We were given the opportunity to play as the female Hawke in Dragon Age 2 at PAX this weekend - it was announced just before the show that you could choose sex for the RPG's lead - and got a good look at the sequel's graphical overhaul to-boot.
Good things come to those who wait
BioWare senior product manager David Silverman gave us a rundown of what's new to the franchise before letting us get our hands bloody. Silverman said BioWare paid special attention to how the console versions looked this time around.
Both PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were on hand, and I was set up with the 360 version to play.
It took me a minute to get used as I played the first Dragon Age on PC, but it quickly felt familiar, and in a good way. The graphics on the console version do indeed look brighter and less muddy than those in Dragon Age: Origins, and even the animations seemed to pop a bit more than the previous version.
Girls can kick ass too, ya know
Since the new female rogue class was announced, I figured I would try her out. I changed her looks with the various options available, not only to see what the fuss was all about, but to also be able to brag to the boyfriend that I got to play around with a woman while at PAX.
All joking aside though, playing the female version of Hawke was very satisfying; she is one tough broad.
The level I played started off with a cutscene of my rogue surrounded by these scary looking hurlocks, which I had to fight if I planned to continue living.
I was able to attack using the A button on the 360 controller, while the other three buttons brought up hotkey options and my talent tree. RT showed me another menu with extra talents, LT gave me the option to manage my abilities, and the D pad allowed me to target enemies.
From what I have read up on - again I played the PC version - this is a lot like the control scheme from DAO.
Readying a move for damage had zero delay as well, and when I went back to the screen after setting it, it went off right in a hurlock's face. It was awesome to see.
There were a few talents at my disposal as well, but my favorite had to be Whirlwind, which sends your character into a spin. My enemies didn't recover from this brutal assault with my dual short swords, and if you thought the first game was bloody, this one's doused in the lovely red goo.
There was also a teleporting attack I found useful, as well as the ability to cloak, stun and perform a rush attack. Still, Whirlwind was my favorite by far for handing out corporeal justice.
Hawke has a lean and hungry look, she does
Things were going grand at my end. I was enjoying the hell out of myself, and about to unleash all fury upon this massive hurlock headed my way, when I was irrupted by a pesky cut-scene. This annoyed me at first, but as I saw what was happening, I quickly changed my mind.
It's called a framed narrative, and this allows BioWare to take you in and out of different points in your character's life, not only to give you his or her history, but to provide you with other skills and levels to have fun with.
This also allows the developer to tell a larger story within the game without breaking the current timeline. To give you an example of how this works, think of The Princess Bride, and there you have it - sans Fred Savage and Peter Falk.
So, when this "framed narrative" popped up, my fight with the demon monsters zoomed out a bit, and you could see an older looking couple chatting to one another in the cutscene.
The man was telling the story about me fighting the demon I saw before the scene pulled me out. The lady told the guy his version of the story was "bullshit," as he was telling it completely wrong. Thus ensued a light argument over my origins, who I was, where I was going, and so on, before zooming back into my character's story.
Suddenly, instead of fighting the hurlocks again like I was expecting, I was pulled into a scene where I was a young woman standing with my mother, lamenting the loss of our destroyed village and our way of life.
Just five more months, kiddos
In conclusion, it was a grand 15 minutes, and I walked away feeling Dragon Age 2 would win over those who found issues with the console versions of DAO, and that the PC crowd should be just as pleased to be heading back into BioWare's fantasy universe.
The game, which was lovely on the PC before, has been boosted graphically for all versions; gameplay is less stringent; talents and spells are easier to access; and combat just feels very fast, smooth, and fluid. Combat has been taken up a few notches; your character is a real badass, and the storyline, along with the new narrative format, should help keep things fresh and interesting.
My only complaint is the wait. March is quite a few months away. Too many, it seems, especially after having so much fun with my lady rogue.
Dragon Age 2 is slated for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on March 8 in the US and March 11 in Europe.