Dragon Age II

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Dragon Age II
Dragon Age 2 cover.jpg
Developer(s) BioWare
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Designer(s) Mike Laidlaw
Programmer(s) Jacques Lebrun
Artist(s) Matthew Goldman
Writer(s) David Gaider
Composer(s) Inon Zur
Series Dragon Age
Engine Lycium[1]
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, OS X
Release
Genre(s) Action role-playing game
Mode(s) Single-player

Dragon Age II is an action role-playing video game developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and OS X. It is the second major game in the Dragon Age series, and was released worldwide in March 2011.[2] Set in the world of Thedas introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, the player assumes the role of Hawke, a human mage, rogue, or warrior who arrives in the city of Kirkwall as a lowly refugee, and becomes its legendary champion over a turbulent decade of political and social conflict.

The game received generally favorable reviews, with most criticisms directed on differences between Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Origins, such as the removal of the origin stories and race choices, the noticeably smaller world, and the combat system.

Gameplay[edit]

The party is standing in the Gallows courtyard.

Dragon Age II is an action role-playing game. There are three class types for use in battle: a mage (who wields a magical staff to cast spells), a rogue (who wields a dagger or bow and arrow), or a warrior (who wields a shield and a axe/mace/sword).

During battles, the player may pause the game and issue commands to party members in order to maximize combat efficiency. An example could be a mage freezing an enemy to allow a warrior to shatter them to pieces. Up to three companions can be included in a party alongside the player. After a battle, the player may loot the enemy for money and equipment. The spoils of war may be used to better outfit the party members. Battle also yields experience which can be used to unlock new combat abilities for each character.

Outside combat, the player engages in dialogue, asking or answering questions. While Hawke's race is locked as a human, he/she is fully voiced[2] via a new dialogue wheel based on the dialog system from the Mass Effect series.[5] There are generally three personality types: diplomatic, humorous, or aggressive. The most chosen option becomes Hawke's core personality type.

Friendship and rivalry[edit]

The approval system from Origins has been adjusted into a friendship/rivalry system. Each of Hawke's companions has a graphical approval bar to reflect their opinion of Hawke, viewing them as either a friend or a rival depending on decisions and dialogue. A companion who consistently agrees with Hawke's views considers them a friend, while a companion who consistently disagrees with Hawke instead forms a tense but respectful rivalry with them. Therefore, the player must carefully choose who to bring along in each quest.

Once a companion reaches 100% friendship or rivalry, it becomes permanent, unlocking additional dialogues. Full friendship unlocks bonuses which generally benefit Hawke or the whole party, while fully rivalry boosts combat ability for companions to help them outdo Hawke in competition. Up to five companions are romance options for Hawke regardless of friendship and rivalry. Companions with full friendship or rivalry accompany Hawke into the final battle unconditionally, even if they disagree with Hawke's chosen allegiance.

Synopsis[edit]

Setting[edit]

The player selects a preset or imported story to determine the events of Dragon Age: Origins and form the background story of Dragon Age II.[4] The main story has a linear frame narrative, unfolding through flashbacks from the perspective of Varric Tethras (Brian Bloom), a humorous but caring storyteller and dwarf rogue companion of Hawke (Nicholas Boulton or Jo Wyatt)[2] who relates the Champion's "true story" to his interrogator Cassandra Pentaghast (Miranda Raison), mainly based on the protagonist's choices. The story is told in three acts, with each act being separated by a gap of almost three years.[2][4] Although the story remains unaltered until the two endings, it is greatly influenced by the player's decisions. Hawke, whose gender, first name, appearance, and class type is player-determined, is the protagonist. Hawke fled the nation of Ferelden during the events of Origins to the city of Kirkwall as a refugee, eventually rising in power and influence to become the legendary "Champion of Kirkwall", and the center of events that change the course of Thedas.

