Dragon Age II Hands-On

We cut a swathe through the Deep Roads and sample the new dialogue wheel as Dragon Age II's Marian Hawke.

However invested you were in the Warden hero of Dragon Age: Origins, it was hard to shake the feeling you were a mute telepath with a chatty entourage. Picking dialogue options as the silent protagonist and getting a vocal response felt distinctly old school. It was by no means a deal breaker, but the difference in the fully voiced Dragon Age II is striking--the branching conversations on which the story turns are more natural and immersive, as we found with Marian Hawke, the well-spoken (English, apparently) mage heroine of our demo.

The visuals, with more distinctive design and fewer rough edges, are another change with immediate impact. Other differences, such as the glossier presentation and punchier combat, will be fully felt after hours of play--and there will be plenty of hours. Where the first game sprawled across the kingdom of Ferelden, the sequel spreads through time, spanning years. Much has been said about the framed narrative: the story is told in flashback, as the recollections of Hawke's dwarf comrade Varric. This gives the plot a start and an end point, with room for the fiction to manoeuvre in between.

We played the Xbox 360 version of the game through a section of the main quest line about 20 hours in and joined our level 10 Hawke in the Deep Roads, Ferelden's network of abandoned dwarven tunnels. In Hawke’s party was Aveline, a knight-like human warrior, Isabela, a pirate-like human rogue, and Varric, also a rogue, packing a huge crossbow. The character models are refined over those of the previous game, with finer facial details and better-looking costumes--or less absurd headgear, at any rate. Animations are less stiff, too, with more nifty flourishes in combat and more natural posing outside of it.

Hawke and her crew, part of an expedition led by Varric's brother Bartrand, had come to a forgotten city, where they had stumbled on a magical artefact--"an idol of pure lyrium". Soon after we joined the game, Bartrand pilfered the idol and fled, leaving Hawke trapped underground with a host of unfriendly natives: a dragon flanked by little dragonlings, magical rock golems ("profanes"), and screeching demonic shades. Cue a lot of fighting in Dragon Age II's lightly rejigged combat system.

Though it's more obvious when you play as a melee class character than a mage, there's a new immediacy to combat, which feels more like fighting and less like queuing a command. You hit a face button and deliver a blow, cooldowns notwithstanding, with the punchiness underlined by more dynamic animations. The pause-and-play system is still in place, if that's more your bag, letting you freeze combat and flit between characters, issuing commands before restarting the action. Our Hawke had been levelled as a spellcaster focused on lightning-type magic, with a chain lightning spell and tempest--a stormy, wide-ranging, area-of-effect spell--among her attacks. These looked nice and sparky; we didn't notice any of the slowdown that sometimes troubled the biggest, flashiest spells in the original Dragon Age.

A glance at Hawke's ability screen revealed a slicker, friendlier-looking menu, with spells clustered together into small talent trees laid out on a single page. These trees are grouped by school of magic (elemental, primal, and the like) or specialisation (spirit healer, blood mage), with the latter needing a specialisation point to unlock--granted at levels seven and 14, said the menu. The menu screens are more polished and less utilitarian generally, except for the tactics screen in which you can program party member behaviour (if property X is less than Y, attack A with spell B), which is still on the uninviting side.

There will be blood (all over your face).

After cutting a swathe through the forgotten city, we met a rock wraith abomination (a demonically possessed rock creature), triggering the meatiest conversation in our demo. It played out in radial dialogue menus, Mass Effect 2-style, with a dialogue option's intent denoted by an emblem on the wheel: an olive branch for a peaceful line, a hammer for an aggressive one, and so on. Not all tones of dialogue option were available at each juncture, but others came with, for example, a heart, a star, or a Greek comedy mask. Coupled with more cinematic framing and the voiced Hawke, conversations are much closer to Mass Effect 2's gold standard, though characters are still extravagantly spattered with blood on occasion. We struck a deal with the creature that demanded we find an ancient crypt and destroy its guardian in return for an escape route from the underground city.

