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Overview

Dragon Age II is the sequel to BioWare's critically acclaimed Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age II tells the decade long story of Hawke, a refugee of Lothering and Champion of Kirkwall. The game features a redesigned art style, a voiced main character, and a dialogue wheel similar to the one featured in the Mass Effect series. The combat has been redesigned for the console versions to accommodate both an action or turn-based RPG style-approach, while retaining the same pause-and-play, tactical gameplay on the PC.

Setting

DA2 takes place in the Free Marches of Thedas, with much of the plot focused on the city of Kirkwall. The story spans an entire decade and follows Hawke's rise to power. The beginning coincides with Origins as Hawke is forced to flee his home of Lothering in Ferelden and escape the Blight. He is not a grey warden, but a mere refugee who goes on to become the Champion of Kirkwall.

The story is told through flashbacks through the viewpoint of the dwarf Varric, one of Hawke's companions, who is being interrogated by Cassandra Pentaghast.

Technical Updates

Revised visuals - still featuring copious amounts of blood

Dragon Age II has many key technical updates:

  • A new distinctive graphical style
  • Improved & flexible gameplay that allows the game to be played both as an action or turn-based RPG.
  • New dialogue system for a more fluent storytelling experience

Visual Changes

While still running on the Eclipse Engine, Dragon Age II's graphics were developed using just its bare essentials. The objective was a more dark & distinctive art style, while still retaining the general tone of excessive blood & gore seen in Origins & Awakening. BioWare wanted the game to have its own graphical identity, and had called the graphics in past titles in the franchise "generic".

Animations & Faster Combat

Combat movement and animations have also been redone to quicken the pace of combat. In Origins, when directing a character to attack the enemy, they would shuffle into place and eventually begin attacking. In DA2 when a character is ordered to attack, they would rush towards the enemy and instantly begin attacking. It is much more gory than its predecessor, allowing players to chop an enemy in half, even groups with moves like Whirlwind. The number of finishing moves in the game have been greatly expanded, now letting spellcasters get in on the action. For example: a mage blowing an Ogre into chunks with a poison spell.

PC v/s Console Differences

The gameplay on the consoles has been refined to play to the strengths of the controller. Origins saw a stark difference between the console and PC versions of the game. On the console, enemies were somewhat weaker and arrived in waves; whereas on the PC, they were far stronger and appeared all at once. BioWare is aiming for both versions of Dragon Age II to be functionally the same in terms of number of enemies and the strategies required to tackle them.

New minimalistic UI sacrifices looks for functionality.

However, there are still differences between the PC and console versions:

  • User Interface: The action bar is returning for the PC version, while the console version is using a combat wheel. The icons and presentation for all platforms have been heavily modified, with emphasis on presenting clear & precise information and cutting down on art overhead that slowed down Origin's UI.
  • Overhead Camera: There is an option of an adjustable overhead camera in the PC version, while the console is locked into an over the shoulder view. Isometric view isn't returning on the PC but players pull out the camera to get a wider overview of the battlefield.
  • Auto-Attack: Auto-attack is on as the default in the PC version while it is off on the console version. After assigning the controlled character an action in the PC version, it continues to automatically attack its target while waiting for the next order. On the console version, players need to constantly press the "A" or "X" button for the character to continue its basic attack. Additionally, players can also assign auto-attack through the radial menu. All non-controlled party members behave based on tactics. Mike Laidlaw stated the reason behind this decision was to give console players greater control over their targeting and improve the "feel" of auto-attack.

Gameplay

Character Creation

Unique character origins do not make a reappearance. Elves and Dwarves are not playable races this time around, instead the player is locked into being human. Players are still allowed to customize the appearance of of their character and choose whether they're male or female.

There are still only three classes in the game of which the player can choose from:

  • Warrior - Melee combatants, proficient with heavy armor, and 2-handed weapons or shields. Their wide range of abilities allow them to be used in defensive and/or offensive roles. Depending on the weapon in hand, they can better withstand attacks than other classes, deal area-of-effect damage, crowd control, or dish out significant damage to a focused target.
  • Rogue - Offensive melee class with access to duel-wielding, archery, and area-of-effect debuffs. They excel at taking down individual targets. Rogues are also the only class that can detect or disarm traps, as well as pick locks.
  • Mage - Magic users, who can deal the widest variety of damage to single targets or wide areas, as well as heal and buff party members. They are generally vulnerable to direct assault by enemies and must be protected by others to survive.

