Results of the Dragon Age 2 Developer Chat

Mike Laidlaw and Chris Priestly spent about an hour with the fans today, running us through Isabela's recruitment quest and taking some questions. You can find the video, a summary of key points, our impressions, and a transcript of the Q&A after the break.

Video

Watch live streaming video from electronicarts at livestream.com

Mike shows a more tactical approach in his playthrough, pausing to set up his party's actions and scanning the battlefield for situational changes. Overall, the pacing of this game seems more "efficient" - there's still plenty of fighting to be had, but with less time for backstab positioning or shuffling around enemies while your characters "wait" to attack. I think this should quell any fears that the combat in DA2 has been "dumbed down" or anything like that.

Key Points

In terms of big news, this chat was rather lacking, though that's a bit understandable with the metaphorical tsunami of news that came earlier in the week. Some things that were revealed or expanded upon included:

  • DA2 has Gone Gold - No more tweaks or bug fixes, it seems. The game is ready to be shipped.
  • Party Synergy - Hawke and companions can take advantage of each other's abilities to do extra damage, in a system called Cross-Class Combos (CCC). Each class has abilities that will do extra damage on targets debuffed by another class. For instance, warrior's can cause a stagger debuff with the Sunder ability, and mages can then do 6 times damage on the staggered enemy with Chain Lightning. This looks to improve tactics and party synergy as battles draw out.
  • Force Magic - A new specialization for mages that allows some crowd control and gives a buff to physical force and elemental damage. One of the earlier talents in this tree is Fist of the Maker, an AOE knockback.
  • About 50 Hours of Gameplay - Asked about game length during the chat portion, Mike Laidlaw noted that the game will take "somewhere between Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins" to complete, settling on an average of around 50 hours.
  • Muted Buff Effects - Outside of combat, graphical buff effects will not be shown, but will still be active. The effects themselves looked very detailed, especially Lady Hawke's Stone Armor.
  • Companions have their own armor - This was already known, but expanded upon a bit. Looking at the inventory section for a party member will show one large "armor set" in place of the usual chest, legs, boots, etc. that Hawke's inventory will show. This piece will be upgradeable, including the addition of runeslots, but will not be exchangeable with loot you pick up throughout the game. In addition, companions may change out their armor over the course of the game. However, you can still swap out weapons and trinket slots.
  • Crafting is streamlined - Reagents are a thing of the past. Find the recipe, find the ingredient sources, and you will be able delegate the duty of crafting to craftsmen.
  • Hideable Helmets - Similar to Mass Effect 1 (and sorely lacking in Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins) you will have the option to hide your helmet, so that you will always be able to view your character's mug.
  • Isabela is a Bisexual Love Interest - At the end of the playthrough, Isabela offers a room to Lady Hawke in case she's looking for... company... later on.


Q&A Transcript

Note that there were some questions that were selected to be answered but not read to Mike Laidlaw during the Q&A session.

[Comment From Nik ]
Q: Compared to the origninal Dragon Age Origins how long will one playthrough of Dragon age 2 take to complete? (including side quests)

A: I think that, honestly, it's going to take, well, we found that it was longer than Mass Effect 2, shorter than Origins, lots of creamy middle, lots of optional stuff for you to tackle. But in terms of giving you a raw number, I mean, I've seen people play 50 hours, somewhere in there. It's really hard to say because we've seen numbers from Origins where people claim they've played it in 30 hours... You know, Ray Muzyka played it in 110 hours. So, it's certainly in the range of "a little bit shorter than Origins," but for the most part, a good long beefy game. There's lots of content for you to find, a lot of little hidden stuff for you to find in the nooks and crannies as well.

[Comment From coldenhas ]
Q: why did you guys remove dual wielding from the warrior class?

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

[Comment From Guest ]
Q: What noticeable improvements have been made to the classes?

A: To my mind, really, what it is is largely focused on the overall changes to that talent tree system. You're not quite as locked into chains as you used to be. You'll find the classes work to better together, and as well, one element that's been added is that in addition to having specs, for Hawke, which means Hawke could be a Reaver or a Force Mage, as you saw earlier... You can have followers that have their own special talent trees. So, Carver as a warrior, is different from Fenris as a warrior, is different from Aveline as a warrior. They have their own specialties and very much their own personalities on the battlefield.

