Dragon Age II fails to live up to the hype Origins left for it, but still manages to provide an enjoyable experience.

User Rating: 8 | Dragon Age II PS3

I could go on for days and days pointing out the reasons why I believe Dragon Age, the series as a whole, could have very well been the best new series introduced into the seemingly dying RPG/fantasy/adventure world. (Well, at the time of its release anyways, the genre has been revitalized due to recent releases like Witcher 3). And I could also go on and on comparing the 2 and why I wish that Bioware had left some of the key elements and gameplay functions alone and why I DA II is not nearly the game Origins was. No, I am not going to do that, because if you have played Origins, the differences in contrast will be plain as day and noticeable to all. And also because DA II is an overall enjoyable experience despite a lot of negative feedback gathered from fans after its release. I can see both sides and know the frustration that everyone must have felt, when first playing DA II and seeing it was a completely different gaming experience and almost not a sequel at all but something new beginning. But, enough of that, anyone will be able to see the depth and life that Bioware has breathed into DA II. The passion and love for the series and lore is felt as you play DA II, sadly not everyone felt this way. But the following are my thoughts on the game.....

One of the most noticeable changes from its predecessor will be quickly seen by all and that is the battle system. And I would also note that this is one of the few positive major changes that Bioware made to the series. The battle system is far more fast paced and fluent and way more responsive than Origins. Origins had the more classical battle system, while I will admit DA II leans more towards the action-esque way. It works really well though and is a breath of fresh air especially since Origins had so many bugs and freezes during combat and this is not present in DA II. You will be flying across the streets of Kirkwall with rapid attacks on enemies and the battles feel more controlled than with Origins. You will once again be able to choose what class of fighter you would like ranging from the brute force powerful Warrior class, the clever and much faster paced attacking Rogue class (which is my personal favorite) or you can wield powerful magical spells in the Mage form. There are tons of spells and abilities to be unlocked and that aspect mainly remains the same while there are a few minor changes made, none so very hugely different than before. The leveling system is a one of my favorites in the DA series to date, and the yearning for wanting to learn it all will be weighing upon you. While you can level up different varieties of each class, it is recommended that you stick with one favorite aspect of a class and go with it and unlock its true potential. For instance, the Mage player may want to be an Elemental magic wielder has the option of focusing solely on developing his/her powers into more far more powerful elemental spells, or they can also dibble in the Spirit school of Magic and have access to its spells and talents. I always try to focus on whatever I like the best simply because that is almost all you will be able to fulfill anyways. But the combat system is actually a huge plus and one of DA II's best new additions to the series.

As you probably know you will control character named Hawke, (you have option of creating a male/female version) and as always choices are the driving factor in Bioware games and this is never more true than it is here. The mages and Templars are still at it , and apparently can not see eye to eye and the tensions all over are felt by both sides. The town of Kirkwall, which is where DA II solely takes place, is caught in the middle of an increasingly volatile war between the two factions. Darkspawn have been vanquished (or were thought to be when the Archdemon was slain) and the whole world is in still in shambles over the Blight that just occurred, this rivalry could take a turn for the worst at any moment between the Templars and mages. Thus comes our hero and a new tale begins. Hawke and his family consisting of his sister Bethany, brother Carver and mother are fleeing their ravaged hometown of Lothering which was devastated and destroyed by the ravenous Darkspawn, have been traveling to Kirkwall to seek out old relative ties and to start a new life in a safe place. Nowhere seems to fit that description in the world of Dragon Age, and the story is still rich and may seem basic played out magic v.s warrior theme, but there are lots of well written, and creative points to Bioware's 2nd take on the Dragon Age tale. There are many returning faces that fans will appreciate and the Lore is just as alluring as with Origins. I felt as though I could not afford to miss one single piece of the Codex for fear of not enough knowledge. I must admit I enjoyed learning the history of the world of DA than I did learning of my own countries. The story telling is so rich and well read that its hard not to become involved in the witty and clever webs that DA II spins. The great feature that was introduced with this release was the ability to carry over your decision and actions from Origins and apply to vastly change the gameplay experience. And this works very well and shows a lot of promise and is very fun to experiment with.

One of DA II's biggest negative feature is the mapping system and lack of any real "world" exploration. Kirkwall is the setting and you wont be going very far from the city limits the whole game. And to add insult to injury, the maps are all copied and based to off the replica of each others. So, basically Bioware just got lazy with it and tried to pull a fast one on fans. Each cave you visit in the game will be the cave you visited elsewhere no matter where it was or anything at all, it will all appear exactly the same with maybe a few minor changes coming aut. This felt so neglected in my opinion as Origins was ripe to explore and offered many locations and areas of interest to be seen. DA II will often bore and mildly disappoint especially after you get halfway through the game cuz by then you have seen it all concerning maps and locations. The DLC released such as Legacy and the Assassin DLC greatly improve and add a lot of new looks and new feel to the game so I recommend those 2 which are priced at $10 each I believe.

The impact you will leave on your comrades and enemies will never be felt so deeply as it is in DA II. Right off, you will be demanded to voice your opinions on topics and thrust right into having to choose sides. There are many many different routes your experience could take you depending on what you choose to say and do. If you feel like the Templars are scum and are solely to blame for the current state of things, your mages will adore you yes, (in your party that is) but believ me not all will feel this way. Your actions and choice of dialogue and remarks are almost always influential in some manner in DA II and there are TONS of different ways to play your story out.

2 other things I felt were important and should have been left well alone were the Gifts from Origins which are basically nonexistent, yes you can acquire items and you may be updated on Codex that so and so would enjoy this but the fun of deciding who to give a gift to in your party is taken away and is now done all by AI. This completely renders the gifts obsolete in my mind, as Origins required players to study the characters in their parties and learn them as a whole and what they liked and disliked and was not always the easiest but it certainly created more of a bonding feel to my party as I would carefully examine each and decide who to give what to. This was a missed and fun ability that vanished.

Another feature that was frowned upon by me and a lot of others is the crazy and insanely dumb idea to enable ONLY CONTROLLABLE/PLAYABLE character Hawke the ability to change armor. While you can still choose what weapons your other characters will wield in battle, you will no longer swap armor sets and be able to upgrade that way. Instead of the original way, now each character in your party other than Main Hawke will have armor upgrades that can be purchased and found across the world, but this is extremely limited and rarely seen. Its a shame to considering all the amazing gear that DA II establishes, while not but one can wear it. I just don't understand the logic of changing that aspect in that way. Oh well!!

Overall, DA II offers a great story, much more improved visuals from before, choices & decisions that will come back to haunt you if not done so with caution, loveable characters ranging from some fresh new faces to the series as well as a few returning ones and a comradery between characters that is a heartfelt experience, awesome Fantasy lore with tales of treasures, horrors and betrayals coming from every direction and each with an excellently written and voiced script, and to top it all off, an improved and much more responsive combat system that will leave palms sweaty after long tough battles and is a joy to play. I will make one important note here, if you were a diehard Origins fan (which I consider myself to be however I am open to change in a sense and was still able to enjoy the game) and just can't accept anything but a direct replica of Origins or Awakening Expansion and can allow no room for change or accept the gameplay mechanics being touched, then DA II may not be a good grab for you as it may instead prove to be a hard pill to swallow. Honestly, after witnessing DA Inquisition and how drastically it changes the series and directs it into dark waters, DA II is now in my opinion a pleasing and memorable experience and it reminds me of what DA the legacy could have been!