When I played Dragon Age: Origins for the first time, the game swooped in and won my heart with its fantastic storytelling, captivating characters, and beautiful graphics. A couple of DLCs and expansions later, Bioware finally announced that they would be releasing Dragon Age II in 2011, and so fans waited patiently for the day they could return to Ferelden. Having said that, it’s worth nothing that in face Dragon Age II has very little to do with the original Dragon Age, and instead paints a completely new story and protagonist, coupled with some very welcome game changes.
The game opens with a rather bossy Chantry Seeker interrogating a dwarf who accompanied the game’s protagonist on your journey to be later known as “The Champion”. At this point the game introduces you to Hawke, the character you will be playing as and can later customize through both appearance and class. Whether you’re male or female, rogue, warrior, or mage, you’re given the same polished character customization that you found in Dragon Age: Origins. And in an attempt to distance Dragon Age II from the original game, nothing in particular is carried forward if you have a save game from the original, with the exception of a few bits of dialogue being changed to reflect some of your choices from Dragon Age: Origins. In part, it’s a good thing that Dragon Age II paints its own storyline, rather than having to try and reboot the characters from the original game. And while the threat of the Blight is very real in Dragon Age II, you won’t really come to the main plot of the game until at least halfway through.
This is because the first few acts introduce you to the city of Kirkwall, where your character has fled to and is trying to make a name for him/herself. You’re also swiftly introduced to the heavy political unrest that is happening in the city, and by investigating further and going on side quests, you’ll learn even more about your new home. So be prepared to spend a good chunk of time discovering the city and completing various side quests – these are so many side quests to complete this time around that it can get quite overwhelming as your journal fills up, but the more you complete the better you become.
Even early into the game there are some obvious improvements that have been introduced. For one, the dialog system has been replaced with a wheel-like style as seen in Bioware’s Mass Effect game. This wheel greatly simplifies conversations with other NPCs, but displaying relevant icons to depict which responses are diplomatic, sarcastic, or good-natured. The other wonderful thing is that Hawke actually comes with a voice this time around, so whatever dialogue options you choose will be delivered with significant gusto. It’s a marked improvement from the mute puppet that you played in Dragon Age: Origins, and it’s an absolute joy to behold. You can also now quickly choose to travel either between day or night when you are on the main map. Certain quests can only be completed at certain times of the day, so this means you won’t have to wait around for nightfall or vice versa.