Dragon Age II - hands-on

We return to a more down-to-earth version of Hawke’s story. He’s weak and the darkspawn are strong. The battles that follow as Hawke presses north feel like they should, requiring us to pause, switch characters, and queue commands as we did in Origins. Everything feels right. “Think like a general, fight like a Spartan,” says executive producer Mark Darrah.  That’s the mantra for Dragon Age II’s development team. “This effects the animation and the action speed. Overall, the game is much more punchy and much more responsive,” adds Darrah. We see less shuffling and more action, especially when casting spells. It seems like casting time has been reduced, possibly at the expense of longer cool down, times. But regardless of the math behind the combat system, the battles we experienced do feel more aggressive while retaining the strategic elements of the original. 

Above: Making sure that Dragon Age II always looks exciting is one of BioWare’s goals

But as the game cuts away from battles, we noticed that the cinematic dialogue scenes have a lot more flair to them. It’s another way that BioWare is aiming to up the ante with Dragon Age II. “From the art direction perspective, what we want to make sure is that when you see a screenshot for Dragon Age II, you can say ‘Okay. This is Dragon Age II. It’s not Lord of the Rings. It’s not generic fantasy game number 63,” explains Laidlaw.

But even when talking about Dragon Age II’s art style and graphics, everything still comes back to the importance of the story and its cast of characters. “I think that games are going through a sort of Baroque period right now,” says Darrah. “They’re focusing their attention on really highly detailed environments. But at the end of the day, environments don’t tell story. Characters tell story. So what we’re doing with Dragon Age II is focusing on the characters, making sure that they can convey emotion and that they can convey story – and that they are the strongest thing in the game,” continues Darrah.

You’ll notice the difference whenever the game cuts to dialogue. Each shot is framed like a photograph and looks balanced with lots of soft focus on background characters and environments to draw your attention towards the person speaking in the foreground.

“It’s like a Kurosawa film. What you see in those films are very established and carefully structured shots that are about something. And we want to make sure that when you pause the game and look at the game, you can see that it’s about something… it’s about these characters struggling for their lives in the foreground. So part of doing that - and you see it in Kurosawa films - is about stripping some of the background away, making it about something. It’s not about the background. It’s about the foreground.”

The dialogue system also feels more like Mass Effect this time around. There’s an icon next to each response, representing Hawke’s tone, along with a brief hint at what he’s about to say. You see a jester mask for the sarcastic responses, an olive branch for a more chivalrous approach, and a clenched fist for hardened action hero one liners.

Above: Kurosawa films were a big influence on the art style in Dragon Age II’s cutscenes and dialogue sequences

Dragon Age II will also track your responses. So if you tend to opt for more humorous responses to situations, future cutscenes will find Hawke making light of the situations with more punchy one liners. Choose more chivalrous responses and Hawke will take note and take the high road, choosing his words with care, like the noble warrior you want him to be.

PC vs Console

In our opinion, the PC version of Dragon Age: Origins was by far, the better version, mostly because of its combat camera system. We loved the freedom offered by the camera system in the PC version, which allowed you to zoom out for a bird’s eye view of the battlefield. But you could also zoom in for extreme close-ups of your character planting a battleaxe in a darkspawn’s forehead, for example. The tactical camera system made combat so much fun, allowing you to pan around the battlefield as you scrolled through your strategic options.

Above: A shot from Dragon Age: Origins, showing the tactical combat camera pulled back as far as it will go. You won't be able to do this anymore in the PC version of Dragon Age II, but it's not as bad as you think

So we were worried when we heard that the tactical Baldur’s Gate-style combat camera from the PC version wouldn’t be returning in Dragon Age II. Well, it will and it won’t. BioWare is focusing on the third-person camera view for the console versions, but is also working with the PC version’s camera to keep the key elements of the tactical experience in the game.

We got to see an early prototype of the camera system that will appear in the PC version, and we have the feeling that fans concerned about the camera changes won’t be disappointed.


  • Numbnumb - September 1, 2010 7:48 p.m.

    So far I am seeing a game that is evolving away from DA:O and more toward the 'Witcher' type of game. I really love DA:O and am still playing it, including Awakening. But. I love the 4 party concept as it gives you more possibilities. I am still reserving judgment on this but the thought that keeps popping into my head is that if I want to play a 'Witcher' style game then I'll just play 'Witcher'. There were so many possibilities developed at the end of DA:O but Bioware seems to have regulated them to the DLC status.
  • brian003 - August 23, 2010 7:42 p.m.

