Dragon Age II Updated Hands-On

We learn that seeing isn't always believing when it comes to this sequel's clever storytelling.

At last month’s San Diego Comic-Con, there was a hands-on demo of Dragon Age II available to anyone willing to wait in line under the San Diego sun. With a dual appreciation for delightful weather and slaying evil Darkspawn, we wasted little time queuing up for a turn--the result being this first-look preview of one of our more highly anticipated role-playing games. If you haven’t read that story, the short and sweet of it is that the demo was a brief, bloody look at Dragon Age II’s combat that seemed to suggest a more fast-paced, visceral style than the first game. However, BioWare recently showed us an extended version of that same demo that cast the entire experience in a much different light.

One of the biggest changes moving from Dragon Age: Origins to Dragon Age II is the method of storytelling. You play as a hero of legend named Hawke, and your exploits are relayed by a dwarven storyteller named Varick--a fellow with a penchant for exaggerating your feats. It’s a story-within-a-story scenario in which the bulk of the game--navigating the world and engaging in combat--is the tale being told. But once in a while, you’re taken back to Varick as he tells your story to a lady named Cassandra, who seeks to learn of your adventures.

In short, what we saw at Comic-Con was an example of Varick exaggerating your heroic adventures. That combat-focused demo showed a fast-paced battle with Hawke going up against waves of Darkspawn and essentially making mincemeat of them. Playing as the human warrior class, we had numerous spells and abilities at our disposal and managed to tear through those enemies very quickly. We could practically hear the Darkspawn saying “Thank you sir, may I have another?” after a sword slash.

But fast-forward to the end of the demo, and you see Cassandra confront Varick, asking him if that’s how things really went. Varick flashes a coy smile and then offers to tell her the version of the story that--one would hope--more closely resembles the truth. You’re then sent back in time and forced to do that same battle over again, and the result is something that feels more akin to the combat in Dragon Age: Origins--albeit with a few noticeable differences.

The revised version of the story flashes you back a bit earlier into the scene and showcases the ragtag group of Darkspawn survivors that you have to team up with in order to get by. Far from the one-man army you seem like in Varick’s initial telling, you need to fight as a team in order to make it here. In the first fight, we were able to carve through enemies almost instantly, and the spells and abilities we cast (and we had a lot to choose form) recharged very quickly. In the second telling, it was a much more challenging experience. And while we don’t want to spoil any story elements, let’s just say that a few of your teammates have a pretty rough go of it as well.

In addition to seeing how combat plays out on the battlefield, we got a chance to see the new leveling-up system. If you remember the first Dragon Age, spells and abilities were all leveled up along a linear path. In Dragon Age II, it’s more of a branching tree of upgrades. So, for example, if you’ve gotten to expert combat tactics and you’re not particularly compelled by master combat tactics, you can veer over into a different skill path entirely without having to start over from the beginning of another field of specialization. (That’s not a specific example, but it should hopefully give you a good idea of where BioWare wants to take the leveling system.)

Aside from gaining a more accurate picture of how combat works in Dragon Age II--think quicker and less clunky than the original, but far from Dragon Age: Turbo Mode--we learned a few things about the game’s character-building elements. The one that intrigued us the most is the way the tone of conversations will become affected by the style of character you play as. Essentially, if you’re playing as a pure bastion of light and goodness, your character will tend to sound very genuine. But if you’re playing as a real salty scoundrel, for example, choosing the polite dialogue options will often result in your character saying the nice thing with a hint of sarcasm because it’s not really something that fits with the character you’ve built thus far. You can still choose whatever dialogue options you want, but the way you actually sound during those options will be affected by decisions made far earlier in the game. We’re not sure whether that applies to everything you say or just a few select sound bites, but this nonetheless seems like an intriguing way for BioWare to repurpose Mass Effect’s conversation wheel in Dragon Age and still add a new touch to it.

It’s looking so-far-so-good with Dragon Age II. With the game’s release set for March 8 of next year, we’re looking to explore some more of this grim fantasy world over the next few months.

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Discussion

289 comments
TheoleDominion
TheoleDominion

It's a shame that Bioware is still denying friends from playing such a great game together online

Jajathinx
Jajathinx

i really like the idea of the skill tree. i found it really annoying having to progressively learn skills and then start over again for another skill set. i really hope this game turns out well

viotyers
viotyers

The first game is so good. I hope this game will live up to its expectations and even surprise us.

