Over the weekend at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, I was able to get some hands-on time with BioWare’s upcoming Dragon Age 2. According to Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw, up until the beginning of the convention on Wednesday, only 11 people outside of the team had seen the game, so it was a real treat to check it out.

Before getting to play the demo which had been setup for the show, Laidlaw gave about a ten minute introduction to Dragon Age 2, including talking about some of the most significant changes since the original. The BioWare team developing the sequel first looked at Dragon Age: Origins after its release, including forum and reviewer feedback. From there, they went on to discuss if these suggestions/changes were something they would implement in the sequel… (cont.)

Read the rest of our Dragon Age 2 preview from the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, head After the Break!
(cont.) After much hashing out, they decided that Dragon Age 2 would be a far more epic experience, where players would feel like they were controlling a party of ‘badasses’. Additionally, Laidlaw admitted that Dragon Age: Origins was ‘not great’, visually-speaking. To this, he made note of the re-designed overall visual style of the sequel, which would enable their upgraded game engine to pump out a lot more detail at the same frames per second. Again, We had not seen the game up to this moment – he had only been showing us charts and slides highlighting his topics.

Laidlaw then went on to announce that Dragon Age 2 would feature a new combat system. Gone would be the Frankenstein-like transitions between character movements, replaced by what was claimed to be a far more fluid system of control, character animation, and fighting. Interestingly, Laidlaw mentioned that Dragon Age 2 would not leave the tacticians out of the mix either – he noted that they want players to ‘think like a general and fight light a Spartan’. This means that queuing up actions would still be present (which made me, as a PC gamer, breathe a bit easier).

Something even more impressive, is that Dragon Age 2 will give the player much more of a ‘voice’ and really show off the results of his or her decisions and actions. The dialogue engine is actually capable of handling up to 10 different conversation choices – 4 more than Dragon Age: Origins! The game would also be told in a ‘frame narrative’ style, a story within a story, if you will. This will allow the game to cover a MUCH longer period of time than the original – a whole decade, to be precise!

The player’s character is named ‘Hawke’, and he is a survivor of the Darkspawn destruction of Lothering, a civilian town. Hawke ends up a refugee who escapes to the North – ten years later, Hawke is the ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ and also a ‘very prominent figure in the country’. One small problem, however, and that is that things have gone seriously wrong and now the people’s are again on the brink of war and Hawke (and his party) are the only ones who can fix things.

Different than Dragon Age: Origins, where players had multiple characters to choose from, Hawke is more of a fixed character in terms of name and origin – however, an unspecified length into the game, the player will be able to customize Hawke by deciding on a class, etc.

After talking about all the changes to the sequel, Laidlaw fired up the Xbox 360-based demo. Visually, characters looked A LOT more crisp and detailed than in Dragon Age: Origins. The graphical changes are very apparent, as is the new combat system…

I must admit, watching the combat initially, I was a bit concerned over the hack-and-clash style combat until the developer who was demoing the game hit the radial command menu, which allowed him to queue up actions for both Hawke and his companion, a female mage of some sort. After he performed some queuing, it was back to the fast-paced combat. It was just delightful to see Darkspawn giblets flying about everywhere. Blood was a major theme, both in figuratively and literally, in the first game and it looks like they are continuing this in the sequel – lots and lots of the red stuff flying about here.

Hawke’s melee swings could chop down several enemies at the same time while the mage had some very cool attacks of her own. She could stun an enemy, holding him in mid-air, then pretty much make him explode… VERY. COOL.

In fact, magic users will be very pleased to find out that they will also be getting those awesome fatality-style movements warriors so often received. In the demo, the mage pulled off a wicked finisher on the obligatory Ogre which joined the fray. Laidlaw mentioned that your party members would no longer just be ‘sacks of hit points’, but really formidable opponents in their own right.

After some this combat, a dialog sequenced opened up with Hawke and his companion. As I previously mentioned, not only is the dialogue system able to handle up to ten conversation choices, but BioWare is also adding a central icon to the dialogue choice wheel, which will display the general tone of the message you would convey with that choice. For instance, peaceful options would show and olive branch while aggressive choices would show a red clenched-fist. This is handy as, in Dragon Age: Origins, sometimes the context of your dialogue choice was not always apparent.

I could not help but draw a comparison between Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 2, and even what Bethsoft did with Fallout 3 in that, they are much more streamlined and action-oriented than their originals while also leaving in much of the tactical elements fans also enjoyed. While I can foresee some fans of the original game being hesitant in the changes to the overall design of Dragon Age 2, I have a lot of faith in BioWare on this one as I got the chance to play the same demo myself after the presentation ended, and found it to be VERY smooth and easy to transition back and forth between combat and the radial command menu.

Speaking to Laidlaw after my demo time was up, I asked what PC gamers could expect in regards to these control system changes. Mike responded by saying that PC gamers could expect their version of the game to be very similar to Dragon Age: Origins in terms of control (WASD, mouse, etc) but with the combat system changes found on the console versions.

I also asked if Dragon Age 2 was following the same development path as the original – being created for the PC and then split off for its console variants. Apparently, this time around they are developing the game simultaneously on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. This is being done to avoid time delays but also to make sure the experience never feels ported over from one platform to another. Each experience promises to be rewarding on its own merits.

If this demo was any indication, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up to be a juiced-up version of the original with better graphics, more blood, and a very interesting story-telling dynamic. A special thanks to Mike Laidlaw, Chris Priestly, Fernando Melo, and David Silverman of BioWare for their hospitality in granting us access to this demo.


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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com