Dragon Age II PlayStation 3
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Released on 09/03/2011
Rise To Power... By Any Means Necessary
Experience the epic sequel to the 2009 Game of the Year from the critically acclaimed makers of Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. You are one of the few who escaped the destruction of your home. Now, forced to fight for survival in an ever-changing world, you must gather the deadliest of allies, amass fame and fortune, and seal your place in history. This is the story of how the world changed forever. The legend of your Rise to Power begins now.
Dragon Age 2 for PlayStation 3 Features:
- Embark upon an all-new adventure that takes place across an entire decade and shapes itself around every decision you make.
- Determine your rise to power from a destitute refugee to the revered champion of the land.
- Think like a general and fight like a Spartan with dynamic new combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior.
- Go deeper into the world of Dragon Age with an entirely new cinematic experience that grabs hold of you from the beginning and never lets go.
- Discover a whole realm rendered in stunning detail with updated graphics and a new visual style.
Dragon Age II: Meet the Rogue
It seems like only last year that BioWare's classic RPG Dragon Age: Origins was released. That's because it was. While the first game in the brand new fantasy universe was ten years in the making, however, the follow-up, Dragon Age II is coming along a lot quicker. It'll be here next year, in fact, and EA's just revealed one of the three playable classes in the game.
While the first game allowed you to choose from a range of characters before setting out on your adventure, Dragon Age II casts you as Hawke, a human who will rise to power throughout the course of the game. There's still a range of customisation options for Hawke, however, with three classes available. We've already heard about the Warrior and the Mage - a heavy attack class and healer by turn. Now, meet the Rogue.
Rogues are the stealthy assassins of the Dragon Age universe: speedy at melee, decent at ranged combat, and lithe and deadly on the battlefield. If you choose Rogue, you'll be able to develop the stealth side of the character to become a one-hit killer, and you'll be let loose with a bow, too, giving you options to keep the baddies at a distance. It's a perfect fit for a game with such a gritty, mature take on fantasy, and we can't wait to play the game in full.
Dragon Age II will be released for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 11th March 2011.
BioWare teases new game - but what is it?
RPG kings BioWare are clearly a busy lot. After all, we know the developer's already hard at work on Dragon Age II, Star Wars: The Old Republic and - presumably - Mass Effect 3. Now, however, the developer appears to be teasing an entirely new game.
EA, the developer's owner, released a screenshot and a video of the team's next game yesterday. It's a fleeting glimpse, but the clip clearly shows a soldier of some kind taking aim through some manner of rifle in what appears to be a modern day battlefield.
Guess what? The internet's gone crazy with speculation, with the chief suspects being a Mass Effect-flavoured prequel or a sequel to Shattered Steel, a stompy robot game the developer made back in the mid-1990s. Given the modern-day setting, at least we can rule out Dragon Age.
What do you think? An old franchise getting a revival? Mass Effect getting some kind of flashback teaser? One of EA's other properties - like Crysis, perhaps - heading down an RPG route? Or is it something else entirely?
We've got no idea, but apparently all will be revealed at the VGAs next month.
Gamers are to be able to return to the epic fantasy world of Dragon Age when the second game in the series is launched early next year.
eveloper BioWare confirmed at Gamescom that Dragon Age 2 is to be launched on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in March 2011, delivering a raft of refinements on the Dragon Age formula.
Screening an exciting debut trailer for the title to crowds at the Cologne event, the developer has promised a dramatic new art style, better storytelling and superior action mechanics.
BioWare said the series will receive a "shot of adrenaline" from the changes made to the new game, which follows the progress of a refugee named Hawke who rises to the status of legend over the course of a ten-year tale.
Mark Darrah, executive producer at BioWare, said: "We are ... taking the franchise in a new direction with faster, more responsive combat that will allow players to think like a general, but fight like a Spartan."
The gamemaker will be hoping the sequel can match the success of the franchise's 2009 debut game, the triple platinum-selling Dragon Age: Origins.
Gamers who pick up the new horror title Dead Space 2 are to be given a chance to unlock exclusive content in one of 2011's other hotly-anticipated sequels.
