Don't Worry, Dragon Age II Is For You Too

I'd heard and read that some Dragon Age fans were worried about Dragon Age II, the upcoming sequel I finally saw and played today. Was this game really an example of role-playing game powerhouse BioWare abandoning its past?

Well, don't let your heart stop as I tell you that I was shown the game on the Xbox 360 today.

As cultures divide among gamers, there is a crowd of players who respect greatly the work BioWare did years ago on great role-playing games for the PC, games that 2009's Dragon Age: Origins was seen as a natural successor. That community has loved Dragon Age: Origins for its depth and complexity, relishing its tactical overhead camera view, one not offered in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the 2009 game. They enjoyed the game's deep story, its myriad of gameplay and narrative choices. And with computer mice in hand they could assume that BioWare thought of Dragon Age as a PC series first, given that BioWare's internal teams didn't even make the Xbox and PlayStation versions of Origins.

PC people, do not worry that I was only shown the Xbox 360 version of Dragon Age II. Let me share a few details about this game.

The Things We Can Agree Are Better

The new game gives the hero a voice and a new dialogue system similar to that of BioWare's Mass Effect series. To have a conversation, you choose from multiple choice responses, each one represented by a phrase that hints at the actual line the male or female protagonist (your choice) will speak. Unlike Mass Effect, however, the wheel of dialogue choices will display icons associated with each choice that indicate the emotion of the line: mocking, accusatory, peace-making and so forth, so you don't get caught by surprise.

Voice is good. How about scope? The new game occurs over the course of a decade, its first year overlapping with the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins (they can do this because the DAII story skips ahead from time to time). You're playing as a new character, which I know fans of any version of Origins are not unanimously thrilled about, but a BioWare marketing man who showed me the game today assured me that all of player's important choices about the story and world that they made in Origins will carry over. This includes choices about who lived or died, and this includes choices made even by players who didn't finish the game. Players of DAII won't feel like their version of the Dragon Age: Origins narrative is invalidated by the events of this sequel, the BioWare rep told me.

Graphics? They're better, I think anyone who looks at screenshots of the game would agree. They're more detailed, the colours more vivid. Blood will splatter on characters a little less in this sequel, I hope no one minds. But it does splatter, as I saw when I watched one of my party characters chat with a lady who was spackled in blood from a freshly finished fight.

But Didn't They Dumb It Down?

BioWare is clearly making a play for a wider audience with Dragon Age II, hence the faster combat, the lower camera angles, the more action-packed presentation of content so far. On the console versions you will be tapping buttons for attacks, using six mapped special moves off of combo pulls of the the right trigger and presses of the other three face buttons. That's actually not new, though the motto the BioWare rep shared to me of Dragon Age II ensuring that each button press makes "something awesome happen" does sound like a change.

You can still pause combat. On the console or PC version you can stop the action, transfer from character to character, assigning their one next move (you can't stack commands). So strategic fighting has not been eliminated, just not shown much to the press. BioWare, the rep explained, prefers to show off a more exciting, fast-moving play style for the sequel, even though they support that turn-taking approach. That faster style is what they want to hook Fable fans with, what they think even a Borderlands fan might dig.

Character customisation is also back, though the talking point there is that BioWare is going for depth moreso than breadth this time. This is their version of narrowing things: Each character in your party as well as your own hero has six skill trees, different for each of the game's three classes (rogue, warrior, mage), and each tree has five to eight abilities that can be purchased and used. Some of those abilities have two or three upgrades that can also be locked. Plus, each party member has a unique skill tree among their six. That's narrower, yes? But it's not nothing and certainly deeper than, say, Mass Effect. Characters also still have attributes like willpower and cunning that can be upgrade point by point.

PC Differences

There are some changes PC fans should know, about how their version will differ. First, and this is sort of a non-difference, but the PC game won't be made separately. All versions of the game are being made by BioWare's internal teams. The bigger change, however, is that the game will no longer support an overhead tactical view. This was an art and combat-design decision, the BioWare rep told me. Support for that Baldur's Gate-style view forced the artists to design rooms and scenes that didn't have important things on their ceilings and skies - which top-down players wouldn't see. It also forced the designers into an awkward spot where they had to accommodate top-down turn-taking players and behind-the-back action-first players which, catering to the more reckless of those playing styles, forced the game's difficulty to be low. Making all player play from some sort of from-the-rear camera view alleviates that. But! PC gamers, your version will include a special option to zoom the camera back, just not up. Console gamers won't get that.

The PC version will also handle combat commands a little differently, letting player click to issue a continued attack command, instead of forcing them to button-mash (or mouse-click like maniacs, as it were). Leave that to the console gamers.

What to make of all this? Dragon Age II's lack of depth may have been exaggerated. I'd seen concerns that BioWare was abandoning its roots by making DAII more of a Mass Effect kind of game. I don't see that happening as egregiously here as I think some had feared. This series has been altered for a wider audience, but dumbed down? Sold out? I don't see that. There are classic PC RPG roots here. They're just a little more buried than before.

Dragon Age II will be out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 8 in North America.


    I don't seee the need to remove the different view on a console.

    Maybe a choice to play either way on either system would be better.

