Once you’re there, it’s up to you to establish your character into something worthwhile, be it a hero or a mage. The options available to you in your talent tree let you strengthen up in a number of ways, and you do this by completing odd tasks around the city for different folks, even ne’er-do-wells like thieves. Each path your take shapes you into something unique, and has a way of affecting those around you. Some are bound to fall in love (wooing someone is much easier here than in the first game), others will be uneasy with your presence. That’s always been the main draw for games from the likes of Bioware, between the Dragon Age and Mass Effect games. The choices you make can really leave a lasting effect on the world, whether it’s what kind of weapons you equip, what allies you choose or how you hold a conversation with someone. You can be a real cold S.O.B. or show some sympathy, but there’s always those who are turned off by you or, by the same token, take advantage of your generosity. You’ll be playing Dragon Age II for hours just to see how you can screw with someone’s head – or grow into their heart. Some of the game has been simplified, though.
The game doesn’t have nearly as compelling a story this time around, with no main villain to take on and hardly any appearances by folks from the original game. There’s still plenty of ground to cover through, and the way you can equip items and mix up your weapon types is pretty slick. You’ll be picking up special skills and spells along the way as well, making your character even more intimidating than ever before – whether you’re a man or a woman. (Equality!) Despite some simplicity, the combat is absolutely top-notch in Dragon Age II. The routine combat moves work very well, even though some enemies take a lot more damage than they look like they are. (If you swipe a sword at a large demon, you should receive better indication they’re taking damage, yes?) There’s also a variety of spells and other techniques to learn, and executing these on larger groups is a wondrous sight. Furthermore, you can switch between characters in battle, should someone be growing a bit too stale for your tastes.
As for the presentation, it’s up and down. While the graphics won’t exactly win any awards for best Xbox 360 presentation, they hold their own, representing a beautiful medieval world and the turmoil that sets into it. Some of the animations are good, but some character designs are questionably plain. Overall, though, it looks well enough so it won’t distract you, though the long loading times may take a little getting used to. (Even spiffy loading screens don’t change that.) On the upside, the audio is outstanding. While the music could be more varied, the voicework is absolutely killer, and the multiple dialogue choices clearly show off just how much work Bioware has done in the studio. We’re especially fond of Varric’s wise-ass comments. Dragon Age II doesn’t quite carry the torch as well as Origins did, thanks to a few lesser items in gameplay and the lack of a genuinely moving story. That said, it’s still a splendid action RPG with hours worth of gameplay going for it and plenty of choices that will make you want to play through it repeated times. We’re actually on our second journey now. Glad my friend decided to bring corn dogs along.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Reviewed for Xbox 360
Release Date: March 8, 2011