All three classes now have one main attribute that determines combat prowess: strength for warriors, dexterity for rogues, and magic for mages. This differs from Origins where more than one attribute often was used to make battle calculations. The concept of fatigue has been dropped, so players just need to meet the basic requirements of an armor to equip it, without any penalty for wearing heavier protection.

Spell combos have been expanded to work across classes in the Cross-class Combo System. Each class has one unique status effect that some of its abilities can produce (Stagger for warriors, Disorient for rogues, and Brittle for mages). Some of the abilities of each class can exploit these effects to do extra damage to enemies so afflicted. For example, a mage can cast the Cone of Cold spell to make the targeted enemies Brittle, then a Warrior can use the ability Mighty Blow to shatter those enemies, dealing multiple times normal damage.

Weapon Restrictions

Class-based weapon restrictions is one of the biggest changes to the combat system. Mages can only use staves, rogues can only use bows and daggers and warriors can only use 2-handed weapons, medium 1-handed weapons and shields. This is a departure from Origins where even if the character did not have the talents in a particular weapon they could equip it. In addition, warriors no longer have the ability to dual wield or to use missile weapons of any kind. This was done to stress the different roles each class has in combat.

Character Progression

Branching Skill Trees

Gaining experience and leveling up in Dragon Age II is very similar to Origins, where after so many experience points players gain a level and then have ability points to distribute. The biggest change is in the talent tree layout. Instead of forcing players down a linear path like Origins, the tree now branches off from base skills into a web-like shape. It allows players to pick-and-choose skills they desire without wasting points on unwanted pre-requisites. In addition to learning new skills, players can also invest points to enhance already learned spells with more damage, greater area of effect, lowered cooldown times, etc. Players are also able to invest in character specific specialization trees that provide unique skills from those related to the character's class.

Save Importing

Dragon Age II allows players to import their saved games from Origins and its expansion pack, Awakening. Even though the Warden isn't the main character of the game, BioWare has said that they want the player's decisions to matter, constantly shaping Thedas with them. Choices the player made in the past, such as who was made King of Orzammar, have an effect on Dragon Age II, showing the player the consequences of their decisions.

Crafting & Inventory

Redesigned Companion Itemization

The crafting system has been streamlined to avoid inventory clutter. Rather than carrying hundreds of components in their backpack, players can now simply discover an ingredient source in the world to make it readily available at all crafting vendors. The more ingredients and recipes the player has found, the more items will be available for instant purchase at a crafting station.

The appearance of Hawke's helm can now be toggled on/off. While Hawke's itemization remains largely the same as Origins, the armor for party members has been redesigned. Instead of a four-piece armor set like Hawke, Hawke's companions each wears a permanent full-body outfit that can't be removed or changed, with the exception of a few discoverable companion-specific upgrades can be applied to each outfit. Rings, belts, amulets, and weapons are all still equally customizable for both Hawke and companions. This has the effect of making all armor pieces (like Ser Isaac's armor DLC) exclusive only to the player character.

Class Updates

Warriors

A warrior finishing off a mercenary

Warriors gain a charge like ability but lose access to any bows and missile weapons. Depending on relative size, strength, and damage done, a warrior can knock a foe down with just a normal attack to stop them from rushing spellcasters. 2-Handed attacks, instead of having the ability to up damage penetration or cause massive one shot damage, focus on AoE attacks. These attacks are subject to friendly fire rules but like Origins on the consoles, friendly fire only exists on nightmare difficulty. In addition, many warrior abilities are weapon-agnostic now and can be used with either a 2-hander or 1handed/shield equipped, allowing players to change their play-style on the fly with a simple weapon switch.

