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Page 2 of 4Characters
The character you play in Dragon Age II comes complete with a background story -- "human fleeing from Lothering." That means you don't get to choose an origins or a race when you create your character, but you still get to choose your gender, your class, your appearance, and your name. I sort of liked the origins sequences from Origins, so I missed them here, but otherwise BioWare offers enough options in character creation so that you can feel like your character is unique.
Sort of surprisingly, BioWare completely revamped how characters work in Dragon Age II. The game still features the same three classes -- warrior, rogue and mage -- but just about everything else is different. For starters, BioWare did away with their sort of confusing skill and talent hierarchies (where, among other things, stealing was a skill but picking locks was a talent). Now everything is an ability, and only combat abilities exist in the game. That is, the game still features lots of spells and fighting maneuvers, but things like diplomacy and stealing are gone, crafting is handled by shopkeepers, and lock picking and trap springing are completely linked to a rogue's cunning attribute.
The attributes also got an overhaul. The game still has the same six attributes -- strength, dexterity, magic, cunning, willpower and constitution -- but now they control different things, and they're much more specialized for certain classes. As an example, in Origins strength controlled how much melee damage characters did, but dexterity controlled how likely they were to land their attacks, and so characters needed both. Now in Dragon Age II, strength controls damage and hit chance for warriors, while dexterity does the same things for rogues, and so there isn't much reason for warriors to bother with dexterity or rogues with strength. Warriors really only need strength and constitution (with perhaps some cunning for defense or willpower for stamina), and that makes it much more boring to build them up.
Speaking of building up characters, that part of the game works roughly the same. Each time characters gain a level, they get three points for their attributes and one point to choose an ability. Abilities have been divided into a collection of specializations, each with a particular theme. All characters start out with access to six specializations, but your main character is allowed to unlock two more (out of three possibilities) at levels 7 and 14. The specializations should look reasonably familiar to anyone who played Origins. For example, the mage's elemental specialization includes the spells Cone of Cold, Fireball, and Winter's Grasp, all of which were in Origins, plus a new spell Firestorm, and also a few passive abilities and upgrades to make the spells more powerful.
Finally, in sort of a subtle change, all weapons and armor in the game have been designed with classes in mind, with attribute point restrictions to match. Warrior gear requires strength and constitution, rogue gear requires dexterity and cunning, and mage gear requires magic and willpower. As a result, characters from one class can't use the equipment intended for another class, and so the classes are much more "cookie cutter"-ish than they were before. For example, rogues can only dual-wield daggers or use bows. They can't use shields or swords or even wear robes. And say goodbye to the entire concept of the arcane warrior. Mages are now stuck with cloth and staves.
Now, all of the above being said, the character system still works reasonably well. There is a lot of variety to the abilities available for each class, and while my main character reached level 25 just before the end of the game, I never ran out of abilities that I wanted to select for him, and so gaining levels remained important throughout the entire campaign. It's just that this is a character system for an action role-playing game, where the only thing that matters is combat. Any party-based role-playing game from a developer like BioWare should give players more options and more freedom rather than less, but for some reason that's not the direction BioWare wants to go.