Dragon Age II: all about the combat

, | Game diaries

My rogue is literally dripping blood, covered from head to toe in viscera and spatter from the horde of Darkspawn that have fallen to my intrepid group of heroes. My party is ragged, tired, bloodied, and low on health potions. The first wave fell easily, wheat before the scythes of my twin blades. The second wave slowed us, but we held strong. There were more though…always more.

After the jump, will our heroes survive the onslaught?

I am playing Dragon Age II on hard difficulty on the PC. I played the first on hard before Bioware patched it to make it easier, and thought the challenge was just right. There were only a few fights in the game that forced me to reload several times. The titanic clashes with the high dragons, for example. Regular encounters were tense, exciting, but never punishing.

Hard on Dragon Age II is not as difficult for the most part, but boss battles are harder. I can’t really see any appreciable change in tactics from one difficulty level to the other, though the AI might be slightly better at targeting your casters and weaker melee characters. It looks like the difference is mainly in the size of the health pools, which isn’t really a problem for the fodder enemies until you get deep into the second, and yes, the third wave. Nearly every battle involves two distinct waves of enemies. The first might be visible on the map as you engage them and you can orient yourself accordingly. But the second wave will spawn onto the map and swarm your party, so tactical facing and spacing is difficult without drawing everyone together after each wave and then reassigning targets and positions. It’s a minor nitpick, but one that is frequently aggravating for those of us who still hit space bar in between every second or third action.

The real difficulty on hard are the bosses, however. The increased health pool is exaggerated on the bosses, even the less important minor “story bosses” scattered throughout the game. That frequently leads to you chopping your way through two or three waves of enemies to finally combing your party’s strength against the boss. Then you attack, and wait, and wait, and attack, and let your cooldowns refresh, and juggle potions, and then attack some more. I’m exaggerating a little for effect. The boss battles to the point I have played are almost all fun, entertaining, and most of all challenging. However, there is going to be a subset of players who absolutely hate the way they play, at least on the harder difficulties, because the game does require you to spend a reasonable amount of time juggling cooldowns, potions, and running around to whittle down the health of these monsters. It never really bothered me, but I absolutely love the combat in Dragon Age II. If you are on the fence about it, the boss battles could be frustrating enough to sour your impressions on the combat as a whole. That would be a shame, because when you stop to pause and think about what you are doing, the combat is just as tactical as Dragon Age Origins, but considerably more fluid and exciting.

So, back to that battle we were talking about. My hero was dripping in blood, my companions battered and bloodied, when a third wave of darkspawn poured in on us. I pulled my party into a tight circle, cast all my area of effect spells with my mage and archer, sent my tank warrior to hold off the massive ogre rampaging across the battlefield, and hurled myself — a blur of color and flashing steel — deep into the mass of enemies. My rogue flitted in and out of reality, backstabbing weakened darkspawn into clouds of blood, bull-rushing others over, and gaining speed with every attack with his sustained ability. We emerged victorious to find our warrior nearly dead, the ogre’s focus unshaken. I knew we couldn’t last long in a war of attrition, and with no possibility of retreat, I did the first thing I could think of. I charged my party straight at the ogre, blew every cooldown, lost my tank, and with a sliver of health remaining, my rogue flitted across the screen to jump on the monster and deliver a killing blow.

The battle was over, but there is always more fighting, more blood awaiting you in Dragon Age II.

Coming up next: Can you really develop a personality with three options on a chat wheel?
(Click here for the previous Dragon Age II game diary.)