The Darkspawn return: Dragon Age II reviewed

The Darkspawn are back in EA and Biowares’ stunning sequel to the 2009 RPG Game of the Year. Will you join the fight to rid the realm of these demonic hordes? Ferelden needs hero’s in its darkest hour.     

With sharper looking graphic’s, and a far tighter storyline than even its best-selling predecessor, Dragon Age II bursts onto the scene breathing a fire of burning brilliance on villages, and villagers, alike. EA’s latest outing will put smiles a mile wide on the faces of both Hack and Slash and RPG fan’s around the globe.    

Following on from the storyline that saw the events of Dragon Age: Origin’s  resulting in dire straits for the people of Ferelden and Lothering, the sequel to the highly impressive RPG Game of the Year for 2009 will allow gamers who have played through the first title to carry on their character from the original game. A nice touch in a title that is already winning huge support from critic’s and reviewers alike. 

The plot centres around a family of Ferelden refugee’s as they have fled their homeland in search of rescue and sanctuary on the over populated shores of Kirkwald. The plot takes a different tack this time around as immediately you will see that one of your party just happens to be your sister, and that you must work your way towards building the story from the ground up as you complete side missions and mini-quests to earn the XP and gold that will be required to progress through to the games’ main storyline. Indeed the first few hours of uninterrupted play will see you completing everything but the main plot, as you attempt to accrue the necessary gold and attributes to survive the main story and its trials. 

Storyline aside what you will find in wait for you in Dragon Age II is fine example of gaming for the masses, as EA and Bioware’s meeting of mind’s has produced a game, that will not only appeal to the more hardcore RPG players among you all, but will also have a massive to appeal to the more casual gamer as well as the fan’s of dungeon crawlers and Hack and Slash titles such as Demons Souls and even Castlevania. The reason behind this? Well, Bioware and EA have come together and decided to ‘streamline’ the control system and the format of the gameplay mechanics themselves. Depending upon how you view this new approach from the developers is how well you will appreciate it, and if this had taken place on any other major title release other than Dragon Age, we get the impression that fan’s and reviewers alike would have slated it, but with Dragon Age II it just seems to work so well that you find it hard to say anything negative about the new outlook, and instead have nothing but praise for the forward thinking nature of the developers and publishers to embody such a wide catchment audience by making the game appeal to just about every kind of gamer from Hack and Slash fan’s to dungeon crawlers and RPG  addicts. A mark of genius that should demonstrate the level of positive thinking that has made Dragon Age II one of the must buy titles of the year so far.

Graphics have been markedly improved upon from the first outing into the fantastical fantasy realm, with the level of detail being foregone in exchange for a far tighter and more exacting experience. The cut scenes are lavish and the sound is simply sumptuous as the developers have gone out of their way to make the game feel as good as anything else out there in the genre.

The controls are very easy to master with the system being revamped for the second title in the series. Clean menu’s are the order of the day, and even the upgradeable attributes that range from everything from magical abilities that must be activated, to passive defence abilities that can be mapped with a relative flick of a switch. The game is still an RPG at heart, but has such a strong leaning to the Hack and Slash genre that it is much more ‘in your face’ action that is presented to the player other than the hours upon hours of drudgery normally associated with levelling up your character. Don’t misunderstand us in thinking that Dragon Age II is a God of War wannabee, as it is anything but that. Seamless play intertwined with dynamic and silky smooth control’s and mechanics make for an outstanding experience when you enter into Dragon Age II’s beautifully crafted realm. For example the fact that you can now affect a more simple single button attack style is in no way detracting from the games’ basic premise as a role-playing experience. In the same way that the sleeker control system allows for you to now quickly adapt to any given situation during combat by allowing you to assign six abilities that are easily accessible by the single pulling of the right trigger, the same simplistic and uncluttered approach to the gameplay of Dragon Age II now also allows you to smoothly leap from player to player in your party by the same token gesture of merely holding down the left shoulder bumper, and believe us when you are attempting to keep four separate characters alive during combat with a dozen Darkspawn, the fact that you can effortlessly leap from character to the next and heal them in turn with a mere press of one button, makes for a far less frantic and frustrating experience than  a great deal other titles out there. But the beauty of the marketing strategy of Dragon Age II is that it is in this ‘streamlining’ of the games core mechanic’s that allows for the title to be a far more approachable experience for players unused to the role-playing genre. More and more players will find themselves battling dragons and Darkspawn than ever before as Bioware and EA have made the game a far less daunting prospect for those gamers that would otherwise never venture into the role-playing genre. This in itself can only ever be a good thing.

The characters in Dragon Age II are also of a far more rounded affair than are to be found in a lot of similar titles. The main hero of the games’ storyline, Hawke, is someone who you can get along with and even find some affinity with as he battles to save not only his land from the oncoming hordes of demonic enemies, but also to redress the issues surrounding his family in a touching sideline to the main plot. The levelling up system is the same tried and tested method that worked so well in Dragon Age: Origin’s in that you gain XP through a variety of avenues from combat to crafting and so on, and from there you reach the required level and are thus rewarded with a bonus of upgrading your personal attributes, and ultimately your abilities. A tip that we would offer to players is to concentrate your party on their own speciality, as opposed to trying to make your entire cast ‘Jacks of all Trades’, as this will invariably result in them all becoming ‘Masters of None’.  When offered the opportunity to upgrade your characters think about how each characters strengths must be played to make them compensate for other party members weaknesses, instead of trying to make every character a medieval version of a loincloth clad Terminator.

The end result in Bioware’s superbly crafted piece of role-playing magic is that Dragon Age II could well go on to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor and challenge more hardcore RPG’s for the coveted crown of Game of the Year for its genre. But when you have a role-playing game that runs as smoothly as this and with almost non-stop combat for hours at a time, is it then any wonder why? Dragon Age II is beautiful to look at without making you gasp at the texture of a hand painted vase on the window sill of the local tavern, and yet at the same time it has all the action, gameplay, crafting and questing that you would want to see in a quality role-playing title.

Graphics: Whilst refining the mechanic’s of the gameplay and making the frames run smoother may have come at the expense of the detail on Hawke’s belt buckle, this will in no way make you feel at any time that you are anywhere other than in the heart of one of the greatest RPG experiences of 2011. Seamless and smooth with very little to moan about in the way of…well. anything really. Glitch free gaming that looks as good as it plays. 9

Gameplay: Bioware have done an excellent job in overhauling the way Dragon Age II runs and plays and it is obvious from the very first time you draw your sword in combat. The new ‘slimmer and faster’ version of the series looks as though it has been to a health farm and come back meaner and fitter and ready to take on all comers as the gameplay works fantastically well in all area’s. Crafting makes its welcome return, as does the levelling up and upgrading of the characters in your party. This game will keep you hooked from the moment you step into your boots and strap on your Blood Armour. Sizzling!  10

RePlay Value: The main title itself will keep you plenty busy with a staggering amount of hours just to get to the end of your first play through, and then of course you have to do it all over again with each class of character that is available to you, it would be rude not to in a game this well put together. With additional content already on the horizon and more besides Dragon Age II will have you reaching for the ‘on’ button time and again.   9

Presentation: Once more EA Games and Bioware have shown the gaming public just what they are all about with a game of truly epic proportions. Everything just looks and plays so much better than the original title in the series and that says something when Dragon Age: Origin’s was voted RPG Game of the Year. With the entire title just feeling so much tighter and sleeker than its older sibling Dragon Age II could well repeat the feat achieved by its ground breaking elder statesman. Excellent gaming once more from EA and Bioware. 9

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