Let Off Some Steam: Dragon Age II Reviews

Let Off Some Steam: Dragon Age II Reviews
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Let Off Some Steam is a new section where we let you guys get something off your chest – it can be a vitriol laced rant, a sappy love letter to whatever, or anything inbetween. Send your ranty words in this direction, and try and keep it under 600 words. This time Thomas Muller makes an impassioned, articulate, confusing case for/against Dragon Age 2. I still don’t know if he likes it or not!

Dragon Age II – WTF
Recent reviewers of the much-hyped Dragon Age II have all come down hard on the fence, breaking their backs to wring a score out of the game. Every write up is a see-saw of personal dialogue, as he or she tries to convince themselves of some kind of verdict. Sometimes it’s easy to come up with a conclusion about a game, a film, a restaurant. Sometimes the thing is a mishmash of brilliant, inspired, indispensible design and appalling, lazy, tired components (or lack thereof) that, together, give you a game that comes out exactly… neutral. In fact, most reviewers seemed to come to the forlorn conclusion that this is a brilliant game that manipulates them in exactly the right way, appeals to rationalism be damned. Dragon Age II grabs you by the balls and drags you all the way to the end kicking and screaming. The gaming world seems to be struggling with the idea that a game can ride through with terrible omissions based on the strength of a few incredibly synergistic components.

That is what Dragon Age II seems to have done. The reviewers hate the damn thing then award it a 90, seemingly struggling with a rogue hand when they come to the end of their complaints.

The game’s art design is nothing short of stunning, with awe inspiring landscapes and intricate character models. But the boffins of Bioware only crafted what seems like a quarter of what they should have. Subsequently ALL of the action takes place in a finite, tiring number of arbitrarily sectioned levels. Enemies take the same forms every time, and encounters are devoid of variance. Shades appear in every corner for three minutes until the room is ‘finished’. Whether this was a conscious decision or a consequence of engine restrictions, this sort of thing went out with the age of RPG’s squeezed into one CDROM.

This isn’t a penny arcade. But we keep playing.

Similarly, voice acting is utterly superb given the amount of content, countered by wooden, awkward animations that seem pulled straight from Knights of the Old Republic. But we keep playing.

The lumbering, slow combat has been transformed into a whirling death spiral made of exploding body parts, and everything sparkles and zings with kinetic energy. Nothing is wasted. When you hit something it stays hit. But all you ever fight are shades, multicoloures spiders and stamped out soldiers. Difficulty comes in the form of increasingly oppressive waves of enemies. But we keep playing.

Quests are carbon copy; ‘fetch this’, track down this missing person, kill another group of the same endless waves of fodder, with only a few that go beyond the ‘encounter madman in random alleyway, kill his minions’ trope. But we keep playing because of characters that suck us into thinking the next one might be better than the rest. Not to mention a perfectly balanced progression system that keeps you hunting one last level.

Core storytelling that reeks of professional polish, with genuine characters and not a word out of place. And city that is devoid of life and character,that changes far too little to hold attention, surrounded by lore and history that only presents itself in written slabs of texts and in the offhand dialogue of NCPs. Still glued to our screens.

Are we starting to see a pattern here? Everything bad about Dragon Age 2 is balanced and made up for in another way, in ways that go so far into the territory of awesomeness so as to make anything forgivable.

But is that, in itself, forgivable? Should gamers be allowed to be slowly tortured as long as there is addictive, beautiful bandit-slaying morphine on hand?

As always, it depends upon what you like. Bioware has refined Dragon Age into a specialist, bringing all of their polish to the fore and forgetting to include content. But masters they are, and whether they were restricted by budget, lack of time or the fear of making a perfect game before the release of Dragon Age III, they knew what they were doing. The executive producers are cackling away somewhere imagining gamers slogging their way through their maze. They have charts or something, ingrained instinct for the gamer’s psychology, which led them towards a formula that makes you play even though you writhe at the artificial nature of the construct.

