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whatshot Dragon Age II PS3 Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

Gameplay 9.1
Graphics 8.5
Sound 9.1
Value 9.0
Distributor: EA
Classification:
MA15+
Review Date:
Mar 2011
Reviewer:
James Wright

9.1


Dragon Age II

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 devastating blight.

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.

The story 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 game.

Switching between 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 points.

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 music. Voice 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 effects.

Conclusion

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.





 

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