Hawke can recruit up to eight companions, all of whom can be player-controlled. Alongside Varric, mandatory companions include Anders (Adam Howden), a proud but mercurial mage and former Grey Warden determined to defend the mages in Kirkwall from the templars; Aveline Vallen (Joanna Roth), a pragmatic warrior who becomes a strict leader of the templar Kirkwall City Guard; and Merrill (Eve Myles), a soft-hearted but socially awkward dalish elven mage shunned by her clan for attempting to restore a defunct mirror. Additionally, one of Hawke's two siblings serves as a permanent companion for the story's first act: Bethany (Rebekah Staton), who greatly respects Hawke as his/her mage sister; or Carver (Nico Lennon), who feels overshadowed by Hawke as his/her warrior brother.

Optional companions include Fenris (Gideon Emery), a honest elven warrior seeking revenge on his former slaver; and Isabela (Victoria Kruger), an adventurous but sarcastic rogue pirate captain searching for a coveted relic. Additionally, Sebastian Vael (Alec Newman), a kind but often mocked human rogue member of the Kirkwall Chantry, can be recruited via the downloadable content, The Exiled Prince. Anders, Fenris, Isabela, Merrill, and Sebastian are romance options for Hawke, though Sebastian can only be romanced by a female Hawke.

Plot[edit]

After the death or disappearance of the Warden, Cassandra seeks out Hawke, the "Champion of Kirkwall", with the seekers, an offshoot of the templars. She captures and interrogates Varric, demanding to know how Hawke started a war between the mages and templars. Varric begins to tell her the story, telling her that while he does not know Hawke's location, he can tell her how the war started. The story starts shortly after the Battle of Ostagar, with the Hawke family escaping their home village of Lothering in Ferelden with a darkspawn horde in pursuit. They meet and team with Aveline and her husband Wesley, but he and either Bethany or Carver are killed (depending on Hawke's class type). Flemeth, a witch who can assume the form of a dragon, intervenes and helps the party escape to Kirkwall, a city across the sea, provided Hawke completes a task for her. Kirkwall's gates are overwhelmed by Fereldan refugees. The group is forced to call upon their uncle Gamlen Amell, who no longer holds the fortune and estate held by the Amell family, forcing Hawke to enter the service of a mercenary band or smuggler group in order to enter the city, after which the family take up residence in Gamlen's house in Lowtown.

A year later, an opportunity of prosperity for Hawke presents itself: Varric and his brother Bartrand are planning a risky but rewarding treasure hunting expedition into the perilous region of the Deep Roads, taking advantage after the end of the Fifth Blight. Varric partners with Hawke to acquire funding and knowledge of the region. As such, Hawke embarks on an adventurous quest to earn the needed capital and enlists the aid of Anders, who possesses knowledge of The Deep Roads. The expedition proves both a financial success and a tragedy: the proceeds make Hawke famous and wealthy, enabling him/her to relocate to a mansion in Hightown. However, a very powerful magical lyrium idol corrupts Bartrand's mind and causes him to betray Hawke and Varric. Additionally, if brought, the surviving sibling of Hawke is either killed by the darkspawn taint or conscripted into the Grey Wardens. If left home, Bethany is arrested and conscripted into the Circle of Magi/Carver joins the templars.

Three years later, Hawke is summoned by the Viscount of Kirkwall to help resolve a political situation that the foreign military forces of the qunari have caused. The qunari, who were shipwrecked in Kirkwall three years prior, neither obey the laws of Kirkwall nor seem willing to leave in the foreseeable future, escalating tension between them and the inhabitants of Kirkwall. Personal tragedy also strikes Hawke when their mother Leandra is abducted and killed by a blood mage serial killer preying on Kirkwall's women. Hawke resolves to find out the identity of the serial killer's accomplice, "O". Eventually, as Hawke discovers the reason for the qunari presence (a coveted artifact being stolen from them), the tension reaches such a height that the qunari decide to attack Kirkwall and execute the Viscount. Hawke's party successfully retakes Kirkwall and, if Hawke chooses, eliminates the qunari leader. For his/her actions, Hawke is declared the Champion of Kirkwall.

