The fantasy world of Dragon Age II begs to be visited. Even if you’ve been there before, in 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins, you’ll find the world fresh and dynamic in the sequel. Dragon Age II, a role-playing game created by Edmonton’s BioWare and published by Electronic Arts, hits shelves next Tuesday (March 8).
Mike Laidlaw, Dragon Age II’s lead designer, told the Georgia Straight by phone that the franchise isn’t about any one character or story. “It’s about a world and a time,” he explained from the Edmonton airport, en route to a press event in London.
The story in Dragon Age II, while enriched by the events of Origins, isn’t contingent on knowing the tale told in that first game. As well, the opening of the sequel brings players up to speed on the events of Origins. “We wanted to make sure that if you were coming into the game cold, you didn’t feel alienated by it,” Laidlaw said.
Gamers who have played Origins can import their save file, which will give their Dragon Age II game a starting point based on the decisions they made in the first game. A similar mechanic is used by the developer in its Mass Effect franchise. But unlike the system that’s used for Mass Effect 2, which only works with completed games, Dragon Age II allows for the import of a unfinished game. “We know a lot of people got partway through Origins, and we wanted to make sure we were as accommodating we could be,” Laidlaw said.
In Origins, the country of Ferelden is beset by the Blight, a swarm of demonic creatures. In Dragon Age II, gamers play Hawke, a survivor of the Blight who escapes north to the Free Marches and the city of Kirkwall. Through the course of the game, Hawke becomes the Champion of Kirkwall, and the player’s decisions determine how that happens.
Origins, released in November 2009, was originally planned as a Windows PC exclusive. The decision to make the game available on consoles came after development was well under way. Laidlaw admitted that as a result, the console versions were not of the same quality as the PC version.
Dragon Age II—coming to Mac, Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360—won’t suffer the same fate. Laidlaw maintained that all versions of the sequel are striking, especially in the visual sense. “We wanted to make sure that this game looked and felt unique,” he said.
The combat system was also overhauled. “We wanted to improve the way combat flowed,” Laidlaw said. Fighting is faster and snappier, and characters follow their orders quickly. “People don’t shuffle into position; they charge. And they attack while they’re charging,” he said. “Mages don’t awkwardly turn and then cast their spell; they fling their arm out as they’re turning.”
Laidlaw recommends that players of Dragon Age II use all three character classes—mage, rogue, and warrior—for maximum combat effectiveness. This is in part because the spell combinations that were possible in the first game have been expanded so that all party members, regardless of class, can enhance the spells being cast. So if a mage freezes an enemy, for example, rogues and warriors in Dragon Age II have upgradeable abilities that allow them to do extra damage to brittle targets.
Laidlaw called Dragon Age II a “refinement”. But he said that he expects gamers will find it a vast improvement over Origins.