Accordingly, we found the crypt--a flinty cavern with glowing red veins--and faced off with its guardian: another huge rock wraith, this one with a powerful rock fist and the ability to summon profanes. This boss-like fight and the absence of a healer character had us micromanaging the party members, not least to keep them out of the way of the rock wraith's periodic rolling knockdown attack. Here, the rhythm of combat started to feel familiar, as we flipped between characters to keep everyone healthy and in the right spot, a la Dragon Age: Origins. It remains to be seen, then, how radically overhauled the combat feels in the long run--but certainly in its visuals, presentation, and dialogue system, Dragon Age II is looking to be a more confident, polished adventure than its predecessor.

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335 comments
bababoss
bababoss

this is close to real very good

altec812
altec812

Only one thing really needs to be said now that the game is actually out. This is NOT Dragon Age, just a game with some Dragon Age type things being sold as something it is not. I will not be buying this game after all, fortunately I can roll that 60 dollars towards something else.

hoomanlp
hoomanlp

EA destroy everything he touch. bye bioware who give us neverwinter nights. and DLC in first day of release is just Gross, just ask for more money we give it to you. it is not a new game they just want to make more money with a new campain in DA 1

cosmicdish
cosmicdish

played the new demo did not like it . why would you make this game like dantes inferno,i dont believe it did that well,but it seems like ea just wants to ram that down my throat. you could of made a new dragon age with improvements and also come out with a new dantes inferno that no one would have wanted again.but it seems like you had half of a dantes inferno sitting around that you were not going to use because it did not do well,so you added it to dragon age and came out with a sequel really fast. by the way i was looking forward to dantes inferno,because i thought it could have been the first dark amazing well written mature adult game,if you have read the book it could have been truely epic.

Devchi
Devchi

Boy, Im a bit tired of this debate were can be considered a RPG or not. Its a pretty useful debate. Dragon Age 2 is pretty fun as far as I played the demo. I play on PC, and thee auto-attack is on. There less spells, but them again, a lot of spells were just useless in DA:O. Most of them you just had to get to access better ones. Also, you couldn't really improve the spells you actually used a lot. This in DA2 changes. The 2 handed warrior now is good, not the lame useless guy in the first game. Pretty much class now have a more defined role, wich is good news. About the dialog options, I didnt really mind if my char was mute and I prefer to have more options, but it isn't a huge change either.

UPinSmoke020
UPinSmoke020

Played the demo on xbox. After 5 minutes my hand started to cramp out from all that button smashing. I'm very very disapointed. This is a hack and slash game now and even on that part they failed big time! You dont have the option of blocking attacks so all u do is ram the A button and get hit 100 times wile doing it. This just feels stupid. Either go all the way hack and slash or dont bother at all. Also the new dialog system sucks! Feels like they narrowed down your respons options and you never know what you are about to say. In other words if u wanna insult someone you will never know it wil happen. The game discides what your are going to say and not you! Dont know if it was only in the demo but the tallents have been narrowed down for idiots aswel. Think only 20% of the spells is left compared to DA:0. Biggest dissapointment for 2011.

papereat
papereat

cant stand his beard, needs to be more like mine

stormlord87
stormlord87

Just saw the gameplay trailers, and I'm disappointed as hell. In particular, what's with the combat? Swords the size of lamp-posts being swung around like sticks? Phase-shifting into combat? Some might just call it style, or artistic license, but hear me out: gameplay is supposed to reflect and support the story/setting, and the dragon age setting was supposed to be a more realistic, gritty, darker world. japanese/hongkong style flying swords doesn't fit, and frankly goes a long way in killing the atmosphere the setting and story try so hard to create. This is Thedas, not Hyrule. please bioware, you're respected for knowing your target audience. If i wanted whirling blades and hack'n'slash, I'd just play God of War.

