To make Origins, BioWare dredged up buckets of backstory from the minds of their best writers. A new land was invented, branded with religious intolerance and inherent racism. Then, once the continent of Thedas was concrete, BioWare forgot they’d invented all that engaging stuff and slapped a typical ‘kill the big bad thing’ fantasy plotline on top. For all its size and wonder, Origins didn’t make full use of its fascinating world.
Dragon Age 2 does it right. It’s still an RPG epic, it still takes upwards of 50 hours to finish. It’s still got a deep, complex combat system, and it’s still got a well-defined supporting cast. But it’s also an RPG that wears its mythology proudly, confident in its goal of charting the rise of a complete and utter badass. You.
We expect our RPG heroes to experience a gradual learning process, gaining skill and abilities as they discover that, ahh, the pointy end of the sword is best inserted into an enemy. But the first time I controlled Hawke, I had access to top-tier combat skills. Surrounded by Darkspawn on a hillside, I murdered with wild abandon.
DA2’s combat is spring-loaded. Cooldown periods and time penalties are just as integral as they were in Origins, but this time they happen at end of lightning fast moves. I played a rogue. My backstab started with Hawke hurling an exploding flask to the floor, before reappearing behind an enemy and driving his main blade into their spine. The whole move took a second to execute, and impacted flesh with a shudder-inducing squelch. Another move catapulted me out of battle with an instant backflip, letting me escape from an imminent battering.
I could happily list all my skills and the ways they eviscerated people for the rest of this review, but I have a word count. Last one. My favourite skill was called ‘Annihilation.’ An upgrade of the high-level ‘Assassination’ move, it made Hawke simply jab two blades into the face of the foe standing nearest to him – at which point, they’d usually burst into a fine scarlet mist. For every class, every combat skill kills something in a new and exciting way.
Have beard, will slay
Hawke’s ties to the first game are explicit. He or she (your choice) starts Dragon Age 2 as a refugee from Lothering. Lothering, for those of you unfamiliar with the first game, was twatted square-on by the Blight of the Darkspawn (read as: ‘pseudoorcs’, fantasy noobs). Hawke (I’ll use the male pronoun here purely because I played as a dude) managed to escape, with family and fantastically trimmed beard in tow. At the time of the hillside combat just described, he was making his way to the city of Kirkwall.
I killed the final Darkspawn, and the camera yanked out and away to a darkened room, and a dwarf with a hairy chest. It’s ten years later.
The fight was a flashback. The dwarf is being forced to tell Hawke’s story by a mysterious woman dressed in the robes and symbols of Thedas’ hyper-religious Chantry. This is Dragon Age 2’s big conceit, and part of the reason the game hangs together so well. The dwarf is Varric, and he’s telling the story all wrong. Varric is a companion and potential party member, and knows more than most about his bearded buddy’s motivations – but he’s also an inveterate story-embellisher.
The woman explains the situation: the world is on the brink of war and Hawke – the ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ – can help. There are only two certainties: the first, that Hawke arrived in Kirkwall. The second, that ten years later he somehow became the city’s champion. She wants to fill in the blanks.
Actually, there are three certainties. The third is unwritten, but simple: any way you play Hawke, he remains one suave bastard. His tone sits firmly on the plummy side of ‘commanding’, but very few of the dialogue options have him come across as anything less than mildly awesome.
The game’s developers have nicked Mass Effect’s conversation wheel and split most interactions into a threetiered system: saintly, aggressive, and – most fun – cheeky.
Only very occasionally did I feel neutered by my choice. I’ve typically approached BioWare games as the reincarnation of some major saint, waiving rewards and helping puppies save their lost kittens. I’d resigned myself to selecting the goody-twoboots option throughout Dragon Age 2, and cringing as I politely thanked the man who tried to stab my kidneys out. Instead, nice-o-Hawke is just as judgemental as his chums loloHawke and HAWKE-SMASH – he merely phrases things with a touch more tact.
I found myself flipping between responses depending on the situation – actually using the full dialogue spectrum. The lack of an arbitrary karma system meant I could do so without fear of being pigeonholed. Guy trying to extort money from the dragon-infested mine I own half a stake in? You shall feel my tongue-wrath! Cower as I shout! Lovely elf stabbed by her deranged husband? Best be nice to her as she splutters her lifeblood all over the floor. Soz, elfy!
