Dragon Age II Looks Better, Hits Harder

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There must be something wrong with me. Despite the fact that Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s first ever PS3 game, scored very well with reviewers – it just didn’t click for me. I loved the universe, enjoyed the story. I even got hooked on the associated web game Dragon Age: Journeys, which allows you to unlock special items in the PS3 version of Origins. I just never adapted to the battle system, and eventually abandoned the game.

After reading Tweeted adulation and hearing the raves of seemingly everyone else who loved Origins (Qore’s Veronica Belmont chided me for quitting recently), and after hearting Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 on PS3, I found myself all too ready to give the upcoming Dragon Age II another chance.

That chance came last week, as EA held a preview event featuring the upcoming Dragon Age II demo (which you’ll be able to download from PSN and play on February 22nd). To me, improvements were apparent and multiple. Visual upgrades (the game has a definitive style), technical polish (inconsistent frame rate begone!), and refined, impactful gameplay were all on display. This is a game I can get behind for 40+ hours.

Afterwards, I spoke with Bioware Lead Designer/Creative Director Mike Laidlaw about the direction of Dragon Age.

Dragon Age II

Jeff Rubenstein, PlayStation Blog: Dragon Age: Origins was the first PlayStation 3 game for Bioware, and it scored well. Mass Effect 2 just came out for PS3, scoring spectacularly. What have you learned about the system and how are you taking advantage of the power of PS3 for Dragon Age II?

Mike Laidlaw, Creative Director, Bioware: I think just comfort with the hardware is the biggie. Mass Effect is running on the Unreal Engine, so there’s a bigger pool to draw from there. Bringing [Dragon Age game engine] Eclipse over to PS3 the first time was what I would call a painful process. It was successful, but painful nonetheless.

So, what we did with Dragon Age II was design the art assets — which are always where you spend your money — from the ground up so they would work better on consoles. So the PS3 as a result, looks a lot better. The visual fidelity is higher, and yet, it’s just playing nicer with the way the engine is trying to render it. So the end result is higher quality textures, crisper resolutions, and more guys on screen, without having to sacrifice anything simply because we built it smarter.

Dragon Age II

JR: Just watching the demo, you can clearly see a graphical fidelity difference between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. It’s also different stylistically. How are you aiming to make Dragon Age II stand out in the high fantasy realm?

ML: We’re picking the overall aesthetic so it looks like part of a singular unit. The art director’s takeaway to people’s reaction to Origins is that while it had moments of clear design, it didn’t have that throughout the whole game. Our goal was to even it out and make it so that every moment in the game looks like every other moment in the game, stylistically speaking.

They said, “what if we could look at Pieter Bruegel … and mix that with Akira Kurasawa, who specifically designed things to be austere?” You have an army, but they’re obscured by mist with the one lone soldier against it. So memorable, and it immediately puts the focus where your eye should be. So we alchemically made that into our recipe.

Dragon Age II

JR: I hate to say this, but as big as I was on the concept and universe of Dragon Age: Origins, I had issues with the battle system. I’ve been playing console RPGs my entire life, and it just didn’t click for me. How did you refine the battle system… and why?

ML: What Origins delivered at its peak was a sense of team working together, controlling four characters at once, progressing these characters, and building strategies. Where I think it fell down – moreso for consoles than for PC – was the sense of immediacy. On a console, when you have a controller in your hand, your brain enters a space where “I have a sword, I pressed X, aaaaaaaaand… I swung it. OK, there, finally!” I think the lack of immediacy and the lack of responsiveness was kind of the disassociation that console players had. So we sat down and looked at the reviews from the consoles and wondered why they were lower than on PC. That was one of the key things we saw.

