Dragon Age II: A change in the fight direction

Dragon Age II offers plenty of choices, but does it live up to its predecessor?

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Jeff Bakalar
Dan Ackerman
4 min read
Watch this: Game trailer: Dragon Age II

Two years after the first Dragon Age: Origins game, developer BioWare is back with a new story to tell. Assuming the role of a character named Hawke (the sex and class of which you can customize), players will battle enemies, take on quests, and make various decisions in-game that ultimately alter the narrative. Gamers can even import their original Dragon Age choices if they choose to do so.

Does Dragon Age II trump its predecessor? Or is it filled with unwanted changes?

Got a month to kill? That's the kind of time one can spend with BioWare's latest epic, Dragon Age II. Interestingly enough, the sequel plays more like a Mass Effect game than it does its predecessor. While hard-core RPG fans may view this as somewhat of a disservice, it certainly makes Dragon Age II a more accessible title at the end of the day.

For those who enjoyed the original Dragon Age: Origins on a console, the good news is that Dragon Age II plays even better on an Xbox 360 or PS3 this time around as the combat has been tweaked to resemble more of an action-RPG experience. This update is immediately noticeable--something we're not sure how we lived without during our Origins playthrough two years ago.

Dragon Age II (photos)

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Choice is a main star of Dragon Age II, giving players a healthy amount of power with the decisions they make. While we really enjoyed this aspect of the game, it's definitely worth mentioning that we didn't always find the story as engaging as we would have hoped. At times it's confusing, others it's just uninteresting. Regardless, we still admire the fact that it's structured backward, in a way where players are told the ending just as things in the game are beginning to unfold.

We don't think fans of Dragon Age: Origins will be disappointed with the sequel, but the streamlined combat and other truncations may come as a bit of a surprise. There's still an incredible amount of character building, upgrades, and assignments to dive into, ensuring RPG fans of all complexities will find something to latch on to.

For a look at some in-game Dragon Age II action, be sure to check out last week's episode of preGame.


Dragon Age II isn't the sequel I would have made, which makes it even more surprising that it's such a compelling, can't-put-it-down experience, especially for those (like myself) who claim to have a long-held dislike for the nerdiest of subgenres: the fantasy RPG.

Despite an aversion to orcs and elves, I was a huge fan of the original Dragon Age, and, in fact, one of its earliest boosters, after seeing a build in action at the Game Developers Conference in early 2009. At the time, my impression was that this was an epic "Lord-of-the-Rings"-style action/adventure, but one that might potentially be buried under a dangerously nerdy Dungeons & Dragons marketing plan.

In the end, that game walked that very fine tightrope between hard-core and mainstream gamers, and was one of the few examples of that kind of crossover project that manages to please just about everyone.

That makes it surprising in some ways that the game's creators have changed up the formula so much for the sequel. Dragon Age II is more streamlined, more action-packed, and clearly designed to be more accessible than the original, which did indeed require a modest investment of time and mental energy to figure out its various menus and systems. At the same time, it's not all that surprising at all; developer BioWare has tweaked the game to look and feel a bit more like its other big hit, Mass Effect, chopping the story up into more-easily digestible chapters, rather than the sprawling create-your-own-narrative vibe of the original.


What you get is an experience that's more directed, with a greater emphasis on combat, and characters that instantly feel more bad-ass (an observation from my spouse, as she hit hour 20 in the game). But you also get a story that's more fleshed out than the thin original game's save-the-world plot. How many video games do you know that spend hours talking about the interpersonal conflicts of a multigenerational family?

On a technical note, the first Dragon Age was one of those rare games that played better on a PC than on a living room game console. The control scheme and onscreen displays were built with the PC in mind, and the console version looked and felt like a quick port. This time around, the console game gets the star treatment, and while the PC version still offers extra control options and graphics detail (including an optional high-res texturepack you can download), the PC gamers who flocked to the first game may feel a little left out as some much-appreciated features, such as the optional top-down camera view, have been omitted.