Rub up against one of the game’s Serious Moral Choices™ and your once-neat conversation wheel goes all muddled. In my first year, I rescued a mage from the dictatorial control of the Templars. Three years later, I faced his mother who explained he’d crossed into the Fade – Dragon Age’s strange netherworld – and ran the risk of becoming someone who could melt other peoples’ brains by coughing wrong. Launching into the wibbly half-light of that realm, I had to make a genuine choice: destroy the magicusing faculties of this kid’s mind, or let him become a danger to society. I put my mouse down, stood up, and paced around my room. It’s a rare feat when a game encourages walking, yet Dragon Age 2 does it all the time.
The world of Thedas is one of racism and fascism: only in the second game have BioWare really come to terms with this and brought up some genuinely dark questlines.
The ten-year-long story arc adds to the burden of your choices. In another game, I’d have spared the mage boy, tootled off to another town and forgotten all about him. And saved the world next week sometime. But here, with ten years to play with, you have to consider the long game. Letting a danger loose in an earlier year can see it come back to bite you in the arse later, like a timetravelling dog who loves biting arses.
Worse, the people you’ve wronged won’t necessarily target you. You’re all right, you’ve got knives as big as your arm and a pocket full of potions. Your mum, on the other hand, lives alone in a house in town. You’re off adventuring, and you can’t always be there to protect her. Wouldn’t it be safer just to stove this upstart’s face in now?
In the end, I had to sever the unfortunate boy’s connection to the Fade, and leave him a few intellectual steps above a carrot in the process. He now hangs around the Viscount’s Keep, talking in a quiet monotone and making me feel bad.
Dragon Age 2’s story is driven by these moments of tension and forced choice. They always feel organic and truly contextual.
Outside of a few trips to the Deep Roads and a saunter to a Dalish camp, everything in Dragon Age 2 happens in Kirkwall. At first, I felt a little let down by the lack of escape from that single city, but ten years in the same place also breeds a welcome familiarity. There are benefits to knowing a city backwards: it let me get a complete grasp on the game’s complicated political situation.
Hightown is home to the rich and idle, Darktown is a disused mine full of beggars and brigands. Out by the docks, there’s a Qunari compound. These giants have been redefined since Origins’ Sten – taller, broader and more muscular than a man as well as growing a snazzy set of horns, they practise a societal fundamentalism that gnaws at the authority of the establishment. There’s a constant back-and-forth between the conflicting views, and your Hawke is free to come down on either side of the scrap. That’s underpinned by a deeper struggle between the mages and the templars. The latter believe the former need to be controlled with an iron fist, and the former say they want to live free, and maybe go a little bit mad and kill loads of people. Make your allegiances clear and you’ll change the course of the whole game.
Who’s (had) who
So many games promise real choice but fail to deliver. Dragon Age 2 is the most impressive attempt I’ve seen to make the decisions players make in a game mean something. I can’t wait until everyone else in the office has played it, so they can tell me what would’ve happened if I’d only killed person X in my sixth year in the city.
I also want to know who they slept with. DA2’s romantic options are near-unconstrained. You meet a party member, chances are you can bone them (your sibling is one fortunate exception). Male, female, amalgamation of human and spiritual manifestation of justice: all are fair game. Personally, I developed a mild obsession with sexy lady pirate captain Isabela, despite (because of?) her terrifically impractical adventuring gear of a shirt and no trousers. She talked a good talk, too. Dragon Age 2’s incidental conversations are splendid: ruder, funnier, and just plain better than Origins’ “SO WHAT DO YOU DO THEN?” platitudes. Wandering around town, Isabela treated me to tales of orgies and hit on my friends. I was in love. Still, despite her repeatedly stated desire to defrock anyone standing within two feet of her, her wooing became a decade-long process. Eventually, our relationship matured from friends-with-sexy-benefits to live-in lovers.
But I was spoilt for choice. Most of DA2’s companions are excellent; the only dud is Hawke’s sibling (sister in my male playthrough), who lacks in personality. Varric is a smart-mouth dwarf, Merrill a delightfully Welsh Dalish elf, Fenris a lanky ex-slave, tattooed with veins of pure, magicgiving lyrium, and clutching a broadsword as long as his body.
