Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Xbox 360 - Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II by Bioware / EA

In November 2009, Gamezelot reviewed Dragon Age Origins (DAO). Gamezelot gave this game a 6.5 out of 10 rating. It was, by no means, a perfect game. It has its moments, but it also has it share of problems. Fast forward to today. Dragon Age II is now out.. so how is it?

Starting out

The game starts out by allowing you to choose your character's class. While you are stuck being human, you can choose to be a mage, warrior or rogue class (male or female). After choosing the class, you can then choose your cosmetic appearance (mostly facial features). You can't choose a body shape, though. Also, even though there are Dalish, Dwarves and Elves in the game, you cannot choose one of these as your race. You are stuck as human only.


The story picks up pretty much where Dragon Age Origins leaves off. So, you're still running around killing Darkspawn. It almost seems, though, that they ignored the story in Awakenings, but that was more of a side game anyway. So, after battling a bunch of Darkspawn and confronting a Dragon, you're out of Ferelden and off to another city by boat.
The beginning of the story is a bit convoluted and starts out twice, actually. Once, it starts as a fanciful tale and then the person listening doesn't like what she hears and asks the storyteller to tell her the 'real' story. So, he backtracks and tells it all over again. During the storytelling phase, you get to play the game in certain parts to get you familiar with the gameplay as a small tutorial. Unfortunately, that really fails for new users. You really must be familiar with Dragon Age Origins already to understand the controls and the game play. So, if you're new to this game, you might want to read the manual first.

When you arrive at the city gates, your envoy is kept out of the city because there are already too many people trying to immigrate there. So, your first quests are one of two different and you can choose which one to do. The first quest choice is to kill someone as a favor. They will then get you into the city. The second choice is to retrieve money from a local shopkeeper. Either one you choose, you'll get into the city. The easier one, of course, is the one that doesn't involve combat. I'm not sure exactly how it shapes your character overall, but the choices may change how the story progresses. I do know that you will receive individual Xbox achievements for doing each of them. So, save your game right before you choose. You can then do one, get your achievement, save, then load and then do the second and receive that achievement. When you find quests that allow you to do one of two things, save and attempt both because you'll likely get Xbox achievements.

Once in the city, you get access to the map and you can roam the city looking for battles and loot, primarily loot.

Menu System

The interface to the system is still lackluster. To get to the journal (your quest list), you need to press the Start button on the controller. This lea ds to the main menu. Unfortunately, this menu is the wrong place for the the journal. The system needs its own place that's separate for this task and single button press that brings up the top level inventory (to change armor or weapons) rather than multiple button presses Start->Controller Right->A Button. Then B twice t o back out of it all. No, it should be a simple one click in and one click out. When will game designers learn this?

When you click the left trigger controller, it does bring up the fast select menu so you can get to consumables and spells easier. But, you still have to go through the main menu to get to everything else.

Yes, you can map the potion to an easy access key, but getting to them through the main menu method is slow, tedious, interrupting.. and is an incredibly bad design. The only way to get to the journal (and the quests) is through the main menu even though the right trigger allows for easier access to some things.


The gameplay hasn't improved much over DAO. That said, the graphics have improved by a lot. In fact, it looks like the designers have used the Mass Effect 2 engine to drive Dragon Age II. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't always work in all cases. For example, the menu system above. Also, the talking system is jus t as annoying as Mass Effect II. That is, you have no idea which response will lead to a positive or negative outcome. However, the skin surface textures on the characters are much better than DAO. So, there's pluses and minuses.

However, even though the graphics have changed by a lot, the gameplay itself hasn't. The problems that plagued DAO still plague this title. Na mely, that your main character is extremely weak against opponents. Not so much individual opponents, but that the game constantly throws many opponents at you all at once. However, unlike DAO, where you start with yourself and add characters along the way, Dragon Age II gives you four people in your group right up front. So, your group is a lot stronger than when you start out in DAO. Even still, that doesn't resolve the issue. The game throws exceedingly strong characters at the group which makes it difficult to complete a battle with all four of your team still standing. In fact, you usually have one character left and you have to run them all over the game board just to keep from being pounded to death (and give enough time to drink potions).

This also means, save early and save often. If you don't and all characters in your party die, the game is over.


