Dragon Age 2 Developer Chat – September 16, 2011

Sometimes, Mike Laidlaw's hamster-on-coffee energy can come through for us. Despite a fairly short Q&A session with some technical difficulties, we came out with some new information regarding Dragon Age 2's new DLC campaign - noted for its featuring of geek starlet and fellow Bioware fan Felicia Day. Details are up after the break.


Below you'll find the main gist of what Mike confirmed during his online chat.

  • MotA will be set up in the same way as Legacy - after downloading and verifying the campaign, Hawke will have a shiny new statue in his abode that, upon activating, will whisk you away to a new piece of Cassandra's interrogation of Varric. Also like Legacy, the circumstances of your main campaign will color the events of the downloadable story - there's no definite part of the timeline where this will take place. You will not need to have Legacy in order to play MotA
  • Tallis, Felicia Day's character, will not be a permanent companion to Hawke, but will only join your party for the length of the DLC. Her fighting style is dagger-based, switching between melee fighting and throwing knives based her range. She has her own specialty tree, with a focus on locking down enemies - particularly mages.
  • The Wardens will bow out of the spotlight for this round. The story itself will focus on Orlesian and Free March nobility, as well as the Qunari. The DLC will feature some revelations on the workings of Qunari society. Like Legacy, certain characters will have a closer link to the story, and if you're looking to fill out side stories, focus on characters with a personal history either to Orlais or the Qunari. (Or you can bring Carver and watch him stumble about his Dalish Fever. - DannyMcGeek)
  • Some portions of the campaign include segments that focus on sneaking, trying to get around guards without notice. There is a system that will grant XP for completing these sections with stealth, so hopefully you will not feel like you're missing on delicious experience for playing these pieces the way they were meant to be played.
  • Though Mike could not give a definite answer, he did say that his impressions of the length of MotA were that it plays longer than Legacy. This includes some "fiendish puzzles" which can add to the play length. There are 5 or 6 "scenic areas" with somewhere between 1 and 3 maps in each.
  • As a side note, the upcoming Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker anime film will tell Cassandra's story.


All the transcribed questions include time notations for easy navigation of the videos. At the time of this article's publication, the BioWare Pulse episode with the Q&A footage has not yet been released. We will update this article accordingly when the final video is released. Meanwhile, these temporary video streams have been made available for a limited time:

Part 1

[01:38] Do you have to get the prior DLC to make this one work?
Mike Laidlaw: Oh yeah, that's a very good question. So, "do I need Legacy to play Mark of the Assassin?" Absolutely not. Just like Legacy, Mark of the Assassin syncs right in with your main game. And also, like Legacy, you can play it at any time after you arrive in Kirkwall. So, as long as you've access to your house or Gamlen's house, another big bronze thing's gonna show up - click on it, begin the Legacy, takes you to a flashback, essentially. And, like Legacy, it'll be kind of reacting to when you go in in the story. Like, if your take your siblings, are they in the Circle or the Templars and so on. And I think that'll help it sync nicely with the story, even if you're near the beginning or nearly at the end.

[02:21] How many minutes of gameplay do you think Mark of the Assassin will [have]?
ML: I don't remember offhand. I will say that my impression - because, you know, it's actually got a fair chunk of side stuff - is that it's a bit longer than Legacy. So, I've spent more time in there. There's a couple of really fiendish puzzles where you're "[Grr] Ok, I need to figure this one out." That can keep you - if you're not a puzzle guy it's gonna be a little bit faster, of course. But that's the kind of variability of experience we're looking for.

[02:52] When in the [Dragon Age 2] storyline does Mark of the Assassin begin?
ML: Again, like Legacy, you can pick it up at, kind of, the first years. You can pick it up when you're Champion. There'll be reactions according to that based on when you decide to play it. So, any time, really, during the game.

[03:24] Will Tallis be a permanent party member, like Sebastian?
ML: Ah, that's a really good question. We really want to make sure you guys know this. For Mark of the Assassin, Tallis is kind of constrained in a lot of ways by her story and her character. And, so, she is only in the party for the duration of Mark of the Assassin. She doesn't come back and join you in Kirkwall. THere's a number of reasons for that, which you know, the game will kind of explain. But ultimately, she's kind of a premiere character for this, she kind of provides the rogue experience for you, but we didn't want to have her coming back for the main game. It would - in certain situations it would be exceedingly awkward. Let's put it that way.

