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SDCC 2010: Dragon Age 2 Hands-On Impressions

Dragon Age 2 Revealed

In a bit of a surprise, Dragon Age II made its worldwide debut at San Diego Comic-Con this week. Instead of showing off the heavily-anticpated sequel at E3 last month, Bioware wanted the fans to be the first to experience the newest chapter since the reception at last year's SDCC was so successful. 

I had a chance to play a 5-minute demo of Dragon Age II on the Xbox 360 and despite the revamped combat system, I found it to be very intuitive and straightforward. The demo had your new main character, Hawke, and a female Mage companion taking on waves of Darkspawn. It was a fairly easy level that could be beaten without much thought, but allowed me to see the differences from the original game.

And those differences were pretty noticeable. Frankly, some fans of the original game may not be happy. The newest entry in the series does not allow for you to import your character from the first game or create a new vessel to project your psyche. You'll no longer play any "origin" stories or continue adventuring as a Grey Warden. Instead, players will all play as a character named "Hawke," who is a survivor of Lothering and who has become some sort of champion to the people.

What other changes are in Dragon Age II?

  • Fully-voiced main character: Hawke will now have a distinct voice a la Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series. This was done because Bioware felt that the lack of dialogue during the major scenes of the first game gave short shrift to the climactic moments.
  • Conversation tree: This also has become more similar to that of Mass Effect. However, icons next to the dialogue choices will indicate the tone of each choice. The dialogue tree will be more of a summary of your dialogue rather than the full dialogue itself.
  • Narrative: DA2 moves away from the standard long-form narrative and replaces it with a framed narrative. For you non-literary types, that means the game story will take place from another's retelling of it. Think The Princess Bride.  Because of the tendency of storytellers to exaggerate great tales, the combat will be more over the top and potentially less grounded in reality.
  • Graphics: Complementing the framed narrative, Bioware has changed the art style of the game  to a more stylized and distinctive look, so that it appears as if it were from a story. The graphics engine has also been upgraded substantially. This was a priority for the sequel as Bioware was disappointed with the visual disparity between the PC and console versions. In the demo, the blood spatter appears to have been toned way down, which is for the better.
  • Gameplay/Animation: In the original game your characters would enter combat by lining up with the enemy and entering an initial combat stance. The characters would then attack, and  reset. Bioware felt that this was too mechanical and took players out of the game, so the combat system has been changed to a more fluid style. Combat now feels like an action RPG that is more similar to that of a Lord of The Rings game than Baldur's Gate. While the skill/inventory wheel still exists and you can pause the action to assess your battle options, fans of a pure RPG style of gameplay will likely be put off by this change. At the same time, this combat system may bring in those gamers who like a little more control over their character during combat rather than relying on the random roll of the dice. You'll still be able to jump between your party members and control them.
  • Finishing Moves: Mages have them now. Aspiring Gandalfs will be pleased.

Why did Bioware make these changes? The designers stated that these moves were made in direct response to the comments from the fans and reviews of the original title. It's good to see Bioware listens to its audience, but it may have misunderstood why some people enjoyed the first game so much. Especially when it comes to creating a unique protagonist.

That being said, Bioware fans will likely love this game and my time with the game, as limited as it was, has me eagerly awaiting its release.

Dragon Age II has no scheduled release date, but will be coming to the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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