Dragon Age II is getting a bit of flack for it's major changes to gameplay and story. The former has been streamlined so it's more similar to their Mass Effect series, while the latter is less about epic stories about heroes with incredible destinies. Origins was a fantastic game for old school fantasy RPG fans but for people like myself who don't necessarily enjoy spending an inordinate amount of time learning the deeper intricacies of a game before we can really enjoy it, I'm actually a huge fan of the changes this game has gone through.
That doesn't mean Dragon Age II is less epic or "dumbed down", it simply means the game has evolved so it appeals to a wider audience. There's still plenty of depth for fans of the first game to sink their teeth into but now there's the option for gamers looking for a good time and a satisfying story to enjoy the game without spending too much time on strategizing.
The first thing you'll notice, other than some incredibly stylish new menus and loading screens, are the visuals. As great as it was, Origins looked like a game that could be found on the Xbox, but its successor has been greatly improved in that department. The environments can look a little derivative at times, looking no different from locales in other fantasy games, but some of the character designs are rather impressive. My only issue here is I was forced to explore the same cave far too many times.
By this I don't mean I had to return to the same cave, instead I mean the same cave layout was used at many different parts of the game. I've never seen a game recycle the same environment so many times without even attempting to mask its overuse. This might not be much of an issue for some gamers but seeing the same place so many times over makes it a little more difficult to stay immersed in the game. Of course, later on in the game they mix things up with different layouts but seeing the same cave half a dozen times got a little annoying.
The story's also been scaled down quite a bit as much of it takes place inside the walls of Kirkwall and a handful of the city's surrounding areas. This means there might be a less epic feel to the adventure but in the end the environments you are able to explore, not including the cave, have far more detail so they feel more alive and realistic. This time it's all about Hawke as his or her story is explained through flashbacks (an interesting touch) as Hawke transforms from Ferelden refugee to the Champion of Kirkwall. If you played through Origins and any of its DLC, the choices you made in that game show up in Dragon Age II.
The skill trees and leveling up system have also seen a heavy amount of refinement. It was never a pain to level up in Dragon Age but now it's far easier to see what skills do what and how they're related. Using spells and talents has also never been easier as you can map them to certain buttons (just like in Origins) and target enemies with the press of a button.
One of the more controversial changes would be the more limited selection of classes. You can choose from only three classes that are the archetypal fantasy characters we're all used to by now. There's the spellcasting Mage, burly Warrior and agile Rogue. There's nothing we haven't seen before in a myriad other fantasy games so while that's a little disappointing, it at the very least gave BioWare more time to really make the three available classes as fleshed out as possible. And it shows.
Dragon Age II might stir up a little controversy for the radical changes BioWare implemented in the series, but many of them were done to make the game more accessible. It's still the Dragon Age many of us know and love, it's just growing up a bit. If you're looking for a fantastic adventure with incredible dialogue, vastly improved visuals and visceral combat, this game won't disappoint.