sinner_uk
sinner_uk

Just played the demo for this and one word comes to mind.......WOW!.....Bioware has done it again...theyve taken the original concept for the game and improved the hell out of it

vortex_gw
vortex_gw

DA:O >= BG2 > ME2 >= KotOR > ME1 > BG > NWN DA2? I hope it's at least as good as DA:O Jade Empire is mediocre.

kashi1996
kashi1996

I am really excited about this game , i played dragon age origins and the awakening, and absolutely loved them to bits, so i was overjoyed when hearing about dragon age 2, i have already played the demo on Xbox 360 and it was awesome, and by the way the preview for this game was spot on , i think this game is really going to shine because its an amazing game that is just plain awesome . already preordered from GAME :D

FatalFist
FatalFist

@Nemesis4747 yea i was sooooo shocked when EA bought Bioware=x seemed like an end to an amazing company. but i guess their smart enuf to let bioware work itself, cuz i havnt seen them go downhill. Hell...more funding only got better=P We got Clint Mansell in!!!!!!!!! sure, JackWall is amazing Wid MassEffect1/2 and an amazing soundtrack for JadeEmpire...but Clint Mansell is in a league of his own.

FatalFist
FatalFist

JadeEmpire>KOTOR>DRAGONAGE>ME2>ME dunno where to place NeverWinterNIghts and Baldurs Gate, they were my first taste of true RPS awsomeness...so i guess their in the "Hall Of Fame" =D (so yea, im still waiting for a game as awsome as JadeEmpire, man the story was kick-ass amazing)

prince__vlad
prince__vlad

what a **** game...I wonder how could anyone play such a game...

whyymee
whyymee

TACTICAL PAUSING is a MUST:))):))):))))

whyymee
whyymee

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Gredirn
Gredirn

I agree BG and NWN/2 were great games and had truer RPG characteristics but they are missing alot of new key elements that I like in newer RPGs, for instance" On the edge of the seat cinimatics ."If they added better graphics and some other new basic elements older RPG would probably blow them out of the water. @Maddogtaylor I played both DA and Oblivion.I agree in a sense that it was linear compared to Oblivion and Oblivion put you into a more Fantareal presense since it gave you more freedom to move around but all in all DA layed the smack down on Oblivions story and amount the main plot lasted. @MadKeloo I thought both ME & ME2 had great story telling but I agree that when they created ME2 they took out alot of RPG elements etc Item inventory , Armor animation on avatars and a fail chance on skills.It seemed to me, ME was more RPG then ME2. Mass Effect 2 seem more Action RPG then True RPG. @TheLawLord I played the first version Witcher and ya , it had hella bugs and graphic problems but after I updated it there wasn't a problem from start to finish easy/hard with alternate endings.The game was great Action RPG.

vortex_gw
vortex_gw

@Nemesis4747 Yeah, you are right. The true RPGs in which you had to spent 30min rerolling so you could get the best stats, contrived combat/armor restrictions and in which you could miss to hit a chest... Also to all the whinners. Loot-- 90% of which is useless-- and fiddling like selling that useless loot, long skill trees and grinding doesn't make a game RPG. Mass Effect 2 is more RPG than Diablo 2.

Nemesis4747
Nemesis4747

i gunna miss the days of boulders gate and neverwinter with true rpg gameplay, i can see it now, in ten years EA will corrupt bioware to the point where they make a dragon age fps type game flled with ads for subway and coca cola.

ii_shugo_ii
ii_shugo_ii

@ Maddogtaylor You're comparing Oblivion to Dragon Age? Ohhhh...kids these days.

Maddogtaylor
Maddogtaylor

could never play dragon age after playing oblivion it just seemed cheap and linear in comparison, hope this one will be a bit more explorable

MadKeloo
MadKeloo

Yeah, the ME2 storyline wasn't that great as the first one. I liked that they've worked on the characters background, and such but like you said the end wasn't great at all, it didn't felt that after a long journey you've acomplished something great as the first ME. In the first game I like that you started an investigation most of the first part of the game(which I love at a RPG), interogating npcs, etc... Everything was a mistery, that made it so great, and delivered that epic story and the feeling that you've acomplished something great at the end of the game.

