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Dragon Age 2 at Comic-Con 2010

This writer first discovered Dragon Age: Origins by stumbling upon a preview demonstration at the Hilton hotel just outside Comic-Con last year. While Dragon Age 2 was announced recently, little about the game has been revealed, so the eight-foot dragon statue outside the Hilton during the 2010 Con was cause for excitement.

Bioware was back, showcasing two much anticipated sequels, Dragon Age 2 and Dead Space 2. The atmosphere was filled with as much glitz and anticipation as at any other Comic-Con event. Lines stretched out the double doors of the preview rooms, and participants happily signed agreements not to take photos or record anything once inside. This year's set-up was a bit more formal than last year's. In 2009, players would wander in, go to stations and play at their own pace. A Bioware representative was on hand at each console to explain what a Grey Warden was, and give game play tips. This year, players were brought into the curtained-off as a group of 20 or so. Lead Developer Mike Laidlaw introduced Dragon Age 2, gave some background on the title, and then demoed it.

Then, players could sit at one of 15 Xbox consoles and play for themselves. Laidlaw said that Bioware's goal was to keep what worked about DAO and improve on what didn’t, based on reviews and player feedback. A primary complaint was that the graphics weren’t equal on consoles to what they were on the PC version. The look was sort of generic fantasy, and the developers wanted to give the sequel a more distinct appearance. They created a whole new look and the engine to handle it. Some stills had already been made public, but the demo gave a chance to see the aesthetic in motion. In another needed improvement, Bioware has made the game play smoother, eliminating the lag when attacking opponents.

Additionally, the active character is voiced, allowing the player to feel more invested than when (in DAO) the character just stood there during important action. Writing remained important, staying true to the extensive back story already created. The creators chose to present the story as a framed narrative. A narrator tells the tale of great warrior, Hawke, who escaped the Blight, surviving the destruction of Lothering. The player determines how the narrated story unfolds; in other words, how Hawke got from the events of DAO to the narrator’s present. The player still can select Hawke’s gender and class. After the introductory round of play, a cinematic reveals the identity of the narrator, who he is speaking to, and why he is telling the story.

Finally the demo gave a taste of the tactical maneuvering, using a warrior and mage, with opportunity to face both a hoard, and a single ogre. Movement was indeed smoother and looks fantastic. Beating enemies is just as challenging, but not due to the shuffling into place previously required to attack. The artwork is a bit more stylized, and the voiceover work is compelling.

All in all, Dragon Age 2 looks as if it will answer console users’ demands while delivering the same great storytelling seen in its predecessor. And, like last year, they gave out inflatable swords.


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