So what our goal then became was to make sure that the responsiveness that a console player would expect could be integrated into a game that still had the tactics and depth that a PC player would expect, because the last thing you wanna do is alienate a third of your market. So, we did extensive prototyping – huge work – and so the main changes are:

  • Push to attack: press X and BAM, I’m right in there and start attacking.
  • Closing moves: So if I’m 10 feet from a guy, I don’t kind of awkwardly run up to him and then attack. I leap into him and attack as I do it.
  • Every animation is being produced in a more stylish, more reactive, and I think a more satisfying way that telegraphs what I’m doing back to me very clearly. “I just swung that sword, and I hit three guys because it’s a two-hander and I swung it in an arc.”

Dragon Age II

JR: So, and this is kind of unfair of me to ask given the last question, what about those who loved Dragon Age: Origins? How will they be affected by the changes in Dragon Age II?

ML: The controls on the PS3 are identical to Origins controls, so if you’re an Origins player, you know exactly how it is. You pull L2 and there’s the radial wheel, you can see everyone’s health, so you have the same level of interaction. Where I think there may a slight adjustment is the overall speed. If you’re playing a rogue and you point at a guy and you press X, they leap in, it’s like. “Oh, jeez!” But that’s something that does not take long to overcome.

We’ve seen this with returning players who come in and maybe their first reaction is, “Oh, I heard you made this an action game.” They play it for about two minutes and they say “Oh, it’s exactly like Origins.” You still have pause, you still have order issuing, you can now move between characters while you’re paused cleaner than you could in Origins. You can issue all four orders, let the pause go, and away you go. You even have added tactical options like move-to-point, which you couldn’t do in Origins.

So there’s a period of adjustment, but I believe it’s very short.

Dragon Age II

JR: Let’s talk about the demo. When it comes out (available on PSN February 22), what do you want people to notice first?

ML: The changes to combat, simply because it’s front loaded in the demo. The way it’s structured is at the beginning, you really aren’t learning about your character, you’re learning about what people *think* of your character. And your character is an Unstoppable Death Machine! Because, hey, it’s kinda cool being an Unstoppable Death Machine – for a while. But at the beginning, it lets you go, “Wow, I’m a Rogue – whoah, I just exploded that guy’s head!” Which is… good, because it lets you feel your character. You don’t have to spend points on decks before you begin playing, it allows you to dive right in.

What the story does is, it introduces the concept of the framed narrative. Shows you that we have an unreliable narrator who’s almost lying on your behalf. He’s like a friend and an ally in the course of this interrogation. Then you experience the real story, and that’s where it begins to feel again right back like Dragon Age. It’s a heroic tale of survival. I think what the demo does is deliver a feel of a beginning, and a middle, so you kind of get a feel of how your character grows and progresses and interacts with the world, rather than a little fleeting glimpse. We really want players to understand the context of the whole demo.

Dragon Age II

JR: This is a question that anyone who makes a sequel gets asked, and I’m just falling into this cliche by asking it, but if you didn’t finish the first Dragon Age, will you be all right?

ML: You’ll be all right. It takes place in the same world, which is really key. Mass Effect right now is about Shepard. Dragon Age in my mind – and I think Dragon Age II makes this very clear – it’s about a time. It’s about a place, but it’s not about a person.

If didn’t play DA: Origins or maybe you couldn’t play Origins, you can dive in, we catch you up on the story. You can still import a partial save – let’s say you got halfway through – it’ll still remember as the Warden you were a Dalish Elf, for instance. And it lets you dive in and understand the world from a new perspective. Even for those who never played Origins, we’ve included some pre-built Origins that effectively bring in a saved game. So you still get that sense of bringing the world forward even if you didn’t play Origins.

JR: But if you did, there’d be lots of nods to your playthrough?

ML: Oh yes, plenty. We have returning characters, we have political situations and other things that do matter, so if you’re bringing your save in, that’s all captured.

JR: What addition or change to Dragon Age are you most excited by?

