in minute one.

      I assume Witcher 2 will again require you to take the reins of Guy Generico. If so, I’m a bit surprised it’s bearing the mantle of RPG savior among some folks here. If not, I stand corrected. Hence my question.

    • Tuor says:

      TariqOne wrote:

      Ah. I understand now. I don’t think the Witcher series is the crowning achievement in RPGs. I just think it’s the best series (or at least close to it) available right now. I thought, for example, that Morrowind was at least as good as the Witcher, but… then Bethesda released Oblivion, and that was a significant step down, IMO, in most areas besides graphics.

      CDProjekt has shown a commitment to creating RPGs for the PC, and they’ve done a pretty good job doing it. While I can understand your preference for a character you create yourself, I don’t think that not having such a character is a show-stopper by any means. OTOH, I wish that there were more people as committed to making RPGs for the PC so that both options would be available. Maybe Skyrim will come through on that point; I hope so, though I have my doubts on that score.

      Anyway, I can understand your stance, but for me it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the Witcher series.

  45. Yosharian says:

    Skeleton Hands.

    • alexmasterson says:

      Oh god, yes.

      I actually flinched the first time Bethany brought her hand up for a closeup facepalm. I was not prepared.

    • ryth says:

      And don’t forget the fact that everyone has the cauliflower ears of a 40 year old worn down prize fighter..

  46. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    I’ve finished the first half of the game and I’m still enjoying it. Some things really stick out:
    -> Recycled dungeons. How hard can it be to design a new dungeon?
    -> The city is one homogenous mess. Even the elven alienage looks the same as all other parts.
    -> I can no longer dress my companions? Great way to save on 3D modelling… but why do I still find tons of items I can’t used?
    -> Respawns of mobs. Respawns around my mages while my taunt is on cooldown? Grmbl

    On the plus side:
    -> I like the new skill trees
    -> Better inventory system

    I can sum it up as following: “1.5 years just isn’t enough to make a great game”.

    • Zenicetus says:

      “Recycled dungeons. How hard can it be to design a new dungeon?

      This might be a result of the multi-platform design. I read somewhere (maybe here on RPS comments?) that the recycled assets might be due to Bioware/EA wanting to fit the game on one disk for the XBox instead of requiring two. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it could explain the mind-boggling asset re-use, compared to current standards for PC games.

      “I can no longer dress my companions? Great way to save on 3D modelling… but why do I still find tons of items I can’t used?”

      One word: DLC.

      Why give you the ability to swap armor for your companions, when they can sell you armor packs as DLC, like they did for Mass Effect? They haven’t announced anything like this yet, but does anyone here want to bet against it?

    • Premium User Badge

      Carra says:

      DLC packs, maybe. You can streamline a game but they went over the top here. Picking and weighing items is one of my favorite things to do in a rpg.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I like doing that too. It’s one of the classic time-sinks for RPG’s; figuring out how to dole out inventory between your party, including armor and mage robes. Another weird design decision related to companion armor/clothing, is that two of your companions actually do get a change of outfit during the game. (Small spoiler alert, but this post is already loaded with spoilers so what the heck).

      I was astonished to see that at one point, Merril gets a new silver and white combination of chain armor and robe instead of her original Elf garb. There was no explanation in-game, although it might be related to the point where she moves into your mansion. And Anders switches to a black-feathered robe, I think at the conclusion of the Justice-removing potion quest. Again, no explicit reason given. I never saw the other companions change, except for maybe Aveline and the city guard armor, even though I had completed all their companion quests. Maybe more evidence of a rushed game? They finished the Act 3 change of wardrobe for Merrill and Anders, and didn’t have time to finish the others?

    • Archonsod says:

      From Gamespot’s interview:

      “GS: You have less control over your companions since you can’t equip them directly as you can Hawke. Can you describe the idea behind this particular change, and did you feel that you might be running the risk of players not feeling as much of a connection to those characters?

      ML: The key driver behind it was the idea of unique visuals, being able to have Isabela stay Isabela instead of generic rogue put into the same leather armor your character is wearing. It lets us create a visual space between Hawke and the companions. And it gives the companions their own personalities [in the form of] unique body models and animations that are tied to how they idle–simple stuff like Aveline and the way she stands with more of a straightforward stance as opposed to the cocked hip Isabela has and so on. The overall goal there was to keep the companions in a place where they had more personality, but still provide customization in terms of amulets and rings, because having things like fire resistance is important.

      Long term, do I think it hurt people’s connection to them? I don’t think so. I think if anything, the criticisms I’ve seen leveled at that are largely, “I don’t like it, simply because I either want to control them or I don’t.” That’s fair and something we’ll end up evaluating over time. It’s likely that we’ll end up coming back to a way to equip your followers, but at the same time, I really do think that having their own visual signature is really important. It’s something that resolves one of the parts I really disliked about Origins where I’d see people’s screenshots with their badass team and they would kind of all look the same. Near the end of the game, everyone had the same set of suits of armor. It was kind of like, “Man, that’s not Morrigan if she’s not in those robes.” We ended up in this space where we decided to go with that visual style, and I think it’s something we’ll continue to iterate on in the future. “

    • Wizardry says:

      @Archonsod: So they’ve sacrificed gameplay depth for visuals… again? Not cool. Definitely not cool.

    • malkav11 says:

      The really irritating thing about that is that it’s unnecessary. Sure, it’s become expected now that equipment will display visually on your character model, but it’s not any more fundamental or unbreakable a game design element than the various other things they’ve cheerfully jettisoned in recent games. Rather less important, actually. So they could easily have had a permanent character appearance (or deliberately changed only by certain game events) while still permitting full equipment customization.

