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10 Things You Should Know About Dragon Age II

by Joe Juba on Mar 04, 2011 at 10:38 AM

We are less than a week away from the release of Dragon Age II, and RPG fans are salivating at the thought of getting their hands on BioWare’s latest adventure. You’ll have to wait until the game’s March 8 release to play it for yourself, but having beaten the game, I can give you a heads-up on a few things you should know before you dive into the Dragon Age universe again.

1. Combat Feels Like An Action/RPG
Battles in Dragon Age II feel like they evolved more from the console version of Origins than the PC. Instead of a deliberate and tactical approach, fights take place in third person and focus more on fast-paced action. This is true even if you’re playing on PC, so don’t be surprised when you can’t find your zoomed-out isometric view. Yes, this is a significant change from the last game…but being different isn’t necessarily bad.

2. Classes Are More Specialized
In Origins, warriors and rogues had different roles in combat but shared similar abilities. For instance, both classes could dual-wield and put points into archery-related talents. In Dragon Age II, the warrior loses these capabilities, focusing instead on tanking and dealing melee damage. Rogues are more about precision and support, though their position in relation to enemies is less important. Mages still nuke foes, but they aren’t quite as helpless when faced with direct combat.

3. Inventory Management Is Better
Your allies in Dragon Age II each have a set of armor that they wear all the time. This means that you can’t equip them with the helmets, boots, and gauntlets that you find in your quest. This may sound disappointing at first, but it results in you spending much less time in the menus sizing up and optimizing equipment. If you pick up a new suit of armor that isn’t an improvement for Hawke, you can just sell it; no need to look at all of your active and inactive party members to see if it’s better for them. Plus, you can still outfit your companions with rings, amulets, and belts, so the customization isn’t gone completely. Your inventory will be less cramped, especially since you get a storage chest early on and you aren’t carrying around crafting reagents all the time.

4. Skills Are Gone
When you level up, you allocate ability points and talent points. You no longer get skill points, because skills as they existed in Origins are no longer present. Your character can still do many things that used to be skills, like crafting and lockpicking, but these have migrated to other parts of the game. For instance, the rogue’s ability to pick locks automatically increases for every 10 points in their Cunning ability (simple locks at 10, standard locks at 20, etc.).

5. Kirkwall Is The Main Setting
Don’t expect to travel to the four corners of the Free Marches like you did in Ferelden. Dragon Age II tells the story of Hawke’s rise to power in Kirkwall, and as such, almost all of the action takes place within the city. You’ll take a few trips to surrounding locations, but don’t be surprised when your adventures have you hopping between different parts of Kirkwall instead of different parts of the continent.

6. Not The Usual BioWare Story
BioWare’s plots generally follow a predictable arc. Players go through an introductory sequence, and then the world opens up to four larger areas with their own quests and storylines. When those areas are complete, the tale converges for the thrilling finale. I won’t spoil anything about specific events in Dragon Age II, but I will say that the narrative does not follow this structure at all.

7. Ally Relations Are Improved
If you did things your allies didn’t approve of in Origins, they didn’t like you. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that cool companion missions weren’t available unless your approval was high with the appropriate character. In Dragon Age II, you can do these missions regardless of whether your ally loves or hates you. Instead of gating story content, the approval system now bestows passive bonuses. If a party member is your friend, you’ll get one kind of bonus. If that same character is a rival, you’ll get a different one. This way, you get reward whether you’re nice or mean, plus you still get to do all of the quests. Being neutral, however, still has no advantages.

8. Conversation Flows Better
The new dialogue system is very similar to the Mass Effect series’. This means that you don’t spend your time reading through a list of responses before selecting one. Instead, you choose a brief response from a wheel that gives you the gist of what Hawke will say next. These responses are also accompanied by an icon that lets you know if you’re being flirty, aggressive, snarky, etc. One benefit to this approach is that conversations are not start-and-stop affairs; they flow naturally and Hawke emerges as a more defined character instead of a voiceless cipher.

9. You’re A Long Way From Ferelden
The Free Marches are influenced by the events from the previous game, but don’t expect every little choice you made in Origins to change the world. You’ll hear some references in dialogue, and even see a couple cameos, but Dragon Age isn’t Mass Effect. You won’t be bombarded with reminders of your previous deeds. Hawke’s story stands apart from the Grey Warden’s, though it still clearly takes place in the same world. However, be aware that some minor story points in Origins and Awakening have been retconned, so even if you import your save, the events of the previous games aren’t necessarily set in stone.

10. It’s Shorter, But Not Short
I finished Dragon Age II, along with every sidequest, in approximately 40 hours. While that isn’t the 70 hours it took me to play through Origins, it’s still a large chunk of time, and I certainly didn’t feel cheated by the amount of content.

For our impressions of the first five hours of Dragon Age II, check out this hands-on preview. You can also peruse the Dragon Age II hub (from when we revealed the game on our cover) by clicking on the banner below.