Time to take a break from the toy reviews.
So, I preordered Dragon Age: Origins for two reasons, one, it was the same guys who made Mass Effect, so I was expecting a kind of more dialogue heavy role playing experience, with a more action-y combat system, and streamlined ability/stat progression. DA:O is not that game, and I really didn't like it at first. The other reason I preordered it was because it gave you a code to unlock exclusive armor in Mass Effect 2, and I was totally down with that.
A year or so later, and Dead Space 2 is released with an unlock code for exclusive armor in Dragon Age 2, so I preordered DA2, because I'm a whore like that. I was determined to get back into DA:O at this point, and they just happened to have a huge sale on all of the DLC and expansions. I'm dragging this out more than I intended, but the bottom line is that I managed to find a game that I really liked in DA:O. I turned the combat difficulty down, and just worked from there.
Enter Dragon Age II. At first glance, DAII does a lot of things that I was expecting from DA:O, character progression is still robust, but more streamlined. Instead of a big list of skills, skills are now laid out in "families", all of the Defender skills are all in one clump, and all of the Bloodmage abilities are similarly clumped. Combat is more fast paced, and abilities seem to have a more drastic affect, flinging enemies about, or knocking them down. I did find myself missing be able to simply click on an enemy and have my character automatically run up to them and keep wailing on them until death, versus the new method of having to hit the attack button for each normal strike, as well as abilities.
There are quite a few steps back with the game though, firstly, only your character can actually equip armor now, all of your party members have standard equipment, which can be upgraded with character specific items which are bought or found. At first there doesn't seem to be a problem with that, but it gets more and more frustrating when you beat some boss and get some sweet mage robes, which you end up selling simply because you're a warrior, and none of your party members can use equipment like that. Party members can still change weapons (with one exception) and they can equip accessories, but those are all pretty minor things.
Next up on flaws, is that no matter how many different locations you travel to, you essentially end up going to the same levels over and over again, there is a cave that you will become entirely too familiar with, because every cave looks exactly like it. The first few times were okay, but after the 30th romp through the same grey cave, killing spiders, you're pretty damn bored.
The last criticism I have is also the most disappointing for me. Pretty much no matter what actions you take, the course of the story is pretty firmly laid out. The basic premise of the game is that you have two factions that have been bumping up against each other, and things keep escalating. On one hand you have mages. Mages use magic, which makes them susceptible to being possessed by demons from another dimension called The Fade, some mages also go bad, and start using blood magic, which relies on sacrifice, blood magic makes you more susceptible to being possessed. To keep them in line, you have the Templars, who are sort of holy warriors from the church, with the ability to dampen magically effects. You might think that I'm talking about a police system, but in the game it's more like a prison system. All mages have to live in a restricted area, and they are kept there by the Templars.
Going through the story, you navigate through a number of situations where one side has gone too far. I tried to be balanced throughout, but the theme seems to be that you should either side with the Templars, or the Mages. Here's where things break down though, and this is a big spoiler, so read at your own peril, in the end, who you choose to support, doesn't friggin matter.
In the end, things haven't gotten bad, and the head Templar has decided that the only course is to slaughter every mage, and just start over, which I took offense to, so I sided with the Mages in the end. The thing is, even with my support, and other support out there, the head mage decides to go crazy at the last minute, use blood magic, and become some giant corpse monster that I have to kill. Afterword, I go out to face the head Templar, only to find her with some magic sword that's driven her totally bonkers, and so I kill her too. From what I've read, it sounds like no matter what decision you make, you still end up killing both of them. It almost seems like these were each supposed to separate endings, that you would do on alternate playthroughs, but they either ran out of time, or decided that they wanted the people who were only going to play through once to be able to see both the corpse monster, and the magic sword. Despite the fact that it makes no sense.
The story does end with the foreshadowing of something manipulating the world from behind the scenes of both games, and abducting the heroes after they'd caused too much trouble. Maybe settting up an upcoming expansion that has both hero characters working together?
I still enjoyed the game, but it is a far thing from the first game, and I don't know that it merits multiple playthroughs, since you can't really do anything different.