Hands-On With The Faster, More Brutal Dragon Age II

Just as Mass Effect 2 blurred the line between action role-playing game and third-person shooter, Dragon Age II's fast-paced combat makes it an RPG that feels like an action game.

After being ushered into a small room to watch the Dragon Age II trailer, me and a group of German-speaking fans were led into a small room behind the Dragon Age booth at Gamescom to play through the first 15 minutes of the game. Several stations were set up for play. Only the English version featured chairs, which is one of the reasons I love BioWare. They know where Americans stand: Preferably not.

I sat down in my oh-so-comfortable chair and hit start on the wired Xbox 360 controller hooked to the station. Immediately I am given a choice of six character types. I can be male or female, mage, warrior, or rogue. For the demo's purposes, only male warrior was unlocked.

Immediately after choosing a class I find myself, in the role of the game's protagonist, Hawke, accompanied by a young female mage I am assuming is his younger sister Bethany.

The new graphical style is clear immediately. Where Dragon Age: Origins strove for detail and realism, Dragon Age II seems a bit more stylised, with the slightest hint of cel-shading if you narrow your eyes, making the whole thing a bit more cartoony than before.

I don't have much time to contemplate the graphics, however, for as soon as a brief dialog runs its course, we are assaulted by a familiar enemy: Darkspawn Hurlocks.

The craggy-faced enemies of the first game have been replaced with foes with faces a bit more yellowish and a little less detailed, but still instantly recognisable.

Less recognisable was what happened when I pressed the attack button.

Instead of initiating a series of slower auto-attacks, hitting the ‘X' button on the controller caused Hawke to lash out viciously with his weapon, lunging forward to stab at his enemies. Pointing the analogue stick towards another enemy and hitting the ‘X' button shifted targets, with Hawke quickly dashing to and attacking his new target.

Button-mashing combat and lightning-fast maneuvering? Is this Dragon Age or God of War?

Okay, perhaps it's not quite that visceral, but there is definitely new urgency and brutality to the combat. Another power, mapped to the ‘A' button, saw Hawke leaping into the air and coming down hard with his sword, his enemies exploding in a shower of blood. Another, mapped to the ‘B' button, sent Hawke spinning, slicing nearby enemies in twain.

With a quick tap of the shoulder button I switch to the mage character, and the majority of her powers are just the same, instantaneously blasting enemies with light and sound. One attack, a sort of fireball, pauses the action long enough for her to select a target. The results are even more devastating than Hawke's sword.

After two waves of Hurlocks are dispatched, one of Dragon Age's go-to shock monsters, the ogre, makes an appearance, roaring in defiance and charging in to get his arse spanked by the super-powered brother and sister team.

And then a giant red dragon appears, and an irritated voice says, "That's not how it happened."

It turns out the battle we just fought wasn't quite real. An annoyed woman with an authoritative air about her berates an overweight man for padding the truth. "You knew him way before he was the hero," she says, and then the game proper begins.

This would normally be the portion of the game where you set your character's appearance, but this is a demo, so we go directly into the story.

Hawke and his family – mother, brother, and sister - are escaping Lothering, now occupied by the Darkspawn. Fleeing into the hills, they are about to stumble upon a Darkspawn patrol when the BioWare rep told me the next group was coming in to play, and I had to leave.

Aside from the fast-paced combat and the new look, the rest of what I saw was pure Dragon Age, from the dialog tree decisions to the flippant, witty writing. It's the fantasy role-playing game you know and possibly love, with a razor-sharp edge that might just snag a few new fans for BioWare.


    This deeply, deeply, saddens me. DAO was a massive simplification of the Baldurs Gate formula - strip all the subtlety out of it, add boobs, a darker colour pallete and xtreme characters. The fact that Bioware feel they need to continue this, goddamn.
    Fuck simplification, fuck streamlining and most of all, FUCK CONSOLE GAMERS. You have destroyed role playing games forever. /end rant.

      roflmao @ elephant, but agree

      Hey, I'm a console gamer.

      But I tell you what; you buy me one of those expensive high-powered desk-top puteneres and I'll glady start playing games "How they're supposed to be played".

      Some people have a life outside of games, some people have wives maybe CHILDREN. Some people can't afford to pay for PCs with the power to properly run they're favorite games.
      Some people make a decision to buy consoles because they know when a new game comes out it will WORK, and they don't have to pay even more for an upgrade.

        What does any of that have to do with the continuing simplification of digital games? I agree that pc gaming upgrades are prohibitively expensive, and that patching sucks. I mean shit, I even own a 360. But one cannot deny that games have become shorter, as well as their systems becoming simpler, since console titles began outselling pc titles (at least in the west).

        Democratizing gaming is a good thing, but not at the cost of quality products.

          There is nothing wrong with consoles or console gamers. Blame the developers who did not put in the time, effort nor research to ensure that the playability of a game is consistent across all platforms *IRRESPECTIVE* of their control system.

          If a game stinks on one platform it is going to stink on any other platform.

        Yes some people do, and in fact some, PC games have all of those things and most would have part.

        PC games just find it depressing that there a so few developers that are willing to support the PC to anywhere near it's potential anymore, and that BioWare USED to be one of them.

        It leaves PC games feeling like car enthusiasts would feel if Ferrari decided to dedicate all their production facilities to golf carts more people can afford them so they'll sell more.

        Do you guys really think it has anything to do with the platform at all? Your PS3 and 360 are FAR more powerful than the machines you played Baldur's Gate on. The PS3 is only just being tapped to its full potential, and only briefly here and there. This has nothing to do with 'power' of the machines at all.

