Dragon Age: Origins featured a number of options in creating a character, including six distinct origin stories that resulting from the combination of three species (dwarf, human, and elf), three classes (warrior, mage, and rogue), and distinct socio-economic conditions. In a controversial move among the first game’s fan base, Dragon Age 2 has stripped many of those choices away to give players the story of Hawke, a human whose only distinction involves choosing between the three classes. Similar to the first game, choosing between the classes will offer drastically different combat styles, but my time with the game puts one class far above the others: the rogue.
Having a rogue in one’s party in Origins was tantamount to a necessary evil. Though both Zevran and Leliana were solid characters, I never found them terribly useful in combat – save for the rogue-specific tasks of trap disarming and lock-picking. All of that has been swept away in Dragon Age 2. I’m still early in the game (level 6) but the best ability in the game is something available to rogues very early on: the backstab. Instead of the awkward combat movement in Origins, which made it very difficult to ever get a rogue behind their target, the backstab ability allows the rogue to throw a smoke-bomb and instantly teleport behind an enemy with a high critical-strike chance. The cooldown rate on the ability is just enough to keep it from being spammed, but fast enough to keep it as your ‘go to’ attack.
Another great ability available to the rogue is ‘back to back’, which allows the rogue to instantly teleport across the battlefield to aid a given ally. Some battles are big enough to require a run through the field to get into range for the move, but it’s instantaneous: ‘poof’, and you are back in view just in front of the ally you selected to help. Low-level mages have too few abilities (with cooldown timers that take too long) to be useful for crowd control, but the rogue can zip from skirmish to skirmish in an incredibly satisfying manner. Moreover, Hawke is configured as a dual-wielding swordsman (or woman) by default, allowing the vastly improved combat animations to truly shine.
All is not flowers and sunshine with the game, however, as the game’s difficulty balancing still needs work. Similar to the first game (unlike the ‘analog’ difficult sliders of games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), combat difficulty can be set to four discrete levels. While I recognize this might be too personal a complaint, regular battles on Normal are easy enough to be boring, but the frequent large-scale battles are keyboard-smashing difficult on anything above that level. Similar to the PC version of Origins, healing potions are controlled by a cooldown timer to prevent spamming, which is annoying but not new. That said, the cooldown on the low-level Heal spell available to mages at the beginning is painfully long—much longer than in Origins. This makes it very difficult to deal with battles that involve: a.) swarms of enemies; b.) bosses with very deep health pools; or c.) both situations. So I find myself constantly toggling difficulty up and down to keep it from either getting boring or so painfully difficult that it detracts from the flow of the story.
As I mentioned towards the top, HULIQ did not have early access to the game so I’m still only a few hours into the game. My love for the rogue this time around, however, is so strong that I had to recommend playing Hawke in that style for those just getting under way (or who haven’t purchased the game yet).