TheLawLord
TheLawLord

@MadKeloo Never played The Witcher as I remember when it came out it was railed on as really buggy and had some language translation issues. I have heard that the extended version or whatever fixed all of those problems and is truly awesome. Hoping it goes on sale right before Witcher II comes out. As for DA2, I'm not against enjoying a solid experience, just against rewarding game companies for simply churning out a similar or worse product and ignoring the fans who put them there in the first place. I'll still pick it up, just not at full price. I probably will enjoy it for 20 bucks a few months from now, because like you I do enjoy a well crafted RPG. Agree with you fully on ME2. I too enjoyed it for what it was, which was a mostly action/little bit RPG shooter. It was just too bad that they really flaked out on the story, which had the potential to turn truly awesome. The ending just felt so pointless in the bigger scheme of the story. Anyway, cheers and enjoy the game.

Wafflezorz
Wafflezorz

@Nodashi you obviously loved dragon age: origins. i am not really sure what you meant by "tell that to mortal kombat.." and such. lol, but, i understand you not being happy with the changes, that is a matter of personal preference. i loved both me and me2, but unlike you i kind of did not like that they simplfied the rpg elements so much. did that change if i loved the game or not? no. i totally get that you loved the parts of origins that have been paired down, and bioware definitely seems to focus more on the console versions now. i think that EA is the cause. as to the whole pc v. consoles, i dont have an opinion. i think it is like arguing apples and pears. if you like one, great, if you like the other great. but dont be hateful and mean because someone like the other. i do see what you mean, regarding the whole dumbing it down sort of thing, i think ea pushes bioware to make the games appeal to wider and wider groups to make more money, i think that this is bad for the games. Bioware should make the game they think is best. i am myself hesitant about the "faster-pace" combat, but i trust bioware enough to give them a shot. Bioware has not disappointed me yet and i wont doubt them until they do. and i dont know how da 2 will be, it hasnt been released yet.

MadKeloo
MadKeloo

Well they could've made a much better game, they could've improved many more things, but as long as they've kept the gameplay elements of the previous game I'm pleased, and I hope I'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the first one. But the most anticipated game of this year for me is The Witcher 2 which is a huge step forward from the first witcher, which I really enjoyed and is one of my favourite rpgs along side DAO. I'm pretty sure that DA II on PC played on hard or even nightmare will be a great tactical rpg experience. It's not like in ME2's case where they stripped out many rpgs elements such as looting, character customization etc... Anyway looting was kind of a waste of time in the first ME. I remember that most of the loot was crap, and every time I came from a mission I had to spend alot of time selling unimportant stuff. But I enjoyed ME2 aswell because I didn't take it as a RPG, but as a third person shooter with rpg elements. But of course it's not the same with DA II, which is an entirely different game. Anyway rpg or no rpg, the point is to enjoy the game, if it delivers a great gaming experience it's great. Can't wait to try the demo on 22nd. Cheers

TheLawLord
TheLawLord

I should clarify that I could be wrong and that the devs are just withholding the more complicated improvements in hopes of not scaring the wider market away. If that's the case, I'll be quite happy. However, I think that there isn't nearly enough evidence of that to convince of buying it day one. It's a serious wait and see, probably picking it up on Steam sale six months later.

