Dragon Age 2: 'Developing Hawke's story seemed the logical next step'

Devs detail much improved RPG sequel

Dragon Age 2 features a number of big departures from the traditional RPG conventions used in the critically acclaimed first game.

We had the opportunity to sit down with lead designer on Dragon Age 2, Mike Laidlaw, and discuss some of the key differences and the thought processes behind them.

The sequel was announced soon after the original. Why?
We actually had a number of plans in place well before Origins shipped.

A big part of building Origins was creating the lore of the world, and there are a lot of really fantastic stories seeded in that world.


Rolling into the sequel and developing Hawke's story seemed the logical next step for Dragon Age.

Dragon Age split opinion. What steps have you made to make the second game more accessible on PS3?
By changing a few fundamentals in the combat system, we've made the same rules significantly punchier and more responsive, and brought in a slew of new abilities, such as opening attacks, for spectacular starts to your combat.

There's nothing quite like seeing your rogue flip into battle, daggers at the ready. These changes make the game feel significantly more responsive and visually satisfying, without sacrificing the depth.

PS3 players were also missing some of the tactical options available on the PC, such as ordering your archer or mage to take the high ground.

For DA2, we've levelled the playing field, giving you even more control over your party.

What have you done to make Dragon Age 2 a more attractive game?
I cannot stress enough how much we learned in the process of converting Origins from a PC game to a console title.

Lessons about our engine architecture, art techniques and so on have all led us to a few really key improvements.

First, some improved eye-candy such as self shadowing to ensure good dimensionality on characters and locations. Second, optimisations to ensure we get more foes on screen, busier cities and the like.

And finally, we revisited our art style to give Dragon Age 2 a more distinct look - which, coincidentally, plays very well with our engine, resulting in smoother performance.

DA2 is told by narrators, who may or may not be putting their own personal slant on events. How important is the idea of the unreliable narrator in the series?
It's important, insofar as our narrators "live" at the end of this decade of history, so they have a very distinct point of view on the events that surround your character.


They also react to the decisions you make and respond accordingly during their narration, making the game very reactive, so that's all good.

We're careful, though, with how unreliable our narrator ends up being, because the last thing the player wants is to feel like they're not playing something real.

At the beginning of the game, we make sure you get a sense of how people perceive Hawke by deliberately exaggerating gameplay.

Origins had an integrated in-game delivery system for DLC. Is this continuing with DA2? Do you think it will become a gaming norm?
We'll certainly be delivering more DLC for Dragon Age, but the exact methods of deploying it are still being decided.

I personally think that there's absolutely a place for being able to expand from within your game, though.

The Rock Band music store is a great, smooth interface for me to see everything I need to know to pick up new tracks, for instance.

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As more RPGs go in for real-time, or semi-real-time, combat, do you think turn-based RPGs are facing extinction?
I doubt we've seen the last of turn-based RPGs. They offer their own strengths and strategies that can be harder to achieve with real-time, and I think it would be a shame to shut the door on them just yet.

I think that, as a genre, turn-based RPGs just need a bit of time to bridge the gap between visual expectations of gamers today - character interaction being one of the biggies - and the necessary abstraction of a more turn-based approach.

I thought that Valkyria Chronicles did a great job of mixing some pretty heavy RPG and tactics elements into a game that still had elements of real-time, so it's clearly not impossible.

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