ML: This is kind of a personal thing. I come from a writing background. The way we tackled relationships with your followers is we got rid of the idea of approval and disapproval. Approval in Dragon Age: Origins was a “win” and disapproval was a “loss.” We’ve moved away from that and thought, “what if you could just be rivals?” So the characters won’t tell you to go to hell and walk off; instead, you agree to disagree. They still respect you; you’re obviously doing something right because you’re rising to power over this decade. But the two of you don’t see eye to eye on something. And that opens up incredibly storytelling opportunities. You can have a romance that’s like this steamy, tumultuous affair that culminates in a kiss when the walls come down. It’s something we simply couldn’t do in the old system. So adding in that little thing and being a rival? That’s OK. The story will adjust accordingly, and your party and inter-companion relationships will be that much deeper. Coming from my writing background, that just makes my jello jiggle.

So there you have it – if you loved Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware says you’ll appreciate the changes in Dragon Age II. If you didn’t love Origins, the changes could be enough to give the world of Ferelden another go. Either way, you’ll want to give the free demo a go when it hits PSN on February 22nd. Dragon Age II will be released March 8th.

Comments are closed.


7 Author Replies

  • Hopefully the frame rate is better on PS3 than the first :(

  • Looks pretty epic >.>

    Ill definitely try the demo on the 22nd. Along with the Yakuza 3 demo! :D

  • Looks to be pretty cool! After trying out Mass Effect 2 on PS3, I am confident that this game will shine! I can’t wait to play it.

    Only thing I would like to add is that I found it strange that the Mass Effect 2 demo on the PSN had some serious framerate issue and screen tearing which really made me not want to buy the game. Then when I downloaded the entire 12gb game to do the 1 hour trial using PS+ the game ran flawlessly making me want to buy it.

    So my advice is, next time you release a demo make sure it runs proper. ;)

  • March 22nd for the PS3 demo? Isn’t it supposed to be February 22nd?

  • By far, Bioware is making the best rpgs. For me, it began with Knights of the Old Republic (which hopefully, but not realistically, can make its way to the PSN).

  • interesting… I’m looking for the demo… this game has something.. but I need to test it first..

  • Is the DLC for Dragon Age Origins going on sale on the PSN. It’s been on sale many times on the xbox marketplace but not once on the PSN. I want to play the DLC before DAII comes out.

  • I don’t really like the direction they’re taking with Dragon Age 2, I absolutely loved Origins, it was the first game I plat’d. With DA2, they seem to be turning it into a fantasy version of Mass Effect. As much as I’m loving playing through ME2, I think there’s a lot of things Origins did better, it’s just sad to me they’re taking the series in that direction. Ah well, I’ll still buy it.

  • Any chance of a Mass Effect 2 style digital download the day of release?!!!

    That would be epic.

  • I’d rather have Dragon Age: Origins 2. I don’t want this game as it just screams Dragon Effect 2. They replaced the dialogue options with the lame Mass Effect ones and they made the battle system more like Dynasty Warriors where it will just be a typical hack & slash game. Sure, the game may have more enemies but that also means that most of them will be easier to kill.

  • Don’t worry Jeff, I’m right there with you with not caring for the DA:O battle system. From the sound of Bioware’s response, though, it doesn’t sound like they understand what went wrong.

  • Jeff:

    Any update on the My Trophies meeting with the .com team?

    On topic:

    This game looks absolutely terrible and several steps back from Origins. It’s obvious they consolized this game the same way they did Mass Effect in order to perform better on non-PC platforms.

  • poppin caps or what jeff lmao

    and why cant i sign into the blog from my ps3?

  • I know that the physics is amazing on the PS3 and producers work very hard to make things look real. But why so much blood? It is far from being realistic. I mean, this is not Monty Python.

  • Dragon Age I was my favourite PS3 game so far

  • I’m playing through Origins again in preparation for DAII. Can’t wait to see what carries over from the save file.

  • Jeff,

    When talking to Mr. Laidlaw did he say anything about the world itself or opening up more locations to explore? I mean in Origins you had this big map but it only felt like a hand full of places you could go.

  • I can’t wait till this come out in March, I’m getting this and tattoo for my birthday.

  • there is no way i am ever going to buy a bioware game on a console, not any console.
    unless they make a console exclusive, these games i just like better on the PC.

    it’s because of Never Winters Nights really.