Talent Trees

  • Weapon & Shield - Warriors specializing in the traditional board-and-sword combat. They hit in a smaller arc but can control the battlefield by knocking down opponents.
  • Two-Handed - Two-handed weapons hit in a much wider arc and deal more damage per blow, but lose the protection of a shield.
  • Warmonger - Excel at taunting enemies and gaining high aggro through stun effects.
  • Vanguard - This tree focuses on an offensive build, specializing in high damage output.
  • Defender - The defender tree improves the warrior's survivability
  • Battlemaster - This tree makes the warrior an effective solo combatant and also improves his or her ability to lead the group with multiple support skills.

Specializations

  • Templar - Anti-magic warriors that serve the Chantry and police the Circle of Mages
  • Reaver - Reavers gain more power as they near their own death and use enemy deaths to heal themselves.
  • Berserker - Berserkers are a high-risk, high-reward specialization that use rage based attacks that drain stamina.

Rogues

A rogue combating two Qunari

Rogues still remain the specialized individual DPS dealers, either through the use of bows or dual wielding daggers. Archery has been reworked and deal significantly more damage and fire faster. Their talents have been reworked into the rogue talents and now play a more active role in combat through cross-class combos, area of effect damage and crowd control. Every shot arrow now carries a bigger punch and can stop charging enemies with knock-back effect from normal auto-attack itself. Special arrows no longer exist and that arrow type and damage type is entirely dependent upon the bow equipped. Bows at this time can also have runes added to them.

Dual wielding has been changed to be restricted to only daggers. In addition the rogues talents for dual wielding have been changed to focus on only hitting individuals instead of any group attacks. Rogues now leap into combat and get immediately behind targets. Backstabbing has been removed and in its place Rogues get bonuses for critical hits which may have additional bonuses depending upon where the character is facing. It makes it easier for console players who don't have to worry about keeping rogues behind enemies.

Talent Trees

  • Dual Weapon - Deal more damage while dual wielding.
  • Archery - Deal more damage and gain more abilities with ranged weapons.
  • Sabotage - Specialize in large scale crowd control.
  • Scoundrel - Blindside targets to gain unfair advantage on the battlefield and deal more damage through backstab and other abilities.
  • Subterfuge - Gain the 'Stealth' ability and evade targets to avoid damage.
  • Specialist - The rogue attacks with greater speed, power and accuracy

Specializations

  • Assassin - Exploit enemy weaknesses to deal significant damage
  • Duelist - Single out enemies and eliminate them swiftly.
  • Shadow - Distract targets using techniques like misdirection and then deal damage on these unsuspecting foes.

Mages

A mage fighting a dragon

Mages can only equip staves, which can now be used in direct melee combat, producing fast elemental bolts. They also get special finishing animations for melee combat, like warriors and rogues. Spellcasting has been revamped; damage from talents for all classes happens immediately and then the animation starts. Even if knocked down while casting, spells will go off. The number of mage spells available has been reduced from around 80 to about 50.

Talent Trees

  • Arcane - Equip a magical toolbox of spells for the versatile mage.
  • Spirit - Dispel hostile magic and explode your foes, then drain their life force to regain your mana.
  • Elemental - Gain mastery of destructive fire and frost spells.
  • Entropy - Curse enemies to debilitate them and make them ripe for butchering.
  • Primal - Crush enemies with rock or sunder them with lightning.
  • Creation - Heal and buff your companions or inscribe glyphs to ward off enemy attack.

Specializations

  • Blood Mage - Wield blood magic to turn your opponents' blood against them.
  • Force Mage - Turn gravity into a controllable weapon.
  • Spirit Healer - Gain advanced healing magics at the tradeoff of offensive magic.

Character Interaction

Dialogue Wheel

Dialogue Wheels with Emoticons

The listed responses have been replaced with a dialogue wheel, similar to the Mass Effect series albeit with an important addition. An icon at the center of the wheel indicates the intent of the player's lines like investigative, flirty, violent, sarcastic, etc.

Friends & Rivals System

The approval scale from Origins has been replaced with a friends & rivals system. The approval/disapproval ratings have been turned into friendship/rivalry ratings. Unlike the old system, rivalry doesn't not necessarily translate into animosity between Hawke and the companion. They simply see the world from different point of views.

Certain combat & romantic options are only available through a high rivalry rating, incentivizing disagreement just as much as agreement with party members. The zenith of the rivalry scale can result in a state of mutual understanding or the member leaving the party altogether.