My companions were more than just willing conversational partners. Dragon Age 2’s combat system is rapid and satisfying, but it’s also more intricate than Origins’. Each companion has their own set class, but from there, specialisation is largely up to you. I made sure to take at least one warrior with my party at all times. That meant I was rolling with ginger guardslady Aveline, or brooding elf Fenris. Both had access to a broadly similar skill tree, but couldn’t be further apart in battle technique. I specced Aveline as a tank, pumping her skill points into her constitution and cunning to bolster her defence, buying and equipping her with the best armour and a gigantic shield. She screamed taunts over the din of battle to attract attention from foes, before settling into a defensive stance. Fenris went the other way. I funnelled points into his strength and trained him up with two-handed weapons. In a stand-up slugfest he was flimsy, but he rarely let it get to that: his speed and reach on the battlefield meant most enemies were on their backsides with a caved-in face before they could ready any truly devastating attacks.
Both had their place by my side, depending on the situation and my mood. I found myself rotating my party regularly – sacrilege in a lot of RPGs that demand a standard party setup to succeed, but sensible here when everyone’s abilities are just so much fun. Even when I was pushed into taking a companion, their unique skill tree gave me room to choose. Anders – returning from Origins’ add-on pack Awakenings – was my party’s de facto healer. But as I invested more into his personal set of abilities, I unlocked two activated modes. One allowed access to more powerful healing spells, but the other turned off his capability to fix his friends in favour of upping his damage potential.
Origins’ free battlefield camera is gone, but a mousewheel scroll gives the zoom you need to see the full field of play. Pausing, issuing a set of orders, then sitting back and watching the chaos unfold is a joy that never gets old. Which is lucky, because the streets of Kirkwall are filled with an improbable amount of nefarious types who want you dead.
Dragon Age 2 is not what you expect. Hell, even during preview sessions, I hadn’t anticipated it being this much of a traditional sequel. But by locking down the context – the world and the politics – BioWare were free to fill their creation with more character and vitality than any title in recent memory. The best RPG of this decade? Nine more years will tell, but for now, yes.
Go to Source (PC Gamer)
Dragon Age 2‘s demo is now available for download on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The demo is the prologue of the game, minus the option to customize your character. Completing the demo earns gamers Hayder’s Razor, a dwarven blase, to use when the actual game comes out in two weeks. If the demo accumulates one million downloads BioWare will reward gamers with two in-game items. Haven’t played the demo yet? Watch the video below to see for yourself.
The demo gives gamers a taste of what to expect when Dragon Age 2 is released on March 8 for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.
Do you think Dragon Age 2 will be an improvement from Dragon Age: Origins ?
Go to Source (G4TV.com)
March 8th is the date when Bioware’s kick-ass Dragon Age II is scheduled to hit your favorite gaming retail outlet but to me that is an eternal wait to get my paws on this RPG goodness.
Fortunately Bioware was kind enough to release a new Dragon Age II trailer that highlights the three character classes you get to choose for Hawke in his quest to wreck havoc and revenge.
read more (Shogun Gamer)
Mike Laidlaw talks about talent trees and how character gameplay has improved in this Dragon Age II interview.
Above: The Ser Isaac armor set for Dragon Age 2. See the teaser for the sci-fi synergy inside
Clearly there’s more than a little mutual appreciation going on between Dead Space 2 developers Visceral Games and the Dragon Age 2 crew at Bioware. Players of the latter, EA promises, will hear bards’ tales recounting the exploits of demon-slaying knight Ser Isaac of Clarke. However, if that’s not a cheeky enough in-joke for you, Ser Isaac’s distinctly familiar-looking armor will be available to players themselves…
Go to Source (GamesRadar)
The huge heap of Dragon Age 2 in-game items you can acquire before BioWare’s RPG even comes out has grown larger still. Publisher EA has announced that you’ll receive the Dead Space 2-inspired Ser Isaac of Clarke’s Armor if you buy Visceral Games’ sci-fi horror.
A single-use code for Ser Isaac of Clarke’s Armor will be included with the PC and Xbox 360 editions of Dead Space 2, while the PlayStation 3 version will use some other, yet-unrevealed method.
A similar promotion ran for the original Dragon …
Go to Source (ShackNews)
Dragon Age: Origins, for all its virtues, wasn’t a pretty game. Its world was grubby and brown, its menus utilitarian and ugly. Good news for the aesthetes out there, then, that I found myself cycling through Dragon Age II’s spangly new skill tree for five solid minutes, cooing to myself at the crisp presentation. I’m easily pleased.
The skill trees have evolved since the previous game, letting players shape a character that fits the way they want to play while still staying useful in a scrap. Main character Hawke can be one of three classes – rogue, wizard, warrior – but can split hairs further down the chain.