  • Jeff:

    The problem is with older releases. Look at Rock Band 3, Nier, both BlazeBlue games (not even in English), Vanquish. They’re still missing.

    I really don’t know how else to explain this. The games on the list below are not on the .com site even if you’ve played them.


  • Day 1 for me.
    I’ve played the whole DAO experience on my ps3, origins, awakening, some dlcs (including Witch Hunt).
    Join Us!

  • Any freebies for having a completed game save drom DAO? Oh, I think I have man-crush on Hawke.

  • Never gave the original a look… And I wasn’t going to give this sequel a look either… But then I found out BioWare is behind this… And I ABSOLUTELY loved Mass Effect 2… Easily the BEST RPG I’ve played on the PS3…

    So now I have Dragon Age II to tide me over until ME3… Does anyone know if I have to play the first to understand this??

    Follow me on Twitter: @Stinger_Inc

  • man stay away from jeffPS he totally will spin you out in GT5!!!

  • Very excited to read this Jeff. I was having the exact same problem with DA:O. I only got 1/4 the way thru the game and just watched my wife play it instead. The combat was what lost me. Mass Effect is something that I’ve been sinking time into and I’m happy to hear that DA2 is heading in more of that direction.

    I’m not a fan of micro managing in RPG’s are they gonna make any changes to the menus/inventory the way that ME2 changed from ME1?

  • @ Stingger

    No, you don’t need to play Origins to understand the story of this game though it would help you understand the Darkspawn a bit more probably.
    But you don’t have to play Origins. It’s a new story seprate from Origins so it’s just your choice if you want to play Origins or not.

    As for me. Can’t wait for it to come out and I can get my Signature Edition of the game that I preordered last year. Got all the free DLC goodies and promotional items from their site. As well as Ser Isaac’s Armour. I love DA series and this looks awesome. I like the new look and do find this to be slilghtly better over Origins. I hated how your Warden from Origins never talked, like he was a mime. Plus the dialog thing I like as well. I’ve been play ME2 since it came out for PS3 and I have to say, I find the conversation choice wheel-thing is much better then going down a line of choices. So I like the changes.

  • Can you still create your character in DA2 or do you have to choose the male or female Hawk???

  • @ stereochild22

    Well if you’ve seen or played ME2 yet for PS3, you’ll probably be able to customize how your character looks.

  • Is it me or does the animation look REALLY bad in that video? Hope that’s an early build.

  • I’ll be pre-ordering Dragon Age 2 when I go pick up Marvel VS Capcom 3 this Tuesday. :) I absolutely loved Dragon Age Origins as I put over 200 hours into it playing all the DLC except Awakening (bought the disc version, probably play it after I’m done with ME2), and I played as every character type except for the Dwarves.

    I can see myself getting lost in Dragon Age 2. I have to try to put time aside for other games too like Killzone 3, MvC2, inFAMOUS 2, Brink and others of the sort. Luckily those will all hold me over until Uncharted 3 is released though (will be my GotY).

  • *Darn, I meant MvC3 in my previous post, not MvC2.

  • EPIC! Pixeljunk Shooter 2 releases on my birthday and Dragon Age II 7 days later. Need demo now!

  • Release the Mass Effect 2 patch already!

  • I couldn’t agree with you more Jeff the combat in dragon age just didnt feel right especially after playing demons souls. Dragon age just felt to easy and like I was just pressing a button and watching the combat. So i hope to hear good thing about the combat in dragon age 2 because I love fantasy western rpgs.

  • I’m gonna wait for the eventual Game of the Year Edition.

    I’m gonna be knee deep in Killzone 3 multiplayer. trophy hunting in my back log of PS3 games. and i’m saving up money to build my first gaming PC.

    but i will totally get this for my PS3. when the GOTY edition gets announced. I want it. just i can wait.

    Mass Effect 3 i cannot wait for. I am highly anticipating that.

  • Hmm… never considered the first game, but after trying the demo – we’ll see.

