Dragon Age II

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Dragon Age II
Dragon Age 2 cover.jpg
European boxart
Developer(s) BioWare
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Composer(s) Inon Zur
Series Dragon Age
Engine Lycium[1]
Platform(s) Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X
Release date(s)
  • NA March 8, 2011[2]
  • AUS March 10, 2011
Genre(s) Role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution Optical disc, download

Dragon Age II is an action role-playing video game developed by BioWare, and published by Electronic Arts. It is the second major game in the Dragon Age franchise. The game was released for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Mac OS X on March 8, 2011 in North America, March 10, 2011 in Australia and March 11, 2011[2] in Europe.

Set in the same mythical world introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, the player assumes the role of Hawke, a human mage, warrior, or rogue who arrives in the city of Kirkwall as a lowly refugee but becomes its legendary champion over a turbulent decade of political and social conflict.

The game received relatively positive reviews, with most criticisms directed on the changes made in Dragon Age II, such as the removal of the titular origin story or race choice of the last game, the noticeably smaller world, and a combat system that differed greatly from Origins.

Gameplay[edit]

The party is standing in the Gallows courtyard.

Dragon Age II is a role-playing game. The player starts the game by creating a character whose family name is "Hawke". The player decides the given name, gender, appearance and combat specialty (role) of Hawke. Hawke can be either a warrior (who wields sword, axe, mace and shield), a rogue (who wields dagger or bow and arrow) or a mage (who wields a magical staff and uses magic).

The player is not only in control of Hawke. From the very start of the game, the player gains access to several companions who accompany Hawke in and out of the battle. The player may choose up to three companions to bring along. (The rest remain in reserve.) Hawke's companion characters are Bethany, Carver, Aveline, Varric, Fenris, Merrill, Isabela and Anders. The Exiled Prince expansion pack adds Sebastian Vael. These characters have their own dedicated background and plot. (For more information, see Characters of Dragon Age § Characters in Dragon Age II.)

In a battle, the player can switch between party members (including Hawke) and order each member individually. The player may pause the game in order to better manage what each party member does, allowing the player to coordinate the characters to maximize combat efficiency. For instance, the player may have the party's mage freeze an enemy while a party warrior shatters the frozen enemy to pieces.

After a battle, the player may loot the enemy for money and equipment. The spoils of war may be used to better outfit the party members. Battle also yields experience which can be used to unlock new combat abilities for each character.

Outside battle, the player gets to control Hawke's interactions. When a dialog occurs, the player gets to choose what Hawke asks or answers. Dragon Age II features a fully voiced Hawke,[2] (which is part of the reason the main character's race is fixed) and a new dialog wheel based on the dialog system from the Mass Effect series.[6]

Saved information can be imported from Dragon Age: Origins as well as Dragon Age: Awakening. This data will affect the background story of Dragon Age II.[4]

Friendship and rivalry[edit]

One of the concerns of the player is Hawke's affinity with the rest of his or her companions. Each companion has a graphical approval bar which indicates how that person likes Hawke. Almost everything that Hawke says or does has the potential to change a character's opinion of Hawke. This bar works in two opposite directions: Friendship and rivalry. A companion with high friendship considers Hawke a friend, while high rivalry indicates the companion respects Hawke but disagrees with the PC's views. Therefore, the player must carefully choose which character to bring along in each quest.

Once the approval bar reaches 100% friendship or rivalry, it is locked in place, and additional dialogues are unlocked. Full friendship or full rivalry both have combat bonuses: Friendship bonuses generally benefit Hawke or the whole party, while rivalry bonuses boost the companion's ability in combat, because of the competition to outdo Hawke. Full friendship or full rivalry also enable opportunities for romance. The characters with full friendship or rivalry accompany Hawke into the final battle unconditionally, even if they consider Hawke's decision a mistake.

Synopsis[edit]

Setting[edit]

Set in the mythical world of Thedas, Dragon Age II tells the story of Hawke,[2] who fled the nation of Ferelden during the events of Dragon Age: Origins and traveled across the Waking Sea to the Free Marches and the city of Kirkwall as a refugee. Within the span of a decade, Hawke would rise in power and influence to become the legendary "Champion of Kirkwall", and the center of events that change the course of Thedas. The story unfolds through flashbacks from the perspective of Varric, one of Hawke's companions who relates the Champion's "true story" to Cassandra Pentaghast, his interrogator. The story is told in three acts; a gap of almost three years separates each act from the subsequent one. Dragon Age II has a linear frame narrative, mainly based on the protagonist's choices.[2][4] Although the player has a great influence on how the story develops, the game's main plot remains unaltered until the very last quest where the player must choose one of the two endings.

