Warning: This review contains spoilers!
Dragon Age II fell short of my expectations.
That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game, but rather one that feels rushed and oversimplified, as if BioWare’s chief concern were getting the game to market as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Those aren’t words I thought I’d ever write about that company.
It doesn't help matters that BioWare has been touting the series as the “spiritual successor” to Baldur’s Gate II. Dragon Age II does not reach that lofty goal. It doesn’t even live up to the standards of Dragon Age: Origins.
Before I delve too deeply into the game’s flaws, I want to talk about what it gets right. Namely, what BioWare always gets right: the writing.
You play as Hawke, the talented scion of a wealthy family that was forced to flee its hometown of Lothering due to the events of Dragon Age: Origins.
Early in my game, Hawke's sister Bethany, the party's main support mage (think “cleric”), just up and dies from Darkspawn poisoning. No saving throw, no life-saving quests, no divine intervention. Requiescat in pace.
I had made the decision to put her in the party for that particular expedition, even though her mother made a big show of pleading with her not to go. And that had led to her death. I was thunderstruck and a little pissed off.
I later read that she would have been taken from the party one way or another at that point in the game, but still...the message that my decisions have serious consequences had been sent.
Dragon Age II not only presents an engaging, sophisticated fantasy world, but also populates it with characters that have realistic motivations and reactions.
As Hawke moves up the social ranks in the city of Kirkwall, tensions grew between the Mages and their sworn enemies, the Templars. It becomes clear that war is inevitable, and each side wants Hawke to take their part. They both have such compelling reasons to distrust the other that I find it rather difficult to choose who is right.
The inconvenient presence of the Qunari add a third front to the city's growing tension. A literal boatload of this intimidating warrior race has been shipwrecked near the city and taken up residence in the docks, refusing to leave and luring Kirkwall citizens from both sides of the conflict into the Qun, their harsh religion/code of honor.