Dragon Age II Live Developer Chat Report, Has Gone Gold

This is a report of today's Dragon Age 2 Live Developer Chat with lead designer Mike Laidlaw, which started off with some great news. According to Mike, just 50 minutes before the event began, he was told that Dragon Age II has officially gone gold on all platforms.

The gameplay demo was played with a female Hawke in Hightown, a brighter area, and confirming the rather obvious fact that the female Hawke is also fully voiced. The quest shown ("Fools Rush In") involved a returning character, Captain Isabella, inviting you to support her as she is to fight a duel but suspects deceit. The quest takes place at night and Laidlaw notes the streets are more empty (and indeed there were no NPCs walking around) and dangerous at this hour, and, as expected, the group is attacked in the course of the quest, showing off the combat, pause functions, and special attacks. Laidlaw explains how mages have a supportive roles in applying buffs, like stone armor and elemental weapons. The buff effects are no longer shown outside of combat. Weapons and items are graded by a star system which allows you to compare at a quick glance. When he was showing skills during the game I noticed full descriptions were shown on screen, allaying a personal fear of consolized font sizes.

Combat was frequently paused by Laidlaw, particularly in a later, tougher fighter. Other than the camera staying closer, it did not immediately look wildly different from Dragon Age: Origins. Direct control allowed for a bit more immediacy from the looks of it. The characters were still covered in silly amounts of blood after the fight, much like Origins. The quest is revealed to involve slavery, and then allows you to - of course - recruit and sleep with Isabella, regardless of gender.

This concluded the action part of the gameplay demo. Laidlaw then demonstrates how the conditional AI system is still as complex as it was in Dragon Age: Origins. He also explains that the spell-combining mechanics from Origins have been expanded, so that for instance if a warrior makes an enemy stagger, a certain spell then does more damage. At higher difficulty levels, these combinations become very important.

Then they moved onto the Q&A segment. Note that these answers are transcribed from live video and are not verbatim:
Compared to the original Dragon Age Origins how long will one playthrough of Dragon age 2 take to complete? (including side quests)

Longer than Mass Effect 2, shorter than Origins. Lots of creamy middle, optional stuff to tackle. It's hard to say, as Origins varied from 30 to 110 hours, but in general, it's slightly shorter than Origins, but it's a beefy game, with lots of hidden stuff.

What noticeable improvements have been made to the classes?

It's largely focused on changes to the talent system, classes working better together. In addition to having specializations for Hawke, you can have followers with special talent trees: for instance, each warrior follower is different and has his/her own personality on the battlefield.

Are mages going to be able to wear armor?

Yes, but they depend on their strength and constitution stats, so not ideal for a mage build. That said, you will likely find specialized armor for mages.

Does DAII have a wide variety of weapons.

Yes it does, and you can equip it on your followers.

Can you change your party's armor?

Party members have more fixed armor, what they have is upgrades and enchantments that you can find throughout the game.

Do all enemies level scale in Dragon Age 2, like in DAO?

Yes, Dragon Age II has level scaling, but each different instance is tuned specifically to its design demands, so that not every encounter is mind-bendingly hard (except on nightmare), and some encounters are of a noticeably lower difficulty because they were designed to be so, regardless of level scaling.

Will archer be a little more satisfying? I like playing all sorts of classes, and my latest play through I've been playing as an archer and while I have been doing the most damage it's just not as bone crunchingly fun as warrior or a dual wielding rogue.

I couldn't agree with you more. In the very high levels there was some fantastic stuff, but in the core game archers were kind of a secondary thing. What we've done is move archers into the rogue tree, give them their own combos, and have them fire harder and faster. Unlike dual-wielding rogues, archers can hit hard, they can knock back even large enemies like ogres.

Will saves from Origins or Awakenings have any influence to Dragon age 2 story?

They will. We'll allow you to import your game so if you have put someone on the throne it will have a political impact. Many Ferelden refugees have come to Kirkwall, so the political impact has spread. Even cameo appearances of NPCs from the old games will change slightly depending on your choices.

Does fatigue on characters work in a similar way it did in the first DA game or has it been reworked or removed completely?

I don't think fatigue worked well in Origins. The problem we hit is that it asked you to be strong enough to work a certain type of equipment, but then even if you were strong enough you were still bogged down by it. But for me, if you meet the requirements, you should be able to wear it without a penalty. That said, fatigue still exists for buffs, sustained abilities, stances. So you do have to manage your stamina to have enough for the battle and buffs, but the armor fiddling is gone.

We know that the game spans ten years, but in what way is that managed?

I told my team, what I want to do is tell the story and focus in on the most significant parts. The large time span gives us the opportunity to have follower relations and the like evolve over time. We use the interface of Cassandra and Varric focusing in on certain spots, with Varric wanting her to understand the context and person as she focuses in on details.

Are there any new classes? Are they better balanced this time?