God help us all, I’m going to kill my three thousandth darkspawn.

Fistbeard McTavish – GET OVER HERE, and everyone who has been playing Dragon Age II for that matter. It seems to be one of the most divisive games this year – what is it about Dragon Age II that causes so much debate!


  • No doubt about it, complexity wise it’s a shadow of it’s former self. It’s Dragon Age dummed down to almost Mass Effect 2 simplicity. It’s not the Balder’s Gate II evolution that old school gamers were looking for…

    But it does have it’s good points which make it playable.

    All in all, some reviewer said “it feels like bioware were rushed to get it out the door” – so so true

    • I thought that the “stream-lining” of Mass Effect 2 working really well and at no point was I really irritated by it.

      Dragon Age 2 on the otherhand suffers for it. I’m really having a hard time finishing this game, as soon as I realised that I was actively trying to enjoy it as opposed to just flat out having fun playing it, I had to put it down and haven’t touched it since. It seems to have cast aside much of what made DA great. DA3 better be a significant improvement.

      What’s wrong Bioware? Sold your soul to the EA devil? coolface.jpg

      • Which game were you playing?
        I’m playing the PC version and all the issues people are experiencing as listed here above, and below, are non-existent in my experience.. Maybe the console versions are suffering for once.

    • Funny thing is: I liked Mass Effect 2’s simplicity, because it made it an all-round better game than the original. Mainly because Mass Effect always felt like a shooter with RPG elements strapped on. Stripping the RPG Mechanics down to something simple and streamlines did a world of good, because I found the original to just not sit together properly. Namely, spending one skill point for a 2% increase in damage to pistols, compared to ME2’s steamlined skill tree.

      Now, what happens when a game which was a pure RPG has the RPG elements simplified or stripped back? You get a half-finished RPG.

      • Interesting; I liked ME2’s streamlining (other than the laughably badly retconned reasons why we suddenly needed ammo), but was let down a fair amount by the story and characters.

        It’s like Bioware let Dragon Age keep the characterisation writers, but in return they had to take on the guys from ME1 who said “let’s make them go down to 50 identical planets and drive the Mako to collect dogtags and minerals!” (although those guys made the probe mechanic before they went, obviously). And ME2 also got to keep all the location artists. it boggles the mind that they could write and voice and animated so much dialogue for DA2, but apparently couldn’t draw more than 2 cave layouts.

      • But this isn’t Mass Effect that we are playing. It’s Bioware’s flagship oldschool RPG title. If they’re going to simplify and dumb down their ultimate RPG title into something that is a bash em up with RPG elements, then they’ve alienated many legions of fans who want a solid RPG.

        I liked Mass Effect 2, don’t get me wrong, but that was a shooter with RPG elements and it worked well. DA is not a fighter with RPG elements, it’s an RPG full stop so by diluting it down to Mass Effect simplicity it’s lost it’s flavour.

        I just feel there’s no depth to the game, what you see is what you get. There’s no deeper dimension to the game, it’s just a mission based bash em up with rpg elements which is sad.

        Hope and praying that Skyrim turns out to be that ultimate RPG we’ve been looking for…

    • Just putting in my 2 cents that I felt that Mass Effect 2 was dumbed down a lot and was disappointed by it. I always felt the game’s setting, plot and characters leant more towards an RPG, it’s just the combat that was a shooter. It felt like they ripped the guts of it out when they took out a lot of the RPG elements and left us with a third person shooter with a good story, but not much else.

  • Overall? Bioware still hasn’t picked up the ball from when they dropped it with mass effect. There are elements in ME, ME2 and now DAII that scream “awesome!” but they failed to use them. It really feels like all the good gameplay guys are on SWOTR, the writers are everywhere and the interns are on the non-SW projects.

    So far I’ve kill genericHumanoid01 about fifty times, talked to npc’s who are so sterotyped I can cut it with a spoon – weak, protect me sister? Clearly going to become badass later, and about a 40% chance they’ll turn evil at some point.