    • formivore says:

      Eh, I ‘m totally with DA2 on this one. Especially considering how crummy the outfit options were in DA:O. A non-mmo RPG has better things to spend its limited resources on than designing multiple worthwhile outfits for your companions. And there was always something creepy about picking out outfits for all the boys and girls in your party. I will reserve my opinion about the people who enjoy doing this.

    • Archonsod says:

      “The really irritating thing about that is that it’s unnecessary.”

      Depends on your point of view. One of the things that got on my tits in DA:O was having to lug around all the armour and weapons I looted until I could return to camp so I could compare it to the companions not currently accompanying me to decide if I should sell it or not.
      DA2 is also far more restrictive with who can use what. If you’re not a warrior yourself Avelline is the only person who can wear plate and wield a single handed sword. That being the case, it simply boils down to looking at what she’s currently using compared to what you just picked up and keeping the better one. Since the quality of loot if level dependent in the first place, it makes as much sense to simply improve her equipment as she levels.

      I think the middle ground would be to give each character a couple of sets of armour with different attributes, so you could pick between say physical defence or magical defence, and a set of upgrades for each. That way you still have customisation for the player but can keep the visual distinctness.

  47. alexmasterson says:

    The most disappointing thing about DAII is how so many of these issues could have been solved with a longer development time.

    The fact that the post-campaign save loads up with Hawke in his mansion (thus presumably acting as the DLC hub) gives the impression that DLC will comprise of going back and filling all the gaping holes in the game content:

    - Hawke fleeing Ferelden and sailing out to Kirkwall.
    - Hawke’s adventures as a smuggler / mercenary.
    - Hawke sorting out and moving in to the estate.
    - Hawke going on a pirate adventure on Isabela’s new boat.
    - Aveline and Donnic’s wedding. (Plenty of comic material there, if nothing else.)
    - Hawke’s cousin getting an expanded role (this one is perhaps not so likely, but she did just disappear from the game).
    - Team Hawke preparing to leave the city after the endgame. (My guess is that this’ll probably be the final DLC)

  48. Kbohls says:

    Great read, I have been hearing people say this game is bad on the internet but not really go into detail, so it is nice to have a general idea of what makes it a disappointment. It seems that like you mentioned they missed obvious opportunities to make the player care about his/her family and the city.

    Also misspelled “could” as “culd” which made me burst out laughing for seemingly no reason. Or maybe you meant it and you were actually talking about the Complex Urban Landscape Design of Kirkwall(probably not)

  49. Mr Labbes says:

    Can someone tell me if this spoils any main plot points (i.e. more than the Zero Punctuation review of DA2 and the demo reveal)? I love John’s articles, but I would really like to play DA2 unspoiled (ha! As if that was possible for me!)

    • alexmasterson says:

      It does, yeah. But even if the spoils were minor, any game is best enjoyed without knowing what’s round the corner. Go play the game first, is my opinion :)

    • Mr Labbes says:

      Man, that was so not what I wanted to hear. Thanks, though :)

    • ryth says:

      The spoilers in the review are pretty inconsequential IMO. If you are looking for a very reasoned review of the game before you purchase it would be worth reading the article.

  50. Starayo says:

    For me, the Qunari plot was as immersion-shattering as the ending. They weren’t villified, I agreed with them, and yet I still had to go and fight them. As for the ending, as far as I was concerned they could both go and kill each other, but no…
    So I side with the mages, and of course the charming, intelligent, wise first enchanter *immediately* resorts to blood magic to become some twisted abomination. Why?! It was so incongruous with his character thus far!
    Loved Merrill though. She was delightful.

    • Archonsod says:

      The thing to note about the Qunari is if you play it a certain way it’s even possible to have them agree with you. You still end up fighting though, because that is what the Qun says they must do.

      The First Enchanter was a complete WTF moment though. It’s not even the incongruity of him using blood magic, the whole thing is nonsensical. He’s going to show the Templars the error of their ways … by forcing you and the rest of the circle to kill him before they arrive. That doesn’t make any sense no matter which way you look at it, you’d think perhaps he might wait until the Templars show up to do it, or y’know otherwise wait until he’s actually going to be fighting the Templars rather than the people he’s supposed to be doing it for.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I dunno… I can see the rationale of the First Enchanter immediately turning on your party after the demon transformation, instead of doing something logical like joining the fight against the Templars. It’s rammed home, over and over in the DA lore, that demon possession is the ultimate risk for mages, and you always lose control when it happens.

      It just didn’t make sense that the Enchanter did it in the first place, given the assumed outcome, and the fact that you’ve assembled a pretty bad-ass crew to fight for the mages by that point. It was like the Bioware art department had created that particular unique 3D model, and by golly they were going to make sure you saw it, and fought it, regardless of whatever choices you were trying to make within the storyline. They just couldn’t resist.

      It kills replay value, among other things. If you know the First Enchanter will always do that, then there is no incentive to replay and see if there’s a path where he survives, or at least dies with honor as a mage who avoids the temptation of Blood Magic.

    • viverravid says:

      …created that particular unique 3D model…

      The Orsino boss model is reused from a DA:O DLC. :(

    • snickersnack says:

      *spoilers*

      The first enchanter using blood magic and turning into an abomination seemed to make sense to me. You were fighting a hopeless battle and he gave into despair. The situation was so unfair. All the work he did to appease the templars and some terrorist throws it all away. Meredith knows what actually happened but still dead set on the annulment. He wanted to take as many of those bastards down with him as possible. Unfortunately he lost control, very much like Uldred. (recycling the Harvester model was lame though.)

      When mage sympathising Hawke finally reaches the central area of the gallows, we see the full host of the templar force. Hawke has lost. It would have ended there if not for DA:O’s templar screwball Cullen calling out Meredith as an even bigger nutjob.