After another three years, Kirkwall has been turned into a police state due to the tyrannical rule of the templars under Knight-Commander Meredith. Meredith is challenged by First Enchanter Orsino, the head of the Circle of Magic in Kirkwall who tries to topple her with public support. Consistent violence between the two sides forces Hawke to intervene, until a group of anti-Meredith rebels kidnap Hawke's surviving sibling/closest friend, after which Hawke distances him/herself from the conflict. Eventually, Anders decides to orchestrate a massive explosion that levels the Chantry and kills Grand Cleric Elthina, to whom the templars bear allegiance. This act triggers a final decisive battle between the mages and the templars across the city, forcing Hawke to choose a side. Regardless, he/she ends up killing both Orsino, who is surmised to have been "O", and Meredith, who bought the lyrium idol from Bartrand, which has corrupted her mind and convinced her to go through a mass extermination of mages. Afterwards, Hawke either leaves Kirkwall as a hero to mages, or is elected Viscount.

Varric concludes the story, stating that Hawke's companions eventually drift apart (except a love interest if Hawke had one, who stays with them), and Hawke has left Kirkwall, even if elected Viscount. At this, the seekers are revealed to be a group tasked with monitoring the templars. Additionally, the Circles of Magi all over Thedas have followed Kirkwall's example and rebelled, with the templars breaking away from the Chantry to fight them. Satisfied, Cassandra lets Varric go and leaves with Leliana and the fellow seekers.

Development[edit]

Development of Dragon Age II was announced in July 2010[6] and BioWare's Greg Zeschuk stated when interviewed by Joystiq that "I think one of the key things we're working on in Dragon Age II is the technology. I can confirm that we're doing a lot of work on the Dragon Age engine, and doing a lot of stuff to pump it -- to make it visually super hot."

A trailer for Dragon Age II was released on August 17, 2010,[2] showing some of the new characters and places that Dragon Age II is based on.

Dragon Age II uses an enhanced graphic engine and the controls are more responsive. The combat system is same as the previous game for the PC version but different in console versions, tailored to the strengths of the control pad.[5]

A special feature of Dragon Age II is that the "story" will span a decade. In-game events and dialogues would warrant a longer "run" of years. As the main character moves on year by year, the choices that the player made in the past will affect the present and the future.[7]

The original "dialogue" system is replaced by the "wheel" system previously seen in the Mass Effect series. Unlike its original version, however, the "wheel" will now clearly indicate what tone the main character's response will have (such as peaceful, sarcastic, and angry), however as it paraphrases dialogue, it is often unclear exactly what will be said by the character.[5]

During the pre-development of the game, Brent Knowles, a veteran lead designer who had been with BioWare for a decade and the central figurehead behind Dragon Age: Origins, decided to resign during the designing process of Dragon Age II and eventually left the company, stating "I'm not the same person I was when I started, and BioWare is not the same company."[8] He later went on to clarify his decision to leave, elaborating "I never thought Dragon Age II would be a terrible game. It was just that a highly cinematic, action-leaning RPG was not what I wanted to work on. That is all."[9] After playing the game's demo, he praised how polished and immersive it was, but mentioned that its combat had identity issues and did not seem to fit properly into either the action or role-playing game genre. In an overall assessment he felt that it was a strong title, especially considering the short development cycle, and called the demo "promising", though the amount of changes from the first title in the series seemed excessive to him, citing gameplay issues and the lack of ability to play as another race than human.[10]

By February 11, 2011, the game had gone gold for all platforms and was set for release.[11] On February 22, the demo was released across all platforms.[12] BioWare released Dragon Age II on March 8 in North America and March 11 in Europe. Two versions were released: the normal edition and the "Signature Edition", the latter including the Day 1 DLC known as "The Exiled Prince", premium packaging, a download code for the game's soundtrack, and 4 in-game items. The Signature Edition was available for pre-order until January 11, 2011 and was priced the same as the normal edition.[13]

Marketing[edit]