    I wasn’t expecting much – just DAO with faster combat. I got streetfighter on nightmare with worse controls. Just feels like another let down – the why doesn’t really matter anymore, and that’s the worse part.

  • An extremely well written piece. I don’t think it’s so much about Thomas hating/liking it as it is on identifying what exactly is so confusing about this game to reviewers.

    And I do believe he has hit the mark right on.

  • Dragon Age 2 reaks of overproduction and impossible timelines. In shot, far to much push from EA…..

    All the environments are the same half dozen levels, it’s sooooo repetitive. Yet at the same time they are very detailed, it’s like they wanted a great looking game, but didn’t have time to actually make one.

    I think the story itself is interesting, but I’d question on if it even needed to be based in the same Dragon Age universe? It could have easily been released as a game called “The Champions Tale”, or some other swanky name, and made no references to DA:O. It’s just trying to cash in on the previous game IMO.

  • I think what he’s trying to say is that although the game game by no means revolutionizes either the RPG, Action or Adventure genre, it takes every one of those and melds them into something that tries to appease its target audience while compromising the very thing that makes games what they are supposed to be – fun.

  • Wow… that’s so… accurate.

    I look at it, and I play it… and I just don’t feel it.
    It drags me in, but for every strength… there’s a failing. A subtle whispering that pierces the the feedback loop of my mind. It gently prods with uncomfortable questions. Questions like: Isn’t it odd that shops sells clothes that only Hawke can wear?
    Why can’t I buy and sell from the same screen… couldn’t I do that in the first game?
    Where is the lockpicking skill, how do you know if Varric can pick that lock?
    If you can give Merril healing spells, why isn’t there a default tactic for a healer amongst her presets?
    Where’s the world map, is there a world map, why isn’t there a world map… there was one, where did it go?

    One of the guys on 1up said it best… “This isn’t Dragon Age 2, this is Dragon Age: Exodus”.

    These kinds of things were done with Mass Effect 2, but they were less obtrusive. Or if they weren’t, they certainly didn’t bug me as much.
    I, personally, am not against making games work on consoles… but controllers have lots of buttons and I, as a gamer, am not a simpleton.
    DA:O got a lot of hate on console… but I didn’t mind it that much, and it annoys me how much it has been ‘streamlined’.

    • Your questions answered, sirrah:

      Q: Isn’t it odd that shops sells clothes that only Hawke can wear?

      A: Kinda, yeah.

      Q: Why can’t I buy and sell from the same screen… couldn’t I do that in the first game?
      A: I don’t remember. But it’s a bit silly. Inventory management is still not Bioware’s strong point in any game.

      Q: Where is the lockpicking skill, how do you know if Varric can pick that lock?
      A: Read the manual. or the description on the Attributes screen about cunning. Rogues gains lockpick and trap-removal skill at 10, 20, 30 and 40 cunning (simple, normal, complex and master locks/traps).

      Q: If you can give Merril healing spells, why isn’t there a default tactic for a healer amongst her presets?
      A: You can’t give Merrill healing spells.
      The game is set up so that most encounters don’t need healing, at least on Normal difficulty and if your characters are set up right. I like this. The occasional potion when stuff goes wrong, that’s all. Allows more varied parties. But do bring a healer for the optional bosses, they’re buggers.

      Q: Where’s the world map, is there a world map, why isn’t there a world map… there was one, where did it go?
      A: There’s an “outside Kirkwall” map. You don’t go anywhere not on that map, so the point of a world map escapes me.

  • Played it. Finished it. Kind of liked it until the final moments of the game and just felt let down. Wouldn’t play through again.

    The story had so much promise, but the whole “choose a side” thing really is a little old. I wanted to fence sit like the little Swiss bastard I am, but it wouldn’t let me.

    IMHO I’d rather play DAO.

