Publisher:Electronic Arts Platform:Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 8, 2011
‘It’s very brown,’ we thought to ourselves, as we got comfortable during the opening minutes of Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 presentation. ‘It looks a bit washed out and bland too. Are we in the right room? This isn’t Call of Duty, is it?’
Following on the heels of these nonplussed first thoughts was a big pang of guilt; are graphics really that important? In an epic RPG such as Dragon Age 2 surely it’s the quality of the writing, the depth of the fiction and the balance of the underlying system that are most important, not the colour palette?
Yes, obviously all that’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dragon Age 2 still looks as brown and uninvitingly bleak as the inside of a public toilet. The mountaintop battle scene we were treated to for starters definitely didn’t feel like it was made by the same developer who bought us the bright and busy world of Mass Effect 2.
Ironically, no sooner had we thought that the game looked a bit poo than Bioware’s David Silverman started talking about Dragon Age 2’s new unifying art style. Silverman acknowledged that, if you stripped the UI and watermarks off screenshots from the first game, then you might be hard pressed to tell which game it is. One of Bioware’s aims with the sequel was to create more of a visual identity, though it’s not something we could see any evidence of. All we saw was lots of brown and an excessive amount of blood, just like in Dragon Age: Origins.
Other changes are more easily apparent, such as the fundamental alterations to the way the story is told. Bioware has chucked out the idea of a silent, totally customisable protagonist and bought things closer to Mass Effect – another Bioware game and one which has heavily influenced Dragon Age 2, we suspect. Like Commander Shepherd, Dragon Age 2’s main character, Hawke, has a voice of his own and an established identity now.
The fact that Hawke has a voice has necessitated changes to the dialogue system too. No longer does Dragon Age offer the old adventure game style of dialogue choices where you can see all response options exactly. Instead, Dragon Age 2 uses a dialogue wheel that offers a taste of what your character will say, complete with an indication of their tone.
Again, it’s a change which moves Dragon Age 2 closer to Mass Effect – a comparison you’d better get used to, because it’s going to get used a lot.
Hawke’s pre-established character brings other limitations to Dragon Age 2 as well, such as a simplified character creation system. Hawke can be a man or a woman, but his classes are limited to only the generic ‘Warrior’, ‘Wizard’ or ‘Rogue’ and there’s no option to change his race; he has to be human.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with those limitations obviously – but if you loved the first game for it’s old-school PC RPG feel or are desperate to play as a dwarven taxidermist then you might be a little dismayed.