[04:05] Is the DLC entirely focused on Tallis? Or do we learn more about Hawke and the Wardens?
ML: Oh, good question. So, this one isn't Warden focused. That was Legacy's thing. I think that there's a fair amount of Hawke. There's some extra stuff for certain characters whose backstory - as I noted on our Bioware Social Network last night - if you can think of anyone who has some connection to Orlais, chances are they're going to be in some way related. And, there's actually a fair amount of stuff about the Qunari, and that's something that we haven't really dug in on some of their inner workings and this is a neat opportunity for that. So, expect some revelations. There are a couple of surprises near the end that I think will make people go, "Wow! That is not what I expected."

[05:11 to 08:07 shows a gameplay video of Mark of the Assassin]

[08:25] Can you explain Tallis' fighting style?
ML: Sure, Tallis is actually a different fighting style than your standard rogue. She uses daggers, but when we looked at some of the fighting styles she was doing in Redemption, she did a fair amount of throwing as well. So, we want to experiment with a new kind of hybrid style where, on the fly, she'll switch between ranged and melee attacks, when she's, you know, kind of engaged with any enemy. So, she evalutes the range at which he's at, and will start throwing daggers, but if they get close, she'll move to do the standard rogue attacks.

A lot of these were actually mo-capped with Felicia herself, which is kind of fun, you know, she got in the suit, had a blast doing it. And, so we're trying to get some of the distinctive stuff she had. As well, she has access to the full range of rogue abilities. She's not an archer - obviously doesn't need to be. But she has Backstab, Eviscerate, and all those kinds of abilities, as well as her own tree, which is kind of tied to her role in the game and gives her some actually strong abilities against mages. So she can hunt down, you know, rogue enemy sorcerers, she can shut down guys, kind of apply what we traditionally call the "silence effect."

So she's very versatile. When you get her in the party, like the other DA2 followers, her stats are spent, but you can kind of assign her points as you see fit...build her up to be, you know, acting-(video cuts off the rest of the answer in an abrupt segue into the next question)

[09:49] Stealth gameplay probably favors the rogue. What if Hawke is a warrior or mage? Any new stuff for those classes too?
ML: Right. So, for Legacy, one of our goals was to do a bit of an experiment. Looking at the feedback coming out of DA2 - you know, and just general principles - we want to make sure that there's more ways to resolve conflict than just fighting. With DA2, we leaned too heavily on the fighting. There were some persuades - you could have Aveline lift the guardsman up by his throat and stuff - that's very fun, but at the same time, being able to sneak around a bunch of guards is kind of classic rogue gameplay.

So we want to focus on this for Mark of the Assassin because Felicia's character is stealthy, and a rogue, and that's kind of her thing. And our big goal was to kind of do - not a prototype - but kind of the first steps toward "what if we approach stealth not like a mode that makes me kind of invisible and everyone ignores me even if I hid right in front of them." But we actually built gameplay specifically for the experience of being stealthy: guards who are patrolling, guys who spot you, hidden treasures you can break into if you want to take extra risk - that kind of feel.

The one thing that I think is worth noting is that it's not a complete implementation of where we'd want to take it full term, but we realized we had an opportunity here, a chance to do kind of a heist - sneak in, and say, "alright, let's do the basics," and if that's well received, if we get really good feedback, if people say "oh, wow, I love that I had a choice between fighting or sneaking" - which I think is cool - then we'll do that more. And, so, we're looking forward to seeing peoples thoughts on it once they actually get their hands on it.

It's not simple, but it's relatively kind of "first steps" implementation. And if it goes over well, long term, I would like to have some exclusive content for each class, whether that's entering the Fade for a mage, or something specific for the warrior experience to kind of make it feel like, well, by picking this class, by choosing to have them in my party, I'm making a choice, not just in terms of combat and tactics, but also in terms of how the story can play out.

So that's really why it's there. It's a chance to get your feedback on how this first implementation of stealth and different approach plays.

Erika Kristine: So make sure you share that feedback with us, because it obviously matters a great deal.

ML: Yep.

[11:56] Will Tallis have certain friendship/rivalry bonuses?
ML: Because she's only in Mark, we didn't push into the straight up friendship and rivalry. There are different approaches you can take to Tallis and to the objective she's hoping to achieve. And that will result in differences the gameplay, some kind of key choices. But because it's not "long term relationship," we want to make it [so] you didn't feel like...it would be very artificial to get, you know, (in a deep voice) 100 RIVALRY, just for making a single choice. That doesn't fit what we're trying to do with the rivalry/friendship system.

[12:34] So, what is the new monster that we're seeing in the trailer?
ML: Ah, yes. So, the duke - who you got the briefest glimpses of in the footage - is in an area of the country that is infested by wyverns. And that's what that creature is. They're related to dragons. They fight over the same territories. They don't fly. So, they're a very different creature, and they offer some very different combat experiences. But you do get a chance to fight them - more than one, in fact - and get to see them and kind of deal with their fighting style. So, that'll be pretty exciting.