Plot[edit]

The story begins with Varric Tethras, a former partner of Hawke, the "Champion Of Kirkwall", being brought in for questioning. He is interrogated by Cassandra Pentaghast, a member of the Seekers, an offshoot of the Templars, who are trying to determine how Hawke started a war between the Mages and Templars. Varric begins to tell her the story, telling her that while he does not know where the Champion is, he can tell her the whole truth behind how the war started.

The game starts with the Hawke family escaping Ferelden with an army of Darkspawn in pursuit (chronologically this occurs a few days after the Battle of Ostagar). Soon however, they are forced to fight the overwhelming threat alongside a Templar, Wesley, and his wife, Aveline. Although one of Hawke's siblings (either Bethany or Carver, depending on Hawke's class) is killed, the skirmish ends with the intervention of Flemeth, a witch who can assume the form of a dragon. After promising to complete a task for Flemeth and giving Wesley a coup de grace, she helps the party escape to Kirkwall, a city across the sea where they hope to find refuge. Upon arriving in Kirkwall however, the party finds itself outside the city gates, which are overwhelmed by Ferelden refugees. The group is forced to call upon their Uncle Gamlen Amell, who no longer holds the fortune and estate that used to be held by the Amell family. Therefore, Hawke sees no choice but to enter the service of either a mercenary or a smuggler group. The group Hawke chooses then pays the bribe that the Hawke family needs to enter the city, and they take up residence in Gamlen's small dilapidated house in Lowtown.

After a year of service for one of the two groups, an opportunity of prosperity presents itself: The dwarf brothers Bartrand and Varric are planning a treasure hunting expedition into the perilous region of the Deep Roads, taken advantage of the Fifth Blight's recent end and the consequent reduction of darkspawn in the Deep Roads. The expedition is expected to be extremely risky but very rewarding. Bartrand refuses to hire any more warriors; Varric, however, reveals that they desperately lack enough funding and knowledge of the region. Therefore, he approaches Hawke and proposes a partnership in exchange for the fulfillment of the two requirements. As such, Hawke embarks on an adventurous quest to earn the needed capital and enlist the aid of Anders, a rogue mage and a former Grey Warden who possesses the precious knowledge about The Deep Roads.

The Deep Roads expedition proves both a financial success and a tragedy: Hawke's party survive the perilous expedition. The proceeds make Hawke famous and wealthy, enabling him to relocate to a mansion in Hightown. However, both Varric and Hawke lose one of their siblings: During the expedition, a very powerful magical idol causes Bartrand to go permanently insane. Consequently, he betrays Hawke and Varric, stranding them at the mercy of a merciless horde of the Darkspawn and a very powerful magical Rock Wraith. Depending on the player's choices, Hawke's sibling (Carver or Bethany) is either killed by the Darkspawn taint, conscripted into the Grey Wardens, or is forced to leave the family to join the Templars or the Circle, respectively.

Three years later, Hawke is summoned by the Viscount of Kirkwall to help resolve the political situation that the foreign military forces of Qunari have caused. The Qunari, who had arrived in Kirkwall three years before, neither obey the laws of Kirkwall nor seem willing to leave in the foreseeable future. While Hawke investigates the reason of their presence (which they are unwilling to supply), the tension between the Qunari and the inhabitants of Kirkwall escalates. An anti-Qunari faction attempts to instigate a war to purge the Qunari from the city, while dissidents and criminals join the Qunari to evade law enforcement. Personal tragedy also strikes Hawke when their mother Leandra is abducted by a blood mage serial killer preying on Kirkwall's women; Hawke finds and kills the murderer, but too late to save Leandra, but vows to find out the identity of the serial killer's accomplice, "O". Eventually, as Hawke discovers the reason of the Qunari presence (the search for a coveted artifact) the tension reaches such a height that the Qunari decide to attack Kirkwall and execute the Viscount. Hawke's party successfully retake Kirkwall and (if the player chooses) eliminate the Qunari leader. For their actions, Hawke is declared the champion of Kirkwall.

