Gamescom 2010: Dragon Age II Preview - Dungeons and Dragons
Written Friday, September 03, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Fiddling with a proven successful franchise formula can often be risky business, but as Ray Muzyka, BioWare CEO, said himself when talking with us at Gamescom, if you don’t change and innovate, a franchise can run the risk of becoming stale. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario if ever there was one. For the sequel of the popular Dragon Age: Origins though, it seems as if overhaul is possibly a more appropriate term for the sequel than update, although, with that being said, underneath it all, still beats the heart of the original franchise that captured the masses last year.
David Silverman, BioWare’s Dragon Age Brand Manager, explained to the masses at Gamescom that they really had three distinct, key areas that they were looking to improve in the sequel: the visuals, making the game distinctly unique; the combat, making it more involved; and finally, the story-telling.
Dragon Age 2 opts to use a framed-narrative story device to tell its story - essentially meaning, it uses a story to tell another story, as seen in such iconic pieces of cinema as The Usual Suspects and The Princess Bride. This not only allows BioWare to track 10 years of Hawke’s life, jumping around to key moments and cutting out all of the filler, but according to Greg Zeschuk, BioWare co-founder, it allows them to put you in a position where you can change the past depending on your actions.
The framed narrative story telling device also allows BioWare to show the long reaching aspects of your choice making in the now, rather than having to wait 30 hours till you’ve completed the game to see the effects. Yes, choice will still play a major part and in the short gameplay demonstration alone, BioWare were tasked with numerous choices: “Should you let Bethany - Hawke’s sister - lead the charge?” and “What should Hawke do about the downed ally?”
The combat, as Silverman said, is more refined and more involved this time around, but that doesn’t mean it’s now a hack n’ slash title, oh no. “We wanted people to think like a general and fight like a Spartan,” said Silverman, pointing out that not only could you use the tactical view and same kind of pause and play mechanics from the original, but you could now play it as a more of an action RPG.
The gameplay aspect of the demonstration took place on the peak of an unknown hill, as Hawke and Bethany take on the forces of evil as they get ambushed from all angles. After slicing their way through the waves of foes and getting the huge hulking ogre close to the doors of death, Silverman highlighted that mages can now do the elaborate finishing moves on the higher level bosses this time too. Right on cue, our mage uses the all new Magic Death Blow known as “Crushing Prison” to rip the ogre in half. Brutal!
“Bullshit! That’s not what really happened!” said a female character, as the game switched back to the now, showing off the potential of the framed narrative device. “I’m not interested in legends, I’m here to find out the truth!” she shrieked as the exchange between “The Seeker” and some portly gentlemen reveals the overarching plot of Dragon Age 2. It’s common knowledge that Hawke becomes the Champion of Kirkwall, but mapping out how he became it and why he’s needed so desperately now is what will define Dragon Age 2’s experience.
“You just saw the legend of your character,” noted Silverman, stating that the exaggerated truth that we just saw may not have been entirely accurate. So then, it’s time for the truth and as the gentlemen telling the original story begins to delve deeper into the truth of the actual events of what happened that day, the action switches back to the battlefield.
This time we notice that there are more allies here, including Hawke’s brother, his mother and a couple more that Hawke met along the way, and so the exaggeration of the previous story starts to become apparent.
Getting a glimpse at the abilities section before we switch back to the action, Silverman points out the main difference between this and the original. “Rather than giving you an entire Excel spreadsheet, we now have a tree system that is easier to navigate and understand,” said Silverman, “The really cool thing is that when you get to mid to high level, you can actually customise and upgrade certain abilities that you really like,” meaning you can upgrade the power and area of effect of the Inferno spell for instance.
Flicking back to the action, we notice the exaggeration play out even more, with it taking more hits to kill the foes and this time, a white haired beastie with red horns arrives on the scene. After pulverising one of our party members into the ground, Flemeth, the “Witch of the Wilds,” comes to the rescue and we get a chance to check out the dialogue system in all its glory.
The dialogue system in the sequel has seen a much needed revamp. Gone are the reams of text and the silent protagonist - which felt so 1985 - and in comes a system that’s like Mass Effect’s… but better. Uh oh, yes, I did just say that. So what makes it better? Well, as BioWare pointed out, it’s impossible to tell sometimes from a piece of text, just what the character’s tone will be. Enter the new “Emotion Wheel,” which is like Mass Effect’s dialogue wheel, but instead of just using text, it uses emoticons to portray what the character will say as well. On this occasion, “peaceful,” “sarcastic” and “aggressive” were indicated next to the text; three of many, according to Silverman.
“Something even as simple as choosing dialogue options with the emotion wheel will now affect how your character behaves by default,” said Silverman. “If I choose, say, a lot of sarcastic options and that’s always my go to, to be sarcastic, you’ll see Hawke starting to be sarcastic in his own right. When I go into battle, he’ll use sarcastic expressions when he starts fighting; or when I meet new characters for the first time, during the introduction, he’ll start being a little more sarcastic because that’s how you’ve shaped Hawke.”
And so, after a brief exchange with Flemeth and Hawke’s band of merry men, and a tough choice, the sequence comes to a close.
While still maintaining the charm of the original with its choices, its combat and its rich game world lore, Dragon Age 2 has ripped up the Dragon Age rulebook and stuck pages of Mass Effect in it. With a singular pivotal entity now leading the things, a Mass Effecty dialogue system - which is a big improvement if you ask us - and a brand new way to tell the story, this RPG sequel is not only looking to please new fans, but draw in an entirely new crowd by improving its core. It is still Dragon Age as we all know and love it, but the new systems implemented look to bring the dated aspects of the original into the 21st century.
Dragon Age II is scheduled for a March 8th and March 11th release in North America and Europe respectively.