Dragon Age is arguably as significant a franchise for BioWare as Mass Effect these days, no matter how much Dan might vehemently disagree [Ed - Yes, yes I do...]. So it's perhaps no surprise to see that the developer is really going to town on its sequel, telling a brand new story from the perspective of Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall.
Origins however, was really a game tailored more towards the PC and although the console version was still a huge success, it was also a comparatively diluted experience with fewer of the complexities and intricacies that made the PC version somewhat deeper. Will Dragon Age II be different?
We sat down with Dragon Age II's Product Manager, Randall Bishop to ask whether the sequel will measure up to its predecessor, whether it can build upon the successes of the franchise and what the inevitable sex scene will be like. Ooh, dirty!
Dragon Age: Origins was primarily a PC title that had been ported to the console. What have been the main changes you've implemented for Dragon Age II in making it a more console-friendly game?
Well, obviously the controls are different between the PC and the console. The console version (of Origins) didn't work out quite the way we wanted it to, which is why we've made these changes to the controls and the combat. We want to move more into the action RPG realm, so it has a lot more of an intuitive feel for the console and it's something that console gamers will be a lot more used to.
You get into the midst of the action with the hack-and-slash, but we still definitely offer the same kind of tactical depth, so you can still customise your class and plot out exactly how you're going to attack. You can still pause the action, plan out attacks and so on, so it's really just the best of both worlds this time.
This time you're playing as Hawke, so do you still have the same kind of customisation options at your disposal?
You still pick male or female and you customise your class, but this time around we're actually telling a particular story, so Hawke is the main character and the hero.
Despite being a different story featuring a new character, do any of the decisions you made in Dragon Age: Origins have an effect on the narrative in Dragon Age II?
We're not talking about what decisions carry over yet. I'm not even saying that they will. It something we're not revealing yet. It's a new story in the same universe, but there is some crossover. So, for example during the blight in the first one, there was a village that was burning down and your character (Hawke) is actually a refugee from that village. This story arc crosses over with Dragon Age: Origins so you'll see some of the events unfolding there in Dragon Age II and that overlap is really cool.
What are the other classes we'll get to choose from in Dragon Age II, besides the Rogue and Warrior that we've already seen?
We've shown the Warrior already and then there's the Rogue class obviously that we're showing right now and then we'll do a deeper dive on the Mage class later on.
And are there going to be loads of characters to choose from when assembling your party again?
There are a lot of characters, yeah.
Who's your personal favourite?
Isabela. She's a sexy, sultry pirate and she has a lot of attitude. And I like the way the Rogue characters play, especially in Dragon Age II, so I'll always have her in my party. She's a temptress and one of the characters you can romance.
The sex scene is one of the BioWare staples, what with Mass Effect and Dragon Age featuring the no-pants dance. How is the sex scene handled in Dragon Age II?
Tastefully. Clearly we're not making porn here. I mean you want the kind of soap opera romance sex scenes and well, the sex isn't really what we're basing that on. What we're basing it on is the interactions with that character, building a relationship and having the discussions to make the decisions that lead to that romance. Having sex with a character is not the end goal, it's interacting with that character.
Where the characters are concerned, are there going to be any surprises in terms of who you can enlist to your party? New races and so on?
I can't talk about that. Sorry. You'll have to play it and find out!
And is it going to be all swords, bows, shields and axes in Dragon Age II, or will we see some new weaponry?
Yeah. Varric right here – I forget the name of the weapon – has this badass crossbow that's really really cool. That's his signature weapon that he uses throughout. It's still that kind of Medieval themed though, with swords, axes and that kind of thing. People really identify with and love that universe, so we'll do our swords and shields here, and then we have our Mass Effect for the laser blasters and so on.
There was quite a lot of disparity between the PC and console versions of Dragon Age: Origins. Will Dragon Age II on the console be more in line with its PC counterpart this time around?
The biggest challenge is making the best use of each of the peripherals, so that in itself, going from a keyboard to a controller, you want to have the same feel. But obviously there's however many buttons there and so what we've done for the console is we've changed the GUIs (General User Interfaces) around so it's easier to select powers and we've changed the way that we actually distribute abilities, points and stuff like that.
For example, in DAO if you were a Mage, you had about thirty-six spells by the end of the game, but on the console, you didn't really have access to that. What we've done instead for the spells and the skills is that you pick the main ones that fit your play style and you can upgrade those. Again, for example you could use a fireball and if you really like that fireball spell, you can upgrade that, so it has a bigger blast radius, it burns longer and does more damage. If you have a particular play style, you can customise and stick with it as you see fit.
Of course, there's a finite amount of skill points to distribute and we don't want you to be a jack-of-all-trades, because then your character isn't interesting any more and they don't really hold a defining role within your party. We definitely want it where perhaps you have one melee character who is a defender and maybe you want to go down that path. It brings that tactical depth to the game where you have to make the decisions that are best for your party.
Dragon Age II is out on March 8th 2011 in North America and on March 11th in Europe.