Dragon Age II
features a moderate change in art style from the first game’s more traditional and realistic fantasy fare to something a bit more unique. Cinematics employ that animated 2D illustration thing that seems to be getting more and more popular, which also carries over into a plethora of unique loading screens that vary for each location and are at least somewhat interesting to look at. Many character models have changed -- most obviously Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds from Origins
-- as well as facial features of non-humans: Elves have a much more alien appearance with enlarged eyes and noses shaped to be flush with the forehead, the Qunari have been completely redesigned to look more like beastmen (complete with horns) instead of just beefier humans, and dwarves… well, they’re still dwarvey. Character movements have been made to be swifter and more exaggerated like those seen in Japanese anime, which kind of goes along with the giant two-handed weapons.
Technically, the graphics are a noticeable improvement over Origins
. The engine has been upgraded, and that’s not including the additional bells and whistles the PC version enjoys thanks to DirectX 11 support. Features like advanced dynamic lighting, contact-hardening soft shadows, improved terrain rendering with tessellation, and geometry displacement effects are enabled by the DX11-only “Very High” graphics setting. Said highest setting also makes use of the high-resolution textures you can get by downloading a separate 1.1GB patch that comes with the recommendation of having at least 1024MB of VRAM. Unfortunately, DX11 performance is not quite up to snuff, as even cross-fired Radeon HD 6870s can stutter and randomly slow to a crawl with everything maxed out. Next month’s driver releases will hopefully fix this; there have been beta versions intended to help specifically with DA2 performance issues, but those don’t work for everybody.
Dragon Age II continues the trend of fully-voiced dialogue in BioWare games, with generally competent performances from the actors. There’s a wide range of European accents represented, though some are pulled off better than others -- it seemed to me that a few characters, Merrill the Dalish elf sorceress in particular, drifted in and out of various styles of enunciation... The writing has improved, however, and the idle banter between party members is better than ever. Companions currently traveling with you will also speak up during conversations with other characters, to approve/protest the situation or just crack wise. The soundtrack was scored by the same composer that did Origins, as well as other games of note such as Fallout: New Vegas, Crysis, and Prince of Persia. The background music reflects the mood of what’s going on, and of course the battle tunes kick in when enemies are afoot.