    Soooo all the work I put in sleeping with all females characters means nothing. The badges, the armor the choices. Those DLC's are way too dinky too tie up any loose ends. And that Ilieana one so anticlimactic. So I gotta spend another five bucks to essentially tell me to buy more as they stretch it out any sense of completion. If I didn't like DA so much I'd really complain.
  • CoktorBloktopus - August 20, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    this is one of the games that i am sad that i have not finished I started it but never could find the time to finish it. Balls to me i say balls to me.
  • foamguy - August 20, 2010 4:19 p.m.

    Admit it that sounds like Flemeth narrating the trailer
  • gman64 - August 19, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    this game is so cool
  • The_Tingler - August 19, 2010 2:47 a.m.

    I'm still worried about the very quick development time - I mean, Dragon Age Origins isn't even a year old yet! Can they really make an epic, POLISHED RPG in only 6 months? Even if the gameplay and graphics were identical to Origins, and with no DLC or Awakening expansion this would be still dubious, and with those packs and all the major changes they're making, I don't know if they can pull it off. Still be buying it though. Hey, it's Bioware!
  • JohnnyAppleSperm - August 18, 2010 9:23 p.m.

    Now that is some new shit.
  • Bawheidbob - August 18, 2010 7:39 p.m.

    I like Dragon Age but i am a PC player and i love the way the camera works as it is. The snapping back and 'playing like an rts' is one of the main reasons i like the game. I will have to see what the change is like for myself i think.
  • Fiirestorm21 - August 18, 2010 5:43 p.m.

    Still skeptical, and I never cared for the Mass Effect dialog system (it's a tacky way of slopping "choice" onto an on-rails cinematic instead of true role-playing) but it sounds like it's not as bad as it could have been. Although BioWare needs to get their PR stuff together with this game, because I'm still not completely sure what exactly they're doing with the battle system, especially the PC version, and their saying one thing then trying to back-pedal and clumsily clarify tactics aren't helping. (Then again, they also thought the best way to tell everyone about the first game was with Marilyn Manson.)
  • Mamudo - August 18, 2010 4:56 p.m.

    visually, I like it. I know the story, character, and dialog will be excellent. But I still am a little iffy about the new combat. I really did love the previous game's combat. It's a big leap and I want to be convinced that's it's a step in the right direction.
  • wesser22 - August 18, 2010 4:53 p.m.

    Sweet, I'll get to be the champion of my actuall hometown (Kirkwall)!
  • Doctalen - August 18, 2010 3:14 p.m.

    Was that the new Qunari or was the a darkspawn that Hawke was fighting?
  • Wriggly - August 18, 2010 2:53 p.m.

    I'm genuinely excited, I rented the 360 version of the original game first and thought it was horrible because of the pseudo-PC game play, after a while I picked up the PC version and loved it, a great difference a keyboard makes. The game play just didn't work on a controller, the radial took too much time to go through to just perform one simple attack, whereas on the PC i'd just press a single button. Designing it around the controller should work out well in the end.
  • CountZero - August 18, 2010 2:42 p.m.

    Awesome preview. Put to rest a lot of the concerns I had about DA2. It's sounding pretty badass, looking forward to it!
  • drewbian - August 18, 2010 2:27 p.m.

    ahhhh so excited. have completed dragon age twice now each time spending upwards of 40 hours, such an awesome game. glad theyve improved the graphics, when you compare dragon age to mass effect there was no excuse for the graphics being that poor. thankfully the story was fuckin excellent though. will definitely be picking this up, cant wait for the new characters and this decade long story arc sounds epic
  • FenrirKar - August 18, 2010 2:24 p.m.

    Phew, I had heard in passing that they were removing the tactical camera, and was pretty ticked off. I loved that about the PC version. Now that they're just changing it a bit, though, I'm really stoked. Also, utterly epic trailer.
  • rynmls - August 18, 2010 2:16 p.m.

  • db1331 - August 18, 2010 2:01 p.m.

    Now THAT is how you make a trailer. I still never played DA:O. I'm a cheap bastard, so I'm waiting for it to hit $10 or $15 on the Steam holiday sale this year. That doesn't mean I can't already be excited for the sequel though.
  • Redeater - August 18, 2010 12:16 p.m.

    I can't wait. Mass Effect 2 was such an improvement over 1 I can only assume that that this will be the same.
  • Crabhand - August 18, 2010 8:54 a.m.

    I'm beyond pleased with the information presented at this point. A stronger experience on console is definitely going to be great, and the changes to the dialogue scenes sounds like a perfect fit (And I can finally play as the snarky dick hero!) What most excites me is the way the story is being told, it seems to add a more dynamic element to the gameplay. Ugh, I can't wait until March -_-

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