What's right and what's wrong with Dragon Age II

I've just finished the game after about 30 hours of gameplay. I'm going to briefly touch on what I liked and what I was disappointed by. This will be spoilerific, so be forewarned. 
 

The Good

 
Alright, I'll start with the good things. There is a lot to like about this game. Bioware is still Bioware, and they continue to shine in many of the areas we're used to.  
  1. The writing: Superb. Dialogue is sharp and witty. Characters are likable for the most part, and you're never embarrassed by what comes out of their mouths. (except when you're meant to of course)
  2. The visuals: Much much better-looking than the original. Characters look better, spell effects are beautiful, and the art style is brilliant.
  3. A lot to do: There's just a lot to do! quests, quests, and more quests.
  4. The Characters: I know this is sort of covered by writing, but it bears repeating. The characters are wonderful. Te banter returns as one of the highlights of the game. I never get tired of listening to characters throw quips at each other while walking through the streets. I should also mention that the voice acting is excellent. Female Hawke now rivals Female Shepard for my favorite protagonist. No matter what options you pick, you always get a great performance. It's also important to note that he/she is a fully realized character in much the same way as Shepard. I much prefer a voiced protagonist that I direct in broad strokes to a list of dialogue options. I think the dialogue wheel fits perfectly into the Dragon Age formula.
  5. The Combat: It's fun, fast, flashy. All those good f's. I'm sure many will find it divisive, but for me it's a welcome change to the DAO combat system.

 

The Bad

 
Yes it's time to talk about the bad. Most of my quick little review-type-thing will be focused on the bad, because let's face it, this is what makes me want to talk about it. If everything were sunshine and daisies, I wouldn't be writing this. 
 
  1. The Scope: This is the part where I clench my fists in frustration. The single biggest problem with this game is the scope. SPOILERS!! You spend the entire game in the city of Kirkwall. Yes that's right. Bioware: the masters of world building, confine you to a single locale. Now don't get me wrong: it's a well realized and detailed city. But honestly. If you had told me that the entirety of the sequel to a game that had you traversing dozens of wildly different locations would stick you in one place for 30+ hours, I'd have laughed you off of the internet. In fact, most of the problems with Dragon Age II stem from this one major design flaw as you will see in a minute.
  2. Recycled Locations: This is truly baffling. At first I didn't really notice, but it becomes all too clear very quickly. There are only a few dungeons, and they get used over and over throughout the entire game. I'm not just talking about similar visuals, I mean they are exactly the same. Same layout, same locations. I am I truly expected to accept that the same hideout place I fought a bunch of smugglers in is also being used by a crazed Blood Mage, a cult, and a pirate? Lazy. Plain and simple, and not what I expect from Bioware.
  3. Lack of a Camp: I know it seems silly to complain about this, but just hear me out. All of your characters have their own dwellings, and are assumed to stay there whenever not out adventuring with Hawke. It's an interesting approach, but it presents some problems. I suggest that the reason you feel so connected to characters in other Bioware games (your Mass Effects and DAO) is because they travel with you, far from their homes and yours. Confinement to the city allows for the characters to pursue careers and such, but it limits the sense of companionship you get from trundling across the countryside with your band of cohorts. It's also pretty jarring when you go to talk to them and they act like they haven't seen you in days when you've just spent the last 3 hours killing monsters with them. I know it's all part of it being a game and that all RPGs have similar issues, but it's harder to suspend disbelief in this case.
  4. Lack of Urgency: Simply put, it doesn't feel like what you're doing really matters until the very end, and at that point it feels forced. It's hard to feel the consequences of your actions are really significant when the stakes are as low as one city's fate. When you've just come off of a game that had you saving an entire kingdom from a constantly-looming threat just on the horizon, it's a pretty big let-down.
 
 In conclusion, it's a pretty good RPG with many of the trappings that make Bioware games great, but it just comes off as feeling like a job half-done. I really really got the feeling that at some point this game was pitched as being a side story in the larger Dragon Age Cannon. A sort of set-up for the eventual true sequel to Dragon Age. If this game had been called: "Kirkwall: a Dragon Age Tale," then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I feel optimistic about the future though. When the real Dragon Age II comes out, and the Champion of Kirkwall is fighting alongside the Hero of Fereldin, it's gonna be pretty fucking awesome my friends.
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Posted by Dtat

I've just finished the game after about 30 hours of gameplay. I'm going to briefly touch on what I liked and what I was disappointed by. This will be spoilerific, so be forewarned. 
 