    I also didn’t like the fact my character’s animations screwed up and his arms were out in the fighting position 100% of the time even when his weapons were sheathed. He looked like a frickin’ scarecrow during the cut scenes.

  • Does anybody else notice that the longer BioWare tag up with EA the further they’ve been falling so far? They used to be the greatest in terms of making an RPG

    • hehe or maybe it’s why they used to pawn there sequels off to obsidian after baldurs gate 2

      maybe they need to avoid franchising and just make there game and move on. 😛

    • It had crossed my mind, but I don’t think the influence is that clear-cut.

      The market for complex RPGs with a steep learning curve has always been dropping with the increasing popularity of console games versus the PC.

      BW struck gold with KoTOR (still their best game, in my opinion) and it seems they’ve tried to balance keeping this audience with a wider one that would be intimidated by extensive customisation or even depth. Attracting a bigger audience inevitably demands compromises and cutbacks. Unfortunately.

      They likened it in an interview to wanting to achieve the sort of sales that a Halo Reach or a COD would be getting, in raw numbers. I don’t think it’s a success, and the mixed reaction to DA2 might be a message to the executive team that they could be on the wrong path.

    • I remember when EA bought Bioware there was a comic going around with the punch line that AMss Effect would be coming soon to XBox 360, PC, PS3, PS2, DS, PSP, iPhone, Wii and every other device you can think of. You know, just having a play on the crap EA pulls with trying to get every game on every single platform. Well looks how it’s turned out, There’s now Mass Effect iPhone games, Mass Effect 2 has now been brought out on PS3, DA2 was released on PC, 360, PS3, and why there was even a facebook game. You can smell EA’s influence on Bioware’s games of late, and it stinks.

  • This actually reminds me a lot of ME1 and ME2. Mass Effect 1 I loved even though the combat was a little hit and miss and the side missions took you to the exact same half dozen or so locations fighting the same half dozen or so enemy types.

    Then the second Mass Effect improved on the combat tenfold, but took away my inventory management and didn’t as many side missions or as much exploration (which admittedly some hated).

    But each had their strengths that easily overshadowed these gripes for an overall positive experience, that left me replaying both. I haven’t played Dragon Age at all, but I imagine I would have the same love hate relationship with it. It is just disappointing that these are such obvious mistakes that they must have been noticable to the development team. Why couldn’t they have taken the time to fix them?

  • I gotta ask, Why does everyone rave about the story?

    If there was one it would be terrible, but there is no story, just a series of connected side missions.

    The Wayward Son quest and serial killer quest (forget its name) were really great, that’s about it. Hell, even the companions are pretty bad, at first I thought they were a step up but they soon stop being interesting when they kept repeating themselves and not growing as characters at all.

  • I wanted Dragon Age 2, and instead I got Dragon Age: Xtreme Edition.

    I agree with your thoughts though, but I find the party members quite boring and uninspired.

    I did go a little bit giddy noticing Isabela was indeed in Dragon Age: Origins though. She’s the one who teaches The Warden how to be a Duelist.

  • First thing I have to say is that because I’m only 6 hours into the game and want to avoid spoilers I did not read the article, any of the replies nor have I read any reviews on the game. I do know that it has recieved mix reviews though.

    Second is I have a whole big theory as to why it’s recieved mix reviews that I wont get into because I’m trying to get this posted quick cause I have a bus to catch.

    I believe the game is getting some hate is not because it’s a bad game but because it’s DA2 rather then DA:O 2.

    DA:O was aimed at a more niche audiance. It was aimed at those who liked old school rpgs. DA2 is aimed at a wider audience. As such the niche audiance is kicking up a fuss (let me be clear here I’m not saying it’s an undeserved fuss or they are wrong for doing it).

    One of the main reasons for this I think is the combat system change.

    I would post more but I really do have to go now.
    I’ll end by saying I prefer DA2 over DA:O but the retcon to the Elves is quite annoying.

