Bioware have been in
the RPG field for so long now that they could be considered the
experts in what constitutes a a good role-playing game. Whether it
was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Baldur's Gate, Jade Empire which was
steeped in Chinese lore or just recently, Mass Effect 2, a true
sci-fi epic, these developers have a knack of making original but
more importantly, memorable and truly enjoyable games.
This is where
Dragon Age II fits into the equation, the sequel to one of the best
RPG's of 2009 which not only complimented the Dungeons & Dragons
premise but added a true 21st century twist to its gameplay with
state of the art graphics. It's definitely a good time to be an RPG
fan as we move beyond the country of Ferelden, thanks to the
The story of Dragon
Age II revolves around Hawke, a refugee Ferelden who escapes the
blight with his sister Bethany and his mother. Along the way, they
meet other refugees who help them get to Kirkwall, including an
agreement with a Dragon. As opposed to generic RPG titles, Dragon
Age II spans 10 years that will monitor your moral choices in order
to dictate certain directions of the story. However through the 10
years, you will make some powerful allies to assist you in becoming
the champion of Kirkwall. This game is the classic RPG archetype.
Although I'm a fan of the RPG system, you cannot beat the original
games which are set in the traditional sword and sorcery universe
which features dragons, warriors, mages and dwarves that truly kick ass.
There's just something special about this premise and even though
Dragon Age was criticised by some that it returned to the clichéd
world of might and magic, the gaming engine boasted one of the best
gaming mechanics to have graced this genre. Sure, the story may have
been done to death but the gameplay was something else.
Before embarking on your Dragon Age II adventure, you first need to
either import your character from the original game or create a
totally new character. The character creation is quite powerful and
allows you to fine tune how your avatar will look and of course,
what discipline he or she will be based in such as weapons or magic.
is considerably more darker than the previous tale and features a
healthy dose of adult content from over the top bloody battles
which would make the HBO series Rome blush in envy to even some
swearing that actually fits quite well into the RPG world. Like the
Mass Effect series, Dragon Age II also contains a few sex scenes to
truly break the stereotypical premise of these games.
However, like the
first game and in order to get the most out of the title, you really
need give yourself the time to play game because if you go down all
the side quests and explore this rich and diverse world, it will
take a good 35+ hours to successfully complete. It's also one of
those games that makes it hard to put down as it infiltrates your
real-life as your brain dissects strategies and thoughts for the next
gaming session. It's addictively beautiful.
Apart from the main storyline of Hawke, Dragon Age II offers a
plethora of missions for the gamer and it's great to get
side-tracked in the game because generally you can reap some
interesting awards and often find more powerful weapons and armour.
You will re-visit several places in the game but it's all part of
the greater story and although the freedom is not like Elder Scrolls
of Oblivion, there is enough illusion provided to give you a
sense that your destiny is your own. Best of all, you can swap and
choose between missions and thankfully the interface of Dragon Age
II is quite easy to navigate.
For those that didn't play the original, the premise behind Dragon
Age is to explore this world with your four character party just
like those classic adventuring parties. Although you control only
the main character Hawke, there are some basic squad mechanics
employed in the game which allows you to issue commands on the
battlefield and if things become too fiddle some, there is a pause
button. The radial menu when the game is paused allows you to
perform quick actions such as quick heal, access to poisons and
movement... a very handy feature.
Another interesting aspect
are the various classes in the
game such as rogue (thief/assassin) or mage who have been fleshed
out considerable more. The most noticeable difference is the
rogue class who now feels more like a thief as opposed to a fighter
like the original game. The skills of the rogue actually feel useful
now, especially the skill backstab which allows you run havoc on the
battle field. With that said, classes actually feel quite different
and their moves on the battle field are flashier and more
responsive, especially in terms of controls.
The menu system of
the game is quite easy to follow with a mini-map in the top right
hand corner of the screen with an arrow to point you in the right
direction and the bottom left contains all your characters
statistics such as health, mana and stamina. This makes for
streamlined access to your characters data but unfortunately in
streamlining the game, they have removed the detailed dialogue tree
from the original. This generally limits you to three options with
an icon indicating what emotion your character will use.
Unfortunately this takes a little of the unpredictability out of the
characters is also done through the touch of a button and once again
feels more dynamic. We thoroughly enjoyed the cross class combo
attacks in the game that requires two characters to work in
conjunction and really gives a more unique and true to life
role-playing experience. For example, the tank of the party might
taunt the enemies while the mage might freeze them and then the
healer might dispatch them. In terms of controls, everything has
been well mapped on the DualShock controller as you perform a
variety of manoeuvres, swap between characters, access your
inventory or heal yourself on the battlefield.
The skill trees are more refined as
well, so players can really specialise their characters as opposed
to a generalist character. In terms of attributes, Dragon Age II
uses strength, dexterity, magic, cunning, willpower and constitution
to create its classes with certain attributes more important to
particular characters like strength for fighters or magic for mages.
Then you have damage, attack, defence and amour which all add to the
highly customisable specialisation options in the skill tree.
However the heart of the game is combat and from it comes experience
As mentioned, the combat engine of Dragon Age II has been streamlined and feels
more fluid when you engage your enemies as you easily swap between
your different skills by pushing one of your hot keys on the
controller. If you want more skills accessible during combat, you
can push the shoulder button that will give you more access.
Needless, the skills available to the player are quite impressive
and there are literally hundreds of ways you can use these skills.
Items also have a star system that makes it easier to select the
better items when you find them. Unfortunately you always need to
collect the loot from a fallen corpse which does become a little
frustrating. Nonetheless the gameplay, story and perfect control
system works brilliantly on the PS3. Whether your are embarking on
side quests, focusing on the main story or getting side tracked
through rumours, Dragon Age II is a diversely rich universe that
will draw you from the very first moment it is loaded on your PS3.
Graphically, the title is a truly visual experience on the PS3 that
just jumps out at you. Character models are well designed in Dragon
Age, whether it's the sometimes hideously disfigured enemies that
you face or the your majestic adventuring party, it's been designed
with developer love. It should be mentioned that the combat
sequences in the title can be quite bloody at times but it still has
this cartoonish feel to it. Apart from the characters, the
environments look great and there is lots of diverse from locales to
night and day missions.
Each area that you visit has something that
stands out, whether it's the designs of the buildings or the
forests, there is a considerable amount of places to visits that
sometimes gets lost in all the combat. The
cutscenes help progress the story, although these are not as cool as
Mass Effect 2 but the special effects, more particularly, the magic
effects, look amazing! The only odd thing I saw in Dragon Age II is
that sometimes, the animation goes a little askew such as clipping
and jitter just after a load. Nothing too major!
The soundtrack of Dragon Age II really
gets your heart pumping thanks to Inon Zur, the composer of the original
game. Zur once again creates a powerful epic that uses emotion to
enhance the gaming experience as you listen to a variety of dynamic
music styles. Not only does the soundtrack help set the atmosphere
of the story but when the action commences, so does the powerful war
acting borders on professional and nothing sounds too forced or
contrived. There's some great one-liners
used throughout the game and lots of battle sounds and magic
I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Age II and the new streamlined interface
definitely makes playing the game a much more enjoyable experience.
It may be set in another dusty old sword and sorcery universe but
the game mechanics, characters and story a create a very
enjoyable experience on the PS3. It's also great that BioWare have
returned to this universe because there are so many tales to be told
about myth and magic, set in the original Tolkien-esq and Dungeons &
Dragons type universes. If you're a fan of RPG, than this game
should definitely be on your pick list.