Beyond that, I think the changes to the classes are kind of all about the fundamental combat changes. Being able to move quickly into position using closing attacks, being able to move to melee attacks when you're a mage who's threatened up close. And overall, visual presentation.

[Comment From Sarah ]
Q: Can you tell us any of the voice actors?

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

[Comment From Fred ]
Q: Does character creation start at the beginning of the game or after an intro scene, like Mass Effect 2?

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

Q: Are mages going to be able to wear armor in Dragon Age 2?

A: Absolutely, if you build your character a certain way. The armors' [requirements are all] based on having enough Strength and Con[stitution], which isn't - I'll be honest - an ideal mage build...but with that said, you may find a couple of special armors floating around in the game that look a little heavier than just robes or whatever. For instance, the armor that my character was wearing at the beginning was set up so that she was in something that was more of a work-a-day(sp?) outfit and less like a traditional mage robe. We try to provide a ton of variety for mages, rogues and warriors all over the place.

Q: Does Dragon Age 2 have a wide variety of weapons?

A: Yes it does. Quite a few. I mean, every class has their own sets. You've seen a number of visual models across them, and you're able to equip them on all characters, including followers.

[Comment From hector ] (wins Dragon Age 2 hoodie)
Q: can you change your partys armor

A: So, party members have an armor that is more fixed than it was in Origins, where you could swap in and out. What they have is upgrades that you can find during quests or purchased around stores around the world that increase the overall effectiveness, many of which include enchanting. So you're able to put runes and change kind of the flow of the armor: Are they going to be ice resistant, or will they be fire resistant - not bad idea with dragons... In addition, what you'll find is, over time - because we're telling a decade long story - the companions will sometimes change their outfits. Aveline, for instance, is not always wearing the guardsman's armor she is wearing right now, and you can see that change between, say, the opening of the game and where we are now, during the first years in Kirkwall.

[Comment From Guest ]
Q: Do all enemies level scale in Dragon Age 2, like in DAO?

A: Enemies do have a scaling system, so that they're able to kind of come up to me [the player character]. One of the challenges, I think, of developing a game where we give the player freedom in the middle to tackle quests in multiple orders is that we have to build the system so that the creatures are able to come up to meet your level in challenge.

That said, every encounter has individual tuning. As you guys saw, some of our encounters are quite a bit easier, based on number of characters [in your party] and the composition, while later encounters, such as Hayder, took quite a bit longer, was a bit more of a grind for me to get through because I had to think quite a bit harder. And you'll find that, when we're building dungeons, they tend to flow like that as well, so you end up in a way that kind of drags you through the story, where not every encounter is going to be absolutely, mind-bendingly hard, unless you're playing on Nightmare...which some of you will, I'm sure.

Q: Today, the demo that you did, what level of difficulty were you playing?

A: Ah, so, I was playing on Normal. This is not super hard by any means. Normal is designed so that, as we tend to think of it, you're playing one character optimally. You're able to run through your character, really focus on them, and so on. Moving up to Hard, our expectation for you (points at the camera) as players is that you'll be playing your whole party, building them, equipping them, and so on, so that they're working together as a coordinated unit...which is partly why I wanted to show you cross class combos.

[Comment From Lily ]
Q: 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. Will there be specific types of bloody kills for archer?

A: Oh, Lily, Lily... I couldn't agree with you more. So, the thing about archers in Origins, we found in the very high levels - certainly in the expansion Awakening - there was a lot of fantastic stuff that was available there, but in the core game, archers were really not a solid part of your party. It was kind of a secondary thing.

