previews\ Feb 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Dragon Age II


Sitting down to play the upcoming demo for Dragon Age II, I had a certain sense of worry in the pit of my stomach. For me, Dragon Age: Origins, a fantastic and outstanding title, fell by the wayside to other major titles in 2009. So it was with a little trepidation I picked up the controller and started up the demo that players can turn on later this month. Good thing I did, because for half an hour I had more fun with this RPG than many others in the last few months.

Dragon Age II's demo starts out as a second hand story, the frame narrative that arches over the entirety of demo, if not the game. Hawke (male or female, and entirely customizable within the human race) is the survivor of something called the Blight, and is known as the “Champion.” He is renowned throughout the world of Dragon Age, and while the game does take place in the same universe as Origins, Dragon Age II looks to be mostly independent of the previous title. However, characters such as Flemeth, the Witch of the West, do indeed make appearances in the game, creating some certain unity between the two titles.

But let's not forget that frame story. The entire actions of Dragon Age II are told second-hand by Hawke's comrade, the short Varric, to the militant Cassandra, a woman with a tongue as sharp as her accent. From these early impressions, it creates a rather unique way to play the game, as Varric doesn't seem to be an entirely reliable narrative. The very first training section places Hawke in battle with his formidable brother, as heroic men in battle. This is proven a lie, and when Varric tells the truth, that Hawke is nothing more than a person escaping the Blight with their mother and siblings, there is a real sense that Hawke is going to start off an unknown to a hero. Sure, it's a trope held over from Japanese RPGs, but Bioware has a nice touch saving it from dull blandness. Combat this time around is much, much faster. Yep, I'll admit it, I'm not the best person to go in depth with the battles of Dragon Age II, seeing as I skipped over Origins, but it does put me in the unique position of being able to appreciate the battles of Dragon Age II from a fresh perspective. For the most part, the main character Hawke (male or female) will be spamming attacks while mashing the basic attack combo. Depending on what class is chosen, Warrior, Mage or Rogue, Hawke will have different spells and abilities at his disposal. Secondary (and more powerful) attacks can be performed at anytime (should they have hit cool-down) by tapping any of the other face buttons. Players can switch at any time to the other party members, so my general impression is that Dragon Age II plays like a fast-paced action role-playing game. It can still be played with the command wheel from the first game, and players can get much more in-depth with each character, but the game seems to do a pretty good job taking care of itself. I suspect Bioware is hoping to make a game that can appeal to a broader audience than some of their other titles, for while the game isn't easy, I never felt like I was going to die at any time.

And that is also true for when the game jumps ahead to a port town. There players will be aided by one of their siblings (more on that later), Varric, and busty pirate Isabela. Apparently she had a small cameo in Origins, but here she's front and center fighting with Hawke and company. She's had some issues with shipments, and so the final battle with some rivals shows off the game's impressive attacks. Rogues will be summoning raining arrows, while mages will bring down torrents of massive fire balls. It's pretty cool, and the tactical element of the game seems much more substantial in this later area. Now, this is a Bioware game, and like any Bioware game, the choices players make will greatly impact how they interact with other characters. There are some substantial plot twists that do happen in this demo, giving players a taste of the small decisions that impact the game, so spoiler alert. for those still reading, Hawke starts out fleeing his village with his mother, brother Carver and sister Bethany. Depending on how you interact with them, and the good, bad, and humorous things Hawke says, a giant troll will attack the fleeing family and smash one of the siblings to death. For example, my male mage Hawke saw Bethany die (who needed two mages anyway?), but another player (rolling a female rogue Hawke) saw Carver die. It's an interesting way to start off the game, and I'm curious to see what decisions dictate how the game plays out.

Having played the demo of Dragon Age II, I can certainly say Bioware has done the right thing to drum up interest. An epic, fully voiced RPG with lots of dynamic conversations and unique storylines, an action-packed battle system, and a brand new story for an established world, there is a lot here for new and old fans of the game. I know I'm excited to get more hands-on with Dragon Age II, and keep an eye out for the demo I played on XBL and PSN later this month.

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