Developers Visceral Games and BioWare have teamed up to provide Dead Space 2 fans with an additional set of in-game armour when they pick up the fantasy RPG epic Dragon Age II, which is launching in March 2011.
By using the promotional code enclosed with all new copies of the sci-fi chiller, players will be able to access the special Ser Isaac of Clarke costume in Dragon Age II.
As the name suggests, this armour set is modelled after the futuristic rig of Dead Space 2's engineer protagonist Isaac Clarke and will provide Dragon Age II players with a range of statistical bonuses.
The announcement will give gamers another incentive to snap up the second Dead Space title, which arrives in stores this week.
Telling the story of Isaac Clarke's latest encounter with the undead alien Necromorph, the game has been welcomed by a chorus of critical acclaim from publications such as IGN and Edge.
Looks like Eurogamer really enjoyed Dragon Age II. In an interview with the fantasy RPG's lead designer Mike Laidlaw, the games website was itching to hear if work had started on a sequel already!
"I'll say there are always ideas, certainly - there's definitely a direction that the franchise has," said Laidlaw. "Frankly, Dragon Age II gives Dragon Age a direction in a much, much stronger way than Origins, which largely concluded on the note of, 'Yay, we won! What next?' Whereas Dragon Age II does present a place for us to go and evolve in a fundamental change to the world that I think is going make Dragon Age as a whole more exciting. But what comes next is always for us to look at and announce as time comes by."
Eurogamer also asked if multiplayer would ever be on the cards. "Just from a fundamental idea: [multiplayer] absolutely would [work]," said Laidlaw. "A big part of that is going back to fundamentals of the Dragon Age series and that sense of team; that we are stronger together than we are divided, which is in many ways a story theme through DA2. Any time you have a game that is aware of the advantages of teamwork, what it's like when multiple classes combine their abilities, be it a rogue not just stunning enemies but helping to conceal his friends so that they can take damage better - that's where you do an allegory that says yeah, we could do multiplayer here for sure."
Dragon Age II is on sale right now, for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
Five years in the making, the first Dragon Age hit PC and HD consoles in late 2009 and met with a mixed reception. Many RPG purists - particularly on PC where the top-down combat system was strongest - loved Origins for its lengthy campaign and high-fantasy themes, dubbing it a spiritual successor to the brilliant-but-aged Baldur's Gate. Joypad jockeys however got the shorter end of the Elfroot, stuck with plodding third-person combat controlled through a Mass effect-style tactics wheel which made the game feel a bit stop-start.
18 months, several pieces of DLC and even a rather large semi-sequel later in the form of Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening and Dragon Age 2 is here - but it's a very different animal this time around.
Let's start with some lore. Where Origins took place in and across the land of Ferelden in the southern area of the continent of Thedas, DAII is set in the northern-Thedasian city of Kirkwall. Fronted by two wailing statues, it's a place built on a history of slavery that's still feeling the burden of its dark past. Racism against Elves is rife, the Circle of Magi are being made Tranquil (magical castration for Mages) like its going out of fashion and to make matters worse the Darkspawn Blight in the south has seen a huge influx of Fereldan refugees to Kirkwall's shores - of which you are one.
Hawke your wares
You are Hawke, and over the course of your adventure in Dragon Age 2 you will grow to become Champion and most important person in Kirkwall. No pressure!
Hawke's story is told rather differently to the one in Origins. It uses what developer BioWare have dubbed a framed narrative, meaning the entire game's tale is recounted by one of Hawke's party; a Dwarf named Varric. Within the first few minutes you're made aware that the world stands on the brink of war... and then you're given not just the chance to see how that happened, but to shape the events over a ten year period leading to that end.
It's a fascinating way to experience a videogame story, made all the more entertaining by occasional exaggerations, like the Jordan-esque chest on Hawke's sister Bethany during the hammed-up intro sequence, or Varric single-handedly defeating an army of mercenaries without breaking a sweat a little later in the game.
And they're just two of what proves a memorable cast of party members, each with their own histories, sidequests and striking personalities which can lead them to Friendship or Rivalry status depending on your choices throughout the game. Our faves included batty Welsh Elvhen Mage Merrell, saucy swashbuckling sexpot Isabella, and the return of a particularly outspoken character from Awakening (albeit with a different voice actor, oddly). And the best bit? You get to interact, argue, tease and even romance them all using a Mass Effect-esque emotion wheel, with Hawke's lines fully voiced just like Commander Shepard.