On a recent playthrough, I got to test out Hawke as a rogue, the class having been reworked since its toothless outing in Origins. Dipping into the skill tree, I noticed my Hawke’s ability with dual shortswords was buffed, conforming to a super-nimble, superstabby damage-dealing archetype. If you find an ability you come to love in Dragon Age II, you won’t need to skip over it in an inexorable march to the top of the skillpile. Attribute points can be put into powers you’ve already unlocked, turning their effectiveness up and keeping them relevant throughout the game. The skill tree is set out in clumps, skills that favour a style of play sat next to each other in the same section. I hovered over the ‘archer’ abilities, looking longingly at the powers a bow-wielding Hawke could use in battle.
I ended up being happy with StabbyHawke. Dragon Age II’s backstab move is ludicrously satisfying: starting with Hawke hurling a smoke bomb, he darts forward at warp speed and somehow gets behind his foe, whereupon he injects a few inches of cold steel into their kidneys. The first time he did it, I made an involuntary grab for my own innards. The second time, I started grinning. I began playing this Hawke as he was meant to be played. Hawke and friends are a lot more mobile this time around – indeed, combat as a whole is fresher, faster, and closer to an action game than in Origins.
Immediacy is BioWare’s adopted mantra for Dragon Age II. Now dressed up in Mass Effect armour, DA2’s dialogue adopts its stablemate’s mannerisms: a conversation wheel anchors discussions and small blobs of text provide an inkling of what your fully voiced Hawke will say without spelling it out. Best of all, I was able to use my party’s abilities mid-chat to shut up unruly backchatters. Bethany, Hawke’s sister, has access to a fireball. Against a stream of Darkspawn, she and Hawke could stand and discuss the ways they were about to be eaten, or – with a conversation option – she could launch a pre-emptive conflagration and crisp half the incoming force.
Already, Dragon Age II feels more connected and vital than its predecessor, and far less stodgy.
Go to Source (PC Gamer)
Bioware have unveiled the first images and details on Aveline Vallen, a sword and shield wielding warrior devoted to defending her home city of Kirkwall. Read on for more details and the first screens of the latest addition to the Dragon Age 2 roster.
The daughter of a knight, Aveline was trained in the art of “chivalrous combat”, but never took up her father’s profession because she was “raised in the shadow of a lost life and will not lose another for the sake of honor”. You’ll find more details on Aveline on the Dragon Age 2 site. You’ll find the first shots of Aveline below.
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You can still import an older save file into BioWare’s upcoming fantasy RPG, Dragon Age 2, like you could with Mass Effect 2 — but since you don’t have a persistent character this time (whoever your Warden was in the first game is replaced by “Hawke” in the sequel), it hasn’t been as clear what the save file would change in the new game.
Speaking to NowGamer, lead designer Mike Laidlaw revealed that while you don’t get to import your character, you’re “importing the world” as it was in your game of Origins. “Who’s in charge of Ferelden, what happened with the Dwarves, who’s running Orzammar?” Laidlaw said. “All of these things are reflected and accounted for in Dragon Age 2.” So if you hate the way you left affairs in Origins, consider a fresh save in Dragon Age 2. Then again, maybe you like fixer-uppers.
Dragon Age 2 will import ‘the world’ from Dragon Age: Origins save originally appeared on Joystiq on Wed, 06 Oct 2010 11:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.
LinkedIn profile of QA lead at EA’s flagship RPG studio says new portable title in the works; earlier reports point to Dragon Age II.
Earlier this year, Electronic Arts released a release schedule that appeared to reveal a handheld version of Dragon Age II. However, EA reps dismissed the report, saying that the listing was likely for an iPhone/iPad tie-in to the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 title.
Over the weekend, further evidence surfaced that the Dragon Age II developer is working on a full-fledged portable title. According to the LinkedIn profile of one of the Canadian developer’s QA leads, the company is currently hard at work on an “unannounced handheld game.”
No further details were given about the title, and EA reps did not respond to requests for comment. However, the LinkedIn profile reveals that it shares at least one of the same development team members as BioWare’s first handheld game, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. Published by Sega in 2008–after EA bought BioWare–the DS game garnered only lukewarm reviews.
Unlike the first Dragon Age, which let players choose from several characters, Dragon Age II casts players as a human warrior named Hawke. His exploits are recounted by a dwarven storyteller named Varick, a fellow with a penchant for exaggeration. The game will see Hawke continue the fight against the Darkspawn, as well as assorted new foes, with a variety of companions.
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