What can I add to the discussion about Dragon Age II that hasn’t been said before? Over this past year, it has been one of the most publicized games of this year. And of course, it should be: Bioware is the mastermind behind the game and have earned a reputation for being masters of narrative. However, great narrative does not make a game great. It is one of those pieces of the proverbial gaming puzzle that tends to make a “great game” even cooler. So as much as this game is worth it for the narrative alone, does it succeed on all the other important levels as well?
So what’s the game about? Well, since I missed out on the original game, I can’t tell you how well it fits into the mythos of its world. I can tell you that the game starts at the end: Your avatar’s dwarven friend, Varric, is seen dragged into an interrogation room and is forced to tell the story of the Champion (if he wants to live, that is). So initially Varric spins the usual story of our hero, Hawke, but is quickly interrupted and then honestly starts at the beginning: Hawke and his family are fleeing the Blight, a group of corrupted humans who serve demons and eventually reach the city of Kirkwall. Over a period of 10 years, you will watch as he rises to greatness. Themes of alienation, friendship, love, caste warfare (mages are looked down upon and even made invalid), family ties, duties and the spectrum-filled gray area known as “The Truth” permeate the game. To write any more would ruin the narrative.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the elephant in the room: There has been a lot of controversy in the gaming community over the character Anders. From all of the posts I am aware of him, they paint him as a gay mage who is obsessed with hitting on your [male] avatar, hugging cats and freeing mages from government rule. Furthermore, if you don’t let him hit on your character, he’ll go straight for the “rival” end of the friendship continuum. Some gamers feel so strongly about this they motioned that Bioware’s head writer be removed. However, I do not find this to be the case.
For those who are unfamiliar with feminist ideology probably do not know that they consider the political to be personal. Anders exemplifies this belief perfectly. Who can blame him as he is a double minority. Instead, Anders wants support for his cause and, from what I’ve seen so far, he only flirts with Hawke when Hawke flirts with him. (Did I forget to mention that Hawke is bisexual as you have romance options with both men and women?) Instead, I’m on the opposite side of the argument and insist that Bioware’s crew has created some very believable characters living in a highly unique world that could be considered commentary of our own.
Gameplay is essentially a hack-n-slash RPG. While you won’t be pounding the right-button on the mouse till the button has holes, it is much more action-oriented compared to the average RPG. You can issue commands manually, which is sometimes necessary for tougher battles. Plus, you can let the AI handle everything. Like one of my PS2 games, you can set up different conditions for combat actions. It isn’t tough to set up; however, you don’t need to fiddle with it as the game will update the movesets. As such, combat isn’t as rewarding as other RPGs, and there were moments that I wondered if Dragon Age II would have been better served as three-part movie instead.
Graphically, the game looks great. There are tons of textures in the game, and the world looks varied. Characters do a decent job emoting, though the voice acting is much better at conveying emotion. I feel a little dirty that I’m playing what is considered a next-generation game on my PC and the load times are faster than its console counterparts. I like the engine; everything looks and feels realistic; nothing blends together and makes unmentionable mess. There is a sense that there is a culture living and breathing under its surface. What I do take offense to is that the game recycles the same few dungeons constantly. No, this isn’t an overstatement. Once you’ve seen the first five or so dungeons, you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t help that the automap shows the same shapes with locked doors. Couldn’t Bioware at least pretend to make each area look unique?
Sound wise, everything is decent. The music is suitably epic with lush orchestrations fitting the mood of each locale. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of town or in the wilderness. However, the voice acting is what really takes the cake and breathes life into its already unique world. Every line of dialogue is voiced, and it is astounding that the quality of the acting remains on the higher end of the spectrum. (Who would believe that captain Jane Way voices the enigmatic Flemmeth?)
So is Dragon Age II a great game? No, the combat is a bit bland (still fun though) and the dungeons all follow similar templates. Yet the narrative is so awesome, and there were plenty of moments where I played far longer than I intended because I wanted to find out what happened next. As such, Dragon Age II could be considered an “average” game. However, even the most average Bioware game is a notch or two higher than the majority of “average” games available. This is a game that is worth its weight, digital or physical, in dragon’s gold.