Romance

In DA2, any character can be seduced regardless of Hawke's gender. Romance options are:

  • Isabela
  • Merrill
  • Anders
  • Fenris
  • Sebastian (this character is only available with The Exiled Prince DLC)

Gifts

The gift system has also been modified to accompany the new rating system. Companions react differently to Hawke's gift depending on their friend/rival score. Friends might approve a gift and react with gratitude, while rivals might perceive a gift as an insult and be pushed further down the rivalry scale. The total number of gift available has been reduced, however each gift now triggers a unique set of conversation with the companion.

Major Characters

Hawke - Protagonist

Hawke

Hawke is a former human resident of Lothering. Hawke nearly escaped the blight's attack and went on to become the Champion of Kirkwall. Players don't get any choice of origins this time besides playing as a mage which adds another layer to the character's story, being an apostate. Male Hawke is voiced by Nicholas Boulton and female Hawke is voiced by Jo Wyatt.

Companions

With the proper DLC access, Hawke can summon a Mabari war hound. The dog isn't quite as powerful as the one accompanying the Warden but this time, it won't take up a party member slot, functioning as a summonable animal companion.

CompanionSummary
Bethany
Bethany Hawke - Hawke's younger sister and Carver's twin. Due to their close relationship, her appearance can be tweaked to match Hawke. If Hawke is a mage, Bethany dies during their escape from Lothering. Bethany has no unique specialization.
Carver
Carver Hawke - Hawke's younger brother and Bethany's twin. His appearance also changes based on Hawke's customization. If Hawke is a warrior or rogue, Carver dies during their escape from Lothering. Carver has no unique specialization.
  • Race: Human
  • Class: Warrior (2-handed weapons)
  • Voiced by Nico Lennon
Aveline
Aveline Vallen - A warrior who helps Hawke and Bethany escape Lothering during the blight's assault. She is married to Wesley, who used to be Hawke's neighbor. After Lothering's fall, she adopts Kirkwall as her home. Though she was trained in chivalrous combat, she values life over honor and won't lose another under her guardianship.
  • Race: Human
  • Class: Warrior (Shield and Sword)
  • Unique Specialization: Guardian
  • Voiced by Joanna Roth
Varric
Varric - A dwarf companion of royal descent. His family is a member of the Dwarven Merchant guild and he is part of it's spy network. He recounts Hawke's story to Cassandra.
  • Race: Dwarf
  • Class: Rogue (Crossbowman) He uses a signature crossbow called Bianca.
  • Unique Specialization: Marksman
  • Voiced by Brian Bloom
Isabela
Isabela - A pirate captain, who taught the duelist specialization to the Warden in Origins.
  • Race: Human
  • Class: Rogue (Duelist)
  • Unique Specialization: Swashbuckler
  • Romantic Interest
  • Voiced by Victoria Kruger
Anders
Anders - A notorious apostate grey warden mage living inside the city of Kirkwall, healing Blight refuges in its slums, who shares his physical body with the now corrupted spirit of Justice. Anders is a returning character from Dragon Age: Awakening. He hopes to overturn the Circle of Magi forever.
  • Race: Human (Fade Spirit)
  • Class: Mage/Grey Warden (Healer)
  • Unique Specialization: Vengeance
  • Romantic Interest
  • Voiced by Adam Howden
Merrill
Merrill - A returning character from Origins. Merrill's a lore keeper who briefly accompainied a Dalish Elf Warden.
  • Race: Dalish Elf
  • Class: Blood Mage
  • Unique Specialization: Dalish Pariah
  • Romantic Interest
  • Voiced by Eve Myles
Fenris
Fenris - A former slave to a Tevintar magister, who was transformed by lyrium. He is an amnesiac, trying to escape his former master.
  • Race: Elf
  • Class: Warrior (2-handed weapons)
  • Unique Specialization: Tevinter Fugitive
  • Romantic Interest
  • Voiced by Gideon Emery
Sebastian
Sebastian Vael (Part of the Exiled Prince DLC) - A skilled archer out to avenge his murdered family.
  • Race: Human (Noble Origin)
  • Class: Rogue (Archer)
  • Unique Specialization: Royal Archer
  • Romantic Interest
  • Voiced by Alec Newman
Tallis
Tallis (Exclusive to the Mark of the Assassin DLC) - Elven assassin out to steal the jewel called the Heart of the Many. Protagonist of the live-action web-series Dragon Age: Redemption.
  • Race: Elf
  • Class: Rogue (Assassin) Swords at close-range, throwing weapons at long-range
  • Unique Specialization: Unknown
  • Voiced by Felicia Day