Kain57
Kain57

is this move friendly???

hrothgar99
hrothgar99

its gonna be a must buy for me but i love to play as ma dwarf noble ......i thought his origins story was the best ......and would like to noe how class effects da2 (i dont think we can change race tho it'd be awesome if we could ) also on a diff note wud love to play a diff race in mass effect

vadagar1
vadagar1

hmmmm what about race and class :P

Downsize
Downsize

Vampira, There will be a female main character. It will be like Mass Effect. You play one character, but you can choose for the character to be male or female. That was stated in the first preview of the game.

vampira_sorcer
vampira_sorcer

Well, one of the things i enjoyed most about DA:O was the fact that i could relate completely with my character.. So, as a female player, i find it kind of disappointing that the second DA will only introduce a male main character.. :( I know DA is not about the love stories etc, but with me being a girl it was such a nice addition to the first game that i was really hoping that they would add it to the second one as well. I read somewhere that there will be love stories in this one too, but they wont be as interesting if i'm playing Hawke and not my own female character. :(

vadagar1
vadagar1

so no more female/male elf/human, choice we have to play one character, gothic style???? I don't know, might be a good thing, might suck, we have to w8 and see.

housin2203
housin2203

@penguin Izzy Whilst I agree that the Baldurs gate series were amazing, I think they should let the series rest as timeless classics. The reason why Fereldan seems so shallow compared to the Forgotten Realms, is simply because of the graphics upgrade. It takes a lot longer to make a game like dragon age where every character has a voice (and according to this snippet of news, unlike the original DA your protagonist is fully voiced) BG only had a handful of the more important characters voiced, and even your party members only had V.Os every now and again. Also going back to the graphics it takes a lot of effort to lip sync characters and get that cinematic feel going on. If you remember in BG the characters simply stood there, and the camera panned to whichever was talking. The point i'm trying to make about the graphics is that the designers have to put more people onto visuals, which means that there are a lot less for game content, and all games have deadlines, so they can't overflow the game with content otherwise they would overrun and we know how pissy EA can get when their subsidiaries don't work up to speed. I am not bashing BG, but I am just making arguments to why the two games differ, simply because of the era of gaming they existed in, and why a BG game in this era would not live up to our expectations (I believe) as it would be very different from the originals.

Szeiden
Szeiden

@PenguinIzzy Well that's encouraging =D I never played Baldur's Gate 2 though I enjoyed the first. Maybe I should play it now. Anyway, here's to hoping DA2 doesn't fall short of your expectations!

PenguinIzzy
PenguinIzzy

@Sarxass I completely agree with you, and kudos for enlightening us on Bioware executive's role within EA. I think successful and proven developer studios like Bioware should be given their just dues by publishers and given executive duties to ensure high quality. Why this business model isn't adapted more today, especially in light of Activision's debacle with Infinity Ward, is beyond me. Also, I must likewise share in your sentiment that Baldur's Gate franchise needs to be revived, particularly by Bioware themselves. While Dragon Age is entertaining, the world of Ferelden is simply not as immersive and deep as the Forgotten Realms and all the complexities of that particular fantasy world that has been developed for decades now by Wizards of the Coast. Forgotten Realms simply has better ubiquitous characters [Elminster] better villains [Irenicus, Bodhi] and better spells [Time Stop!]. Forgotten Realms needs to make a comeback in the multimillion dollar industry that is the video game market, but I think licensing agreements is what's keeping this project from becoming a reality.

PenguinIzzy
PenguinIzzy

@Szeiden Yes, there are some question marks about this game, particularly how the events/characters from the last story arc will affect this pseudo-sequel in any way. To me, the Dragon Age series will always be compared to the Baldur's Gate franchise. And while I was extremely pleased with DA:O I would have to say that it accomplished as much as BG I; a competently told story and an entertaining game mechanic. However, BG II was just light years away from BG I in terms of both story telling and game mechanics. Furthermore, BG II connected characters from the original game in a meaningful way. The iteration of DA 2 will no doubt be compared to BG II, particularly if DA 2 made the same improvements over DA 1 as BG II did on BG I. If it doesn't and falls short of that goal, I would have to consider DA 2 to be a bit of a disappointment. BG II was simply epic! We need exotic locales, uber-powered spells, and a bad-ass villain who actually has a personality and personal conflict with the protagonist.

Szeiden
Szeiden

No doubt that I will be getting this as Bioware games have all been great thus far... but I'm a little disappointed that the characters won't carry over from the previous games as they did in ME. I guess what I enjoyed most about ME was knowing that even after the game was over, the story was not and I would be able to pick up on it in the next game. The fact that my decisions didn't just have momentary consequences but would have lasting ramifications, not only later in the same game, but also in sequels was a great feeling. Even if the characters won't carry over in DA2, it would be nice if somehow the choices one made in DA1 would manifest themselves in DA2... though DA1 wasn't structured as such so that probably isn't feasible. Oh well. Still looking forward to what I'm sure will become a great game. I'll just have to treat it as a pseudo-sequel.

thereal-15-cent
thereal-15-cent

Disappointing that you can't use your original character, I hope the story doesn't just kill off the hero from the first one. I think they already messed the story up a little.

