The blight, unleashed on Ferelden–darkspawn poured out the wilds, clashing against the armies at the ruins of Ostagar. The battle was a disaster. King Calian, died on the field with his men, betrayed by his most trusted general. Unopposed—the horde marched on the town of Lothering, The villages burned and many of the innocent were slaughtered. The champions’ family barely escaped in time…” Varric; Dwarf, Rouge, and Marksman, Dragon Age II.

Bioware announces a ‘Call To Arms!’

Being a fan of anything Bioware, more specifically, Dragon Age: Origins, I, along with many others like me, could not wait for the opportunity to experience, once again, becoming a champion. Bioware promised many improvements to the Dragon Age experience this go round, and I have to say that so far I am satisfied.  The demo took approximately 45 minutes to complete, simply because I wanted to read the available codex and briefly analyze all aspects of my in-game character, paying attention to the pacing element of the game ideas and mechanics, and difficulty experienced during the demo version.

Dragon Age 2’s events run parallel to the events in Origins. During the intro when Varric is describing what occurred at Ostagar, the Hawke family is only just escaping Lothering.  Varric is being interrogated by Cassandra Pentaghast, a seeker from the Chantry regarding the whereabouts of the Champion of Kirkwall, or Hawke. Something has gone awry and Hawke is the only one who can set these matters straight.  Varric begins to tell the story of the champion, and here introduced to the first battle of the demo—the Destruction of Lothering.

Varric begins the initial story as an exaggeration—where your chosen champion and accomplice (depending on your choice of male or female character; you may fight beside your sister, Bethany, a mage; or brother, Carver, warrior) fight against a horde darkspawn.  The horde is upon the two of you and you have to “sort” your way through the onslaught. You meet up with a very familiar character from Origins, and you are introduced to Aveline, a female Templar along with her husband, Wesley.

New ‘in-game’ features

Just as in Dragon Age: Origins in Dragon Age 2 you get to choose the warrior class at the start your journey. However, in the demo version, you do not get to customize your character. You begin battle as your choice, and immediately, you know that there is a definite difference to the combat controls. The character actions are faster and able to release a flurry of attacks. Should you choose a rouge class, Hawke attacks in fast motions, can ‘teleport’ behind an enemy to get a backstab, and backflip out of danger. Mages’ attacks are more fluid, and happen to go along with hitting enemies near the character with the—as I call it in this situation—whoopin’ stick with lighting fast reflexes. The battles occur at a much faster pace and the surrounding interactive actions  are more intensely involved between the opposing enemies, comparatively speaking in reference to Origins. The health bars over characters show damage taken, or inflicted by an attack, or the amount of health received from potions and spells.

Improved party synergy

This may take some getting used to, initially. I did not expect the actions of Hawke to respond equally quick in response control action. Therefore, at an instant, you can navigate your in-game character to respond to all enemies surrounding you, and not just with a ‘break’ in the action. There are equally fast response times as a mage—there is no delay in execution of spells and it seems as though your mana pool charges faster than before. The warrior is without question, the featured champion in game. Hawke and his companions can utilize a new ‘synergy system’ or ‘Cross-Class Combos (CCC)’ that will allow for each champion class ability to deal out extra damage to an enemy. A great example of this: if your in-game character is a rouge and you inflict damage to an enemy, causing the enemy to stagger–then your warrior or mage companion can intensify that damage. This is especially handy in a long drawn out battle on the more challenging enemies.

The game is more action orientated than its predecessor was. There was the initial tutorial available to help navigate gameplay, however much of the controls are the same from Origins—with the exception that since the game is more timed based, be prepared to continually press the ‘A’ button on the 360 controller. The actions are brilliantly connected to the controller inputs and the new combat system plays to the strength of the control pad.  Meaning, it will not mimic a PC experience, rather it will be more “tailored” to the strengths of the PS3 and 360 controllers.

