Console: PS3, 360, PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Dragon Age II has the makings of a great game. Epic storyline, deep characters, and a polished battle system. So what happened? For me, the biggest problem was that the game is sloppy. The lore is shallow, the story isn't cohesive, and companions that feel like strangers. Not to mention the game is buggy, leading to game overs and frozen screens. That said, I still enjoyed playing Dragon Age II, but not for the reasons that I expected.
The graphics are cleaner and more defined than those of its predecessor, DA: Origins. The enemies and the Qunari both got a makeover, and I would say it's for the better. Battle animations are smooth; blood is flying everywhere and mage's spells look amazing. It's not Heavy Rain or Mass Effect, but they'll do.
The storyline had real potential, but I feel it fell a bit flat. The entire campaign, 99.9% of sidequests included, took me just over forty hours. This isn't short, but I only did about 75%-80% of the sidequests in Origins and it took me well over seventy hours. Length isn't everything, as long as the plot is satisfying. But it wasn't. I felt like it was three disjointed missions mashed into one game, along with a bunch of sidequests thrown in.
Mission 1: Make fifty sovereigns (gold coins).
Mission 2: Kill a bunch of Qunari
Mission 3: Kill a bunch of blood mages and throw in a few templars for good measure.
The final mission, if expanded, could have easily satisfied the entire game. I wouldn't mind having elements of all three, but I wish they were more connected (say, the main story is the mages vs. templars bit but you really need those fifty sovereigns and the Qunari are stirring up trouble.)
To contradict what I just said, the game needs more variety. The only enemies I killed were blood mages and slavers, along with the occasional spider. I would be fine with all of the blood magic as long as it had something to do with the main story, but just about every sidequest involved either killing or helping escaped mages.
Since the story expands over a six or seven year period, I felt like I was just getting started in Kirkwall when the credits were rolling. Your story is being told by one of your companions, the dwarf Varric. He takes liberties with the story occasionally (once at the very beginning and once on one of his companion quests), his interrogator calling him on it both times. I would have liked to see more reminders that Varric was telling the story; his version was extremely entertaining, and sometimes I forgot that I was "witnessing" past events.
Most people are of the opinion that DAII's characters are much more complex and interesting, and I would have to agree. But you could never have long conversations with them like you could in Origins. Each had one conversation and one companion quest per act; the rest of the time they had a default response when targeted ("Hawke," etc.) In fact, there are far less people that you can have a conversation with in DAII. In Origins almost everyone had something to say or a quest to give, while in DAII you weren't able to target most. However, the new approval system is an improvement. You can finally tell off the annoying characters and know that they won't leave your party because of it. Anders, Fenris, Varric, and Isabela are all fascinating characters, and although Sebastian, Aveline, and Merrill are (in my opinion) kind of bland, each had their moments. I just wish I could have seen more of them.
The gameplay is the best and worst part of the game. Best because the fast paced battles are a blast, and the streamlined abilities are a huge improvement. Worst because any battle that lasted for more than a few minutes ended up glitching. Every time I revived a fallen party member, that character wouldn't jump back in the fight. They would sheath their weapon and follow my controlled character. When I took control of them and tried to make them fight, the character I was controlling before would stop fighting. If I was down to one character, the battle music would stop and my controlled character would regain health as if the battle was over. I actually won battles that way, but it's unsatisfying and makes me feel like I cheated. It's hard to believe that Bioware didn't notice something wrong when they were testing the game.
The music was nice, just as good as Origins. This was by far my favorite theme, and the entire soundtrack fits the game perfectly. What really impressed me is that they didn't copy anything from Origins, but I can hear bits and pieces of my favorite tracks in each song.
As for DLC, I only have what came with the signature edition: The Black Emporium and The Exiled Prince. I wouldn't recommend buying either, to be honest. The Black Emporium is a shop, but I only ended up buying one or two things. The best part of the Emporium is all of the codex entries lying around. The Exiled Prince gives you Sebastian Vael and a few sidequests in which, surprise!, you kill more blood mages. Sebastian is a decent fighter, but as a character there isn't much depth to him. He's religious, chaste, and stuffy, so he adds another element to your wild and crazy party, but in my opinion he's not worth it.
Sure I'm disappointed with DAII, but I still recommend it. If you take DAII out of Origin's shadow, you have a good RPG that can easily stand on its own.