Hands-on – Dragon Age II

Dragon Age: Origins, an instant RPG-classic that was released over a year ago. The spicy gameplay and story kept many a gamer entertained for weeks, if not months. Dragon Age II brings us the long awaited sequel to the game. Question is, can Bioware match the sucess of Dragon Age: Origins? Simple answer? Yes. Keep reading if you want to know why.

Before I write anything else on the subject I’ll just say that I know the game has been out for a while now. But, I only just found the time to play through the game properly and gather my thoughts and criticism. Alright, let’s get this on then.

Since the release of the first Dragon Age countless sidepoducts and acessoires have been released. Just about anything you can think of really, ranging from DLC, an expansion, books, comics, action figures and an anime series meant to still the hunger for the world of Ferelden. But a new game is what we’ve really been waiting for isn’t it?

In Dragon Age II you start your RPG-life, just like in the first game, as one of the 3 classes (mage, warrior or rogue). Each class has its own strengths and weaknesses and you’ll be able to gain certain skills and develop powers during the game. Nothing new there as that’s pretty generic for an RPG. What is noticeable though is the sheer beauty of the game. Suffice to say that, from a graphics point of view, the game is looking awesome. The somewhat ragged, creepty warrior I created could literally be customised in a 1000 different ways.
The promise of visual beauty that is made during the creation of your character is being kept during the further course of the game. The mystical cities, the darker nature environments and the medieval illustrations on the load screens all contribute to a certain atmosphere.
Now, wipe the drool of your chin and let’s talk about the story. You start your adventure as a refugee, Hawke, that is trying to get to Kirkwall to start a new life. During the first period in Kirkwall, you’re confronted with violence, xenofobia and prejudice. All topics that are less exclusive to a fantasy universe than we’d all hope. Next, the player follows Hawke in his violence, intrigues and greed filled life. Hawke will grow to become on of the most powerful figures of his time. Next to the main storyline, you can also complete all kinds of side quests that reward you with cash, items and experience. Again, pretty generic for an RPG.
Special about the story is that Hawke’s story is told after the events, giving the illusion of being a story in a story. This is a reference to tales like the medieval ‘The Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer. Such references to litarature and art of a darker past contribute to the very realistic fantasyworld in which the game takes place.

While you wander around, talk with your travel companions and random people on the street you’ll make items, potions. Furthermore you’ll be looking for hidden entrances and chop up a couple of armies of thugs, monsters and other malevolent folk. The stronger you get the more amazing your abilities get. My warrior could churn out pretty nice combo’s on those filthy enemies after just a couple of levels. Especially as a mage you’ll be drooling over the destructive power of your spells.

The more seasoned gamers among us will find the combat a little bit too easy, especially when compared to the first Dragon Age which was pretty difficult. Easier fights make for faster progression and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it makes the game more accessible for the less experienced players. Nevertheless, this game will keep you busy for around 50 hours which is respectable in a world filled with 6 hour single player games.

The movie ‘The Godfather II’ is often referenced to as an example that a sequel can be better than the original. I wouldn’t go that far with Dragon Age II, but the game can at least stand next to Dragon Age: Origins without being ashamed. Bioware delivered another masterpiece (surprise! /sarcasm off). This game definately gets my approvel and I recommend playing it if you’re a fan of RPG’s.

/Niels