Radial menu and character upgrade modifications

The radial menu behavior, is the same as in Origins, you can toggle from the options menu if you want the radial system to stay open if you hold the 360’s left-trigger (LT) continuously, or whether it remains open until you press the LT again. The tactics menu (which is customizable in the demo) is still available, both the radial and tactics menu are organized, and more visually appealing.  Inventory during the demo game-play is locked, however, so you can’t change weapons you may run into—with the exception of the downed archer, but you can only switch the weapon from melee to ranged at this area. The only thing that is modifiable in the demo is the ability to change Hawke’s weapon attributes (level-ups), depending on the initial warrior type you choose at the beginning. And your character levels up in game, you can only upgrade the highlighted sections in blue, the others read that you need to be level 99 to unlock the upgrade or trait. The difficulty setting is on ‘normal’ and cannot be changed, throughout.

Character modifications – Interactions

Another great improvement to the game when it regards to your in-game Hawke character in that your character is fully voiced and yes, the game does include “love interests” and the capability to “romance” your companions.  You can still switch playing different characters during the game and in combat by using the right or left bumper controls. As stated above, with the full version of the game you will be able to personalize your character to your liking.  Depending on the relationships of your companions, whether they are ‘likable’ or ‘rivals’ will affect how they will perform in battle.  If your companions are rivals to Hawke,  they will try to “out do” your in-game character in battle. So it seems that some rivalry is a good thing. If you played the Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Awakenings, your choices made during those two games will be imported and will be reflected in the Dragon Age II (DA2).

There are a few journal entries as well that you briefly experience during the demo, as well:  “The destruction of Lothering” has you find Gamlen Amell or some other way into Kirkwall, “Long way home” is where you have to deliver an amulet to Keeper Marethari in the Dalish camp on Sundermount, and “A new home?” has you go to Gamelen’s home in Lowtown.

Choose your CHAMPION!

Champion abilities:   ROGUE HAWKE

Scoundrel: Rogues proficient in these dastardly talents delight in exploiting enemies’ weakness and control the flow of battle.
Archery: Special in picking off distant targets and suppressing enemy ranks. This talent is required for the character to equip bows.
Dual Weapon: Dual weapon rouges wield an instrument of death in each hand. This talent is required in battle to equip dual weapons.
Sabotage: Rouges who excel at these abilities are adept at stupefying and undermining foes.
Specialist: Rely on precision, power and speed to overwhelm opponents.
Subterfuge: Focus on trick maneuvering and deception to gain the upper hand.

Champion abilities:  MAGE HAWKE

Elemental: The mage masters the elements of fire and ice.
Spirit: Spirit magic shakes foes to the core, partially bypassing resistances and effectively countering enemy mages.
Arcane: Arcane magic taps into the deepest wells of the Fade, protecting the caster and crushing the arcanis’s foes.
Entropy: The mage delves into the chaotic nature of the Fade, twisting the fabric of probability and ensnaring foes with horrifying visions.
Creation:  mages schooled in creation are invaluable allies who can heal wounds, strengthen party members and ward against oncoming foes.

Champion abilities:  WARRIOR HAWKE

Battlemaster: When fighting solo, a battlemaster is an effective killing machine. When fighting alongside allies – the warrior becomes a seasoned leader who can rally others to turn the tide of combat.
Defender: Defenders specialize in survivability, taking everything the enemy throws at them and walking away unscathed.
Two-handed: Warriors who wield two handed weapons can reap tremendous damage through wide arcs of enemy flesh, although they forgo the protective benefits of a shield.
Vanguard: A vanguard believes that a good offense is the best defense. Their powerful stridkes are matched with ruthless techniques.
Warmonger: Warmonger is a confident adversary, well-versed in taunting foes, cutting through them and sending them to the dirt in a bloody heap. Warmongers are also experts in controlling enemy aggression, possessing abilities that draw foes toward them and that thought stun effects cause enemies to forget who they were fighting.

The option is available for you to choose either a female or male champion Marian/Garrett Hawke.

So…you completed the demo?

You will now receive ‘HAYDER’s Razor,’ which increases health, mana, and combat abilities in the full DA2 game version. So be kind and help an adventurer out by downloading and completing the Dragon Age 2 demo.

Bonus content and ‘in-game’ fodder!

There are a host of in-game bonus items if you pre-ordered Dragon Age II before March 8, 2011. Details below:

If you purchased Dead Space 2, you would have received a code to unlock a special set of Isaac Clarke inspired armor. It would seem that the chilling tales of Isaac Clarke are a favorite among Bards. “In dank taverns throughout Thedas, these horror-filled stories captivate listeners and bring nightmares to those faint of heart.”