After another three years, Kirkwall still lacks a Viscount due to the tyrannical rule of Knight-Commander Meredith and the Templars of Kirkwall. Meredith turns Kirkwall into a police state that she rules with an iron fist, her Chantry superiors either unable or unwilling to rein in Meredith's brutal excesses. Meredith is challenged by First Enchanter Orsino, the head of the Circle of Magic in Kirkwall, who tries to topple Meredith's leadership with public support. While the main duty of the Templars is to enforce justice amongst the mages in Kirkwall and to prevent the practice of blood magic (a forbidden branch of magic), they practically cause the opposite through their heavy-handed and oppressive treatment of the innocent, extensive use of torture, unlawful infliction of the Rite of Tranquility upon mages (which effectively lobotomizes the inflicted person), as well as their own decadence and corruption. Time and again, the clash between the Templars and the mages becomes violent and forces Hawke to intervene, especially when a group of anti-Meredith rebels kidnap one of Hawke's family/friends and hold him or her hostage, after which Hawke distances themself from the conflict to avoid any more harm to his or her family.

Eventually, Anders decides to force the Templars' hand and, with or without Hawke's help (albeit unknowingly), orchestrates a massive explosion that levels the Kirkwall Chantry and kills the Grand Cleric to whom the Templars bear allegiance. This act triggers the final decisive battle between the mages and the Templars across the city, in which the player must pick a side. Regardless of the side Hawke chooses, he ends up killing Orsino, who is revealed to have been "O", the shadowy accomplice of the man responsible for Leandra's death, and he also reveals he has succumbed to using blood magic, turning into a demonic abomination. Reaching the Gallows, the main courtyard and former prison of Kirkwall, Hawke confronts Meredith, who he must also kill (even if Hawke sides with the Templars), as she admits to buying the idol from Bartrand, which has corrupted her mind and has convinced her to go through a mass extermination of Mages. After she is killed, a Templar-Aligned Hawke is elected Viscount, and he reluctantly accepts the position to keep Kirkwall from being torn apart even more, and a Mage-Aligned Hawke unwittingly becomes the de facto leader of the Mage Rebellion.

As he concludes his story, Varric reveals that Hawke's companions eventually drift apart and Hawke either disappears during his time as Viscount, or leaves Kirkwall soon after killing Meredith. It is also revealed that the Seekers are actually a group tasked with monitoring the Templars, the Circles of Magi all over Thedas have followed Kirkwall's example and rebelled, and that the Templars have broken away with the Chantry to fight the Circles. Satisfied, Cassandra tells Varric that she believes Hawke is the only person capable of stopping the fighting, and lets him go when she realizes Varric does not know his/her whereabouts. Outside, she meets with fellow Seeker Leliana, and they both agree that either Hawke or the Warden must be found in order to stop the coming war.

Development[edit]

Development of Dragon Age II was announced in July 2010[7] and BioWare's Greg Zeschuk stated when interviewed by Joystiq that "I think one of the key things we're working on in Dragon Age II is the technology. I can confirm that we're doing a lot of work on the Dragon Age engine, and doing a lot of stuff to pump it -- to make it visually super hot."

A trailer for Dragon Age II was released on August 17, 2010,[2] showing some of the new characters and places that Dragon Age II is based on.

Dragon Age II uses an enhanced graphic engine and the controls are more responsive. The combat system is same as the previous game for the PC version but different in console versions, tailored to the strengths of the control pad.[6]

A special feature of Dragon Age II is that the "story" will span a decade. In-game events and dialogues would warrant a longer "run" of years. As the main character moves on year by year, the choices that the player made in the past will affect the present and the future.[8]

The original "dialogue" system is replaced by the "wheel" system previously seen in the Mass Effect series. Unlike its original version, however, the "wheel" will now clearly indicate what tone the main character's response will have (such as peaceful, sarcastic, and angry), however as it paraphrases dialogue, it is often unclear exactly what will be said by the character.[6]

During the pre-development of the game, Brent Knowles, a veteran lead designer who had been with BioWare for a decade and the central figurehead behind Dragon Age: Origins, decided to resign during the designing process of Dragon Age II and eventually left the company, stating "I'm not the same person I was when I started, and BioWare is not the same company."[9] He later went on to clarify his decision to leave, elaborating "I never thought Dragon Age II would be a terrible game. It was just that a highly cinematic, action-leaning RPG was not what I wanted to work on. That is all."[10] After playing the game's demo, he praised how polished and immersive it was, but mentioned that its combat had identity issues and did not seem to fit properly into either the action or role-playing game genre. In an overall assessment he felt that it was a strong title, especially considering the short development cycle, and called the demo "promising", though the amount of changes from the first title in the series seemed excessive to him, citing gameplay issues and the lack of ability to play as another race than human.[11]