        What does that leave? I re-iterate, PS3 and 360 are just mini computers in funny looking boxes. But what do they not have plugged into them that everything we call a "computer" has? Mouse and Keyboard. While I think M/KB are a pretty crappy interface generally, they are more complex than the controllers used by consoles. Maybe not in an engineering sense mind you, the joysticks and wireless nature of the modern controllers are pretty excellent, but in terms of the fidelity of control that we are used to, M/KB are faster and more precise. So, you end up with more complex interfaces, more details, more options and a higher demand for precision being made by the game itself.

        Its not the fault of the internal hardware, or the 'console' nature of the machines we're talking about. Its about this weird reluctance everyone seems to have (gamers and developers, that is) to plugging in a KB/M into a console. I don't get it. If we can plug a damn drumkit into a console why not KB/M? I've been banging on about this for a couple weeks now, sorry editors, but its confusing me.

        We complain about this a lot at the moment, the interface problem. This is why SC2 isn't released on console, or Diablo or any of the other big PC releases coming up--particularly in the strategy genre (Civ5 comes to mind as well). So change the freaking interface. You can't play RockBand with a gamepad either... no one seems to mind. This dogma that consoles are dumbing down games is ridiculous. Its the kind of people who are playing games recently--the chubby middle I call them. There are more people in the middle of society who DON'T want super complex games than who do. They're the ones who prefer Gears of War to Baldur's Gate. God of War to Shadow of the Colossus, etc. There are MORE of them than there are of the 'traditional gamer' so game devs are going after their dollar. Though I agree that they don't necessarily need to, or that they shouldn't necessarily shun their original audience, they can't ignore the fat wallets of these more mainstream people.

        Ok that's plenty.

      I couldn't get into DAO on console, even after about 15 hours of playing. The whole time all i could think was "this would be better on pc"

      Are you kidding - consoles have brought RPG's to the masses, thus saving studios that would have died if they would have hung their hats on PC sales. DAO had plenty of complexity and depth and was well worth the money for a console game. If you are the type of person that wants to choose the bonus you receive depending on what way you groom your characters pubic hair then you are a minority. As you put it, fuck micro-management and fuck OCD option trees but hey, that's why I got a console. Having said that, Civilization was a failure on the console and I look forward to Civ V and loading that bad boy on the PC only. Horses for courses and studios will always follow the money.

      PC gamers killed single player PC games themselves - as they will only cough up actual cash for the game if they are forced to by multiplayer keys or MMORPG's.

      I adored Baldurs Gate, Planescape etc, but the money just isn't there for studios anymore as it would just get pirated to hell.

        Which is pretty much what CryTech said when they announced Crysis2.

      Ha Ha!! PC gamers... So Serious... So Grumpy... So Sad :)

      You idiot. You're blaming console gamers for the oblivion (no pun) of good RPG games, because console game sales are higher than PC game sales. When in reality, it's the amount of PC GAMERS pirating the titles that is having the most damaging effect of the "quality" within the industry.

      Blaming gamers for buying games is moronic. If anything, you should be yelling "FUCKING PC GAMERS!!"

    See as a lover of Baldur's Gate and its ilk, I also thought DAO was a little oversimplified but I still enjoyed playing it. The direction Bioware seem to be taking with Mass Effect and Dragon Age doesn't sadden me - they're still great fun to play. As long as there is someone giving me my fiddly stats and custom skill choices I'll be happy.

    Meh, Mass Effect 1 > 2

    Looks like the same is going to happen to DAO

    Oh my god, it's like Oblivion all over again...

    Dragon Effect 2 is looking alright.

    Anyone would think dragon age didn't sell well enough . Very sad, tho I hope it is just the article playing up the dumbed down nature of the game.

    Why don't you guys just wait until the game comes out THEN start complaining, when he said "then the game proper begins", i just thought it was Bioware's sense of humour kicking in and making you think it's a total action game.

    Maybe until i see the gameplay AFTER the first part, then i'll understand.

    Accept Change.

    I'm actually looking forward to this. I don't own a 360 or PS3 and welcome the apparent changes.

    DA:O had an odd feel to it, something just wasn't right. The story was fantastic, the writing incredible, voice acting that raised the bar for video games.

    But it just felt clunky. If this is going to be faster paced then all the better, the Dark Age setting would work perfectly with faster paced combat, as long as it's smooth.

    Sticky Friction remember?

    Besides, Dark Age was NOT a new BG, spiritual successor it maybe, but we will never see a game like BG again and I would prefer Bioware take this fantastic setting and shift it to the left a little, instead of trying to make a sequel MORE like BG then it's predecessor.

    How unfortunate...

    By sounds DA 2 is more action game (they all have RPG elements now-days), than of a RPG.
    I called it when they were on about their new control system, but I had hoped I was wrong.
    Now I will hope for the PC version to have a "classic" control system. If they don't they will probably blame piracy when it doesn't sell as well as they expect on PC.

    Like many others it seems, I'm not too happy with the direction that Dragon Age 2 is heading. Although this strikes me as odd, as I can't be more excited for The Witcher 2, which is looking to tick all the same boxes as Dragon Age 2 (visceral combat, meaningful choices and the rest of the usual RPG wishlist)

    I suppose I just want more Dragon Age gameplay from Dragon Age 2 (just like I wanted more Neverwinter Nights combat from Dragon Age, and more Baulders Gate combat from Neverwinter Nights!)

    I guess they won't be touting this as another "spiritual successor to BG"

    Shame, I think the BG formula updated would be a real winner. Not to say that DAII won't be a good game. It's just not what I was expecting by the looks.

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