TheLawLord
TheLawLord

I think MadKeloo makes some fine points too, but the problem is that DA2 isn't actually offering improvements on the core elements of the RPG experience. What DA2 is offering is the exact same package for the more hardcore DAO fans with some minor improvements. There isn't any attempt to add well-thought layers of complexity to the "hardcore" elements to enrich the "hardcore" experience. I wouldn't say DA2 doesn't offer a solid RPG experience, but it's not what a solid RPG sequel should be. To the more experienced RPG players, this is a cash grab, plain and simple. However, if you aren't a big fan of RPGs and want an action game with RPG elements, then DA2 certainly looks like an improvement. A lot of things are simplified for you on the lower difficulty levels to make it more accessible. One of the devs even admitted that on the lower difficulty levels, a player can just flat out button mash one button on the console controller and do well. I just don't see how one can defend those types of things as improvements to an experienced RPG player worthy of a sequel.

Gocybigt
Gocybigt

Ty u 2 and silent I agree with u 100% getting a player hyped for a quest then telling them u gotta pay more for it is bogus but u gotta look at it from both viewpoints the ones willing to pay get a lot more content but of corse the ones not willing to play get gipted to a small degree and peeved off

Silentshot
Silentshot

I agree with MadKeloo, RPG are a whole package. Dragon Age was a good RPG and if you looked at MAss Effect the first one had some RPG elements and then they dummied it down in ME2. They had good storied in 1 but 2 was a waste. I am very worried about the direction of DAO2 and its direction. What I do not want in a game is a NPC telling me of a quest and I have to buy that. DLC should be just addon's and not some NPC hyping you for a quest and then telling you to purchase it. That should not be in any game.

MadKeloo
MadKeloo

One more thing... As I read the comments I come to the conclusion that people start to freak out only when they hear the word "action". "OMG, they ruined the whole hardcore rpgs experience, with their stupid action oriented game for stupid kiddies who play it on consoles, we want TRULY classic hardcore rpgs not action feast". Ok dude let me tell you something, the Witcher had only one character, had alot of action, no tactics, and it was a great rpg, why ? Because it had all the rpg elements, like character development, storyline, great memorable characters, questing, investigation, well written dialogs, well implemented choices and consequenses system, a deep immersive universe, many detailed descriptions about every single monster, character, history, events etc... These elements make the difference between a good rpg experience and a shallow game. Just because a game becomes more action oriented that doesn't mean it cannot be a great gaming and rpg experience. RPG isn't about action or non-action, it's about the other elements that I've mentioned above.

MadKeloo
MadKeloo

No, no and no, good RPGs or should I say "classic" or "old school" rpgs aren't dead at all. I mean, we had DAO we had The Witcher, both were great RPGs, with all the rpg elements like, storytelling, great characters, background stories, dialogs, quests, investigation etc... So I want to make things clear for the ones that have their doubts that DA II will be a mindless Hack and slash, or will be dumbed down, stripped out of all the rpg elements. Well when I saw the first images I thought the same, but after that they've released tons of new material, videos, previews, interviews, and said many times that the core gameplay, hasn't changed at all. The only difference is the graphics engine and the animations, which are much more fluid, and your party members respond more quicky to your commands, that's all. You can still pause the game, customize your tactics, customize your skill tree the way you want it, everything is there, so it's not like ME2, not at all. Check out their website, there is actually a demo of the tactical view of the game. The only difference is that on lower difficulty levels you don't need to pause the game and involve in tactics so much, so you can play it as an action rpg, but on higher difficulty levels such as hard or nightmare pausing the game and use a more tactical aproach is mandatory. So no, it's not like some sugested a ME fantasy clone or something like that. So read more, before you start complaining.

Gocybigt
Gocybigt

OMG at the QQing .... if every game stuck to the same recipe they would all suck they are trying something new GET OVER IT! jesus u all make me sick! DA:O was awsome but they want to go deeper into action ... can you blame them slow tactical fighting is fun but a good balance between fast action and tactics is even better i hope they find a good medium for this one as for the talent web im sry mages you have a right to QQ lol but you gotta give to take if the mages come out like im thinking theres still 2 other great classes but you don't know untill you know, and real RPGs are not dead they are evolving be a little open minded there were alot of messed up creatures between monkeys and us lol