Stab and Go
The biggest and most welcome change however is saved for the combat, which has been dramatically streamlined and sped-up to feel more like an action game. Whether you select Warrior (hulking tanks specialising in melee damage), Mage (magical specialists accomplished in healing, buffing and crowd control) or Rogue (spritely all-rounders with a focus on speed) pressing A (on Xbox 360, the version we played) begets an instant melee attack which splatters blood liberally like wedding confetti, and up to six special attacks, skills, modes or spells can be mapped to the pad's other three fascia buttons, with the R trigger switching between the two rows. L trigger meanwhile opens the returning radial menu, which is thankfully far more immediate and less confusing, thanks to the less elaborate skill trees for each character.
And that brings us to one big concern DA Origins lovers will have of Dragon Age 2: Has it been dumbed-down in the name of mainstreaming? Well, yes... but, mostly, no. By that we mean; yes, there's less loot; every bit of armour is restricted to your main character, with party members getting their own apparel upgrades instead. And yes, the Skills tree from Origins has been dissolved into other game mechanics, so persuasion in dialogue is now tied solely to your Cunning score, while potion-making now occurs at your home base and various vendors throughout Kirkwall.
Despite this, for the most part the changes make sense, helping speed up the time you'll spend playing the game and lessening the time spent in menus tinkering with stats. That said, there's still just enough of comparing belts, bracelets, rings, face-bludgeoning maces and the like to sate those bred on a firm diet of old-fashioned DnD dice rolls.
A New Age?
The one thing you will do far too much of in DA2 is exploring Kirkwall. It's not the biggest environment BioWare's ever fashioned, and to make matters worse there's an awful lot of repetition in it. The full gameworld consists of Kirkwall's various districts by day and night, plus a few of the nearby rural areas in the Free Marches. Dungeons are considerably shorter than those in Origins, too, and on the whole consist of the same set of caves laid out in different ways.
That's the price BioWare have paid for turning around a sequel in just a year and a half, but it's worth overlooking, or at very least bearing with, because DA2's story, characters and combat system are all ultimately pretty darn compelling. And with so many choices to make on its 30-60 hour quest, it's an adventure that will feel fresh over more than one play-through.
More encouragingly, it's a release which bodes well for the future of the swords and sorcery role-player, and leaves us eager to explore in the Dragon Age World for many years to come.
+ Speedy, visceral combat with a still-notable tactical edge.
+ Well-realised characters and an engaging, surprisingly political story told over an epic ten-year arc.
+ Different dialogue and companion alignments lead to lots of replay value.
- You'll see the same scenery. A lot.
- Despite the improved, immediate-feeling combat, it might still be a bit nerdy for some.
- What's with Anders' voice?!
Review By: Mark 'Final Fling' Scott
At Gamescom 2011 we were lucky enough to get time alone with Ray Muzyka, co-founder and CEO of BioWare. With an impressive array of big-hitters to his name and the upcoming Mass Effect 3 demoing at Gamescom, there was a lot to get our teeth into.
[GAME] It's great to get the chance to talk to you! BioWare seems to be one of those companies that really gets people passionate.
[Ray Muzyka] Yeah, yeah, we have great fans. And there are a lot of core fans who buy everything we make.
So, in the industry at the moment all the RPG developers are saying they're building a deeper, richer gaming experience. As you're considered one of the leaders in the RPG field, what does that mean to you? How do you build a deep, rich experience?
Well, looking at individual games like Mass Effect 3, we got great reception for Mass Effect 2 but we also got feedback that people wanted a deeper experience in some of the aspects of RPG progression and character development. So when you see the build, you'll see that we've taken that apart and we've tried to integrate it into an RPG-action experience. It's very visceral and intense, but you can also do a lot of things that the fans have been asking for, like weapon modifications on the fly. We have a weapons bench and you can put your weapon down and make modifications to really personalise it and make it your own. And it works really well, it gives a sort of in-the-field kind of perspective.
