Dragon Age 2 is not only poorer in characters, in story, in its world and its customizability than the original Dragon Age, but it’s even poorer than the expansion, Dragon Age Awakenings. Where Dragon Age Awakenings gave you more to do by taking responsibility for an entire region and making decisions with a real impact, Dragon Age 2 lets you hit buttons over and over again. And over and over again.
Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate EditionDragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition [Download]Dragon Age: Origins AwakeningEverything that Dragon Age did before it, Dragon Age 2 does less of. Characters? Forget about it. You’re stuck with a generic Hawke and his generic sibling and the generic Aveline you meet along the way. Then you’re gifted with Varric, a bland version of DA’s Oghren, and slightly more interesting characters carried from Dragon Age and its expansion, like Merill, Isabella and Anders. Slightly because even the best characters in Dragon Age 2 still pale before even the weakest ones from Dragon Age.
The story? Don’t even bother. Bioware boasted of an epic tale about the forging of a legend spanning a decade. Don’t believe them. There’s no sense of the passage of time the way there was in Fable. Occasionally NPC’s will mention how many years have passed but there’s nothing to make that feel real.
Dragon Age 2 takes place in 3 chapters, the first where you run around doing ordinary tasks to raise money, and the next two where you get caught up in two inescapable conflicts in the city of Kirkwall, one with the Qunari and one between the Mages and Templars. These feature the usual Bioware stabs at social relevance, but all they do is drag you into interactive cut scenes and nothing you do changes anything. Want to side with the mages? You’ll end up fighting mages anyway. Rescue mages? You’ll have to kill them anyway. Want to side with the templars? You’ll still fight the templar leader at the end. Your choices don’t matter.
Where Dragon Age and Dragon Age Awakenings had endings that differed dramatically based on the choices you made, Dragon Age 2 has the same ending repeated twice. Not only doesn’t the Dragon Age 2 ending bother to tell you what happened to your companions, the two different endings are identical except for four words, with mages swapped out for templars in a few places. It’s pathetic and it’s hard to imagine for all the posturing that Bioware Edmonton writers and producers actually feel good about this.
The gameplay? Dragon Age 2 doesn’t completely wreck it, just dumbs it down. There’s less customizability and more button pushing. Except for the grand Gallows set piece, the game is just the same sets reused over and over again. And over and over again. The same three dungeons, the same grand buildings and the same tunnel interiors. And I mean exactly the same. The enemies all come out the same way, and whether you’re fighting skeletons, templars or qunari, they’re all going to bring out their assassins and their archers and the rest of the troupe. Only the tiles are different. You don’t need to think about strategy, do it once and do it a thousand times.
The lack of customizability means there’s no point in doing most of what you’re doing. Interacting with your companions only affects how they show up in the final battle. And even a half-assed player should be able to beat Orsino and Meredith with their help or over their opposition. You can pick up money, but there’s nothing worth buying with it. You can’t upgrade your companion’s armor. You can’t even drive them away. That would interfere with Bioware’s cutscenes. The only thing to do with Dragon Age 2 is rush through it as quickly as possible so you can see for yourself how little game there is.
Dragon Age 2 isn’t the worst game ever made, but probably the worst game Bioware has ever made. It’s a rush job, weak and phoned in. The graphics engine has been upgraded, but that just means a better looking version of the game that Bioware keeps making over and over again. And without the characters, the story or the RPGness, it’s not even worth playing through once. I finished Dragon Age feeling like I had gone on a journey, I ended Dragon Age 2 feeling like I had pushed a lot of buttons in the right order.