By February 11, 2011, the game had gone gold for all platforms and was set for release.[12] On February 22, the demo was released across all platforms.[13] BioWare released Dragon Age II on March 8 in North America and March 11 in Europe. Two versions were released: the normal edition and the "Signature Edition", the latter including the Day 1 DLC known as "The Exiled Prince", premium packaging, a download code for the game's soundtrack, and 4 in-game items. The Signature Edition was available for pre-order until January 11, 2011 and was priced the same as the normal edition.[14]

Marketing[edit]

Orders placed before January 11, 2011, were automatically upgraded to the Dragon Age II: BioWare Signature Edition, with additional content.[15] Orders placed before March 8 qualify for pre-order bonuses.[16] In an attempt to discourage purchasing used copies of the game, purchasers of a new copy (before or after the release date) receive access to additional features.[17] Further in-game bonuses can be obtained by completing the free Dragon Age II demo,[18] through Penny Arcade,[19] and by signing up to the newsletter.[20] Purchasing the game Dead Space 2 before March 31, 2012, also unlocks a Dead Space themed armor item.[21] BioWare announced that 2 game items would be unlocked for all users if the total number of demo downloads reached 1 million in the course of one week (which occurred), and that a further and more powerful item would be unlocked if each post on the official Facebook account between February 28 and March 4 received 1 million impressions the day it was posted.[22]

Downloadable content[edit]

The Exiled Prince[edit]

The Exiled Prince is the first story-driven downloadable content (DLC) to be released. It features a new companion, Sebastian Vael, a Brother of the Chantry (a fictional counterpart of a Brother of the Church) who seeks vengeance after his family is murdered. The DLC features three additional quests and one new location. It is released at the same time the game was launched.[23]

The Black Emporium[edit]

Available at no cost to those who purchase Dragon Age II new, this DLC adds a bonus vendor that sells exclusive items. In addition, the DLC includes a Mabari War Hound to fight at Hawke's side and The Mirror of Transformation, which allows the player to change Hawke's facial appearance.[24]

Legacy[edit]

Released July 26, 2011, Legacy is the second story-driven DLC. The Legacy's story branches off the main storyline and can be started at any point in the Dragon Age II campaign. It is entirely played in a new location, a prison constructed by the Grey Wardens. It features five different quests, a new class-specific weapon and a story about Hawke's lineage.[25]

Mark of the Assassin[edit]

Released on October 11, 2011, Mark Of The Assassin, the last story-driven DLC, adds nineteen additional quests and a guest party member called Tallis (a character from the webseries Dragon Age: Redemption, voiced by Felicia Day who also played Tallis in the series). Hawke must help Tallis infiltrate an Orlesian estate outside Kirkwall and steal a precious relic. Like Legacy, Mark of The Assassin's story branches off the main campaign and can be started at any point in the main campaign. It is played in an entirely new location, namely Chateau Haine and its neighboring landscape.[26]

The Exalted March (cancelled)[edit]

On March 19, 2012, Dragon Age franchise executive producer Mark Darrah confirmed that an expansion pack entitled The Exalted March had been in development, but was cancelled due to "other DA opportunities."[27]

Critical reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings (PS3) 80.37%[28]
(PC) 78.68%[29]
(X360) 77.86%[30]
Metacritic (PS3) 82/100[31]
(PC) 82/100[32]
(X360) 79/100[33]
Review scores
Publication Score
1UP.com B+[34]
G4 3/5[35]
Game Informer (PS3/X360) 8.25/10[36]
(PC) 7.75/10[37]
GamePro 4/5 stars[38]
GameSpot 8.0/10[39]
GameSpy 4/5 stars[40]
GameTrailers 9.2/10[41]
IGN 8.5/10[42]
Official Xbox Magazine 9/10[43]
PC Gamer UK 94%[44]
VideoGamer.com 7/10[45]
The Escapist 5/5 stars[46]
Gaming HUD 8.7/10[47]