We've also got some innovations around the way the characters progress. New abilities, and just a more refined system that we've learnt from doing Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. You can see that there are more interesting, more engaging ways to push your character in Mass Effect 3. The best thing you can do is check it out, then you can see for yourself.
At the same time it's also got an integrated action experience, so it's an RPG and an action game at the same time. There are better movement controls for Shephard and he has the Omni Blade that kind of extends out of the Omni Tool, and he can jump over obstacles now and vault things, and he can grab enemies now and pull them over, and there are some specialisations.
Everyone's talking about Atlas, the giant machine that you can snipe the pilot and get in.
Yeah you can get in it! We're not trialling that here yet, but yeah, you'll be able to drive it.
What are you most proud of in Mass Effect 3?
Well, I think it's more intense in the actual moment-to-moment experience but we haven't lost any depth at the same time, and I think we really nailed the aspects of that. We're in the third iteration now and we're really comfortable with the tools. The team has been able to get to some things that they really wanted to do in the first one and the second one that we now know how to do. You know, we have some things we haven announced yet.
I was going to be cheeky and ask you what they were, but you wouldn't tell me, would you?!
No, no! But they're really good. They're really big things. They're to do with the campaign. They're in line with the experience that we're showing here today, so they're not separate parts.
In the presentations on Mass Effect 3 that I've been to they've been talking about the emotional side of the game.
I think that's been key to all of our games, emotional engagement. Mass Effect exemplifies that as well. The intensity of the experience, the personalisation of your actions and how you're going to play your equipment and your character in the deep RPG system.
And then the story is unusually powerful. It's not the Reapers invading some planet in the galaxy somewhere - now they're invading your home, invading Earth, and they're taking other worlds too. You're still saving the galaxy, but really you're saving your home AND the galaxy, so it a lot more personal. The story arc is very compelling and emotionally engaging.
It's the end of a trilogy, so it brings the whole story to a satisfying conclusion but at the same time it's the beginning of a new galactic adventure, a new galactic war. So it's kind of launching both things.
Of all your portfolio of games, which was the most challenging in terms of dev work?
They're big games. We have small games, too. We have social games, but then at the other end of the spectrum we have big MMOs like Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has an amazing amount of rich content that people will be discovering for years and years to come. And then RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. None of them are easy to build, they're all challenging in different ways, I think.
So how about working with a big IP like Star Wars. Is it challenging? Do you have an awful lot of sign off on what you do?
Yeah, yeah, well it's a very tight partnership, very close cooperation and they've been great partners. We've worked with them now for like a decade since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I, and now the Old Republic for many years, and they've been great collaborative partners.
We set the game in a period thousands of years before the movies, so it's a really rich period where we get to explore and make new content, and they've been very supportive of that. We've learned a lot about the Star Wars licenses. I mean obviously they're experts on that. They understand the fans, they understand the audiences, and we benefit from that.
So which of your games is most challenging in terms of fan expectation? For example, I notice that RPG fans seem to be much more intense about gaming and all the different aspects of it.
They do seem to be. I mean, they like an intense, accessible experience, but they also want the depth, the richness, the story and the choice. And it's one thing to give a choice, but you also need to show the impact of that choice in a meaningful way, which means creating new content for different paths and non-linear storytelling. It means investing more time in development to enable that choice in a personally engaging way that means something to the player, and so they can see how their character reacts to their events, and the world changes based on their actions. That's part of what makes an RPG satisfying. You see the consequence to your actions.
So based on that there must be a lot of emphasis put on the writing and the storytelling.
Yeah, that's certainly one aspect of it. Cinematic animation is another aspect for the games that have that. World building, you have to change the world if something happens in one area. The downstream effects of changing one line of writing can be massive.
You must sit at events like this being interviewed a lot! Is there anything that you're dying for an interviewer to ask you that you've never been asked?
There probably is but I can't remember right now, it's been a long day! I think someone asked me a question today that I've never been asked which was, 'What were you like growing up?', and I was like, wow, no one ever asked me that before! I used to play a lot of videogames andmy parents let me play whatever I wanted because I got good grades at school. And for me, it was a real motivator, you know. I see it as an art form. I have a passion about the evolution of games. I love the fact that now there so many manifestations of them. It's like movies, there's such a spectrum of different types of games, like there are different movies and books. And those are art forms as well.