  • OMFG That video was awesome…..now i dont know if i want to go rogue or mage… they both look kick a$$

  • I can’t wait to get the game….i will have to try the demo now……..

  • So Jeff, I take it based on your small write up that if a game isn’t dumbed down enough, you won’t like it?

    From ML: Where I think it fell down – moreso for consoles than for PC – was the sense of immediacy.

    So with DA:O I could set 2 characters to ranged, set one to heal the group, set my main character to taunt and knockdown, mix spells to heighten damage.

    With DA2 I press X and BAM (in your own words) instant gratification…. Sad is what this really is.

    Enough said really. It really is disheartening devs like Bioware are now catering to the instant gratification audience :(

    As an old school RPG fan on all platforms this ranks as a blatant cop out.

    • To you, AzzX (and Mastorofpuppetz below), I’ve been playing RPGs as long as – or depending on your age – even longer than you, so I’m not looking for ‘casual.’ I’m down with menu-driven battle of a typical JRPG, but the hybrid of DA:O didn’t work for me.

      In Mass Effect, if I line up the shot well and pull the trigger, I fire immediately. Sure there’s stats and dice rolls behind how much damage I do, but it *feels* right. If that’s ‘dumbed down’ in your opinion, then give me dumbed down any day.

      I think they’re acknowledging that PC controls aren’t ideal for a console game, and I welcome the change. Either way, play the demo before you judge too harshly.

  • In other words, the Interviewer was your typical BUTTON MASHING console nub, who doesn’t like thought or tactics/strategy in combat, so they dumbed down Da 2 for the lowest common denominator. Got ya.

  • @39, yes, i agree, games are really getting watered down the the typical casual gamer, sad really. Just some of the comments here are sad, Da 1 had more strategy and tactics then most any modern RPG, yet you have people saying all they did was click and watch the combat? Obviously to simple to even grasp a deep combat system by most gamers standards of today.

    The Px version was really the way to go for Da 1, way better then either console version.

  • Definitely trying the demo after seeing how good Mass Effect 2 was on the PS3. If the demo is good I’m getting this game.

  • Hooray! i hope we might also get some Dragon Age avatars

  • I actually liked the combat in DA:O. It was like FFXII, but done right. I am very wary of the changes in DAII.

  • I’m really looking forward to this!

  • this game would be better if it were a military FPS..

  • I got my hands on the demo at the EA preview event myself. All of those who are set in their assumptions and believe this game is far too removed from Dragon Age for your liking, I want to tell you as friendly and as politely as possible…

    …that you’re absolutely wrong. Completely wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong if you went to Wrongs School and got a Bachelor of Wrong in Wrong Management. I mean, you’d have to be like the VP of Wrong to be even CLOSE to how wrong you are. I mean, just ask KB, he was TURNED DOWN for that position since he wasn’t WRONG enough.

    Pick up the demo on the 22nd and you’ll see.

  • @46

    military FPS games suck bawls… they are so overrated and the more recent ones (Black Ops, MOH) got horrible reviews…

    now, sci-fi and survival horror FPS games… THAT’S where it’s at. Dead Space 2, Borderlands, give me that stuff any day.

  • on the topic of Dragon Age though… I didn’t have any complaints about the first one… except the blasted lagging frame-rate…

    and even though they’re changing the battle system in the 2nd one, I can promise u that without a doubt, I will still LOVE IT! why? because it’s an RPG game and I’m not one of those picky people that likes to whine about stuff.

    Change is good, and change is needed. Nothing ever stays the same. So either get over it, or leave earth…

  • I don’t know why people are hating on this new game. Bioware has stated time and time again, you get the SAME Dragon Age Origins experience if you play on the harder difficulties but everything just happens faster.

    So if you tell your character to do a command, it happens instantly. From what I’ve seen, it is no button masher and I never saw anyone asking for one. We just want a game that reacts to our actions.

    I loved Origins, but I notice a fault when I see one. Especially when you spend over 200 hours in the game.

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