Orders placed before January 11, 2011, were automatically upgraded to the Dragon Age II: BioWare Signature Edition, with additional content.[14] Orders placed before March 8 qualify for pre-order bonuses.[15] In an attempt to discourage purchasing used copies of the game, purchasers of a new copy (before or after the release date) receive access to additional features.[16] Further in-game bonuses can be obtained by completing the free Dragon Age II demo,[17] through Penny Arcade,[18] and by signing up to the newsletter.[19] Purchasing the game Dead Space 2 before March 31, 2012, also unlocks a Dead Space themed armor item.[20] BioWare announced that 2 game items would be unlocked for all users if the total number of demo downloads reached 1 million in the course of one week (which occurred), and that a further and more powerful item would be unlocked if each post on the official Facebook account between February 28 and March 4 received 1 million impressions the day it was posted.[21]

Downloadable content[edit]

The Exiled Prince[edit]

The Exiled Prince is the first story-driven downloadable content (DLC) to be released. It features a new companion, Sebastian Vael, a Brother of the Chantry (a fictional counterpart of a Brother of the Church) who seeks vengeance after his family is murdered. The DLC features three additional quests and one new location. It was released at the same time the game was launched.[22]

The Black Emporium[edit]

Available at no cost to those who purchase Dragon Age II new, this DLC adds a bonus vendor that sells exclusive items. In addition, the DLC includes a Mabari War Hound to fight at Hawke's side and The Mirror of Transformation, which allows the player to change Hawke's facial appearance as many times as he wants and he can also buy potions there which allow to reset stats and abilities of the Champion and companions. The Black Emporium is also shown in Dragon age Inquisition where the player can access higher tier schematics and crafting materials, as well as The Mirror of Transformation. [23]

Legacy[edit]

Released July 26, 2011, Legacy is the second story-driven DLC. Legacy's story branches off the main storyline and can be started at any point in the Dragon Age II campaign. It is entirely played in a new location, a prison constructed by the Grey Wardens in the middle of the deserted Vimmark Mountains housing Corypheus, a powerful and ancient Darkspawn who would become the main villain in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It features five different quests, a new class-specific weapon, and a story about Hawke's lineage.[24]

Mark of the Assassin[edit]

Released on October 11, 2011, Mark Of The Assassin, the last story-driven DLC, adds nineteen additional quests and a guest party member called Tallis (a character from the webseries Dragon Age: Redemption, voiced by Felicia Day who also played Tallis in the series). Hawke must help Tallis infiltrate an Orlesian estate outside Kirkwall and steal a precious relic. Like Legacy, Mark of The Assassin's story branches off the main campaign and can be started at any point in the main campaign. It is played in an entirely new location, namely Chateau Haine and its neighboring landscape.[25]

The Exalted March (cancelled)[edit]

On March 19, 2012, Dragon Age franchise executive producer Mark Darrah confirmed that an expansion pack entitled The Exalted March had been in development, but was cancelled due to "other DA opportunities."[26]

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic (PC) 82/100[27]
(PS3) 82/100[28]
(X360) 79/100[29]
Review scores
Publication Score
1UP.com B+[30]
G4 3/5[31]
Game Informer (PS3/X360) 8.25/10[32]
(PC) 7.75/10[33]
GamePro 4/5 stars[34]
GameSpot 8.0/10[35]
GameSpy 4/5 stars[36]
GameTrailers 9.2/10[37]
IGN 8.5/10[38]
OXM (US) 9/10[39]
PC Gamer (UK) 94%[40]
VideoGamer.com 7/10[41]
The Escapist 5/5 stars[42]

Dragon Age II received generally favorable reviews among professional critics, with a metascore of 82 for the PC version of the game. David Radd from Industrygamers noted that "Dragon Age II has had the most mixed critical reception for a full-retail BioWare product perhaps ever (assuming Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is not counted)."[43]

The UK edition of PC Gamer magazine highly praised Dragon Age II, mentioning the improved combat system, dialogue wheel, skill-trees, and solid storytelling as its strong points. The game earned their "Editor's Choice" award, and the magazine stated of the game: "The best RPG of this decade? Nine more years will tell, but for now, yes."[40] Official Xbox Magazine gave the game a 9 out of 10, mentioning that, although it was slightly altered from its predecessor, the game "offers some of the deepest, nerdiest, most worthwhile 40 to 60 hours you will ever love losing sleep over."[39] GameTrailers gave the game high marks and stated that, "Though it does not hold a candle to its predecessor when it comes to sheer breadth, Dragon Age II has quite a bit more soul", and that it had "some of the most gratifying RPG combat we've played in a long time."[37]