The Good

 
Alright, I'll start with the good things. There is a lot to like about this game. Bioware is still Bioware, and they continue to shine in many of the areas we're used to.  
  1. The writing: Superb. Dialogue is sharp and witty. Characters are likable for the most part, and you're never embarrassed by what comes out of their mouths. (except when you're meant to of course)
  2. The visuals: Much much better-looking than the original. Characters look better, spell effects are beautiful, and the art style is brilliant.
  3. A lot to do: There's just a lot to do! quests, quests, and more quests.
  4. The Characters: I know this is sort of covered by writing, but it bears repeating. The characters are wonderful. Te banter returns as one of the highlights of the game. I never get tired of listening to characters throw quips at each other while walking through the streets. I should also mention that the voice acting is excellent. Female Hawke now rivals Female Shepard for my favorite protagonist. No matter what options you pick, you always get a great performance. It's also important to note that he/she is a fully realized character in much the same way as Shepard. I much prefer a voiced protagonist that I direct in broad strokes to a list of dialogue options. I think the dialogue wheel fits perfectly into the Dragon Age formula.
  5. The Combat: It's fun, fast, flashy. All those good f's. I'm sure many will find it divisive, but for me it's a welcome change to the DAO combat system.

 

The Bad

 
Yes it's time to talk about the bad. Most of my quick little review-type-thing will be focused on the bad, because let's face it, this is what makes me want to talk about it. If everything were sunshine and daisies, I wouldn't be writing this. 
 
  1. The Scope: This is the part where I clench my fists in frustration. The single biggest problem with this game is the scope. SPOILERS!! You spend the entire game in the city of Kirkwall. Yes that's right. Bioware: the masters of world building, confine you to a single locale. Now don't get me wrong: it's a well realized and detailed city. But honestly. If you had told me that the entirety of the sequel to a game that had you traversing dozens of wildly different locations would stick you in one place for 30+ hours, I'd have laughed you off of the internet. In fact, most of the problems with Dragon Age II stem from this one major design flaw as you will see in a minute.
  2. Recycled Locations: This is truly baffling. At first I didn't really notice, but it becomes all too clear very quickly. There are only a few dungeons, and they get used over and over throughout the entire game. I'm not just talking about similar visuals, I mean they are exactly the same. Same layout, same locations. I am I truly expected to accept that the same hideout place I fought a bunch of smugglers in is also being used by a crazed Blood Mage, a cult, and a pirate? Lazy. Plain and simple, and not what I expect from Bioware.
  3. Lack of a Camp: I know it seems silly to complain about this, but just hear me out. All of your characters have their own dwellings, and are assumed to stay there whenever not out adventuring with Hawke. It's an interesting approach, but it presents some problems. I suggest that the reason you feel so connected to characters in other Bioware games (your Mass Effects and DAO) is because they travel with you, far from their homes and yours. Confinement to the city allows for the characters to pursue careers and such, but it limits the sense of companionship you get from trundling across the countryside with your band of cohorts. It's also pretty jarring when you go to talk to them and they act like they haven't seen you in days when you've just spent the last 3 hours killing monsters with them. I know it's all part of it being a game and that all RPGs have similar issues, but it's harder to suspend disbelief in this case.
  4. Lack of Urgency: Simply put, it doesn't feel like what you're doing really matters until the very end, and at that point it feels forced. It's hard to feel the consequences of your actions are really significant when the stakes are as low as one city's fate. When you've just come off of a game that had you saving an entire kingdom from a constantly-looming threat just on the horizon, it's a pretty big let-down.
 
 In conclusion, it's a pretty good RPG with many of the trappings that make Bioware games great, but it just comes off as feeling like a job half-done. I really really got the feeling that at some point this game was pitched as being a side story in the larger Dragon Age Cannon. A sort of set-up for the eventual true sequel to Dragon Age. If this game had been called: "Kirkwall: a Dragon Age Tale," then we wouldn't be having this conversation. I feel optimistic about the future though. When the real Dragon Age II comes out, and the Champion of Kirkwall is fighting alongside the Hero of Fereldin, it's gonna be pretty fucking awesome my friends.
Posted by j_kopplin

I agree with most of your assessment. I'd like to think that setting a whole RPG in a single city was a bold choice to shake up a tired formula and tell a story of this type in an interesting way. But I think it has much more to do with the decision to roll this out a mere 18 months after Origins.  I think it would have bean more tolerable if the city had been done Assassin's Creed Brotherhood style. That whole game took place in one city as well but still felt pretty epic. But Bioware has no experience making those types of open worlds.
 
I'm almost wondering if they started work on this and the inevitable Dragon Age 3 at the same time so they could put something out now and take a full 3-4 years to make the "proper" sequel more in line with the first. The story certainly sets it up that way. I'm curious how much of this has to do with EA owning Bioware now... 
 
Still, it's a hell of a game and I'll likely replay it again soon.