by Davneet Minhas
reviewed on PC
Compared to What?
We have been talking quite a bit about Dragon Age II here at HG headquarters. In between all the yelling and crying, between the smashed keyboards and thrown staplers, one question keeps coming up: What do we compare Dragon Age II against? More specifically, should Dragon Age II be compared to Dragon Age: Origins, or can it be judged separately?
Such a question leads to statements like “Dragon Age II is a good RPG, but not a good Dragon Age game” or “Dragon Age II is a decent action-RPG, but not a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins.”
I say, ridiculous! Whether you compare it to Dragon Age: Origins or Baldur’s Gate II, to European RPGs or Japanese RPGs, to first-person shooters or real-time strategies, Dragon Age II is a lazily designed game, a game developed with little effort and thought.
Hack and Slash
Of course, Dragon Age: Origins wasn’t perfect: Its dungeons were a bit too long and tiring, and everything from the story to the presentation to the enemies was very derivative of Lord of the Rings. But its combat was highly tactical. It required thought and careful management and was ultimately very satisfying. It was also terrifying whenever an enemy began wailing on one of my mages. With a wooden staff and cloth robes, he or she would crumple quickly.
There is no such fear in Dragon Age II, at least on Normal difficulty. Enemies are more numerous and weaker than their counterparts in Origins, friendly fire is absent, and every class has a plethora of area-of-effect attacks. What this means is that regardless of what class you are playing, you can decimate groups of attacks. As a warrior, jump into the group and execute a spinning attack. As a mage, throw a fireball at the group. As a mage surrounded by the group, throw a fireball at yourself.
At first, this is all pretty exciting. Combat in Dragon Age II is more responsive, impactful, and visceral than its predecessor. Seeing a handful of thugs fall to the ground or burn or shake while lightning courses through their bodies is very satisfying – at first. After a while, it gets very repetitive. The differences in strengths and weaknesses between classes are minimal when compared to Origins. Mages with no discernable armor can engage iron-clad enemies in hand-to-hand combat without much risk – so combat ends up playing like a hack-and-slash RPG. You only ever need to control your main character, to constantly hit right-click and the ability keys. The other characters in your party can take care of themselves, regardless of the circumstances. It is, overall, a less engaging experience.
Combat is visceral and responsive.
It’s thoughtless and lazy, as are the story, visuals, and level design.