Xbox 360 Review

Dragon Age II

Can Bioware's opus cut it?

Dragon Age II has been a major source of apprehension for most fans of Bioware's RPGs since the legendary RPG developer decided they would be changing a few things for this sequel.

Most RPG fans are fairly set in their ways and the thought of Bioware altering their formula for their first proper fantasy RPG series since they became part of EA did make a few diehards cringe.

Dragon Age II begins almost where Dragon Age Origins, er, begins with the fall of Ostagar and the sacking of Lothering by the Darkspawn. This time though we are following the family of the man who would become the Champion of Kirkwall as they flee the devastation in Lothering in a bid to escape to Kirkwall to find refuge with their noble family there.

The game actually follows the Champion of Kirkwall through a considerable amount of time as he becomes a prominent member of the citizenry of the lone city-state.

There are a myriad of small changes in Dragon Age II that add up to quite a big difference in the way the game plays but the good news to the fans of the series is that this game is very faithful to the spirit of the original. What it adds is a bit more accessibility to their classic RPG formula.

In game, Dragon Age II plays very much like Bioware's classic Xbox title Jade Empire. Bioware has infused Dragon Age II with a more action-oriented style of gameplay. The classic action button that used to just select a target and set your character loose now is your basic attack button. All the other face buttons can be mapped to all the different powers that you learn as you level up just like in the first game.

There's plenty of familiarities that add bit of continuity to the series as a nod to fans who would've been worried by the changes Bioware has introduced. There's plenty of leeway to pursue romantic relationships in whatever sexual preference you feel like although, as one of your party members is your sister there are still some taboos that remain unbroken. The Blooming Rose, Kirkwall's brothel is also not just a plot device and can be frequented for satisfying the Champion's more basic needs.

Bioware has also thrown in a few cameos from party members from Dragon Age: Origins, which liven up the story and provide a few welcome surprises.

Their trademark character development is in attendance again and they seem to have ramped it up a fair bit. The lives of each of the party members are wound very nicely into the fabric of the storyline and unlike Mass Effect 2, where the party member missions are merely to bulk out back stories and open up extra skills, Dragon Age II's party member quests have a great bearing on how the story plays out.

A lot has been achieved in the creation of Dragon Age II. There is a decent amount of content squeezed into what seems like a very compact game. On the face of it, the game is fairly linear but there is plenty of scope for deviation within the main drive of the story and with a first play-through weighing in at around 50 hours it measures up comfortably to its predecessor.

Dragon Age II is not without its faults. There are a few irritating bugs that appear from extended play. One particular boss battle, which is conducted as a solo fight can end up with your character clipped in the corner of the wall or through a door and unable to retaliate while a particularly savage enemy beats you to death.

Another problem is that battles with the tougher enemies in the game can drag on and, without careful party management can result in becoming even longer solo battles, rarely requiring any kind of true finesse beyond the hit and run approach. This can become quite tiresome in parts but the storyline does make it well worth winning these battles.

The one change that they have made that has been a little bit disappointing is the limiting of the choices of class and race. Only being allowed to be a human, either as a mage, rogue of a warrior is a bit disappointing especially given Bioware's heritage.

Having said that there is plenty of scope for customisation of your character through levelling up. Bioware has made up for the narrow choice of class by providing some very broad skill choices within the levelling up structures allowing a lot of freedom to tailor you character to your tastes.

Again, Bioware has worked their magic and produced a game of narrative depth, which continues to build and expand of the player's ability to shape the story that they are part of. This is what remains at the very heart of the series and it has made for yet another very entertaining title from what has become a powerhouse of RPG gaming.

Dragon Age II is a bit of a contradiction. It is both open and linear, limiting and filled with choice but these all combine together to produce another very compelling adventure. Some of the battles may be drawn out but there is always ample reward for perseverance. Dragon Age II is yet more proof of Bioware's dominance in RPG development and long may it continue.

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