What we've done is move Archery into the rogue trees, given them their own combo system so that they're able to participate in cross class combos like everyone else. They fire faster, they fire harder, and unlike, say, the rogue with dual daggers, who tends to mostly just hit people (makes backstabbing motions) and keep them in place, archers have a very high force in their attacks. What this means is that if you've got a basic creature charging at you - he's not a big tough boss like an Ogre or something - you can often hit them hard enough to stop them in their tracks. They actually knock back. As an archer, to me, that is winning. And so, you'll get swarmed if you get 3 or 4 guys, but one of them is probably dead at your feet.

[Comment From Guest ]
Q: What changes have you made to the economy and the way money is handled?

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

[Comment From Its god to be bad ]
Q: Will saves from Origins [or Dragon Age: Origins Awakening] have any influence on the Dragon Age 2 story?

A: They will, they will! Saves will have influence on Dragon Age 2. We'll allow you to import your game, so that if you put someone on the throne specifically, you'll see that reflected in the course of the game. Obviously, big political elements, things that affect the world, are going to reach all the way to Kirkwall, as many Ferelden refugees have come up here. So, this results in some pretty interesting moments, and sometimes even cameos that take on a different color, depending on certain Origins choices.

[Comment From Marty from Prague ]
Q: Does fatigue on characters work in a similar way it did in the first DA game or has it been reworked or removed completely?

A: Marty, I gotta level with ya. In my opinion, I don't think fatigue worked in Origins. The simple kind of crux we hit when we were looking at fatigue and what we would do with it is that what we've done is ask you to be strong enough to wear a certain type of equipment: "You must be strong enough to wear this platemail." But even then, it still tires you down because you're obviously not strong enough to wear it. That created what I would call "a bit of a problem." So, we've actually done away with the idea of fatigue from a "just putting on equipment and getting bogged down" because, to me, if you meet the requirements, I think you should be able to wear the armor without any penalty. There's no fun as a warrior if I put on platemail and suddenly can't do anything.

That said, fatigue still exists when applied to things like my buffs, being able to sustain abilities, different modes, stances as a warrior, and so on. The end result, then, is that you do have to manage your stamina and make that choice between having enough to enter into battle and being able to buff your party or your character, but at the same time, you don't have to fiddle with your armor just to make that part of it.

[Comment From Jean110 ] (wins lithograph of Kirkwall)
Q: We know that the game spans ten years, but in what way is that managed? As in, how does the progression of time come about? Are time skips involved? Or is time played related to time in game?

A: The simple truth is, when we sat down and started talking about really high level vision for Dragon Age 2, one of the things I talked to the team about was, "What I want to do is tell the story. And I want to focus in on the most important parts of the person who changed the world. And we thought about how we could tell the story like that... The large time span really played out, and that gave us a lot of opportunites to work with things like followers whose relationships evolve over time, rather than being compressed around that same point.

That said, then, what we do is move forward through time, and we use the interface where we have Cassandra and Varric talking about Hawke during an inquisition... Such that Cassandra really has moments she wants to zero in on, and Varric, of course, being frankly your friend, wants to make sure she understands the context, because Cassandra, like everyone else, knows the high level details, the wikipedia article of the Champion of Kirkwall. But Varric was there, and he wants Cassandra, and the forces she represents, to understand the person behind the myth.

[Comment From Erick ]
Q: Are there any new classes? [And are they better balanced this time?]

A: "Did you balance the classes?" (laughs) We did! Actually, we completely overhauled all three of the classes. And a big goal for us was to make sure that we had more even parity. In my mind, what that involved was not hitting the mage with a huge nerf stick. We instead balanced them so that warriors and rogues received a bit more mobility, a bit more flash, and overall became more valuable members of combat. Again, things like cross-class combos being a huge part of that.

In terms of new classes, a few new specializations scattered around. You saw Force Mage today, but mostly what we wanted to focus on was kind of taking the holy trinity of classes - mage, warrior, and rogue - and really bringing them up to what we wanted to do with them for Dragon Age 2.

[Comment From Mako ]
Q: Will there be any optional bosses like the Dragons?

A: There are, in fact, dragons in Dragon Age 2. Quite a few, actually. And there are optional encounters. So, similar to whether or not you faced down the High Dragon in the Urn of Sacred Ashes plot - an optional thing, but felt great when you did it. There will be some encounters like that, tucked away in the corners, hidden... And the kind of thing that you're going to want to go in with your A-game, your best equipment, your tactics ready to go, and tons and tons of strategy at the ready.

