Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Dragon Age 2 preview

After a pretty short space of time, the next instalment in Dragon Age (cunningly entitled Dragon Age 2) is set for release. The game comes out on 8 March for the US and 11 March for the UK. It’s available on PC, Mac, PS3 and Xbox 360.

I really enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O), the first game in the Dragon Age world. This preview, in common with reviews I’ve done, will be as light on spoilers as possible whilst still offering quite a bit of information.

The areas covered are: character creator, companions, mechanics (battle/speech system etc), locations, DLC.

Character Creator

The DA:O creator was pretty good, but it did have the odd flaw. Beards on humans, for example, would instantly render the face gaunter than Grand Moff Tarkin. The new creator boasts an increased number of hairstyles, eye colours (which will be more discernible) and allow you to play as default Hawke (the protagonist, who can be male or female) with or without the trademark blood smear. However, gone are the options of playing as an elf or a dwarf. You must be human.

There’s also an indirect improvement with the creator, which is the effect upon Hawke’s family. In DA:O, there was the potential for, er, questionable parentage. (See http://www.peasanthovel.com/2010/10/life-is-awkward-for-ebony-cousland/).

In DA2, the change is twofold. Firstly, your family’s faces alter based on the preset face you opt for. It also takes account of the skin colour you choose, so there should be a pretty wide range of familial faces and Hawke should avoid any embarrassing doubts about his or her parentage.


The four-man party (including Hawke) returns. In DA2, a number of old faces make returns, alongside new characters. Happily, the excellent banter of DA:O is back, and when not in the party characters have lives of their own, living apart from Hawke.

Bethany and Carver: Bethany is a mage, and Hawke’s little sister. She and Carver (a warrior) are twins, and Hawke’s first companions.

Aveline: A lady warrior who fights with a sword and shield. Very much a goody two shoes.

Anders: Yes, the mage from Awakenings returns (though it’s unclear whether Ser Pounce-a-lot will be with him). I won’t spoil it, but he’s substantially different (in what sounds like a good way).

Fenris: The mandatory bisexual and rather violent elf, formerly a slave to a Tevinter.

Isabela: The same Isabela, but with a different appearance and voice actress, to the one seen in The Pearl during DA:O. As you might expect, she’s a bit nice, but also a bit naughty.

Merrill: Another DA:O returnee, she was a brief companion during the Dalish Elf Origin story (the Keeper’s assistant). This time elves have substantially different appearances and Merrill also has another voice actress, who may be familiar to those into British sci-fi.

Varric: A dwarf without a beard is blasphemy indeed. Oh well. He does have a nifty crossbow, and is the narrator of the story.

Sebastian: DLC character. An archer and a nobleman displeased by his declining fortunes.


There has been much grumbling about the altered battle system. I haven’t played the demo, but my understanding is this: it’s a bit faster. That’s the primary change, and a good one.

Cool down on healing potions/spells has been increased quite a bit, which will make killing foes quickly even more important. Mages are as strong as they were before and the other two classes have been improved.

Skills are now learnt along a web rather than in a linear fashion. So, you might buy a single spell and upgrade it twice, or you could buy three separate spells. There’s greater freedom and it seems like a good idea.

Some character items can be altered, and Hawke’s helmet-visibility can be toggled on and off, but the companion clothing/armour cannot be altered outside of the plot.

A big change is that Hawke is now a voiced rather than silent protagonist. This has led to a dialogue wheel, whereby a summary of what he will say is provided rather than the full text.

Another change for the better is that the companion relationship system has been improved. For a start, the days of giving tons of present to become more popular are gone. Gifts are still around but they’re fewer and companion-specific. In addition, you can become a friend or a rival to a companion, and the latter is not necessarily a bad thing. This should help get rid of the incentive to make decisions based on what will prove popular with your companions.


Aside from an early bit of the game, it takes place in the Free Marches (medieval England meets Greek city states), more specifically the city of Kirkwall. There are various parts to the city and occasional excursions beyond it. However, the way the story progresses is based on time, not geography. This is a radical departure from DA:O and most other RPGs, and could work brilliantly if well-executed.

It reminds me a bit of FFXII (the last FF I bought) when the excellent political storyline involving the judges and Archadia was not fully developed. Hopefully that won’t be the case in DA2.

An important shift is that the story progresses as a framed narrative (think Princess Bride). So, it’s told in distinct segments of time. I’ve read that it’ll be made very clear when a time shift is about to occur to stop people accidentally ending a chapter when they’ve still got stuff they want to do.


I must be honest and say I really dislike DLC. It’s not just that I don’t have a wireless connection, but the idea that parts of the game are held back and then charged for. If I buy a game, I want everything included in the box.

Admittedly, firms must try and prevent or reduce piracy, and this sort of thing may work. It also prolongs game longevity and player engagement.

Anyway, as I wrote above, there’s another DLC character (I especially dislike this kind of DLC), Sebastian the rogue. There are also a number of items available, and I imagine there will be some post-release DLC such as Awakenings.

One of the coolest DLC items is an in-game character editor, though I’m unsure whether this will affect the appearance of Bethany/Carver.

I’m rather looking forward to this game. Later in the year Hunted: The Demon’s Forge looks potentially very good, and Skyrim may just be trouser-explodingly fantastic in November.


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