What We've Already Seen
Nothing. Zip. Nada. The game was only officially announced a couple of weeks ago, so seeing it in San Diego was a surprise to us.
What We're Seeing Today
Prior to Comic-Con, only 11 people had seen the game, something the lead designer Mike Laidlaw was fond of pointing out to the gathering of gamers that descended on San Diego last weekend. This means they've been working hard on the game, and they were very ready to show off the improvements they have made so far.
Laidlaw said BioWare knows where Dragon Age: Origins fell short last time, and what most of the complaints were. In fact, he came right out and asked gamers "What didn't work?" Bioware is pretty hard on itself, since this game did very well, because their laundry list included graphics, controls, and combat. But this means they're improving all of those areas, and we're all for that.
Here's a list of the fixes coming to Dragon Age 2.
- Graphics: They're using an enhanced graphics engine and a new, distinct style. This will be evident in the trailer they release next month, but the game looks grittier and the character models look like they are clawing their way out of the Uncanny Valley.
- Controls: Are now more responsive. Orders are easier to issue, and happen immediately. According to Laidlaw, "I want something awesome to happen every time I hit a button."
- Combat: They want you to be able to "Think like a General, fight like a Spartan" when you play this game, meaning you're thinking about tactics while you're up front hacking and slashing.
- Silent Player: Last time around, your character was completely mute, even though others were talking to you throughout. This time around, you'll actually hear your responses.
- Framed Narrative: Dragon Age: Origins took place over two years, but Dragon Age 2 has a 10-year timespan. You'll see your character evolve over that time and see the direct results of your actions on the world. "It's the most reactive game we've ever made," said Laidlaw.
They've also added some new elements to enhance the story. "Tapestries" are what they are calling their interstitial animations. These are the equivalent of newsreels from the 1940s, although done in a woven tapestry art style. They will update you on the story, and fill in information between missions. There is also a very welcome addition to the conversation wheel. As you select your response to a character, you'll notice an icon in the middle of the wheel. This tells you, generally, what type of response you're giving. For instance, if you give them a hostile response, you'll see a red fist. Play it cool and easy, and you'll see a green leaf. Or my favorite, give the smartass response and see a yellow "comedy" mask.
I only were able to play in one extremely small area, with one boss at the end, but you can feel the change in the controls immediately. I had control of two characters, a mage and a warrior, and it was very easy to hack and slash up front with the warrior, while you stood back as ranged artillery with the mage. Enemies explode into a blood mist with certain attacks, which leaves only their boots standing. Issuing orders can be done on the fly, or while the game is paused, and coordinated attacks are much easier to pull off. Heck, the mage even has his own finishing moves for boss battles now.
I spoke to Laidlaw after the demo who answered a few questions:
- On the main character Hawke being human only: "We wanted to focus on how humanity has been affected by the events in the game, so it made sense for our main character to be human."
- Will previous game achievements carry over? "Yes, although we haven't said how we're going to do it yet. We definitely want to reward characters who have played Origins and the DLC, and we want to reward them in a way that can also continue past Dragon Age II.
- On special editions and DLC: "We will definitely be talking about a special edition at some point, and the DLC from Origins will be tied to this game as well. You will see characters from that DLC in this game."
- PC interface: "The PC interface will definitely be more robust."
Obviously, it's impossible to get a feel for the entire game based on the sliver I saw, but it definitely looks improved across the board, and the graphic updates are most welcome. I'm sure we'll see more of this game in the coming months so we can bring you more information and a more in-depth preview, but for now, I'm impressed.