in Review

Pro Homo

Dragon Age II

The discussion surrounding Dragon Age II has taken a bizarre turn of late. The game features four potential romantic partners, two women and two men. All of them will express varying degrees of interest in your character, regardless of your gender, and you can take those feelings “all the way,” if you know what I mean. Some people are upset about playing as male characters and having other male characters hit on them and wish the game had a “no homo” feature. That is literally one of the saddest and dumbest complaints I’ve ever heard leveled against a game. God forbid gay characters acting gay. For the record I played a female warrior who got with the lovable female elf mage. It was hot. Well, as hot as my PC graphics card could render.

2009’s Dragon Age inspired me to upgrade and get somewhat serious about computer gaming again. Well, the insane Steam sales of that Christmas season helped to, but it was mainly Dragon Age. And that was a worthwhile investment. Bioware’s knack for character development combined brilliantly with the deep tactics only a PC could truly deliver. Dragon Age was one of the most sprawling adventures I’ve ever played, and I gave it a lot of my time.

So I was surprised to hear that the second Dragon Age game would be out early this year, shortly after Bioware stopped delivering DLC for the original game. It felt like the first game was in development forever, how could the followup rise to the bar that was set before it in so little time? Bioware’s answer, as it turns out, was to make a smaller epic.

That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it didn’t quite work out. You play as Hawke, a human who flees to the Free Marches during the Blight you battled in the first game. Gone are the various origin stories from the first game, Hawke is who s/he is, and you’ve got to deal with it. You end up in the city of Kirkwall, and you will spend almost the entire game there. You’ll make friends, enemies and rise through society over the years. The main conflicts are more personal this time, instead of a war with villainous monsters, you deal with the political struggles between the humans and the qunari and between the templars and the mages. Sadly, it ends just as things are getting really interesting, a rushed finish that clearly sets up a Dragon Age III.

The gameplay of Dragon Age II has been greatly streamlined. The supporting cast no longer wears armor, leaving only equipment slots for weapons and trinkets. Combat is more fun than ever, with warriors and rogues upgraded to almost match the dominance of mages from the first game. A new mechanic, cross class combos, adds a new layer of strategy to fighting. However, enemies often spawn out of nowhere after you defeat a group, throwing a wrench into your long-term strategic plans. This is probably a huge problem on the highest difficulty, but on the one I was playing on, I was having so much fun I didn’t really mind this admittedly gamey aspect of the combat.

It’s clear that Bioware both rushed Dragon Age II out the door and tried to bring the innovation that made Mass Effect 2 so good to this game. The result is fun and kept me engaged for more hours than I’d like to admit. But the adventure is a lot smaller, building up to an exciting climax we never see. With a sequel to such a sprawling adventure, that’s just not acceptable. Dragon Age II is a worthy sequel, but not nearly as worthy as it should have been.