[13:13] Who is your favorite character?
ML: My favorite character... I'll be frank. I think I have a soft spot for female rogues. I love Leliana out of Origins - she might actually be my all-time favorite. Out of the DA2 crew, I think it's Isabela, but I should qualify that and say "It's Isabela because of her relationship with Aveline." Those two are absolutely amazing in the way they grow, and they develop, and they have that kind of rivalry amongst themselves that grows into this kind of good-hearted friendship. And just, Isabela...what I love is that you think she's going to be this air-headed sexpot, and she ends up being really strong, really kind of self-determined, and, you know, not flaky as you'd expect. Unless of course, you aren't friends with her, in which case...a little flaky.

EK: Is it like asking you to pick which one of your kids is your favorite?

ML: A little bit, yeah. I mean, you know, you grow to love the characters over the time you spend with them, right? And that's really the goal. I think that, you know, the DA2 crew did a good job of saying, "well, I love, and I hate." And some people love Merrill, some people hate Merrill. And for us, that's what-(video cuts off due to technical difficulties)

Part 2

There was a technical interruption on BioWare's end, causing the transcript stream to be broken up into two segments.

[00:12] Is the DLC mostly going to be fighting, or is there going to be a lot of story and dialogue?
ML: Yeah, we saw [an] amazing response to Legacy. The fact that - sure there was a fair amount of fighting but there was a lot of character interaction, a lot of banter - the banter was really well received. And, knowing that, and knowing people in general coming out of Origins were looking for more stuff that advanced the story or added that depth of character. We decided at the offset that with both Mark and Legacy we were going to make sure that we own that.

So, all the characters come back, they've all got their banter. If they haven't seen Carver in a while, they all have little quips back and forth. And there's a fair amount of story here, and there's also a fair amount of combat. You know, certainly, you've got wyverns to deal with, you've got Orlesians who, you know, naturally have a bit of friction with the Fereldan experience. But definitely, there is a lot of story and, again, some neat revelations about the Qunari and a little bit more insight into the Orlesian culture than you got from, say, Leliana.

[01:16] Is this story self-contained, or does this have an effect on the main story in DA2?
ML: Ah, the story is self-contained. I mean, that's...it's a really fair question. Like, you know, "Does it feed back in? Does it have major reactions?" The tricky part [with doing that] would be: [the problem with] trying to make those reactions is that we would essentially have to design the DLC while we were making the game. And I've heard people don't like that. So, ultimately, what we're trying to do is make sure that these stories fit in, they add something to the experience that you can take that's kind of, in a lot of ways, enhancing the player's understanding of DA, rather than necessarily influencing directly the story. There are tidbits, there are hints, there are things that add stuff to the followers. But, it's an experience that doesn't have a huge, huge impact on the overall flow of DA2, except to add, frankly, a big chunk of content that you can engage with, kind of, whenever you prefer.

[02:13] How many different types of areas are there in Mark of the Assassin?
ML: [Counting in his head] I think in terms of types of areas, I'm kind of clumping large chunks of game into overall themes. I'd say, probably you hit, say, 5 or 6 big kind of thematic sequences. Which themselves, are often 1 or 2 areas, or three areas, or stuff like that. Some of the spaces you encounter are really quite big, as well. I know, people were liking, in Origins, the Kocari Wilds having lots of nooks and crannies, little side paths and stuff. So, there is a part where you're kind of out in the wilderness, and that is a bit more open experience than some of the dungeons or areas you found in DA2.

[03:10] Which party members are best to take for story reasons? Like how Anders, Varric, and siblings were for Legacy...
ML: Right, so for story reasons, I will just simply say: If you can think of characters that have history with the Orlesians or the Qunari, those are the most likely characters for you to find some extra goodies for. There's a little bit stuff there for many of the characters, actually, just sort of scattered around. But I think that, you know, if you're looking at someone who, say, had family in Orlais, those would be characters you might want to at least give it a run with at some point.

[03:50] Did feedback for Legacy feature into the new DLC?
ML:Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, certainly, both of the DLCs are taking a lot of notes from the overall DA2 feedback. What people love, what people didn't. What people were missing that was in Origins [but] wasn't in DA2 for a number of reasons. And certainly, I think, if anything, you know, we were fairly down the path, certainly. We had two teams, all core DA developers, working on both expansions. But that little bit of extra for Mark to get work done, we were able to take a look and go, "Ok, so did people respond well, for instance, to optional puzzles in Legacy?" "Yes, they did." "Awesome, let's keep pushing and make sure that those are pretty rad," because I think what we saw there was people responded very well to the choice. "Do people like that we brought the voices back for banter?" "Overwhelmingly yes." "Ok, good, excellent. Let's make sure that for the final sessions that we get them in and they have neat interactivity." And so on.

