During our Dragon Age 2 preview at EA's recent November Showcase event, the BioWare representitive showing us through the game explained the team's main design theory:
"Whenever you press a button something awesome has to happen."
Note to other game developers: write that one down.
The sequel to BioWare's popular fantasy game Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 aims to take the best parts of the first game and refine them into a tighter, more coherent experience. Haven't played Origins? Not a problem, DA2 quickly sums up the major events from Origins in the first hour of gameplay. Those who have played Origins though, get a little bonus. DA2 takes a page from sister franchise Mass Effect 2 by allowing the player to import their save file from the previous game. Unlike ME2 though, DA2 will only allow you to import your world, not your character. There's good reason for this, as BioWare is dedicated to honing DA2's story to a find point.
One of the biggest issues players had with the original game was the story's tendency to wander, and the fact that the game's epilogue wrapped up side story points that had been completed many hours before, leaving some gamers scratching their heads. BioWare describes the new storytelling strategy by pointing out that it takes place within a "framed narrative", a term used to describe a story like the Princess Bride or the recently released Black Ops, where the tale is told via characters telling a story or remembering their past. This allows for greater flexibility in the game's timeline, meaning you can expect to jump back and forth a bit in game. This also allows BioWare to capitalize on maximizing the impact of the player's decisions and how they impact the world around them. The storyline and lore in DA2 will cover a longer period of time than in the original, around ten years, really letting you see how your choices will shape the land.
The demo we saw detailed the new hero, Hawke, and his party's first encounter with the tricky Isabella. Isabella is a Rogue class fighter, which means she's fast, agile, and prefers to strike quickly and get out. After a little small talk, Isabella revealed that she had been hired to reclaim a relic by a third party but has, so far, been unsuccessful. Hawke and his party agreed to escort her to the meeting with her employer, as she expected that there might be a conflict once she revealed the bad news. This conversation introduced one of DA2's new features, the Emotion Wheel. The Emotion Wheel makes dialogue options easier for the player, clearly indicating what emotion the player is attempting to convey. Players had expressed frustration with Origins, having to reload their games after making a poor choice because of unclear dialogue options, the Emotion Wheel should completely rectify that.
After meeting up with Isabella's contact, it was clear things weren't going to go smoothly, he was followed by armed goons and the conversation quickly turned sour. Apparently Isabella had been in charge of delivering a ship of slaves, but had instead chosen to let them go out of kindness. Hawke had some dialogue options to try and pacify the situation, but violence would make an excellent excuse to show off the new combat, so apologies to Ghandi.
After Isabella buried her throwing knife in someone's head, we witnessed a hellish melee of exploding fireballs, super speedy dashing attacks and enemies exploding into bits after getting hit too hard. The Rogue class is stunningly fast, almost warping around enemies to set up their high damage backstab attacks. DA2 retains the original's tactical options in the menus, but more effort has been placed on making the game more responsive for action fans who want to destroy their opponents in real time. The BioWare representative put it best: "Think like a general, fight like a Spartan."
We were definitely surprised by the visceral, gore soaked combat of DA2, and the way it sits alongside the dialogue and lore heavy plot. BioWare seems to be aiming to please both traditional RPG fans who love reading lore and don't mind slow battles, while simultaneously making the game more accessible to action gamers who prefer combat and the fantasy setting. At first glance, DA2 looks like it might be trying a bit too hard to appeal to two very different camps of gamers, but the diverse combat and story options allow the player to shape the game, and it's world, to their taste.
Dragon Age 2 arrives March 8, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
Nov 12, 2010