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Published on February 8th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey

Dragon Age II Hands-On Impressions

The most obvious change that Dragon Age II has to Origins, besides the shiny new graphics engine, is the big boost in speed during the battles. The slow, methodical fighting from Origins has been given a serious shot of adrenaline. In Origins, a fight would commence at a button tap and the speed is determined by how fast your chosen character chose to swing (or cast spells). Now every swing of the sword, pull of the bow string and magical spell cast is user controlled and the speed of the attack is determined by how fast the attack button can be pressed.

Short distances to enemies can now be crossed in nearly an instant. After finishing up with one Hurlock, simply looking at another and tapping attack will cause a melee-focused character to fly to it, leaving a trail of dust that gave the action an almost cartoon-like quality—maybe something out of Speedy Gonzalez.

Of course, BioWare still wants this to be a Dragon Age title so not everything will be changed. Players will still be able to stop at any time and switch between characters and set up a strategy to take down large groups of foes or that resilient boss. Skills are still an important element of the fighting engine. Like the first they are button-mapped on the controller (or keyboard with hotkeys) allowing you to pull off fancy moves during battles. Each skill has a cooldown timer which limits the ability to use it constantly, forcing players to plan and strategize in order to win each fight. I noticed that the cooldown timers felt a little faster than they were in Origins; no doubt another decision by BioWare when they changed the pace of the fights.

Now, the most interesting thing to me about Dragon Age II is not the faster fights, but the storyline of the game itself. Like most gamers, when I see a number two (Roman numeral or otherwise) next to a game, my mind says, “Ah ha, a sequel!” This time, however, I’d be wrong. Dragon Age “II” isn’t so much of a sequel as it is a spinoff of Origins, but not even that definition would completely apply. The demo is actually the first 20 or so minutes of the game and begins with you and your family fleeing a burning Lothering before setting out on a journey that lasts 10 years. Now, I know that not everyone has played Origins so I’ll explain why this is interesting.

In Dragon Age: Origins your character gets recruited into a group of powerful warriors known as the Grey Wardens. Your mission is to stop the Blight, an invasion of creatures known as the Darkspawn which now swarm the land killing anyone in the way. Within the first 7-8 hours of the game you pass through the town of Lothering which ends up being in the way of the Darkspawn invasion. You eventually leave the town as your chosen character, now a Grey Warden, traveling north in search of allies to help you stem the evil horde. The town of Lothering is destroyed and burned to cinders sometime after leaving. In Dragon Age II the main character is one of the few survivors of the destruction of the town.

The story of your character, who is dubbed the Champion, is told 10 years after the destruction of Lothering by one of your followers you pick up early in the game. In our interview with Dan he explains that the most important story segments over the course of the decade are told in segments with several years passing between each chapter. The story of the Champion begins around the same time as the Grey Warden from Origins, only it goes further passed the point where the Grey Warden finds victory against the Darkspawn. It’s easy to assume that the story being told will then become a chronicle of everything that happens to the land and the people after the events of Origins. So in this regard, Dragon Age II can be seen as both a spin-off and a sequel.

Of course, since the stories of both games run parallel to one another, it would make sense if a few major characters crossed over, right? Oh, you bet! During the introduction of Origins the hero is introduced to his or her destiny by the Grey Warden leader, Duncan. In the Dragon Age II demo this role was filled by none other than the Witch of the Wilds herself, Flemeth, who comes straight out of Origins to tell the main character of the destiny that awaits.

Dragon Age II already has a lot going for it to keep me interested. The storyline itself existing in the same time frame as Origins already has me wondering how BioWare plans on making the concurring events relate with one another. The new fighting engine is also a lot of fun and the graphics look amazing. We shall see if everything comes together in the Usual BioWare fashion when the game hits March 11.

While I am not severely familiar with the series, there were however noticeable differences that could be seen within minutes of the demo. Dragon Age Origins was something that was kind of a turn off for me being that it takes quite a bit for me to be drawn into an RPG experience. This might become important in the relation to new comers as opposed to already existing players and may bring in others who previously avoided this tactical RPG. Luckily, this past week has left me to pour my heart and elf soul into that which is Dragon Age Origins. When it came to Dragon Age II, it might seem as though an outsiders perspective will drawn some interesting conclusions. I do think that the average Joe/Jill-shoot’em-up will discover more in Dragon Age II that is feasible and packs more action substance. This might also be something they find immediately after jumping into the demo. The speed of attacks as well as the conversations palate could drive them to engulf themselves as a Mage and take the vigorous journey.

…hard difficulty really IS Dragon Age Origins. It’s what people are used to and what people love.”-Dan Lazin, Gameplay Producer for Dragaon Age II.

The speed at which gameplay trailed was also reflective in the character movements. Walking, attacking and the overall progression of scenes moved along swiftly. Character like the Rogue showed us just how clear that reflection was. The speed and agility was something that you could already foresee just by glancing at the screen. While the Rogue became surrounded by a wave of Darkspawn, he immediately escaped having placed both daggers into enemies and then suddenly disappeared into a cloud of smoke. This was done only to reappear with a dagger deep in the abdomen of the last standing enemy. Attacks were further completed with the continuous pushing of the A button.

Although I am not thoroughly familiar with the Dragon Age series, I did however see a tremendous increase in speed as far as the attack and other options went. Pushing the attack multiple times keeps your character continuously attacking, instead of the somewhat nonchalant methods in the previous version. This was a question presented to Gameplay Producer, Dan Lazin. While his response kept us confident that Dragon Age II was going to keep the action just as tactical, he did make sure that players knew about the difficulty settings which could drastically change gameplay and keep it similar to the Origins experience.

Graphically, there is something players might notice between the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 versions. The opening of the demo brought us to a place on a hill in the outskirts of Kirkwall with multiple enemies attacking-wave after wave. While the detail and textures were great in both, the Xbox 360 version showed a little more richness in color and textures seemed to have a “pop” to them. This might not seem as important and hopefully not enough of a hinder for PlayStation owners to bypass it altogether, but Dragon Age Origins did receive higher ratings on this console. While the improvement of the overall look of the game was very impressive, even down to the textures of clothing and skin, it still holds no weight to PC players, because, well, it was just unmatched.

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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit

3 Responses to Dragon Age II Hands-On Impressions

  1. Pingback: Q&A With Dragon Age II Gameplay Producer, Dan Lazin |

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