BioWare might be starting a trend of sorts.
When posed with the situation of following up a commercial and critical success, the temptation to stick to the formula is obviously the easiest way to go. Call of Duty didn’t become the best selling shooter by trying something new each iteration. Madden NFL may not receive accolades for innovation but it does receive credit for reliability.
Even BioWare stuck to the script when developing the sequel Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn that is arguably more polished and refined than its predecessor. So why fix what isn’t broken?
Dragon Age II feels like it will have a similar impact that Mass Effect 2 had to its series. While the original Mass Effect was a technological marvel with BioWare’s signature flair for storytelling and building massive worlds, it was clunky around the edges with a little too much freedom in exploration and probably far too many elevators. Mass Effect 2 is like playing an entirely different game, the action is much faster, more twitch oriented gameplay with plenty of inspiration drawn from 3rd person shooters with a heavy emphasis on cover.
Similarly, Dragon Age II is a simplified version of Dragon Age: Origins. While the interface is essentially the same, the tried and true auto attack are replaced with a more frantic attack system not terribly different from a click-mashing action RPG like Diablo or Torchlight. Skills are handled the same with stamina/mana based abilities interspersed between standard attacks. The end result is a game that feels much more urgent with swarms of Darkspawn rushing in as the player quickly tries to prioritize targets in a clustered group. It is an experience that flirts with being too overwhelming but somehow allows the player to always remain in control, the Dragon Age team must have taken some tips from the Mass Effect team.
While Mass Effect is far and away BioWare’s crowning achievement in storytelling, Dragon Age has held its own for fans of fantasy RPGs and especially BioWare’s roots in Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Origins told a good story with nice direction and solid character models. While Origins was good, Dragon Age II is fantastic. From the start you’re treated to a sample of some of the great voice talent and some incredibly impressive facial animations and scene direction. And while the Grey Warden of Origins was a sort of silent protagonist (only speaking during combat), the Champion Hawke, like Commander Shepard is fully voiced.
The demo itself is brief and offers a different look of Ferelden following the events at Ostagar and Lothering and contains a lot of information to satiate fans of Origins’ canon. Needless to say, I am excited for Dragon Age II and this demo will be just enough to tide me over for the next two weeks.