Ser Isaac Clarke’s armor  properties increases armor and requires high dexterity and cunning to equip:

  • Ser Isaac’s Boots
  • Ser Isaac’s Armor: Heavy armor and contains a rune slot.
  • Ser Isaac’s Gauntlets
  • Ser Isaac’s Helm: Contains a rune slot and a critical damage factor.

The Exiled Prince

You will be able to adventure with Sebastian Vael, a noble and archer will be out to seek revenge for the brutal murder of his family. Sebastial Vael is a full companion character with his own set of side missions in-game. You will be able to download “The Exiled Prince” via the XBOX Marketplace (for 560 Microsoft points); or if you purchased the BioWare Signature Edition for Dragon Age II, “The Exiled Prince” will be included.

Also, pre-order in-game content at no extra cost: 

The Black Emporium – A market nestled deep under the city of Kirkwall where you will find a multitude of strange items with magical properties. Examples:

  • The Lion of Olais Shield: Features two-rune slots, bonus health benefits and adds to the % of xp gained.
  • Fadeshere: A blade that is useful against demons of the fade. It improves with each level-up and deals extra damage to demons and the undead.
  • A Mabari War Hound
  • Mirror of Transformation

Penny Arcade Item: HINDSIGHT

There is an additional in-game item ‘HINDSIGHT BELT‘ from watching the Penny Game Arcade videoHINDSIGHT“, a belt that enchants itself when the wearer dies.

“Hindsight is a belt possessed of a strange, slow intellect. Whatever would have killed the wearer—does—but at that very moment, the belt develops a resistance that would have saved them.”

There are very few belts of worth in the Dragon Age series. The  Hindsight Belt would be one of those in-game items that just might give you the edge during game-play. The belt enchants itself upon death, which makes the next wearer ‘slightly’ immune to the same faith. It will continue to enchant itself until it leaves your possession–your “temporary, temporary…possession.”

The “STAFF OF PARTHALAN” is another in-game item that you can receive for DA2 just for subscribing to the Dragon Age 2 newsletter.

Dragon Age Legends for Facebook in-game bonuses

If you play Dragon Age Legends (which I am currently playing in beta), there will be unlockables–five in all– that can be used in Dragon Age II. You need an EA account and you’d need to be signed in to that account while you are playing Dragon Age Legends for Facebook. Each of the items have a special bonus ability that will be available in DA2:

 

Evra’s Might, the ring of a famed demon hunter. Which he used to punch demons in the face.

 

 

Evra’s Trophy Belt, which contains elements from Evra’s battles (teeth, tufts of fur, chipped metal blades).

 

 

Air of Confidence, a ring given to Evra by the First Enchanter from the Circle of Markham.

 

 

Ivo Family Crest, necklace from the House of Ivo.

 

 

Dura’s Blue Flame, a silver amulet with a deep blue sapphire.

 

The overall appearance and combat improvements of DA2 balances out during game-play, and amounts to the anticipation of waiting for the full game. I wanted to write an overview of a demo version of the game out of pure appreciation and admiration of the Dragon Age series, in the hopes that those of you who are unfamiliar to the game would– out of curiosity—decide (on your own) whether or not you will find the game itself as challenging, new, and worthwhile experience. The demo does offer a fantastic peek into the overall mechanics of the DA2 and a way to see how the gaming experience and choices made previously in Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings can tie into DA2 story.

Happy gaming!

Dragon Age II will be available Tuesday, March 8, 2011. RISE TO POWER…by any means necessary – Bioware.

Order your copy of Dragon Age 2 Now, you can order it for Xbox 360 or PC!
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Rated ‘M’ for mature content in-game: Blood and gore, language, sexual content and violence. Dragon Age 2 will be available for the XBOX 360, PS3 and PC.

All image credit and descriptions: Bioware: Dragon Age II Champion ability images: Dragon Age 2 Wiki.

aidyspoetry
When AIDY isn't writing poetry, she likes to write film reviews. If she is curious about something she seen or heard, she'd maybe write about that, too.