[Comment From Kat Tiki ]
Q: Who's your favorite character in Dragon Age II?

A: Oooh, that's tricky. The problem is that it's like picking your favorite child at this point. I think, of them all, Isabela is my favorite character. And not just for her looks - because yes, she's very cute - but the thing with Isabela is that on the surface, she's very much "I'm sassy pirate girl," and that's fine, but when you dig a little deeper, there's quite a bit more going on with her, quite a bit of inner turmoil. And she becomes one of the most fulfilling characters to interact with over the course of the game.

The rest of the followers are all like all fsssht, right close (touches fingertips together): Fenris with his history, Aveline being the one person who made it out of Lothering with you, and so on. It gives them all a rich backstory that, again, I think the span of time we're covering creates this sense almost like...family, even beyond your main family, that extended family of friends supporting you.

[Comment From Tyzin ]
Q: How will companions interact with each other?

A: So, when we looked at how we were going to present the companions this time around, they have extensive banter, so as you move around the different areas, they'll chat, they'll talk about one another. Obviously, not in the middle of a dungeon, but they will tease and poke, and so on, as you're exploring the town and shopping.

But, what you'll also find is that when you arrive at certain locations - we kind of think of them like they're home base, for instance, Varric has his own room at The Hanged Men, where we were earlier - we often find followers visiting other followers, giving you a chance to see how the two of them interact when you're not around.

[Comment From George ]
Q: Do we get any pets [in the game]?

A: Well, I'll give you guys a little preview. I'm going to pop into the game here. Chris'll just make sure it properly comes on for me.

And of course, those of you who are picking up the game new will be getting ahold of what we call "The Black Emporium," and The Black Emporium comes equipped with your very own personal family mabari warhound. (view switches back to the game) Now, the mabari warhound acts a little bit differently from the way they worked before. The warhound in Origins was a full party member, which worked reasonably well but it did often cut down on the amount of banter and so on. So we decided to take a different approach, (sound effect of warhound poofing into existence) and bring your dog in. Now, it's a little bit silly, I know, it's not a magical ability, the dog just come out of nowhere. And of course, the beautiful idea is that, when he leaves, he's sad. Poor puppy, ruff!

So, what you end up with, if you get The Black Emporium, is a fifth party member, someone to help with adds, dish out a few more damage. It ends up with a nice thing. It's not unbalancing, of course. The dog is not going to be an absolute mauler quite like he was in Origins, but he is awfully cute. (sound of warhound poofing out of existence)

[Comment From DarthBill52 ]
Q: How will the "Black Imporium" effect the game??

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

[Comment From Garrus_ftw ]
Q: Will we see any of the old companions from DA:O?

A: Well, we've already seen a few. Obviously, Isabela was a character, she has returned. But I suspect we might be more worried about party members and whether they'll be coming back. I'm going to say, you may see some cameos, yes. But I'm not going to say who. (smile)

[Comment From SirJeal ]
Q: Are there more dynamic enemies in DA2? Like the Harvester which phases through modes that makes it immune to physical damage?

A: We do! Absolutely. Some are pretty spectacular in the way they interact. And one of our big goals was to make sure we were properly telegraphing when those changes were coming up, even involving some elements like positioning in the battle, places where you don't want to be standing during certain events, like falling rocks and so on. Paying attention to the enemies, especially the big ones, is going to be key to success when you tackle them.

Even then, smaller encounters, like we saw here with Hayder, you would've noticed a couple of creatures labeled "Assassin," like the Raider Assasin, some of those names like Assassin and Commander actually represent different behaviors. And those behaviors are ones you'll want to keep an eye out for. An Assassin will be constantly stealthing and restealthing throughout the fight, and often attacking your mages and rogues, meaning you're going to want to try to pin them down. The end result then is combats that are, in my opinion, significantly more dynamic.

[Comment From China ] (wins Dragon Age 2 t-shirt)
Q: With whom we can get romantic option?