We did balance the classes. We overhauled all three classes. We didn't hit mages with a nerf stick, but instead pulled up warriors and rogues to be equal to mages. As for new classes, there's a few more specializations, but what we wanted to focus on was to take the three classes and improving them.

Will there be any optional bosses like the Dragons in DA: Origins?

There are dragons in Dragon Age II. Quite a few actually. And there are optional encounters. There will be encounters like the High Dragon in the urn of sacred ashes quest. The kind of thing where you want to go in with your A game, fully prepared for a difficult bit of combat.

Who's your favorite character in Dragon Age II?

I think, of them all, Isabella is my favorite character. Not just for her looks, but because on the surface she's just a sassy pirate girl, but beyond the surface there's quite a bit going on. But all the followers are quite close, they all have a rich backstory.

How will companions interact with each other?

There's banter, not in dungeons but as you go around town. Furthermore, when you arrive at a certain location, primarily the home base, you'll see followers visit other followers, and be able to see how they interact without you.

Do we get any pets in the game?

(Laidlaw pops into the game again) Let me give you a preview. The Black Emporium comes equipped with your own family Mabari warhound. He acts a little bit differently from the warhound in Origins. He's not a full party member, instead he can be brought in (Laidlaw summons dog). It's a little bit silly, I know, it's not a magical ability, he just comes out of nowhere. The dog adds in a bit more damage, but it's not unbalancing, he's not a mauler like in Origins.

Will we see any of the old companions from DA:O?

We have already seen a few. Isabella was a character, but I suspect this is about party members coming back. I will say you may see some cameos, yes, but I'm not going to say who.

Are there more dynamic enemies in DA2? Like the Harvester which phases through modes that makes it immune to physical damage?

Yes, and when this happens the game communicates it with you clearly, and you do need to pay attention to the enemy, especially to big enemies. For instance, there might be a spot where rocks fall down, so it's best not to stand there. Assassins are another example, they will be stealthing throughout the fight, trying to take out your mages.

Can you tell me about romances in Dragon Age II?

Obviously, we have them. What we wanted to do is have romances evolve over time, rather than just approval/disapproval. Instead it goes from "I respect you, but disagree" to "we see eye to eye on core ideas". As for what this means for romances, it means we include steamy "I hate you but I love you" scenes.

What is your favorite class to play?Why? What is your favorite specialization for said class?

I'm a rogue guy. For me, archery is one of the favourite classes to play.

What are the main differences between the console and the pc versions of Dragon Age II?

The core differences are the interface. The content is pretty much identical. The interface is a radial wheel vs a quick-bar at the bottom, same for the menu. If you played Origins on consoles, it'll play very similar. The same is true for PC. We were really happy with how control schemes worked for Origins, so we kept most of it. Also, the PC has more hardware than available on consoles, especially in the usage of DX11, adding some great lighting effects, texture packs and the like. The end results is a game that looks and plays great on consoles, but keeps it roots on PC, we loved the way it functioned there.

Is there a crafting system and alchemy like in Origins?

Yes, it's all available. We changed some elements so you don't have to fiddle anymore, instead they're more of a discovery mechanics. You have to find the ingredients and recipe, and then report that back to the crafter who will make it for you.

Will playing as a good or bad characters affect the outcome of the game?

Good or bad is something we try to avoid thinking about in Dragon Age. Take Loghain, who is a sympathetic "bad guy" because his motivations are clear. Can you take decisions others feel are bad? Absolutely. But will you think they're bad? We hope not.

Are there any caves or dungeons in dragon age 2? Or does the majority of the game take place in Kirkwall?

Most of the game takes place in Kirkwall, but there are dungeons, ruins, craggy coast area. Kirkwall is primarily a hub location.

Do we have a more variety in the side quests?

I think we do. Chances to get involved in politics, in business. Dealing with the refugees. Even better, every follower has his own story arch to follow, maybe more romantic, more friendship or more rivalry in a way.

Will there be player housing? What's in the house?

Hawke does have a core location. It works close to how the camp works, but it doesn't move around. It does change over time. There you have options to do crafting, and amongst other things, you will be able to store loot and equipment you don't want to sell.

Can you explain about the rivalry and approval system?

It's two sides of a spectrum. It's either rivalry or approval, based on your interaction and certain hotbutton issues for them. Each character has certain things they specifically care about, and you can choose to go with them or overrule them in their own interest. Friendship is similar to Origins, whereas rivalry makes a dynamic of "we don't see eye to eye, Hawke, but I do respect you."

Are there any really big decisions Dragon Age II? Do my choices matter and are there consequences?

Yes. Absolutely there are choices. There some biggies, some of which will haunt you throughout the game. Especially near the end there are some big ones. The fact that the story is told by Varric doesn't mean there's only one ending. It's about one question: why did the champion of Kirkwall do what he or she did? When you answer that question you've finished the game. There's no big evil to defeat.