EA and BioWare have shown that there's still room for fun in the dark fantasy world of Dragon Age--at least when it comes to promoting the upcoming sequel. This past summer, they silently introduced Dragon Age II at San Diego Comic-Con with a showing so free of advance warning that it would make the stealthiest of ninjas jealous. That hands-on demo showed a snippet of combat that was markedly bloodier and more over the top than its predecessor, a change that generated quite a lot of questions about the direction of this critically acclaimed role-playing series. But with a follow-up demo shortly after, BioWare revealed that the game's new direction in storytelling pulled one over on overzealous journalists; its framed, story-within-a-story narrative is told by a character with a tendency to exaggerate certain details of your heroic conquests on occasion--that extravagant battle scene being a prime example. So, as time has gone on, we've found that Dragon Age II isn't trying to become God of War with elves and dwarves. But it's certainly not on a path to become Dragon Age 1.5, either.
Indeed, you don't have to look far to spot the changes in Dragon Age II. There's the aforementioned narrative change, as well as the noticeably more stylized art design. And once you jump into a conversation, you'll see that the protagonist--previously mute--now speaks. This speech comes complete with a dialogue wheel that trades verbatim dialogue transcripts for a just-the-gist summary similar to BioWare's other hit franchise, Mass Effect. And, of course, there's that tricky business of combat. While you won't be playing as the unstoppable force of nature that we first experienced in that original Comic-Con demo, BioWare is still aiming to turn Dragon Age II's combat into a more fluid, less clunky affair--all without trading in the tactical elements that made the first game so much fun.
Last week, EA and BioWare brought a new demo by the GameSpot office to help illustrate that last point. The focus of this demo was the rogue class. Anyone familiar with the classes in Dragon Age: Origins knows that the rogue was perhaps the biggest labor of love. While the mage could throw fireballs like hadoukens and the warrior could carve through enemies with swords the size of NBA players, the rogue had to constantly worry about positioning on the battlefield to get the most out of his or her skills. With rear attacks being so important for the rogue, anyone playing as this class undoubtedly spent a lot of time shuffling and scurrying around enemies to get the best angle on an enemy. At this point, you've probably already guessed that BioWare would like to fix this issue.
And you'd be right. Though positioning is still critical for the rogue class, now you're able to move deftly around the battlefield without all that awkward shuffling. It's a change that mainly plays out with three new talents given to the rogue class. First, and most striking, is springboard. With this talent, you can set your sights on enemies and instantly warp behind them, immediately gaining that rear attack bonus so important to rogues. When you're going up against a small cluster or ranged attackers, you can use rush to quickly slide toward them and knock someone over in the process. And for when a scuffle gets too hot and you need to create some space, evade is a backflip maneuver that lets you quickly leap away from conflict to heal.
Like other talents, these all come at a cost. Each consumes some of your stamina and has a cooldown time once used, so like Dragon Age: Origins, much of your combat strategy revolves around effectively managing these newfound skills. BioWare is also looking to add more cross-class teamwork when it comes to spells so that rogues work more closely with mages--say when a mage freezes an enemy and the rogue swiftly dashes in to shatter him into a hundred pieces. So while your movement is more effortless, the way you dispatch enemies still requires some tactical thought.
All this makes for a combat experience that feels noticeably smoother but not really easier--changes that largely serve to iron out the kinks rather than the challenge. For anyone who enjoyed the combat in Dragon Age: Origins, that's great news, but they're clearly not the wholesale changes that are going to win over those who weren't drawn into the game in the first place. Considering how well received the first game was, that's hardly a bad thing. We're eager to see some of the other changes and improvements from BioWare as we get closer to the game's March release date.