Nekator
Nekator

Sad thing, that the magazines hype the Action Game with MMO Style so much... seems real RPGs are dead for good :(

lukereborn
lukereborn

its a different approach to dragon age, could be awesome. idk if im digging the graphics though

River_Horse
River_Horse

@NOscope42 You are right, the only problem being that I like my keyboard. You can have so many key-binds on a keyboard. Consoles just need more buttons. But not too many...that would ultimately ruin the fun. I guess the kinect-technology is the right path to follow. just make it less jumpy and burning calories and more actual grown-up gaming

romanon5
romanon5

yeah I loved DA 1....I loved the slow fighting style, it was so beautiful, and the pouse to hink and make tactic and combinations, so nice....this one they said they made faster and action..I was looking for great story and tactic fight I guess :/ Anyways I am going to have it and hope it will anyways rock!!!

punksterdaddy
punksterdaddy

another RPG ruined, well by the looks of it so far? I know that it is early to tell but simplifying games does not always mean better games! Look at FABLE III, the first was ground breaking the second added to it but by Fable III it was all over, yes it may appear to some that the controls were complicated but that was how I liked it... The 3rd instalment has killed it off and made it now forgettable, which was a shame. It seems that developers want to produce games to a wider audience, that in itself is understandable but they are constantly forgetting about the gamers that put them up there in the first place!!! I hope this turns out not to be the case.... I hope i wake up and Bobby Ewing is next door in the shower? lol

Jin_Kazawa
Jin_Kazawa

This is more like GoW or PoP... now that my hopes are defeated in that concept, I change focus and hope that, at least, the story will be satisfactory. If not (again)... I hope Diablo 3 comes surprisingly soon...

wolvklaw
wolvklaw

wow, the debate still rages. Who cares what "bob" prefers to play it on. I just expect this one to play better on the 360 than DA:O did. That is MY preference...who cares what I "prefer" to play on, all that matters is that gamers have a chance to play epic games like this on ALL consoles...not just one.

kiopta1
kiopta1

@dragginteam I doubt they will cause the fantasy realm that DA takes place in just crys...FIND SWEET LOOT. ME can afford to avoid that as tech is really not about finding secret magical weapons. Maybe in for ME loot is more about find cool tech upgrades...but not really large amounts of new items..that seems to be more the fantasy worls (magic weps, armor, rings, amulets,...etc)

dragginteam
dragginteam

Bioware took all of the RPG elements out of Mass Effect 2 (eg: loot, equipment, skill tree) and I really hope they don't do the same with DA2.

peterfaj
peterfaj

"We played the Xbox 360 version of the game" and "tactics screen ... which is still on the uninviting side" makes me hope this reviewer will hate this game.

djibril26
djibril26

I hope the graphics aren't anything like the ones in the clip 'cause they suck, I wanted another DA no GOW fitted into DA world, Shame Bioware is almost launching their Titanic!! (at least there's no Leonardo Dicaprio I guess), I'll skip this one anyway

djibril26
djibril26

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

felter
felter

Just a shame about the DRM that's going to be on it, which is enough to stop me from buying it.

made_u_look
made_u_look

From what I've seen and read I'm not really liking these changes. I getting a sense there not following the Origins recipe which I liked and going towards the Mass Effect recipe. I don't have a problem with that to much but the lack of originality, I'm excited but have mixed feelings atm going to have to wait and see.

iol1
iol1

I just hope the combat is still difficult and tactical. As others mentioned, I loved ME2 as well, but we don't need a fantasy version of ME2, because they're making ME3. I want another DA with tactical combat. Why do so many people whine when a game asks them to use their brain a little? Why does every game have to be a twitch-action button-masher?

aileron2
aileron2

Why this game has to be like mass effect? can't you make something original like DA:O?

MilfHunter91
MilfHunter91

@NOscope42...yeah your correct about the controller thing. it just seems more "hands on" like your actually playing it (to me). its simply an opinion or preference.