    • “DA:O was aimed at a more niche audiance. It was aimed at those who liked old school rpgs. DA2 is aimed at a wider audience. As such the niche audiance is kicking up a fuss (let me be clear here I’m not saying it’s an undeserved fuss or they are wrong for doing it).”

      You sir are an idiot pure and simple. DAO sold more copies than ME1 and ME2. DA2 is just a crappy game wchich was rushed. I played and completed DA2 made all the quest and i dont know why ? Maybe im a masochist…

      And dont forget if something for everyone its probably is a generic crap.

  • I played for a total of 1 hr and a half, so I can’t say too much.
    So far it seems even the packaging is less than DA:O. I went from the blight to kKirkwall in the blink of a cutscene and after chatting to a few people in the town a year suddenly passed.

    See how the pacing goes as I progress. So far so average.

  • I have to agree – Origins was definitely superior in its gameplay. I get no identity from my Hawke, no real feel of companion bond and if I see that same slavers cavern one more time I’ll scream. Seriously – how is it that Apostates and Slavers and Raiders and whatnot are just bumping into each other all the time. Apparently Kirkwall real estate is at a premium.

  • If anyone wants to buy this game, JB HI-FI has it on 360/PS3 for $89, $79 PC.

    Play Asia has the best online price of $51 for PS3/360.

  • I can relate so much to this article. I keep playing even though I know deep down I would prefer to be playing Dragon Age:Origins again. I have only been playing for 15 hours and 14 of those have been in Kirkwall. I’m extremely tired of the city location and it’s surrounding areas that I have become excited about the prospect of leaving it’s walls. Hopefully it happens soon.

    What really disappointed me the most was the recycling of locations. When I entered a quest area and found it to be the exact same interior location as my main character’s home, all I could do was sigh. I really want to like this game but if I am sick of Kirkwall now, what chance do I have of finishing it.

  • I think the game is pretty damn average TBH.

    First thing that concerned me was the game on PC is like 6gb compared to the 20odd gb that DOA had.

    I think people will give Bioware a last shot with KOTOR but if that is average too then Bioware is going to ruins years of good rep.

    Like other people say, they in bed with EA. How could that ever end well.

    The few devs out there that have a great rep should do anything to keep it. Upto DAO2 I would have bought a steaming dog turd and paid well for it if it had Bioware writtin on it.

  • Didn’t you know that 8/10 is the new starting point for game reviews? 😉

    DAII it’s a good game but it’s not a “Bioware Game.” I think we expect top quality products from Bioware all the time now that when one comes in that doesn’t meet those expectations everyone cries foul.

    Mass Effect -> Mass Effect 2 my impressions was most people didn’t mind the streamlining.
    Dragon Age Origins -> DAII fantasy RPG’s love picking armour types and exploring more so don’t take that away from them.

    DAII I think deserved a 6 or 7 /10. Not the 8 – 10’s it was getting from critics. I think some critics just didn’t want to upset Bioware with a score below 8 and risk not being in the loop with ME3 and Old Republic info in the coming months. If Bioware is a good developer they’ll review DAII’s criticisms from fans – the huge differences between user and critic scores can’t be ignored in this case. Hopefully they realise that it’s the fans that buy the games, not the critics.

  • Doesn’t anyone else think the lack of level design and re-hashing of used environments is all due to the lack of space in the console format?

    Specifically, the XBOX 360’s use of DVDs and both consoles lack of installing compressed files…?

  • Oh man, and I thought the DA:O was boring! (Yet I still sunk 25 hours into, AND redid the missions leading up to the Landsmeet to get a better outcome)… Perhaps I shouldn’t bother with DA2, I’ve never been a big RPG Fan (Although I am a big bioware fan, and I’m happy with the dumbed down ME and ME2.

    Perhaps I’ll just get Diablo 3…

    • I should specify, boring and repetitive. Those side missions were pathetic, the only missions of worth were the story ones.

