I try to be as timely as I can with my reviews and articles on this site, but Popgun Chao$ isn’t quite famous enough to get video games for advance reviews and I don’t really have the time to play through a 30+ hour RPG in a timely manner so that I can get a review out. In short, I know this review is kind of late and anyone that considered buying it has either bought it or read reviews from other sites and made the decision one way or another to purchase it.
Still, I feel as if I have something to say on the subject of Dragon Age II and I feel as if I should share, so here it is.
People have asked me, “Is Dragon Age II any good?”
And despite its flaws, I think it can be classified as a little better than good – especially considering how vapid the RPG market has become ever since the next generation systems have taken hold of the marketplace. Unfortunately, the days of turn-based RPGs are dead and we’re living in a world where action RPGs rule the day. I think I’ve stated on here before that the original Playstation was the last great RPG system, but the last real RPGs were released on the Playstation 2.
For better or worse, Dragon Age represents the new era of role-playing games where action, character, and choice are the central premises that the game is based around. So, if these are the basic tenets of the new era, how well does Dragon Age II execute them and what does it mean for the new era of RPGs?
In terms of action, Dragon Age II is a bit deceptive. While there are plenty of skill trees that allow for a diverse range of individual character development, battles typically break down into button-mashing events. Fortunately, the battle system is relatively strong, because it is incredibly repetitive. While there are dozens and dozens of missions to complete, all of them revolve around going to an area and killing lots of things and returning to the city to talk to someone.
Compare this to a game like, say, Breath of Fire III, where mini-games break up the action and we can see that the new era of RPGs take themselves too seriously. While role-playing games have always had an element of melodrama to them, this seriousness used to be broken up by mini-games to provide a sense of whimsy to the game. It isn’t as if Dragon Age II is the only one guilty of focusing merely on action; Final Fantasy XIII has likewise given up addictive mini-games in favor of a purely action-oriented experience. Past games in the series featured long-running mini-games like Final Fantasy VIII‘s card battle games or Final Fantasy X-2‘s math-based Sphere break game. Were these mini-games essential to the plot? No, but they were fun and they allowed a break from the action experience.
Without mini-games or a variation on missions to change up gameplay, Dragon Age II feels shallow at times. Further hindering this experience is the lack of diversity in maps. Every warehouse looks exactly the same. Every temple has the same layout. In order to try and make it seem as if the production team wasn’t lazy, doors that were open on some maps are closed and locked in others, but the maps stay the same which is really annoying. The map may seem to be wide and expansive, only to reveal that only half of the map is accessible because all of the doors to the other half are closed or sealed. It’s a critical oversight and one that just smacks of rushing to get a game out on the shelves.
Many reviewers complain that the game takes place only in one city and a few surrounding areas, but I didn’t mind this as much. I would have liked for the warehouses of the city to have some diversity, but being in Kirkwall the entire game was a pleasant experience. I felt like I knew the city and I made a connection to it. Adding diversity for the sake of it has always annoyed me. Every game does not need a fire level and an ice level and a forest level; it’s perfectly fine to have a set location, but reusing maps inexcusable.
What Dragon Age II lacks in diversity, it makes up for in complexity of story. The world the game is set in is a diverse fantasy world that may have some conventional fantasy tropes, but they still come off as fresh and beyond generic. Everything feels familiar, yet new at the same time (meaning that elves behave as one would expect elves to behave, but they still seem unique in a way). Actions taken at the beginning of the game have real consequences later in the game. After I completed the game, I discussed the ending with Sam and she had a completely different experience than I did . . . and we chose the same story path. Interactions with party members can really change the flow of the story and the combat at the end of the game. It’s really fascinating to think about the different options available for how the game can change.
In fact, one of Sam’s employees played the game as well and missed a party member without knowing and went through the game without a key member of the team. While it’s unfortunate that he missed a vital character in the game, it really speaks to the replayability of the game that so much can be done.
As much as I have complained about this game, I really did enjoy it. It was a lite adventure that I could pick up on a whim, play for awhile, and walk away for some time. I mostly played it when I needed to relax from school work and it was a nice distraction that didn’t require me to think too much. I would pick a mission, go to that location, nuke the area with magic, and move on to the next thing. The story was interesting at times, but never all that immersive, but I didn’t really need that. I wasn’t looking for a Shakespearean adventure, I just wanted to fight and when I was done, I realized that the game could have used just a little more to it.