Xbox 360 Review: Dragon Age II

Can this sequel be as epic as Origins?

I only recently completed Dragon Age: Origins, including all the post DLC that came out. I played it on the 360 and although enjoyed it immensely, I could see it was flawed. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to see every last nook and cranny of the sequel to see if things had improved and to make sure I didn’t miss anything, so how does Hawke’s story hold up to the epic story of Origins?

Hawke’s story begins in the doomed town of Lothering, one of the first settlements to fall victim to the onslaught of the Blight. Hawke must escape destruction at the hands of the Darkspawn, rise to power and become Champion of Kirkwall. There is of course more to the plot than this, as it’s actually one of those “story in a story” tales told from the perspective of one of your companions. I was impressed with the story and it’s nice to finally have a talking protagonist instead of the silent Grey Warden you played as in Origins.

The fundamentals of Dragon Age remain in the sequel. There are plenty of quests, side-quests, romance plots, crafting, looting and codex entries to find. Character development is where Dragon Age II shines and where BioWare does best. You’ll be engaged in each companion’s own problems, which I won’t spoil. Combat has had a bit of an overhaul and is faster than it was in Origins, but it still handles the same…you map abilities to the X, Y and B buttons while A attacks and the LT button brings the radial menu so you can select potions, other spells and so on. The only difference now is that there is a waiting time for potions, so you can’t simply collect hundreds of health potions and spam the A button anymore, unfortunately…

You can still switch between your party members during combat or give them tactics to use in specific situations like using a specific spell on an enemy of a certain class or using a health potion when the character’s health is at a certain level. I personally never really bothered to do this in both games, well I did do it on some Origins DLC when I had to beat certain enemies on the Hard difficulty, but luckily there are no such achievements (yet) to be found in the sequel.

As with the first game, you can take 3 other allies with you into quests. This time however, when you make decisions you’ll gain either friendship or rivalry points for some characters that will impact them. There aren’t any new classes so you’ll choose to be either a male/female Warrior, Mage or Rogue. The sequel does get you searching high and low for codex entries, hidden messages, crafting recipes and ingredients, armour upgrades and gifts. This would be fine, but certain areas only become accessible during specific quests, while other areas only have the items up till a certain point in the game. I made the mistake of not picking up the ally Fenris at the right time, so I was unable to access an area of the game and pick up a crafting ingredient, which made me have to load up a past save from a few days ago and work my way back to that point. It was annoying to say the least…

The scale of the sequel is a bit smaller than that of Origins. You’ll go back to the same areas across different in-game years, while the devs have rather lazily recycled parts for “different” areas. For example I came across a mansion that had the exact same layout twice other than different enemy placements. It will disappoint, even if it is only a side-quest. Visually though, Dragon Age II is a great looking game…but it can be a bit rough around the edges. However, it’s always nice to see all your fighters covered in blood after a good fight. Voice-acting is superb in true BioWare form. Each character you come across gives a believable performance, even if sometimes it can come across as a bit OTT. The music is also epic and matches the atmosphere of the game to near perfection.

The Verdict

Dragon Age II improves upon Origins slightly, but also retains the problems that it had on consoles. It’s still a truly epic RPG that you would have to be insane to ignore, Hawke’s journey is a great one and well worthy of a good 40-50 hours of your time.