Not all of the reviewers have praised the changes, however. VideoGamer said the game "never progresses beyond the identity issues it had with Origins", criticized the lack of noticeable characters, small area of setting, while adding "simplification of combat does not work in the game's favour".[41] Game Informer gave the console versions of the game a score of 8.25 and the PC version a 7.75, criticizing the poorly designed combat system, stating that, "On all platforms, Dragon Age II caters to an audience that didn't connect with Origins, while alienating those who did" and "improving the polish doesn't do much good when the basics still need work".[33]

Eurogamer settled for saying that the game is "never quite as great as it could be", but also concluded that it is still a "Satisfying epic", awarding it 8/10,[44] while GameSpot noted that the game suffered from "unnecessary simplification and unfocused storytelling" but still left a strong impression.[45] RPG Site awarded the game 80%, arguing that "the discussion about Dragon Age II does not need to be 'is it good?' - It is - but needs to be 'is this what fans wanted from a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins?'", suggesting that is where some of the fan animosity towards the title may arise from.[46]

In an interview with GameSpot, Dragon Age II's lead designer, Mike Laidlaw, addressed the fans' concerns toward the changes in Dragon Age II by stating that BioWare will "despite Dragon Age's players' criticisms continue to tune and capitalize on that 'fusion' between the Origins experience and Dragon Age II". Additionally, he also noted that a return to the RPG style of Dragon Age: Origins is unlikely, proclaiming: "The big key is to not adjust 180 degrees again, because we've done this."[47]

One million copies of Dragon Age II were sold within two weeks of its launch, faster than Dragon Age: Origins.[48] Within two months of the launch, the game sold-in "over two million copies", meaning that over two million copies have been distributed to retailers.

In June 2011, in an interview with GameRant.com, EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau acknowledged the fans' disappointment over the direction Dragon Age II took, and proclaimed: "As we think about where we take the franchise next, we're going to take that into consideration and really engage them".[49]

Controversies[edit]

SecuROM[edit]

In March 2011, reports began emerging from consumer-advocacy website Reclaim Your Game that Dragon Age II was being distributed with the controversial DRM software SecuROM, despite assertions from EA that it would not be.[50] Producer Fernando Melo stated that although the game uses software made by the makers of SecuROM, it is a different program completely. "They have the same support site through which is the URL you're seeing." The software is a form of release-date checker, designed to prevent copies of the game from being played before the release date in that territory. The software runs from the disc, and does not install anything on the system.[51] BioWare confirmed that there is no SecuROM DRM in the game and clarified that in the case of downloaded versions, the release date check program's executable deletes itself after having performed the check.[52]

Chris Hoban[edit]

A BioWare employee was caught posting as a consumer on the review site Metacritic. The employee, Chris Hoban, who posted under the name of Avanost gave a score of 10/10 saying "Anything negative you will see about this game is an overreaction of personal preference." A representative for EA responded after much online controversy saying "Of course the people who make the game vote for their own game. That's how it works in the Oscars, that's how it works in the Grammys and why I'm betting that Barack Obama voted for himself in the last election", though it is unclear if Hoban acted on his own or at the behest of the company.[53][54]

Sequel[edit]

BioWare's creative development senior director Alistair McNally[55] confirmed that the studio was going forward with the third installment in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition. BioWare posted job opportunities, calling for "exceptional environmental artists."[56]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d e f "Dragon Age 2, Game Info, Questions". BioWare. Electronic Arts. Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
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  6. ^ Snyders, Oliver (2010-07-20). "Peek behind the scenes of Dragon Age II's development with a keen developer diary". EL33TOnline. El33t Media CC. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
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  55. ^ "Alistair McNally Twitter Page". 
  56. ^ "Dragon Age III Confirmed, BioWare Now Hiring". 

External links[edit]