  • I loved DA2, but I’m basically playing for the character banter and story. DA:O was a better game because of the variety of locations and epic sweep of the story and so on. I’m pretty evenly split as to which one had better combat. DA2’s repeated re-use of locations and boring enemies is a definite downer, but it has significantly better characters and character development and the comedy is a step up from DA:O (and I thought DA:O was the funniest game in ages).

    Voicing Hawke is far and away worth the reduction in options for customizing Hawke. Far and away. Best RPG hero in a decade. And Varric is the best sidekick.

    It’s a classic middle-of-a-trilogy game, with missing bits that detract from what could have been GOTY with a couple more months to develop art and cutscene assets. I will buy DA3 for sure: but I want Bioware to give it time to properly cook this time.

    • Agreed with everything you said, aside from the combat which I definitely enjoyed more in DA2. Compared to the first Dragon Age they really seemed to enjoy throwing piles of enemies at you to carve up, great fun on my rogue.

  • I actually found it was not so much a tie to the characters that drew me in. In fact, nothing did. Why did I keep playing? In hopes that something WOULD draw me in… and out of loyalty to the previous game, Origins.

    Thirty six hours of my life I will never get back. It was a tedious and boring game for me, an utter grind fest. Why did I chose the characters I did, for all the missions? Because of a compelling story? Compelling character traits? Nope, just because of their stats. Not a single one interested me. Or if they did, the lack of being able to TALK to them, aside from picking up quests) meant they might as well have been named “Generic broody elf #3” and “Perky elf with dark secret #2”, along with “dead-husband” or “pirate-chick”

    DA:O, I enjoyed the characters. I played through every damn start, and every damn finish. I’ve logged over 200 hours in the game (so maybe DA2 had an impossible job living up to my expectations). But the fact I can remember why Branka left Oghren, and his tryst with Felsi; or the story about the mirror of Morrigans that Flemeth smashed; to Alistairs life amongst the monks. Even Sten, a rather boring character, had more depth than most of the party members in DA2.

    I think voicing Hawke was a major detractor, because you didn’t just lose origin options (which as a rabid Dwarf fan sucked!) but you were also constrained to dialog options. Fancy way of saying yes, fancy way of saying no, fancy way of flirting, angry yes, angry no. Obviously, with that system, bioware HAD to remove the back-stories and the get-to-know-you dialogs with party members. But that was a major shame, in my opinion.

    I contemplated for about 10 seconds (literally 10 seconds) when looking at it on my steam list, right after I had finished it… and thought… do I play through again, and see what changes based on different decisions? … delete local content. Ten seconds. I don’t know if I can honestly say I even got through the whole sentence in my head; before I clicked that delete option. Probably not…

    I was one of the people who rated it very low on metacritic, and while I might have been overly harsh there, the game IS a sequel, and as a sequel it fails, in my opinion. By itself, I’d probably have scored it about a 5/10, but as a sequel, sorry, it fails even more. It was an utterly forgettable experience (in actual fact, I am actively TRYING to forget what little of it I remember… by going back to playing DA:O)

  • Too bad there’s a game-breaking bug if you friend Isabella and add/remove her from your party too much (the game applies a -5% speed penalty to you every time, so you can end up moving in slow motion). Basically ruined a fantastic character that I’d love to use but can’t out of fear. Piss poor bug that should’ve been picked up, but I shouldn’t expect any less from yet another company corrupted by EA’s bullshit.

  • definatly was dissipointed with this game. Combat was fun but the story and enviornments just felt empty to say the least.

  • During 90% of DA2 i was thinking “man, i miss my warden” seriously, the thing that dragged me through the tedious dungeons and waves of slavers and shades was small, insignificant and dissapointing refrances to the warden and the events of DA:O.

    Heres to hoping that they really step it up with DA3 and not letting themselves get rushed by EA to make a game that is nothing more than mediocre

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