I remember way back to the beginning of gaming when kids used to programme their own little pixelly games on a Commodore 64 and the like.
Yeah, and people can program those sorts of games on their mobile devices now, so it's almost come full circle!
And is there any question you get asked all the time that you wish people wouldn't ask anymore?
Well, one question I get asked a lot is, 'What's your favourite BioWare game?' That's a question I can't really answer, and I don't have an answer actually, because I like all of our games. Otherwise, why would we be making them if we didn't like them?! I like them all for different reasons, but I don't like one more than the other.
I'm pretty passionate about all the things we're doing. We have great teams and they're excited about making games and the opportunities, whether it's a smaller social game or an MMO, or an RPG or the strategy games that come out of L.A. And theres some exciting stuff coming out of all of our teams.
Over all the studios is there something that's a big focus at the moment? We see that motion control is a focus for some companies at the moment.
Kinect. We're doing a Kinect version of Mass Effect 3. It's not a seperate version, but it's going to be really cool. It's voice control. We're using voice commands to control your squad so you can tell squad members to do different things, different actions like help me or heal me. Or you can read the voice lines, the dialogue.
I wouldn't say that's an overarching focus though. For our label it's really about our vision, which is emotionally engaging games, and all the games we build are achieving that vision in different ways, but they're all achieving that vision. It's our core value for all our studios, it's how we operate, it's how we build our games, it's how we make decisions.
We want to make quality games for our fans, andbe a really great workplace for employees, a place they can be proud of, and use their passion and entrepreneurship. For us, all these things are important, and that's what makes us a sustainable business.
Like I said at the beginning, you are one of those companies that people do get really passionate about. Why do you think that is?
I think it's a trust thing. You can try very, very hard to make games and for us, the quality is very important. And we aren't perfect, we make mistakes and we always take feedback very humbly and say, yeah we can jig that to make our games better. We're only as good as our next game, and we have a promise and an obligation to our fans. And I hope that's how fans see BioWare. I hope they trust our brand to not let them down, and if we ever do we always make sure that we try and improve on it in the next game. It's a promise, I guess, and we want to maintain that quality.
Thanks for giving us the time to talk to you.
Interviewed by Amanda Hepburn
Bioware, the RPG giant behind hits such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, has announced that it has reassigned its internal teams away from developing more content for Dragon Age II and on to "the next phase of Dragon Age's future". Does that mean Dragon Age III, or something else?
"You've most certainly heard the rumours floating around," teased executive producer Mark Darrah on the game's official forum, "and unfortunately I can't really comment on them. However, what I can say is that we've been thinking a lot about Dragon Age - what it means, and where it could go. This past year, we've spent a lot of time both going back to the 'BioWare vault' of games and re-examining them, and looking at some new possibilities that today's industry allows."
To that end, the company will be actively seeking input from fans on what direction the series should take. "What does Dragon Age mean to you, and where would you like to see it go? We're excited to hear what you have to say!"
Enter the Dragon
Dragon Age was one of the greatest fantasy RPGs of all time - a rollicking blend of character advancement, brilliant storytelling, and fast-paced tactical combat. It took over ten years to craft but BioWare, the game's creator, isn't resting easy. Actually, it's got a sequel ready to go for a release later in 2011!
Don't worry, though, there's no corner-cutting at work here, and Dragon Age II promises to be anything but a lazy follow-up. Instead, BioWare's opting to refine the storytelling, ramp up the combat, and deliver an adventure every bit as rich and involving as the first game. And that's no small feat.
As the Hawke flies
It's a different kind of story this time, too. Dragon Age may have let you craft a character from scratch and choose from a wide range of races, but the sequel draws more inspiration from BioWare's space franchise Mass Effect, throwing you into the shoes of a human adventurer on a set path to fame and fortune.
Hawke's the name this time, and he's destined to become the Champion of Kirkwall, the game charting his rise from lowly survivor of the blight to the land's greatest hero.
