Before getting our hands on the game we were given our Dragon Age 2 lessons. Seated in a room at their booth a fresh batch of gamers were taught the three tenets of the game’s sequel, each of them things from Origins that the team said most needed fixing: story, combat and graphics.
Dragon Age 2 will cover roughly a decade, or ten times the fictional timeline than Origins. Making this possible is the use of framed narrative, better known as story-within-a-story, and it should do away with that lengthy text epilogue and instead show the effects of actions within the game. The core of the story is that you play as Hawke (or Hawkette?), a human refuge fleeing Lothering for Kirkwall. Ultimately you become the Champion of Kirkwall, how is up to you, and while Verick tells lofty tales of your exploits Cassandra is trying to get to the barest truth of the story (that would be the story framing the Hawke story). OK, school’s out.
Kicking off as Lothering is destroyed and apart from any initiation, that Grey Warden you came to know so well is off fighting their own battles while you struggle along refugee style. Who knows, maybe you’ll bump into them in Lothering. I wouldn’t pick a fight with them, that story is written.
Classes are supposed to work more distinctly, so that warriors won’t play like rogues and that (according to BioWare brand manager David Silverman) “when you press a button something awesome happens”. Furthermore, they wanted to eliminate those queued up attacks that made for a Dragon Age potty break. The crux of the combat in Dragon Age was the ability for the player to “think like a general” and in 2 they are striving to retain that – you can still pause, switch, queue up attacks – but now in addition to thinking like a general you’re going to be “fighting like a spartan.”
With those promises in mind I picked out my lovely lady rogue. With only a few special attacks available there was some dangerous button-mashing potential, especially because the rogue’s combat is looking so much livelier. Instead of hitting a button and watching your character shift into position you hit a button and the move is executed, creating a tighter and more action-savvy feeling. The rogue’s acrobatics are much more fun to watch in game, and since this is my preferred class it’s fair to say I’m pleased, very pleased. No more of feeling like a gimped warrior, the rogue is nimble, acrobatic and deadly. A flurried attack took down multiple weakened enemies, while an evasion move used a lovely leap to put some distance between me and the fray.
Much of this action will be occurring like flashbacks as the story unfolds between Cassandra and Verick. The cinematic trailer for Dragon Age 2 is an awesome, action-packed temptress created out of something purely visceral. Of course, that’s not quite what we get in-game. Here’s the thing: I skipped the cut-scenes. In part for efficiency’s sake – it was a long demo and I wanted to get to the combat – and in part, well, I was being selfish, wanting to save the story for when I play the game properly.
The team working on Dragon Age 2 is 90% the same as that from Origins, so fans can rest in that while critics might hold out hope for that remaining 10%. Dragon Age 2 does look better, yet it does so without looking markedly different. If you just couldn’t stand the Origins aesthetic, there’s not going to be much for you here. It’s improved, but it’s not amazing. What the team says they’ve done is create consistency, something they readily admit was a problem in Dragon Age: Origins, and while our playtime wasn’t long enough to see how the graphics are treated across the game it’s reassuring to hear that this shortcoming was a high priority fix.
Coming back from PAX and playing through Witch Hunt made me really appreciate the progress visible in the sequel. The frame rate is better, things are slightly crisper, but the colors and design are still the same Dragon Age you’ve come to know and hopefully, love. The sequel looks to be Origins done better, richer, and somehow more. Good on you, Warden.