A: Romances in Dragon Age 2...they're hot. Thank you. No, I mean, obviously, the question is "do we have them?" That's the first question, and my answer is "Yeah, of course. We're a Bioware game. It's what we do." But what we want also want to do is make sure that the characters you've got as a part of your romance are evolving over time, not kind of leaping into it with you. So, what you'll find is that the romance is tied directly into whether you're dealing with them as a friend or dealing with them as a rival, which is something new. We've gotten away from just approval and "I don't like you," and moved the overall interaction to "I respect you but disagree" all the way to "No, we see eye to eye on some of these fundamental things that I have as my viewpoints."

And what you'll see, even early in the game, [are] some core interactions - now, obviously not romance interactions - but your brother, for instance, Carver, is much more of a rival than your sister, Bethany. Now, when we extrapolate that out to the romances, does this mean that you can have the hot, steamy I-hate-you-but-I-love-you kind of scene... Yeah, that's what it means. And we're really happy with the result.

[Comment From Dominic ]
Q: What is your favorite class to play?Why? What is your favorite specialization for said class?

A: I've always been on the record... I'm kind of a rogue guy. I love, love, love rogues. The sense of fighting smart... And for me, archery is actually one of my favorite classes to play. Just the feeling of being able to hang back, that feeling of having the tactical overview of the situation... And so, hence a lot of work on Archery to make it a more satisfying experience. So, for me, archer rogue, though man...Mage. Mage is always fun.

[Comment From Cosmic ]
Q: What are the main differences between the console and the pc versions of Dragon Age II?

A: I guess the core differences are the interface. I think that's number one. The content, in terms of what you see, how you play, what fights you have, is pretty much identical. But, the [console] interface moves to more of a radial wheel as opposed to the [PC's] quickbar on the bottom. Same thing with the main menu, and so on. All of those are designed to work better with controllers.

As a general rule, if you played Origins on a console, it will play exactly like that when you play DA2. It will be very familiar. There are a few new pieces of candy, like being able to move to point, issuing orders, and so on. If you played on PC, and you're playing on PC again, again, it will feel very familiar. We're really happy with how the control schemes worked for Origins, so we wanted to make sure we kept them, and refined just a little when necessary. The other key advantage, of course, the PC does have some hardware that we can't take advantage of on the 360 or PS3. Great machines, but DirectX 11 is a big jump up there. We've been working very closely with ATi on, or AMD now, and making sure we do support the higher end graphics. You'll see more lighting effects, more particle effects, and very cool stuff they're doing with shadows, things that get way too technical for me to actually talk about with any detail. And of course, some extra texture packs, and so on, that really just bring the game up to what PC players would expect.

The end result then is, I think, is a game that looks great on consoles, plays great on consoles, and feels like it was built for the consoles, while at the same time, DA2 keeps its roots on PC, and says "No, we loved the interface and how it functioned on the PC."

[Comment From kafkarock ]
Q: Is there a crafting system like alchemy/poison making/trap making?

A: Crafting does allow you to create your own runes, create your own poisons, your own potions, and bombs - you know, throwing the Acid Flasks and so on. Those are all available. We've changed some elements of how crafting works. You're no longer going to have to fiddle with stacks of like 99 elfroot or go purchase, you know, 42 of them specifically to make one potion. Instead, there's more of the discovery mechanic, finding patches, finding resources, and reporting them to the crafters who will do the work for you. Meaning that once you've found a potion's recipe, and you've found the necessary ingredients to make it, you can keep making it - with some very rare exceptions, for ones that are far too powerful to make more than one of.

[Comment From Mikenmike11 ]
Q: What changes occur because of the day/night function?

QUESTION POSTED BUT SKIPPED

[Comment From Pick Me ]
Q: Will how good or bad your are affect the outcome?

A: So, good or bad, in general, is something we try to avoid thinking about in Dragon Age. We've tried very hard, I think, to build a world where it's hard to tell where the good guys and bad guys are. For instance, looking at Loghain in Origins, does he have some sort of an agenda? Is he trying to take over the country? Yes. But is he doing it because he hates the Orlesians because they killed his father? Yes. So, sympathetic bad guys. People who feel like real characters is key to us.