That doesn't mean you're not given a bit of leeway to write your own history, of course. This being BioWare, you'll be able to decide if Hawke's a man or a woman, mess around with facial features, and choose from one of three classes before setting off down the path to greatness.
Think hard about things, too: do you fancy being a warrior or a spell-casting mage, or will you try your lucky as a stealthy, back-stabbing rogue?
Bigger, better, bloodier
How ever you choose to craft your character, Hawke's going to have his or her work cut out for them, as Dragon Age II promises new treasures to uncover, new regions to explore, and plenty of monsters to take on along the way.
We're particularly taken with the astonishing Rock Wraith boss, a magical clump of boulders and electricity that's capable of reducing you and your party to ashes in a matter of seconds. It's not easy becoming the Champion of Kirkwall.
And yes, that's right, the party dynamic returns, with new team-mates to recruit, like Isabela, the feisty pirate, new romances to pursue, and plenty of tactical options in fights as you switch between characters to unleash havoc, or pause the action to give AI partners battle commands.
Date with destiny
All this mayhem is delivered with a brand new animation system, too, which provides for dynamic, cinematic fighting, classy cut-scenes, and lots of opportunities for truly gruesome deaths.
Two or so years may not seem like a very long time in the world of heroic fantasy, then, but for a videogame developer like BioWare, it's apparently an eternity when it comes to refining an experience, piecing together a fantastic new story, and getting everything ready for a swashbuckling tale of sword and sorcery.
Hawke's got a date with destiny - a date that involves levelling up, unlocking new skills, fighting the good fight, and cleaning up the land of Kirkwall. As far as Dragon Age II goes, we can't wait to join him.
The long-rumoured third entry in the Dragon Age saga will launch in late 2013, RPG specialist Bioware has confirmed.
The game has been in development for two years already and will use an enhanced version of the Frostbite 2 game engine, developed by fellow EA studio DICE for its scenery-destroying Battlefield shooters. This, it is planned, will result in a "more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices and more customisation".
The story will revolve around the rise of a new evil in the land of Ferelden and, as leader of the Inquisition, you'll be tasked with locating and eradicating the threat. The game is likely to include multiplayer arenas, based on not-so-subtle hints dropped by Bioware's Mark Laidlaw. "Any time you have a game that is aware of the advantages of teamwork, what it's like when multiple classes combine their abilities, be it a rogue not just stunning enemies but helping to conceal his friends so that they can take damage better - that's where you do an allegory that says yeah, we could do multiplayer here for sure," he said in November 2011.
The Dragon Age 3 team is also taking on board feedback from players of Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 and the relevant DLC expansions. "We've visited message boards, read reviews, and we've gone to events to have direct face to face conversations with some of our most passionate fans," said executive producer Mark Darriah. "We've been listening, and we will continue to listen."
No platforms have been confirmed for the game. "We are not talking about them at this moment in time" tweeted Bioware community manager Tully Ackland. Could this be a launch title for the next generation of consoles?
Role-playing fans are used to risking everything on the roll of the dice, but those gambles are usually reserved for the fictional fantasy tales unfolding on kitchen tables and in college dorm rooms. In 1995, doctors Greg Zeschuk, Ray Muzyka and Augustine Yip rolled the dice in real life when they turned their back on lucrative medical careers and decided to devote their time to making computer games instead. They called their company Bioware, and you only have to look at the games bearing that name today to see if their gambit paid off.
This Christmas week sees Bioware release its first online multiplayer RPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic, while next year brings the third (and final?) instalment in their epic sci-fi saga, Mass Effect 3.
So how did the Canadian code factory reach the top of the RPG tree? Surprisingly, the first game from the newly formed studio wasn't a role-playing game at all, but a 3D action title about combat mechs. Shattered Steel was the title, and by taking advantage of the power of new PC video graphics cards it offered destruction and 3D scope that was beyond the capability of older hardware. Titles like Quake and Half Life were yet to redefine PC gaming, so Shattered Steel's technology earned the fledgling developer a lot of attention.
That attention wasn't enough to stop Dr Yip from returning to life in a white coat, but Zeschuk and Muzyka weren't about to let go of their dream. They wanted to make games inspired by the lengthy Dungeons & Dragons sessions that had seen them through medical school. And they already had the game in mind - Battleground: Infinity.
