I sliced through Darkspawn effortlessly, my blade sliding through the ugly creatures as if they were made of butter. Meanwhile, my mage partner eloquently set the remaining foes aflame. After obliterating enemies with such ease, I realized that this was a much different Dragon Age than I was used to, but it was exactly what I was hoping for.
2009's Dragon Age: Origins was renowned for its storytelling techniques, but it was not without flaws. The tactical combat system designed for PCs didn't translate well to consoles, and the game lacked visual flair. The Bioware team has acknowledged the first game's shortcomings and has worked hard to correct them.
When I first saw details on the game in the Game Informer issue announcing its existence, I had my doubts. However, when I got my hands on the opening chapter last week, all of my fears subsided and I immediately became excited for the second journey into the world of Dragon Age.
Instead of controlling a n00b Grey Warden focused on extinguishing the Blight (basically like Armageddon, but with more Darkspawn and Archdemons), your new protagonist is an upcoming human champion named Hawke. While you can't choose your race (which is a major bummer) you can still pick your character's class, gender and can still customize how he or she looks.
As you assume the role of Hawke, you're immediately thrust into battle with glitzy armor, powerful abilities and a bad-ass female mage. Once you defeat waves of Darkspawn and an ogre, a dragon roars from a cliff above. Just as you think, "Oh crap, I'm screwed," you're jolted out of the battlefield to a cut-scene where a pissed off Cassandra, a raven-haired Chantry member is chastising Varric, a blinged out dwarf recalling his memories of you. Cassandra is searching for information on your character's whereabouts and calls the dwarf out on his embellished story, and it becomes clear that the earlier scene was altered by Varric's imagination.
After some banter Varric reveals that the Chantry, a church group that worships The Maker, is in ruins, the world is on the brink of war and the church needs Hawke to help reassemble the pieces. The entire story is told through these two characters in a framed narrative, so all the events you play have happened in the past, but you're shaping how the legend is told. T he game world is highly reactive to your decisions, so it should be an interesting title to replay and see how it differs as you go along.
Varric begins the tale over again, narrowing in on Hawke and his family's defection from their former home, Lothering, shortly after King Cailan's demise at the battle of Ostagar. Now known as the Blightlands, their once vibrant village has been devastated after the Darkspawn have had their way with it. There's no more fancy armor or strong abilities in this tale – just Hawke along with his younger brother Carver, a warrior, his sister Bethany, an apostate mage and his mother discussing their escape plan. As soon as the conversation options popped up, I immediately recognized Mass Effect's wheel of discourse, but this version has the addition of helpful indicator icons.
Thanks to these images you'll always know what sort of a response your character will give -- there's an olive branch for peaceful approaches, a comedy mask for witty remarks and a fist pump full of aggressive responses. These icons also help you distinguish when you're making a romantic move on someone, because the game of love is hard enough. Dragon Age 2 will also track how you play and model your character's greetings and goodbyes to fit his or her personality, though like in Origins there won't be an obvious "good/evil" meter.