So, can I affect the world? Can I make decisions that are going to, by other peoples' reckoning, be bad? Absolutely. Will I think they're bad? Well, I hope not, because we want to make sure that you feel...torn by the decisions that you're making.

[Comment From Joe ]
Q: Are there any caves or dungeons in dragon age 2? or does the majority of the game take place in Kirkwall?

A: A fair chunk of the game takes place in Kirkwall. All your stores and all that exploration...a lot of plots are found there. But there are caves, there are dungeons. There is Deep Roads. There's some lost, abandoned highways. There's craggy coast areas, filled with raiders and bandits. So, there's a wide variety of places to go. Though, you'll find that Kirkwall acts similar to Athkatlan in Baldur's Gate 2, where it's more of a hub location.

[Comment From Kenshi ]
Q: Do we have more variety in the side quests?

A: I think so. We do have quite a bit of variety in our side quests. Chances to get involved in politics, chances to get involved in some of the businesses that are happening, dealing with the fallout of many of your coutrymen trying to flee north to the Freemarches. All these kinds of things crop in different and interesting ways. And, even better, every follower has their own story arc that you can pursue as well. Completely optional, but adds lots to the characters, and often gives you chances to interact with them in a maybe romantic, maybe more of a friendship, maybe in more of a rivalrous way. That's going to be up to you.

[Comment From Redzin ] (wins a Blightlands lithograph)
Q: Will there be player housing? How will it work?

A: So, Hawke does have kind of a core location. It functions in a way close to how camp worked in Origins. It's not a moving location though. Though you may find it changes over time. There you'll have options to do certain crafting and even, among some other things - I won't spoil too much - you'll be able to store your equipment and loot that you've gathered but don't want to sell. So that'll make a few people happy, I think.

[Comment From Trotsky ]
Q: Can you explain a little bit about the rivaly or approval system?

A: A rivalry and approval are really two sides of a spectrum. A character in your party will either feel that they have rivalry with you or approval, based on the way you've been interacting with them and certain hot-button issues for them. All of our characters the party have things they care deeply about and that they want to explore with you, want help with, and so on. Denying them, telling them that they're wrong, even if you're still completing the quest - you're not cutting out content by being a rival - you're telling them what you're doing is for their own good, and so on.

The end result then is that you can have a relationship with a character where friendship feels really similar to how it felt in Origins, where they're very happy with you and so on, but more importantly, rivalry means that you'll come in, and they'll be like "Look, Hawke, I know we haven't gotten along and you often don't agree with me, but I really need your help, so will you give it?" Which creates a very different dynamic. You can have people who are with you, who are upset at you, but who need your help, who respect you as a follower and as a friend. So, that's really kind of the feel in a nutshell. It adds a new dynamic to the way you interact with characters.

[Comment From Balx ]
Q: Are there any really big decisions, possibly the difference between a Town being there or not? No specifics required.

A: I will say, yes, absolutely, there are choices. There are some "biggies" that will sometimes come back to haunt you over the course of the game. And some very big ones coming up towards the end, as you might expect. I know certainly there has been some concern, "Well wait, if the story is being told by Varric, does that mean it only has one ending?" No, it doesn't. It doesn't at all. And the way that that's delivered is by being very, very careful about how we present the information Cassandra and Varric discuss at the beginning.

And if anything, to me, Dragon Age 2 is about really one question. Why did the Champion of Kirkwall make the decisions that he or she did? And when you answer that, you'll have completed the game. There's no ancient evil to defeat. There's no huge monster you have to kill. You have to make a decision.

--

What are your thoughts on what we saw today?

  • Razorfish

    Working on transcribing the Q&A portion, if not beaten to the punch…

    • Razorfish

      There we go, a full Q&A transcript, in all of Mike's wordy glory! If you'd like a paraphrased version with a deliciously concise summary of each question's answer, check out this post by Tierrie: http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/User_blog:Tierrie…!