Dragon Age II is the frustrating sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. You play Hawke, a guy who flees the events of the first game with his family, to arrive in the city of Kirkwall where the action takes place.
Which is weird. What kind of RPG only has one city? There’s a little prologue thing, and then you never leave Kirkwall and its surrounding areas. And in the city, you have encounters in various houses, basements, back alleys, and underground areas that are repeated over and over again. They take the exact same area, have you enter in a different place, and open or close a few doors, but otherwise it’s identical to the previous time through.
They do a lot of things to try to simplify the game. There is no exploration. The main map comes in three screens: Kirkwall in the day, Kirkwall at night, and the 6 or so outside of Kirkwall locations (which are all effectively dungeons). Armor is only for Hawke. Your companions have a set armor with 5 upgrade slots (but there’s no customization, as there are only 5 upgrade items for each companion). Your companions still have weapons and accessories, but the amount of tinkering goes down by quite a bit. And yet despite those attempts at simplifying stuff, the skill trees are pretty elaborate.
Story-wise, the game is structured as a series of flashbacks. Varric, one of your companions, is telling Hawke’s story to a mysterious woman. Which is fine and all, except sometimes he blatantly lies, and you still play out his lies. Which I think they wanted to give you a couple moments of different gameplay, but it kinda hurts the story. It’s one thing to have an unreliable narrator in a movie, but in a video game, I don’t think it works. I’m supposed to be part of the story, but if everything I do is part of what could be lies, then what am I doing?
The game isn’t terrible, but annoying in a lot of ways. The repeating locations are easily the biggest flaw, one I was warned about ahead of time, but I didn’t anticipate just how bad it would be. But the stupid BioWare formula of acquiring a bunch of companions and banging one is weirdly addictive. And having their individual stories play out gives you enough variety that, in this case, it was a ton more compelling than the main game.
Spoilers start here:
The story also isn’t very cohesive. The intro is about fleeing Ferelden and heading to Kirkwall. The first 1/3 is about organizing an expedition to the deep roads, the middle section is about dealing with a Quanri presence in Kirkwall, and the end is about the templars vs. mages, with a time jump separating each part from the next. Like 80% of the way through the game, I still didn’t really know where this was all going. And not in a “what’s going to happen next?” sort of way, more of a “I’m doing quests and stuff but what ultimately is the point of all this?” Every other RPG I’ve ever played has a main quest established pretty early on, or at least a villain.
Part of that is because they actually let you pick a side at the end. Which was actually kind of interesting. But there’s no side you actually want to be on, it’s more like which bunch of assholes is less evil.
I romanced Isabela in this, and it played out almost identically to Morrigan in the first one right up until the end. I guess I have a type in these games? Like, in both cases, she slept with me, then immediately said it was about sex but not love, then my teammates started to warn me about how she’s evil, then she starts to develop feelings for me and is uncomfortable with it, and I convince her to just go with it, and also she admits that she lied about the circumstances of her joining up with me. Fortunately, Isabela didn’t want to use me to give birth to some kind of crazy demon baby.
Which is a little bit annoying, that was a major plot thread that DA:O left, and by moving the action off to another continent, Morrigan and her demon baby go totally unmentioned. Alistair, Zevran, and Leilana from the first game make appearances, but all very brief. Bodahn and Sandal return to sell you stuff and enchant stuff. And Isabela, who was in the first game for about a second, is one of your companions here (though she looks totally different… as do the Qunari). The biggest connection is to the Awakening DLC, where the companion Anders is one of your companions here.
Really, it’s kinda lame to call it Dragon Age II, when its so much more of a spinoff than a sequel. Dragon Age: Kirwall or Dragon Age: Hawke or something would have made a ton more sense.