GymFox
GymFox

Jesus, I want this game.. I loved the first parts so much

WillyChong
WillyChong

I really, really hope Dragon Age 2 is moddable, please don't repeat what was taken(mostly away) in mass effect 2, keep a mod engine for Dragon Age 2 just as they did in Origin. Cuase Origin was not only good for its gameplay, storytelling, and the fact the game can be modded to add extra content to brighten the atmosphere, hairs, eyes colors tints.......just, just, just, please just reserve a mod engine for us pc modder. I bought Dragon Age Origin and is awesome cause with all the candies and the bonus-mod.

simsfanatique
simsfanatique

I'm a little disappointed at not being able to create an original character, as in the first game, but I have to admit...this really sounds promising.

Madbane
Madbane

I can't wait for this sequel.

Seifer24
Seifer24

Baldures gate was far better than dragon age origins. I was not impressed by dragon age origins. Hope they work more in dragon age origins 2

Sarxass
Sarxass

All those wandering whether BioWare can repeat the success; please note that they have been repeating it forever; as they are probably the best RPG developers of all time. All those timely classics like Fallout (1 and 2), Baldur's Gate, Planescape Torment, Knights of the Old Republic 1, Mass Effect, Neverwinter Nights, etc. PS Owners believe SquareEnix leads the way, but actually in terms of storytelling and gameplay BioWare has been the leader. I was concerned with their takeover by EA; but EA did the right thing this time and instead of letting BioWare be another studio in their portfolio they gave executive duties to its founders within EA (as far as I remember 1 of the 2 founders is EA's Creative Director, and the other is the Head of RPG Division). So yes, they will continue their success. I can only wish that someone would revive Baldur's Gate like Bethesda revived Fallout.

robin77
robin77

This is the best rpg ever from the best company in game industry!

syedhamdan
syedhamdan

how do we download games on gamesspot?

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

pfff amazing... in these ten years where squareenix has failed me over and over I'm glad a new leader of rpg games have arisen... Thank you Bioware I love your games!!!!

LostSoul1974
LostSoul1974

Yup, will be getting this on the release day.

X-Robert
X-Robert

Awesome game, and like many games to come Dragon Age 2 has a graphic novel feeling of graphic rather than photograph type, that's good for the industry since it can attract more geeks and make thrillers look not too scary.

ChangelingJane
ChangelingJane

It's really exciting to know that Bioware isn't just dumping more plot into the same engine. They're tweaking and experimenting with the gameplay in their sequels. I hope they continue to build it up and create some never-before-seen RPG mechanics. I've had enough of the intimidate/persuade thing and saint/abomination "morality" systems.

ferrustaurus
ferrustaurus

coop wouldn't work so well, the other player who is also a presumable 'hero' of their own version of the game wouldn't blend as well in DA2. idk that's just my thinking behind it.

fyrerain5
fyrerain5

they should put co-op in it so if u get stuck on qa lvl someone could jump in and help u out if u want

Kristophski
Kristophski

Looking forward to more info on this. It sounds like good progress compared to the first game, though how and when the jumps to the Varick/Cassandra part occur could shake the involvement the character feels.

334750
334750

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

mr_shaunski
mr_shaunski

looks good. but only time will tell. origins was very good although they made a fortune out of DLC (which was good) but try to jus put more in the off the shelves issue please.

Taffelost
Taffelost

For every title Bioware moves further away from the PC platform. Bloody shame really.

carissi
carissi

The first game was interesting... very cool and original... I wonder if they could repeat the success...

evil13killer
evil13killer

I am really happy about the new game dragon age orgins was one of the best games i ever played and pc platform really lack of good games now

TURK_SOLDIER
TURK_SOLDIER

CANT WAIT!!! Origins was brilliant, hope this is Just as good or better!!

bloodfister047
bloodfister047

COOL...ANOTHER BIOWARE GAME WITH SAVE FILE IMPORTING

tonet666
tonet666

what about the story connection with the first one. Can i import the saves like ME2?

penguinofire
penguinofire

A framing narrative? Awesome. I love it when I'm artificially distanced from my character.

Fusco1980
Fusco1980

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Nenad87
Nenad87

DA:Origins is a great game. Storytelling, atmosphere and battles are the best things in Origins but i was disappointed with PS3 weak visuals and boring side-quests. I hope DA2 will be better.

Fusco1980
Fusco1980

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Dragonslorddieg
Dragonslorddieg

Looks awesome, can't wait for it and it looks better then origin at least the history and those videos are sick looks like real life hehe

Deihjan
Deihjan

I wish I could be a different race, like a Qunari, but I am chuffed to bits about Dragon Age II. Hopefully we'll see a destroyed Ferelden after Dragon Age Origins, but eh, if it's set in future Thedas, then we probably won't D: Here's to seeing the Tevinter Empire.

Jtm371
Jtm371

@ irule425 you can still change your character's sex, and apperance, but you can't change it's race, you can only play as a human.

bunnyocalypsee
bunnyocalypsee

This is looking great! I love the original. Mike Laidlaw looks quite terrified in the snapshot of the video link. ha ha!

irule425
irule425

i loved Dragon Age Origins and this game is no exception, but apparently you cant customize your own character which is a shame!! but overall i wanna get it as soon as it comes out!!