This is a sore spot with me here. The battles are all real-time, although that isn't the issue. The issue, as mentioned above, the game throws a large number of mid to higher level opponents at you at a time when they should be far easier than they are. Yes, I could move the mode to 'Casual', but in the beginning, the game shouldn't se nd this high level opponents at you anyway.. and especially at 3-4 times the amount in your party. Worse, it keeps spawning them over and over with more and more.

But, here's the stupid part. Running around the city, people and guards are standing around. So, you are battling right in front of a city guard who stands there motionless. Seriously bad. Every other game would have had the guards join right in and either help you or help the opponent. Either way, the guards need to join in and bystanders need to run away. Where was the thought and design behind this?

The questing is much the same as DAO. It's improved slightly, but not much. The quests names appear briefly on the screen and then go into your 'Journal'. Although, the journal is more easily laid out from DAO, it's still hard to determine where you need to be to complete a quest. Unlike Fallout 3 that lets you pick the location where
you need to be next, Dragon Age II still doesn't seem do this easily.

Sparse Cities and Loot

While wandering around the cities, you'll notice there are tons of buildings and lots of doors. Yet, none of the doors can be opened. In fact, when you wander the cities in search of treasure, there's very little anywhere. Even after a battle in DAO
, there would be a lot of dead bodies with loot (probably at least half or more of the enemies). In DA2, you might kill 20 enemies and end up with 2 bodies with loot.

For creating such a detailed environment, there's really very little to do in them. It's sad that game developers are producing such detailed environments and so drastically under use them. I just don't get this part of game development. If you add a door to a building, plan to allow the gamer to use it. Don't create buildings with doors that don't open.


The map is pretty much worthless. In fact, it's not really a map at all. It's more a poster on the wall with destination points. So, you really have no idea the relationship between one city and another. I'd rather have a real map that shows me the landscape, terrain and where I'm traveling. Fallout 3 at least has a real terrain map that corresponds one to one to a real place in the environment. Dragon Age II doesn't.


I'm disappointed in this title. It should have been a drastic improvement over DAO, but isn't. They used the Mass Effect 2 engine, but pulled out the VATS-type targeting system that made ME2 a much better game. Without some kind of targeting system, the real-time battles just end up worthless. Why even have four people in the group? It's easier just to run around avoiding them until you can do them in one at a time.

Granted, some longer ranged weapons do offer targeting, but usually blanket targeting rather than individual targeting or, more specifically, limbs, head or torso. It's these little missing things that make this game less than what it should be. It's these attentions to detail that Bethesda seems to never miss, but Bioware seems to
ignore these details in most of their newer games. That is, especially now that EA owns them.

The Qunari segment ending is complete garbage. Not so much from the story, although that is fairly lame. No, the gameplay is just plain frustrating and lame. Note that I am playing this on 'Casual' mode at this point. First, they throw a small wave at you that's easily defeated. Then they throw a wave of 20-30 enemies at you that en
ds up killing your entire group in less than 2 minutes. The spells they throw at you, you have no defense against (not even the mages). The Qunari commander has a fatality move that there is no way out of. Worse, there is no way to know what Qunari has in store to prepare before you get to this part. Even lamer, targeting is near perfect on you by the enemies. So, if you're standing behind a pole on the level, they can still manage to hit you fully (either spells or melee). Even if you're running away or on the other side of the room, they can still manage to fully stab or hit you with their melee weapon. Was this game even play tested?

This is also yet another game that cheats. This lack of t
hought to the combat is complete garbage. Bioware has completely lost its edge. What's left is a hollow shell of a company. At this point, the only major game companies left are THQ, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Valve and Rockstar. Pretty much every other company has either lost their edge by being gobbled up by larger companies like EA or Atari or they just can't produce solid games anymore. Oh well, this is probably the last Bioware
game that I'll review here on Gamezelot.

Note, I haven't completely finished this game yet. But, I don't have to complete the game to already know the frustrating aspects of Dragon Age II.

And last but not least... at least they could proof the copy

  • Sound: 8/10
  • Graphics: 8.5/10
  • Gameplay: 6/10 (still many fundamental problems)
  • Story: 6.5/10
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 8.5/10
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10
  • Play Value: $15 (rent first, then buy)
  • Overall: 5.5/10 (graphics improvement, gameplay is worse)

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