Dragon Age II is easily one of the most anticipated games of 2011, and not without reason, based on the critical success of Dragon Age: Origins, and its subsequent expansion, Awakening. Set in the same world, but in a different area, the Free Marshes, Dragon Age II is said to feature a new protagonist with a new plot, new engine, new combat system, and new dialogue format.
So, technically, anytime a new game comes out, whether it's a sequel or not, all the elements in it are new. This doesn't mean much. One would hope that BioWare's marketing people know better than to yank the collective chain of RPG gamers (arguably the most easily upset over massive tweaks and changes to beloved series), because after all, it is BioWare, and BioWare does not really make bad games.
I'm happily willing to sit back and trust their judgment in most things. However, if they were to ask me (though I am hard-pressed to come up with a scenario in which this would be the case), here are some things I'd like to see.
First of all, plot-wise, I like the idea that Dragon Age II is going to span at least a decade, where its predecessor told a much more compressed story. As long as the writing is good, I am personally fine with this, though there will surely be those who won't appreciate this kind of upheaval, and desire the sequel to be as much like the original as possible. Truthfully, I can see why this choice has been made, though I hope it was made based on the span of time being necessary to the plot that was already in progress, as opposed to it being written around the concept of a whole decade from the inside out. Concept is good for structure, to be sure. If you focus too much on details, you can write yourself into a corner (to step outside the realm of gaming for a moment, one example that comes crashing to the front of my brain is the final season of Lost, when the writers had to iron all the bizarre details into some semblance of sense. And basically just didn't). But on the other hand, if you start out with a high concept, particularly in a series, you want to make sure that it's one that actually works with the original context of the series. I'm not saying this one won't, just that it's going to make some things a bit different.
Also, the protagonist. Although the player can still customize the main character's gender and class, the protagonist's race and name cannot be changed, and the name we are stuck with here is Hawke. I mean, ok. I'll take that. It's kind of badass in a Top Gun name sort of way. And I guess I don't care about the race too much. As long as I get to choose how I fight, I'm fine. I don't even care about gender that much, and I totally dig the idea that there is the potential for romance with a variety of party members and NPCs, both of the opposite and same sexes. Kudos to BioWare for depicting relationships that are inclusive of a variety of people, since gamers as a demographic are revealed to be increasingly diverse. And before anyone says a single disparaging word about this, allow me to issue a gentle reminder that this is not in any way a threat to heterosexual players' sexuality. In this game, as in real life, if you are a straight dude, you will simply aim your romantic advances at ladies who like straight dudes, hope for the best, and that will be that.
So anyway, the only big thing I see as being a problem, protagonist-wise is that Hawke will be fully voiced, which may prove to be annoying. Even if done well. When you're used to a silent protagonist, it often becomes one of the distinctive features of a game. For example, the original Kid Icarus. Pit, as was necessitated by the audio constraints of the time, was silent. In the upcoming 3DS sequel, Kid Icarus: Uprising, the trailer has already revealed to me that Pit's bratty, arrogant trash talking make me approximately 70 times less likely to purchase this game. I mean, I will probably play it. But maybe with the sound off. I'm not saying it's a mistake to give Hawke a voice, but I hope that the reaction of testers is being taken into account in this respect, as it can be a really simple way to ruin a game aesthetically, even if there are no visual bugs and the fighting is flawless.
Finally, with regard to some of the more technical concerns and respective changes, I hope that a little more thought is put into the user interface. The UI is usually something I can overlook, particularly when they are designed to be as minimal as possible. There have been some downright horrible game interfaces, and I don't really consider that of Dragon Age: Origins to be among them (though several friends of mine do). However, if it matched the style of the game a little bit more closely, and took up a little less space, I would not complain. Especially since the dialogue wheel system from Mass Effect 2 has been imported and modified for use here. Hopefully not in a completely identical fashion, as this would be a poor style choice. At least throw some rusty metal in there, somewhere.
On the whole, from what I can say at this point, Dragon Age II looks like it's going to be a solid title, but very different, and as such might not be as popular with die hard fans of the original. That being said, however, it could always gain an entirely new audience, provided it is done well. And as I said before, BioWare doesn't really make bad games. So for now, we're just going to have to trust them to rock this one right.
Dragon Age 2 is set to release March 08, 2011 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.