Dragon Age 2 is BioWare's next action-RPG launching on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on March 8. Like in the just released trailer for Dragon Age 2, EA asked me to choose my champion at their press event last week. Since my character from Dragon Age 1 was a female warrior, I stuck with what I knew. Dragon Age 2 is a story within a story; the heart of which is Hawke's rise to power. To show us how the story evolves they had us play three different levels each at different parts of the game's 10-year timeline.
The first difference you'll notice is how the narrative for Dragon Age 2 plays out. Within moments of clicking "new game" you'll catch on that there is a story within a story. A woman named Cassandra is questioning a Dwarf named Varric. She repeatably demands he tell her the story of "The Champion." He begins to retell the story of the champion's origins, a cutscene comes up showing the standard male or female Hawke. The cutscene fades and you take control of Hawke as he or she fights a horned ogre. The ogre is easily defeated but soon the area is overrun with Darkspawn. Hawke panics, she can't take on those enemies alone. Suddenly a dragon appears and kills the Darkspawn. The game cuts back to Cassandra and Varric. Cassandra scoffs and insists he tells the "real" story. Varric agrees. This is when your character customization screen appears.
Once you're able to customize you'll notice you have plenty of options to make your Hawke look however you want. That is unless you want your character to be a dwarf or elf, both races have been removed as playable characters. You can customize everything you'd expect like hair color and style and even the things you wouldn't think are necessary like overbite and underbite. There is also the option to import your choices from Dragon Age 1. If you choose not to import your save file, or don't have one, you'll have to pick one of three options for how you would have played Dragon Age 1. It's not nearly as involved or as significant as importing your save file from Mass Effect 1 to Mass Effect 2.
As soon as I finished customizing my female warrior, I began the level fought in the story told by Varric except this time I looked like me and was accompanied by my mother Leandra, sister Bethany and brother Carver. Lothering, the city Hawke is from, has been attacked by Darkspawn as the Hawke family is fleeing. As the characters move along the outskirts of their fallen city they encounter a Templar and his wife. The Templar is wounded in an attack by the Darkspawn and agrees to travel with Hawke and company. After several run-ins with the undead soldiers of the Darkspawn I end up in the same location as the ogre from Varric's story. As the ogre creeps up to where I am Carver runs at it and attacks, the ogre fights back, killing him. The scene plays out just like it did the first time, right down to the dragon, but this time the story doesn't end there. After the dragon saves you, it transforms into an old woman who we quickly find out is Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds. She agrees to help you get to the Free Marches in exchange for delivering a message. This is where part one of our demo ended.
(If you play as a male the roles of Bethany and Carver will be switched.)
I wasn't told how much time had passed but when they set up part two, I was no longer on a deserted path. I was now in a city with Bethany and Varric as my NPCs. I was also no longer a nobody as people in the town knew who I was and knew I was qualified to help them. Quickly, I was on a quest to return a dwarf's stolen treasure. The treasure turns out to be an elf. This part of the demo served as both an indicator of your growing power, but also what a loyalty mission might play like.
The final part of the demo takes place underground, presumably in dwarven territory guarded by golems. Like the level before, I had no idea where this level takes place chronologically or how much time had passed. I was definitely wearing better armor and had the loyalty and support of my squad. I was close to being a "The Champion," I could taste it.
A major concern of many fans of DA: Origins is that Dragon Age 2 will fall victim to the similar streamlining Mass Effect 2 faced. While Mass Effect 2 was certainly a solid game, it did lose several of its core RPG elements. This is not the case with Dragon Age 2. BioWare has managed to to add even more RPG elements. You'll have to decide how you want to play the game, your strategy, how you want to level up your party, how you will upgrade Hawke. You will not complain about the lack of skill trees. At the same time they've made it easier to not care about skills and abilities, too. Your level of commitment depends on how you want to play. BioWare hopes having both options will be inviting to new players while satisfying RPG fans. The combat of DA2 is fast and fluid. It's almost like a hack-n-slash if you play like a warrior. And I mean that in the best way possible. You can be as invested as you want to be. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the actual game in March.