Don't be surprised if you've never heard of it. By the time the game arrived on shelves it had been taken on by Interplay. The publisher held the video game rights to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons brand, and so almost overnight Bioware went from developing games inspired by the role-playing classic to making an official Dungeons & Dragons game.
Baldur's Gate was the result, and it was an immediate smash. The RPG genre was in rude health in 1998, with The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Diablo all well established, but Bioware's relative inexperience was balanced with a deep understanding of what made role-playing fun.
Dungeons & Dragons remained the company's bread and butter for many years after, with expansion packs for Baldur's Gate leading into the sequel, Shadows of Amn, following in 2000. Neverwinter Nights continued the studio's D&D heritage in 2002, reviving the classic AOL online role-player for a more savvy internet audience.
While these titles were critically acclaimed and embraced by RPG fans worldwide, they were still very much niche games. Few outside of role-playing fandom were aware of the Bioware name. That changed in 2003, when the company launched its first console game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. At a time when Star Wars fans were torn by misgivings over the prequel movies, and punchdrunk from a slew of half-baked spin-off games, it was Bioware's narrative nous that saved the Jedi. Epic in scale, and with the freedom to explore the galaxy far, far away, it fulfilled the dreams of many Star Wars fans and earned Bioware a promotion to the ranks of legendary game developers.
Buoyed by this success, the company turned its attention to something new, the first original Bioware title since Shattered Steel, in fact. Jade Empire was the game, and it took the RPG framework and applied it to a tale of rival martial arts masters in feudal China. Kung fu combat added a surprising wrinkle to the familiar cloth, but critics noted that the story was a virtual retread of Knights of the Old Republic, with open-palm strikes replacing lightsabers.
Only a few years later, and with a new console generation to play with, Bioware silenced any doubters with the 2007 smash hit Mass Effect. A slick, thrilling space saga with the pace of an action game and the depth of an RPG, it heralded a new era for the developer. Super-publisher EA swooped in to buy the company, and so began a period of blockbuster genre-hopping that is still in full swing.
Blood-soaked fantasy epic Dragon Age found the company recasting the swords and monster tropes of the D&D years in its own style. Mass Effect 2 reached new heights of cinematic sizzle, showcasing an elastic storyline that allowed any of the characters to pop their clogs during the climactic suicide mission. And Bioware even found time to dabble in less obvious areas, creating a Mass Effect spin-off game for mobile phones and developing Sonic Chronicles for the DS, the first RPG to star Sega's blue spiky mascot.
Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka are still at the head of the company they found over fifteen years ago, and their passion for role-playing is still tempered by a desire to innovate and stretch the boundaries of what can be done with the genre. With its ties to the developer's first breakout smash hit, and its desire to shake up the world of MMORPG gameplay, Star Wars: The Old Republic is perhaps the quintessential Bioware experience. Enormous in scale, complex in intent yet an absolute joy to play.
Let the dice roll.
Various representatives from Bioware took to the stage at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo in Canada over the weekend, and let slip a bunch of tantalising new facts about the upcoming third instalment of the Dragon Age series.
"Just one level in DA3 is as big as all of DA2's levels" was perhaps the most exciting nugget, tweeted by Bioware producer Cameron Lee during the presentation. Dragon Age II took place almost entirely within the vast city of Kirkwall over a span of decades, so it sounds like the next game - which finds the player taking charge of a new military order known as the Inquisition - will be expanding its boundaries considerably.
Also revealed was the fact that Dragon Age III has had longer in pre-production than both previous games in the series, as well as Mass Effect. Character customisation will return in a big way, after being toned down for Dragon Age II, and there were also playful hints that players will have their own castle in the game. You'll apparently get to upgrade the interior and possibly even defend it from attack.
Mike Laidlaw, the creative director of the Dragon Age series, revealed that although the team would love to include more playable races, for this game the main character will be human only. You will get to choose an origin story for them, as in the first game. Despite starting over with new characters every time, Bioware is also looking at ways that choices made in the previous two games can be incorporated into Dragon Age III.
Dragon Age III is still deep in production, and is currently planned for release late next year.
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