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Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II: The First Five Hours

Hawke. It’s a name whispered in dimly lit taverns across the continent of Thedas. Each retelling brings new embellishments. In one, Hawke is a headstrong, power-hungry female mage, decimating whole legions of Darkspawn in a single battle. In another, Hawke is a mysterious male rogue with questionable intentions. Each person seems to have a version of Hawke’s tale. I’m five hours into Dragon Age II, and this is the story of my Hawke.

Heroic Beginnings

Hawke’s legend begins in Lothering during the events of Dragon Age: Origins. As the doomed village is overrun by the Blight, Hawke escapes with his antagonistic brother Carver, his sister Bethany, and their mother. The desperate family fights through several Darkspawn ambushes, and they save a Templar named Wesley and his wife, Aveline. Upon discovering that Bethany is an apostate – a rogue mage not under the guidance of the Circle of Magi – Wesley attempts to apprehend her, but Aveline’s cool-headedness prevails. “Now is not the time for this,” she reminds him as another wave of Darkspawn attacks the beleaguered group.

As a seemingly endless stream of Darkspawn continues to flow, the makeshift team begins falling to the beasts. One member of the group is killed, and another is mortally wounded. Just as all appears lost, a dragon flies over the horizon, burning a majority of the Darkspawn and scattering the remnants.

The dragon floats down to the charred battlefield and lands before the family, transforming into an old woman before their startled gazes. Aveline is the first to identify her: Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds. The legendary figure has already saved Hawke and his kin from near-certain death, but she wants to cut a deal. She’ll ensure that they find safe passage across the Waking Sea to the land known as the Free Marches. All she asks is that Hawke deliver an amulet to a Dalish elf tribe camped near the city of Kirkwall…

Leveling Up Levels Up
As part of the effort to streamline and improve the feel of Dragon Age II, BioWare redesigned the UI around leveling up and choosing new skills. Abilities are now laid out in branching trees rather than a series of linear paths, with possible upgrades highlighted in blue as you level up. Each new upgrade also has a greater impact on battles than in Origins. Here are a couple of the most impressive skills I noticed for each class:

Warrior

Giant’s Reach – This passive ability allows your regular swings with two-handed weapons to hit multiple enemies.

Scythe – This awesome charge attack sends you hurtling toward enemies. For regular opponents, it’s a great opener, and weak foes will instantly explode into a puff of blood.

Rogue

Evade – This stylish backflip makes any enemy trying to kill you retarget. When upgraded, it also has the potential to stun opponents.

Pinning Shot – Archery-focused rogues need to keep their distance, which is why they’ll want this great skill to push enemies back or stick them in place.

Mage

Winter’s Grasp – This spell slows down enemy attacks and movements, allowing you to avoid powerful swipes by bigger creatures.

Walking Bomb – This fan favorite from Origins causes damage over time. if an enemy is killed while still under the effect, it causes them to explode and injure other baddies in the area.

Dragon Age Moves From Tactical To Tactile

From the moment we first saw Dragon Age II, it was clear that BioWare wasn’t content with creating a sequel that was more of the same. The universe has not changed. Some characters will return. But for better or worse, the gameplay has shifted significantly. 

Few would argue that Origins’ transition from PC to console was graceful. While the PC version used pause-and-play tactical combat in the classic computer RPG style, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports were dumbed down. The game wasn’t bad on console, but it felt clunky and unsuited to the control format.

Dragon Age II has been designed from the beginning with the intention of being played with a controller, and it shows immediately. The game opens with the dwarf Varric telling a tall tale of Hawke fighting off a horde of Darkspawn on his own. In this segment, I had the chance to play as a fully powered Hawke with all of his high-level warrior abilities.

The biggest change was apparent immediately. In Origins, you would tap a button and watch your character move into place before using an ability or auto-attacking. In Dragon Age II, you’re in full control. You have to move Hawke into attack range, and you have to press the attack button for each swing, arrow, or spell.

Combat doesn’t consist solely of mashing one button. I also had access to a ton of special abilities, such as a shield bash, a jump attack, and a charge that swiftly closed the gap with ranged enemies. This kind of responsive combat is a far cry from the tactical approach of Origins, but when you’re actually in control, it’s a much faster game – and honestly, it feels good.

After I wiped out a healthy number of Darkspawn, the game cut (without loading) back to Varric telling the story. His interrogator, a Chantry seeker named Cassandra, interrupted: "Bulls---! That’s not how it happened!" In Dragon Age II’s framed narrative, Varric’s exaggeration provided an opportunity for me to see how powerful Hawke will eventually become, but at this point the dwarf starts over from the beginning, stripping away those powers and taking the main character back to level one.

It may take another 20 or 30 hours before Hawke is as *** as he was in that introductory sequence, but every time I leveled up and gained a new ability, I felt like it genuinely changed the way I approached battles. Some abilities felt useless or buried in Origins. In Dragon Age II, I found myself using everything at my disposal.

Comments
  • Cant wait to get this game for PC