Are the Darkspawn still the main enemies in Dragon Age 2? How have they changed visually since the previous game?
SH: Although the Darkspawn are a major threat in the Dragon Age Universe and a large part of the beginning of Hawke’s story, they are not the main focus in the rise to power of the Champion of Kirkwall. With the new art direction we wanted to make sure they evolved to feel more like a complete and cohesive group, as opposed to the more hodge-podge feeling they had in Dragon Age: Origins. We reduced their color pallette to the bare minimum; very de-saturated almost to the point of being black and white. Along with the simplified color palette, we the simplified the shapes to focus on angular elements. Since the main concern with the Darkspawn is infection and the blight, we felt we could keep their armor very primitive in nature, almost to the point where they are not well protected and are vulnerable on their backside. This somewhat reduces the threat level for the lower ranked units like the Hurlocks, but bolsters the players badass-ness by having them explode into shredded meat bags upon death! But with this we by no means wanted the Darkspawn to look like pushovers to be plowed through. We solved this by making the Ogre and Emissary Darkspawn very large and intimidating, towering over the player. They can be quite the challenge to deal with and we want them to be a significant threat, especially when they are supported by a large army of Hurlocks swarming in from all directions.
One of the most interesting characters in Origins was Sten, simply because it was so hard to find out anything about him or his race. (I still learned new things the last time I played through the game!) Are the Qunari back in DA2? If so, what can we expect to see there?
SH: The Qunari definitely make a return in DA2 in a big way! You’ll have lots to discover about them since they play a very pivotal role to the story of Hawke’s Rise to Power. With the re-introduction to the Qunari we felt it was a great opportunity to have their appearance match the complexity of their character, culture and background. They are a hardened and proud people with a rich and dynamic history which is encompassed by honor and glory. We dug deep into the archives and developed a look similar to what we originally envisioned for them in Origins. We brought back the horns and pushed the boundaries of a humanoid form, increasing their height and bulk to enhance their intimidating and imposing nature. But they are not just a mindless race of barbaric warriors. They pride themselves on their belief system, called the Qun, which governs all aspects of Qunari life and thus was a very important element in their re-design. We have adorned their bodies with the symbol of the Qun. On most of the Qunari, it is painted on their bodies, but the Qunari Arishock has the symbol embedded in his armor, further showing his status as a leader and the commitment he and his people have to the Qun.
Did you take the same approach with armor in DA2 as you had in Origins? Or as with Mass Effect 2, did the system undergo an overhaul? What can we expect visually with the armor and weapons?
SH: The Armor and weapon system in DA2 is similar to that in Origins where the armor, boots, gloves and accessories are all interchangeable for the player. But in the case of the followers we wanted to ensure that they didn’t get lost in the mix. We gave followers unique outfits that are instantly recognizable, making them easy to identify in the heat of battle. Unlike the followers in DA:O who tend to get lost in a mire of leather, metal and mystical cloth, when you look at the follower lineup of DA2 you’ll see a cast of identifiable characters whose visual look plays a big part in their personality. Accessories such as rings, belts, and amulets can still be added to bolster their stats and you can change their weapons. (Except for Varric, whose crossbow “Bianca” is a character all its’ own.)