    Not everyone has a console and a decent PC to pick the version they like.
    I bought an xBox so I could play games while my wife uses the PC. Now I'm forced to play a paticular way because of it.

      Personally I don't agree with a single one of those changes. I like playing an unvoiced character.

      I prefer my RPG's to be tactical as opposed to action. I understand that a lot of people feel the opposite, that's why I was happy that Bioware had Mass Effect and Dragon Age, as they could cater to different groups. This is definitely sounding more like "Mass Effect with Swords" with every passing day.

      "Dragon Age II ensuring that each button press makes “something awesome happen”"
      This statement sums up so much of what I think is wrong with the approach to DA2.
      I prefer to create something awesome myself. Take Bioshock for example; sure you could just shoot the big daddy's to death, but it was so much more when you set up an elaborate trap, with electrocuted water, exploding canisters etc. Pulling such a trap off is far far more rewarding I find than just shooting something that's positioned there for that specific purpose by the designers for 'cinematic purposes' in something like CoD.

      Then again, I'm probably just one of 'those' people who would much prefer a modern graphics and UI remake of Baulders Gate or Planescape...
      Dragon Age was step in the right directions (compared to Mass Effect), but DA2 is sounding more and more like they've just done a 180 back the other way...

        whoops, not a reply sorry!

    See, until there is a hands-on PC preview I don't see how anything anyone says about the PC version can be valid. Except for the Bioware folk who are cryptic and mostly silent over the PC version.

      Weren't all the ones at Gamescom in Germany on PC?

    Its sad, Bioware are going full console. Looks like Ill be saving money in march.

    So they removed top down added mass effect's stupid convo wheel which is all well and good for flowing conversation but i don't need that my char doesn't have a voice.

    Oh wait now he does and i didn't get to pick his looks or his voice or anything about him and about 3 hours in i'll start skipping conversation because they always pick someone who makes me want to gouge my ears.

    The reason's i enjoyed my dragon age experience all seem to be gone. and as usual it's to get more idiot's on the console's to play the game because the first one was too hard and the rats killed them.

    even the video last week made it look like ME in the Dark ages. oh look how fast i can shoot ma fireballs ma.

    guess it's time to go back to baldurs gate then to get my RPG fix.

      It clearly states in the article that you CAN customise your character in every way that was in the first except race.

    Well, that confirms all my fears - no overhead tact camera, looks to be less abilities, mass effect dialogue tree. And I hate the character having a voice, it distances me from the world, especially when the character is designed to look 'cool' with scars and tattoos and shit with the name 'hawke'. Games like BG, Fallout and KOTOR and hell the original dragon age, are games I can be immersed in due the character being solely me - a roleplaying experience.

    I'll wait and see how this game turns out, lots more interesting games coming out though.

    Just a thought, not only is this sounding more like Mass Effect, I think it's also going to be very similar to The Witcher 2. Both are touting improved 'all action' combat systems, both are swords and sorcery based combat, and medieval-esque worlds. Both have set, voiced lead characters.
    Yet I couldn't be more excited about The Witcher, and more disappointed in Dragon Age 2...
    Personally I feel like the Witcher looks to be pulling this off far better based on previews so far; I suppose it just goes to show that we gamers (well at least me!) can be very fickle creatures!

    Gotta join the crowd here in saying that I don't want to play as "Hawke", I want to make my own character. For me that is the whole point of these style of games. I like freedom, I don't like being shoved down a path. Infact I found the first one restricting enough with its insistence that I join the Jedi Knights- sorry, Grey Wardens.
    Everything I have read about this game has turned me off it.

    Hmmmmmm. I can't say the 'streamlining' of skill trees and some of the combat fills me with joy, but the option of tactical combat is still there - making the changes seem much more due to marketing concerns rather than gameplay ones. Will still probably pick it up, but I'm slightly concerned with all the concessions to more casual RPG-adventure hybrids - we definitely don't need another Fable.

    Can't wait for this game. I had the PC version but I never played from a top view, it just felt wrong, DA2 sounds more in the style I like. Only problem is I'd prefer to get DA2 on console but since you can apparently transfer your DA:O save I have to get it on PC because as far as I know there is no way to transfer a PC save game to console.

    *vomit* all the rep speak makes me sick 'make something awesome happen' by pressing a button... yeah, um thats great

    You really crapped out on this one bioware

      I agree.

      ‘make something awesome happen’ by pressing a button

      reads to me like "we're making games for stupid people now, oh and good news, you no longer have to read anything!"

      A little insulted, I have no qualms with Console RPG's they just don't tickle me the same way, and I am saddened to see the Dragon Age world taken down that path.

      When I look at the game and ignore it's a sequel it does look quite interesting and I'll probably purchase it. If it can flow as smoothly and with the pace they're promising in combat I believe I'll get a real kick out of it.

    After reading all the comments here I've decided to write a nice positive comment.

    I have already pre-ordered Dragon Age 2. I am very excited about it and am even replayin Origins now in anticipation.

    I am even considering paying for the DL content which I rarely do.

    Keep up the good work Bioware.

    This is bumming me out... no stacking of moves? Same conversation system as Mass Effect ):
    It's a damn shame, I say, to sell yourself like that Bioware.

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