[05:02] Do you learn more about the Qunari in Mark of the Assassin?
ML: You do! You learn some stuff about...I wouldn't necessarily say the inner, inner workings of the Qunari, but some elements of how their society is shaped up. Some stuff that hasn't been revealed before that I think will be kind of exciting. And, you know, again, it's probably going to be a bit of a tease. But, long term, we've some plans coming up for the future that we want to kind of plant some seeds for. In the long term, we'll kind of germinate them and explore where they're going.

[05:36] Will there be more Cassandra? Not just for this DLC, but in the Dragon Age world overall? (Please, she's the best!)
ML: Yes! There will be more Cassandra. She does make an appearance in the DLC. Like Legacy, again, it's part of her interrogation, something she kind of blindsides Varric with. She actually nails a couple of amazing lines in this one, some good threat[s]. That lady does anger well. But, on top of that - we're a big fan of Cassandra - but also what she really represents: being a Seeker, an Order we haven't dug into too much. "Who exactly are they? You know, what's their thing?" So we definitely want to dig in more there.

And, for those of you who've been following, there's been a couple of teasers out, a little bit of info released... We partnered up with Funimation a while back, and we've announced - I think was it...[San Diego] Comic Con - that Dawn of the Seeker is the animated project we'll be working on, and that deals specifically with Cassandra's backstory. So, for those who want to dig in a little more on Cassandra - how she kind of became who she is - this will add quite a bit of info. And that's, I think, coming out next Spring. That's what I'm being told.

[06:50] Does Hawke get to dance at the fancy Orlesian party?
ML: Only in the very loosest of senses, in a high kind of impact way. We considered it. I'll be honest, it's kind of hard to say "well, fancy Orlesians, how do we not do a minuet or a waltz or something?" But we were kind of staying focused on the heist and getting in. There is plenty of chances to interact though, little snippets of Orlesian culture, a chance to see what some of the nobles - even some of the Kirkwall nobles - are like outside of their kind of natural environs. It's pretty fun. And, Dave would probably zang (sp? 7:29) me if I said that we didn't have the most exotic of hams.

[07:40] How does experience work when sneaking? Do we miss xp by sneaking past instead of killing?
ML: I saw that asked on the forum last night, actually. You know, "is this an experience that actually punishes me?" One of the advantages to making "stealth or combat [as] two different approaches you can take" is that we can kind of balance them and say, "ok, because these are disparate content - they're built for sneaking, or for fighting - we can make sure you come up with equivalent experience." Probably not the same stuff, but, you know, kind of "of equivalent power level. So, that was really a kind of fun sidebar to that decision.

[08:29] Will Isabela...or maybe Fenris be flirty with Tallis?
ML: Yeah...actually, yeah. I will say characters are flirty with Tallis, for sure. There are a few people who've caught on that young Carver has a thing for elves. So yeah, there will be, absolutely. One thing Felicia does quite well is actually give back as good as she gets. So, she had a lot of fun with those in the voiceover bit.

[09:09] When do we get more artwork for the Dawn of the Seeker art for cosplay purposes? (wink, wink)
ML: Nice! Okay, alright. Wow, that's a very specific request. So, actually, we've got a bit of candy coming up for cosplayers. For those of you who don't know, Jessica Merizen has joined the community team. Sat down with her and Erica not too long ago, and one of the things she's a big fan of - of course, being a cosplayer herself - is releasing more info about how our costumes are designed. So, that's something we'd like to do and get that out there. And we'll have some more information on that in the near future, but our art director, Matt Goldman, is actually a big fan of that. He thinks, "oh, that's really cool." Because it's kind of like the ultimate tribute, right?

That said, in terms of Dawn of the Seeker stuff, that's largely based on Funimation. So, that info will be coming out. I imagine, as we get closer and closer, there'll be more info, more pictures, final renders, that kind of stuff. So, it should be exciting.

[10:13] Any plans on making a specialization out of Tallis' fighting style?
ML: Maybe. I think that the long term, what we're seeing there is [that] she represents kind of a hybrid approach, somewhere inbetween archer and dagger rogue. And that's really cool, but to my mind, it's something that - long term - for a player, you'd want to earn, right? You'd want to put some effort into it and kind of pick it up. So, I would say that it's a long term goal to kind of look at a little bit more hybrid class stuff, a little more specialist thing. And we have to look at [it] in future installments, but I think that it's something with a lot of potential.

  • Isa

    Awesome job, thank you :D

    • http://biowarefans.com Razorfish

      You’re welcome!

  • Deekirk40

    I think it’s totally wrong not to make tallis a full party member, and to be honest i would have never purchase the dlc if i would have known that.