BioWare on Dragon Age II – “we’ve hit a bit of a sweet spot”

BioWare’s Fernando Melo talks us through the action-strategy balancing act, rogue identity crises, sarcastic death yells, self-conscious narrators and (of course) saving the world.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, February 9, 2011

We hope you’ve got an Ogre-sized chunk of time set aside in March, because BioWare’s Dragon Age II looks like a whopper. Here’s an appropriately gargantuan chat with Online Producer Fernando Melo, conducted shortly before VGD went hands-on with the game at EA’s January showcase.

Great to meet you, Fernando. Let’s start with something fairly specific. My big bugbear playing Dragon Age on console was tactical positioning. My lead character was a Rogue, and getting her into place for a back-stab was a nightmare without a cursor. Can you talk about how you’ve addressed that?

There were really three things that we got a lot of feedback on, most of which actually came on console. At the end of the day we had a seven year game, it took that long to make, it was PC-centric, and when we did a port for consoles that was actually done with an external team.

This time I think one of the key, fundamental differences is that everything is being built at the same time. It’s all being built in house, we have people who are dedicated to each platform, in terms of user interface, in terms of controls, in terms of the visuals. So you’re going to see a much better version than we had in Origins for consoles.

In terms of Rogues in particular, that was an area we spent quite a lot of time on [with the sequel]. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to play it yet – if not, I would definitely try a Rogue on the Create-a-Character screen. For me there some of the most fun characters, as they should be. I think in Origins Rogues suffered a bit of an identity crisis, they were sort of like warriors that could dual-wield, and it didn’t feel unique enough. Whereas with DA2, each class has very specialised things that they can do. The way that the Rogue manoeuvres through combat, they’re very much geared towards taking down a single enemy, because of how fast they are.

And you have new abilities, to answer your initial question – you have a backstab ability which when you fire it, you essentially teleport behind the character and execute a backstab. And you also have other evasive manoeuvres you can do – backflip out of [trouble] if you get swarmed. So you’re much more acrobatic, more nimble, on the battlefield, which should be a lot more Rogue-like, using the combination of stealth and speed is exactly how you want to win the fight.

Whereas a Warrior is much more built now towards taking down a variety of enemies at once – they’ll swing in large arcs, hitting two or three characters at the same time, that kind of thing. They’re much more for taking down mobs. So one of the nice new things is the idea of cross-class combos.

We kind of had a bit of that with spell combos in Origins, where you could freeze somebody, then hit them with Stone Fist and they’d shatter, or combine certain storm spells to create big ones. Now we have cross-class combos, for example Rogues can use certain abilities to weaken an enemy towards a Warrior or a Mage strike, or vice versa.

In terms of the combat, we’ve added a much more action layer to it. We haven’t taken away anything from Origins – all the tactics are still there, especially on PC – but we’ve added a very thin layer of immediacy. When you press a button, when you implement an action, they execute right away. So you can now execute team tactics the way that you were probably supposed to in Origins, where you can have your warrior protect your Mage, or you can have two Mages striking correctly within moments of each other to get the effect you want.

You no longer have to worry about your Warrior shuffling into position while the enemy is chewing away at your Mage, till he can finally start swinging, or the fact that one of your Mages has to move a little bit, therefore your spells can’t go off at the right time or whatever the case is.

And I know that when we use the term “action” people freak out a little bit – it’s a bit of a loaded term. But I’m hoping as they see more footage, and as they get to play it, they’ll realise how much it feels like Origins, on all the platforms. That stuff hasn’t gone away – in fact, there’s actually more depth in DA2, it’s just hidden away in little layers, so somebody who’s new can jump right in, start mashing buttons and get some fun out of it.

But somebody from Origins, they’ll be able to take advantage of the deeper layers, really build up on tactics, and how they can customise their characters has a lot more depth to it now, in terms of specialisations and how abilities work and the fact you can upgrade abilities now – instead of getting a broader spectrum of abilities you can specialise in abilities you can really like.

So all those things create much more interesting builds of characters as well.

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