Major Non-playable Characters

Downloadable Content

Pre-release DLC

Bonus DLC (New Purchase)

A new purchase came with the following free DLC:

  • A fighting Mabari war hound (very much like the dog who accompanied the Warden in Origins)
  • Exclusive access to The Black Emporium - a magic and crafting store, featuring the Mirror of Transformation that lets players change their appearance anytime. The store also sells respec potions, various unique ingredients & regents for crafting and many unique items depending on the player level.

Pre-Order Bonus DLC

The following content was made free for those that preordered the game:

  • The Exiled Prince (Sebastian Vael) - Vael is a nobleman and skilled archer, out to avenge the brutal murder of his family. Sebastian is a companion character that comes with his own series of side-missions. The Exiled Prince DLC will be available March 8, 2011 for $7 or 560 Microsoft Points with the launch of Dragon Age II, or for free with the Signature Edition of the game.
  • Fadeshear - A 2h-sword that improves with player level and does additional damage against demons and undead.
  • The Lion of Orlais - A shield with two rune slots. The shield also adds to player health and % of experience gained.

Ser Isaac's Armor

Parent company EA's Dead Space 2 shipped with an unlock code for a special armor resembling Isaac Clarke's mining suit under the pretense of it once belonging to a famed knight called Ser Isaac of the Clarke. The four-piece armor suit requires high dexterity & cunning to wear and features two rune slots.

Free Promotional DLC

  • Hindsight - A belt that increases the wearer's resistances (available on the Penny Arcade Item page on the Dragon Age II website)
  • Staff of Parthalan - A spear-like staff used the mage Hawke in the trailers and on the box-art (available by signing up for the Dragon Age II newsletter here)
  • Hayder's Razor - A 2-handed dwarven blade that increases the wielder's health, stamina and the chance to knock-back targets (available by completing the Dragon Age II demo)

Call To Arms DLC

Once the demo for Dragon Age 2 reached a download count of one million (download only counted if logged into EA account while playing), Bioware unlocked two unique consumable tomes for players to use in the game upon its release.

  • The Far Cliffs of Kirkwall - Yield's a sum of gold when used.
  • Lothering's Lament - Grant's the player an XP boost when used.

There are also unlockable DLC items made available by completing Dragon Age Legends on Facebook.

  • Evra's Might - Complete the castle building tutorial.
  • Evra's Trophy Belt - Complete the Vantage Point quest.
  • Air of Confidence - Complete the Secure Fort Elim quest.
  • Ivo Family Crest - Complete The Rascal Raspin quest.
  • Dura's Blue Flame - On March 25th In celebration of EA2D's Assistant Producer's birthday, Dura's Blue Flame will be unlocked for all Dragon Age: Legends players.

Other

  • Ring of Whispers - Increases attack speed, cunning, and amount of which opponents drop money. Prior to the game's release, the item was obtained by spending $15 or more at epicweapons.com.

Post-release DLC

Legacy

Legacy explores Hawke's father's past involvement with the Grey Wardens, starting with an attack on the Hawke Estate and ending with a battle against a legendary figure.

Mark of the Assassin

Mark of the Assassin is the video game debut of Tallis. The assassin needs Hawke and his/her companions help in stealing the Heart of the Many.

Exalted March

This DLC was to wrap up Hawke's story. However, Bioware announced on March 20, 2012 that development on Exalted March had been cancelled in favor of focusing development on other projects.

