BioWare hosted a booth featuring a playable PS3 build of Dragon Age 2 with the female version Hawke and the Rogue class. Before I get into all of that, let's talk about what BioWare's objectives are with the sequel.
There were three categories the design team wanted to refine (80% of the original design team stayed): Graphics, Combat, and Storytelling.
Of course, the three categories could be considered the most important parts of any title but BioWare is never happy running with the pack. A big complaint about Origins' graphics (on consoles) was the relatively generic look and feel of the characters.
To quote David Silverman, brand manager for BioWare, who hosted the introduction for Dragon Age 2, the new console graphics will "blow you away." It's no lie, the console graphics have seen an improvement, noticeable even in the demo. The PC graphics will retain their already high standard.
Silverman talked about the lack of unity between the art style and direction. He also discussed a lack of consistency - resulting in numerous areas feeling generic. I agree, Dragon Age's environment had a dungeon crawl feel - and not in a good way. Very generic. However, the sequel has improved upon that by adding distinct areas that will help build the narrative.
Speaking of that, let's talk about storytelling. Dragon Age had a great story and could be the envy of most dungeon masters today, but BioWare wanted to further improve upon it. How do they do that? By adding a framed narrative (Silverman used The Princess Bride for an example). This new approach to storytelling adds two benefits to the game: more time to cover Hawke's own story, as well as the evolution of the world, within the decade the game takes places within.
Finally, combat. It's possibly the most important aspect of any game, and let me tell you, in Dragon Age 2, it's pretty awesome. Silverman described the combat system as "pressing a button equals an awesome thing happening" and you know what? They totally delivered. The combat design mantra was "think like a general, but fight like a Spartan," referring to the title's option for a tactical view in both the PC and console version - for gamers who want to pause the action and micromanage their NPCs. Though in Dragon Age 2, if you want to just get into the thick of Darkspawn slaughter, it's much easier than in Origins.
In addition, the classes feel much more distinct and have their own positives and negatives. The rogue class no longer feels like a less-heavy hitting warrior with a awkward backstab animation. In fact, the rogue is incredibly effective in combat. My time playing the rogue was very enjoyable. The first thing to notice about the combat is, rather than just pressing the attack button once to initiate an attack algorithm, you are required to constantly press the attack button, giving the combat a somewhat arcadey feel that works really well.
If I had to describe the combat, it takes the best parts of 2D fighters (which, ironically in this case, is button mashing) and mixes it with awesome special abilities. The rogue doesn't hit as hard as a warrior does, but where her strength lacks, the showmanship stands out with a flurry of slashes, stabs, and swipes. Abilities for the rogue were also very well suited for combat, the 'Springboard' attack allows the class to backflip behind an enemy and attack them at a flanking position. The 'Stun Grenade' does what you would think, stun several enemies (for either a position advantage or for slipping away). The third attack was sort of a flurry move that killed enemies instantly if they were low on health.
The demo (a bit similar to the one at SDCC) starts with the trailer revealed at Gamescom, albeit with 40 extra seconds of footage, then you're right into action, fighting alongside a mage who happens to be Hawke's sister - allowing the player to reign destruction down upon Darkspawn, basically acting as a combat tutorial. When you finish slaughtering a few waves of Darkspawn, the demo's boss, an ogre appears and tries to destroy you. Either I was much more amazing at combat than I thought or the difficulty was lowered - but the ogre was no match for the rogue's hindrance powers and constant barrage of dagger attacks.
At the end of the combat I was introduced to Hawke's introductory story, which involved fleeing the city of Lothering and heading for parts unknown. This was an opportunity to see the conversation wheel from Mass Effect in-play. When you choose an option, an image reflecting the alignment of the choice you pick will appear in the center of the wheel. More fighting ensues and more conversations and you are introduced to some other characters who may, or may not, join you on your quest.
The end of the demo showed the level up system that was reworked significantly. Giving the player trees to explore for certain types of powers, as well as improving talents. It looked a little strange at first, but I think it will allow for a bit more customization for the hero of legend you want to create.
Dragon Age 2 proved to be an incredibly pleasing taste of what's to come. A lot of the problems in Origins have been addressed. The speech wheel gives the game a much more cinematic feel akin to the Mass Effect series, which I think will make Dragon Age 2 feel much more epic. This title is definitely going to be on my radar for quite some time and I highly recommend that you put it on your own as well.
And if you're still hankering for your Dragon Age fix right now, you can pick up the latest DLC where you go looking for Morrigan.