6. Dialogue menu: Taking a big leaf from Mass Effect 2ís book, Dragon Age 2 brings in a similar system during conversations and allows you to pick from various stances. There are aggressive, reasoned and sarcastic options to begin with, as well as a few others that appear at the appropriate moments in the game. There are also companion dialogues based on who might be in the party at the time. So far Iíve seen a lot of Varricís dialogues because heís pretty damn awesome.
7. The map: Thereís a pleasing mini-map in game that means you donít ever get lost, it lists all important objectives and so on. The main map is even better with everything you need to explore the various locations around Kirkwall and it lists all the important shops, quests, points of interest and is clear to understand.
8. Fast Travel: There is a large city map of Kirkwall and you can use this to move from day to night, travel outside the city and jump from ward to ward inside Kirkwall itself. It always lists ongoing quests and you never get lost or spend ages messing around trying to work out where to go next.
9. The journal has been streamlined too; it lists important quests, companion quests and more. The information is easy to get to and you can always find out what you need from it.
I could go on for ages listing all the little changes, but those are the ones that I think are of interest to fans of RPGs in general. In terms of a gameplay Ďbottom lineí Dragon Age 2 plays really well and is a joy to control, especially if youíre looking at the battle tactically like I do and pausing now and then to trigger specific spells and abilities in combination or to shred a group of minor bad guys so you can focus on the big picture. Each battle and various quest earns you experience points and eventually your character and the NPCs will level up.
Levelling up is easy and the system is more intuitive, you gain 3 points to put into the core stats of your class. Say mage, which are magic and willpower, but you can also put points into the other stats. Each stat governs something useful in the game, like dexterity giving a better chance for critical hits and cunning which helps rogues with their trap detection and lock-picking every 10 points spent in the stat.
Then we come to picking abilities, which are spread across the various class based skill-webs and once again, itís all easy to read and understand. You can make informed choices and pick those skills you really want. Either making your character focused on one particular path or grabbing a smattering of skills through the various webs/trees. It works very well and a lot of the skills are useful. Some are active, like assault and some are passive and give you a lot of options when it comes to levelling up.
Finally your NPC allies can offer unique bonuses based on how you interact with them, treating them well and responding to their needs nets you friendship with them, allowing you to learn more about what makes them tick and making them incredibly loyal. The opposite nets you rivalry and grants them bonuses that reflect their reaction to you. They wonít leave the group, but they will often be more sarcastic, less inclined to help in certain situations and wary of Hawke.
One minor niggle of mine is the way that some side-quest locations are approached, I can see how and why Bioware did what they did but the repeated locations smacks of the first Mass Effect and theyíre used to keep the size of the game down mostly. Some routes are closed off by big stone doors and on these side-quests or missions you tread the same ground over and over again, with extra loot and slightly different cavern features. It is only a tiny mar on the grand overall whole though, so I can forgive Bioware for that one.
Talking of quests, well, there are a plethora of them and some of them (many) have lots of twists and turns. There are also fetch quests, which actually trigger when you find the object the personís looking for rather than requiring you to find the person first. So in essence they become quick delivery quests that give you a nice money and XP boost. With the core story quests, the side missions and exploration thereís a 40 to 60 hour game here at least and it is thoroughly enjoyable.Graphics
Iíve seen mixed comments on the graphical style of this game, people saying that they graphics are terrible. Whilst theyíre not in the same league as Mass Effect 2 they are certainly not terrible. Thereís a nice amount of detail here, you can actually see the characterís teeth for a start this time on the console and the eyes of the female Hawke default are particularly stunning in their defiant blue sparkle. The NPCs are likewise well detailed and even the smattering of side characters have enough visual difference to make them appear different compared to Dragon Age.
The environments are well done and even though some of them repeat in terms of the side missions, they are still nicely detailed evoking that dark fantasy theme that I have come to expect from Dragon Ageís world. Thereís a suitable difference between the various districts of Kirkwall and as the narrative time passes, the areas change based on subtle things that you have influenced as Hawke.
I would also like to say that the Staff of Parthalan (seen in the Destiny trailer) is one of the most bad-ass looking mage staves Iíve ever seen in a game. I totally love the idea that magic userís staves have blades on, and itís that kind of graphical design that I thoroughly enjoy.
So yeah, graphics are not a steaming pile of nug dung. Theyíre different and stylized and they fit in the overall feel and theme of the game. I also dig the new look Qunari.
On the retail disc as well, there have been no frame-rate stutters or glitches at all on this playthrough with my female mage Hawke. Even when Iíve been throwing magic like candy at the enemies and tonnes of special effects are kicking off left right and centre. Itís capable of holding a steady frame-rate contrary to some reviews, which are based off slightly earlier code.
As for the gore, itís over the top and enemies fly apart. Itís not Bulletstorm over the top though, and thereís an option to turn it off, before Fox News gets there and brands the game as a serial killer simulator or something I thought I better mention that one.