BioWare Signature Edition

On October 14th, BioWare announced that the Signature Edition of Dragon Age II would be available to those who pre-order the game prior to January 11th, 2011. The existing pre-orders made before the announcement were automatically converted to a Signature Edition of the game. According the BioWare's website, The Signature Edition includes:

Signature Edition Details
  • A download code for a bonus playable character (Sebastian Vael) and mission.
  • A downloadable version of the game's soundtrack.
  • An exclusive in-game digital armory featuring multiple weapons.
  • Additional downloadable items.

According to the image of the Signature Edition also available at BioWare's website, some of the downloadable items include a staff called Apostate's Courage, a shield named Seeker's Bulwark, a bow called Adder of Antiva, and a sword interestingly labeled Might of Sten, referring back to a party member in Dragon Age: Origins.

Criticism

In contrast to previous Bioware releases such as Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II was met with a great deal of backlash upon its release. Points of contention stemmed from aspects such as the changes to the combat system, dungeon design, and the overall narrative. In particular, the increased speed of combat compared to Origins was seen as a negative by those that preferred the more deliberate, tactical pace of the first game, and the manner in which enemies spawned in waves added to the sense of frustration. Additionally, the general layout of dungeons is based on a cookie-cutter set of templates in which the only variation comes from which paths are open to the player.

As for the narrative itself, major criticisms stemmed from the notion that the game either disregards or ignores many of the player-driven events that occurred in Dragon Age: Origins despite the position put forth by Bioware that the player's choices would matter. For example, it is possible for the player to kill Leliana, a party member in Dragon Age: Origins, but even if she dies in the player's Origins playthrough, she reappears in Dragon Age II, alive and well. These criticisms also extended into choices made during the course of Dragon Age II; in the endgame in particular, Hawke is forced to fight and kill Orsino even if the player ultimately sides with the mages over the templars.

Despite these criticisms, reviews of Dragon Age II were still largely positive. On Metacritic, the game currently holds a metascore of 82 for the PC and PS3 versions and 79 for the Xbox 360 version.

Soundtrack

Inon Zur

Inon Zur is again composing the soundtrack, which is being mixed by Jack Joseph Puig. Disc I will be released on March 8th and include tracks 1-12 from the list below. The signature edition includes all 29 tracks.

Inon Zur was the same composer that made the soundtrack to Dragon Age: Origins.

Track Nr.TitleRunning time
01Dragon Age II Main Theme2:03
02Hawke Family Theme2:00
03Qunari On The Rise2:04
04Templars2:52
05Love Scene1:39
06Arishok2:54
07Tavern Music2:11
08Viscount1:29
09Mages2:13
10Fenris Theme2:26
11Kirkwall Nights4:32
12Rogue Heart3:12
13Dark Dawn3:24
14Blightlands2:08
15Innocent Blood2:37
16Bone Pit Battle2:08
17Enter Deep Roads4:18
18Cavern Combat2:08
19Forever War3:10
20Deep Roads Battle2:08
21Jounrey To Deep Fear2:56
22Kirkwall Arrival5:13
23Hero Combat1:08
24Kirkwall Town Act 2 Exploration2:03
25Kirkwall Town Act 2 Quanri Combat1:56
26Destiny Of Love3:25
27Sundermount Combat1:38
28Mage Battle2:02
29Mage Pride4:03

System Requirements

Minimum

  • OS: Windows XP 32-bit with SP3
  • OS: Windows Vista 32-bit with SP2
  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo (or equivalent) running at 1.8 GHz or greater
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 (or equivalent) running at 1.8 GHz or greater
  • RAM Memory: 1 GB (1.5 GB Vista and Windows 7)
  • Video Card: Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256 MB
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GS 256 MB cards
  • Disc Drive: DVD ROM drive required
  • Hard Drive Space: 7 GB
  • Sound Card: Direct X 9.0c Compatible Sound Card
  • DirectX: 9.0c

Recommended

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz Processor or equivalent
  • CPU: AMD Phenom II X3 Triple core 2.8 GHz or equivalent
  • RAM Memory: 2GB (4 GB Vista and Windows 7)
  • Video Card: ATI 3850 512 MB or greater
  • Video Card: NVIDIA 8800GTS 512 MB or greater
  • Video Card: ATI 5850 or greater
  • Video Card: NVIDIA 460 or greater
  • DirectX: 11

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