by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
The Free Marches and Kirkwall
The setting of Dragon Age II is The Free Marches region located north of Ferelden, which was the setting of Dragon Age: Origins. It is comprised of city-states that have no common ruler, except in special circumstances when they have to band together to fight a common enemy. The attitude of the city-states towards refugees from Ferelden and the Blight, such as Hawke, is dismissive and disdainful, so the dice are weighed against Hawke at the very beginning of the story.
But, against all odds, Hawke has become known as the Champion of Kirkwall at the time the story is retold. Though we don’t yet know the story, we can certainly assume that Kirkwall will be a major setting in the game. It is said to be one of the biggest cities in The Free Marches and it still bears the marks of its history as the centre of slave trade: the city is divided in two main areas, the High Town and the Low Town. The latter is populated by the poor, while the former is the haven of the rich, positioned high above the poor areas in an easily defensible location. The city is ruled by Viscount Marlowe Dumar and it has one of the largest Mage circles and extensive Templar presence in Eastern Thedas.
The romances and friendships of Hawke
One of the popular aspects of Dragon Age: Origins were the relationships between the characters and the romances that could ensue between the main character and some of the followers. This will also hold true in Dragon Age II and Hawke will be provided with plenty of romance options. There will be at least two of each class (mage, rogue, warrior) as potential companions, presumably making sure that there is enough gender variation. As usual, the active party can consist of Hawke and three companions.
The companions revealed thus far include Cassandra, who is a Nevarran Chantry Inquisitor and a member of the Pentaghast family – the royal family of Nevarra. Varric the dwarf is both the narrator of the story, as well as one of the companions who travelled with the hero. He is a rogue merchant prince who maintains a spy network for his family while his older brother runs the family business. Funnily enough, Varric has named his crossbow Bianca. Isabela is another possible follower and she’s the Rivaini piratess whom we already met shortly in Dragon Age: Origins. Another companion is Fenris. Not the one from Norse mythology, he is described as a former slave of a Tevinter magister. The magister altered him, burning Lyrium into his flesh, and turned him into a living weapon. The side effect of this process was that Fenris lost all memory of who he was and who he had been.
The companions will all be differentiated beyond their basic classes. They will also have unique talent trees, one example of which is the Swashbuckler for Isabela. The followers will also have their own sense of style and preferences insofar as their wardrobe goes which means that Hawke cannot use them as hangers for his spare armour. The equipment slots usable for companions are ring, amulet, belt and weapon slots. But instead of completely customisable armour (helmet, upper body, legs), they only have a single slot for outfits. Even though you cannot give them Hawke’s old gear, the companions’ outfits will still be upgradeable as the story continues.
The struggles of Hawke
Some of the most worrying news about the changes in Dragon Age II have concerned the combat system. The initial news about the changes bragged about sleeker and more action oriented approach, even going so far as describing how the system has been tweaked to become more console-friendly. These news produced an uproar amongst the fans of the old system and the fans of traditional cRPGs (instead of action RPGs) in general and the developers have been quick to reiterate some of their statements in later interviews and their recent developer diary.
Basically, the combat system can still be played in a manner similar to the original: pausing the game and choosing actions for each combatant and then unpausing and watching how the actions play out. However, it can also be played as an action title without any pauses at all. As each follower and Hawke fight the battle on their own, you can fluidly switch your controls between any one of them in the midst of the combat and play the game as if it was your regular of-the-shelf console action title.