Dragon Age II received generally favorable reviews among professional critics, with a metascore of 82 for the PC version of the game. The user reviews on Metacritic have been notably low, with the majority of users on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 submitting negative reviews of the game.[31][32][33] David Radd from Industrygamers noted that "Dragon Age II has had the most mixed critical reception for a full-retail BioWare product perhaps ever (assuming Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is not counted)."[48]

PC Gamer UK magazine highly praised Dragon Age II mentioning the improved combat system, dialogue wheel, skill-trees, and solid storytelling as its strong points. The game earned their "Editor's Choice" award and was stated to be, "The best RPG of this decade? Nine more years will tell, but for now, yes."[44] Official Xbox Magazine gave the game a 9 out of 10 mentioning that although it was slightly altered from its predecessor, the game "offers some of the deepest, nerdiest, most worthwhile 40 to 60 hours you will ever love losing sleep over."[43] Game Trailers gave the game high marks and stated, "Though it does not hold a candle to its predecessor when it comes to sheer breadth, Dragon Age II has quite a bit more soul" and that it had "some of the most gratifying RPG combat we've played in a long time."[41]

Not all of the reviewers have praised the changes however. VideoGamer said the game "never progresses beyond the identity issues it had with Origins", criticized the lack of noticeable characters, small area of setting, while adding "simplification of combat does not work in the game's favour".[45] Game Informer gave the console versions of the game a score of 8.25 and the PC version an 7.75, criticizing the poorly designed combat system, stating "On all platforms, Dragon Age II caters to an audience that didn’t connect with Origins, while alienating those who did" and "improving the polish doesn’t do much good when the basics still need work".[37]

Eurogamer settled for saying the game is "never quite as great as it could be" but also conclude that it is still a "Satisfying epic", awarding it 8/10[49] while GameSpot noted that the game suffered from "unnecessary simplification and unfocused storytelling" but still left a strong impression.[50] RPG Site awarded the game 80%, arguing that "the discussion about Dragon Age II does not need to be 'is it good?' - It is - but needs to be 'is this what fans wanted from a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins?'", suggesting that is where some of the fan animosity towards the title may arise from.[51]

Dragon Age II's lead designer, Mike Laidlaw, in an interview with GameSpot, addressed the fans' concerns toward the changes in Dragon Age II by stating that BioWare will "despite Dragon Age's players' criticisms continue to tune and capitalize on that 'fusion' between the Origins experience and Dragon Age II". Additionally, he also noted that a return to the RPG style of Dragon Age: Origins is unlikely, proclaiming "The big key is to not adjust 180 degrees again, because we've done this."[52]

One million copies of Dragon Age II were sold within two weeks of the launch, faster than Dragon Age: Origins.[53] Within two months of the launch, the game sold-in "over two million copies", meaning that over two million copies have been distributed to retailers.

In June 2011, in an interview with GameRant.com, EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau acknowledged the fans' disappointment over the direction Dragon Age II took, and proclaimed: "As we think about where we take the franchise next, we're going to take that into consideration and really engage them”.[54]

Controversy[edit]

In March 2011, reports began emerging from consumer-advocacy website Reclaim Your Game that Dragon Age II was being distributed with the controversial DRM software SecuROM, despite assertions from EA that it would not be.[55] Producer Fernando Melo stated that although the game uses software made by the makers of SecuROM, it is a different program completely. "They have the same support site through which is the URL you're seeing." The software is a form of release-date checker, designed to prevent copies of the game from being played before the release date in that territory. The software runs from the disc, and does not install anything on the system.[56] BioWare confirmed that there is no SecuROM DRM in the game and clarified that in the case of downloaded versions, the release date check program's executable deletes itself after having performed the check.[57]

A BioWare employee was caught posing as a consumer on the review site Metacritic. The employee, Chris Hoban, who posted under the name of Avanost gave a score of 10/10 saying "Anything negative you will see about this game is an overreaction of personal preference." A representative for EA responded after much online controversy saying "Of course the people who make the game vote for their own game. That's how it works in the Oscars, that's how it works in the Grammys and why I'm betting that Barack Obama voted for himself in the last election", though it is unclear if Hoban acted on his own behest or on that of the company.[58][59]

Sequel[edit]

BioWare's creative development senior director Alistair McNally[60] confirmed that the studio was going forward with the third installment in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition. BioWare posted job opportunities, calling for "exceptional environmental artists."[61]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]