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Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin

Talking to Felicia Day on the new Dragon Age II expansion

11:00 AM on 09.27.2011 // Lori Navarro

It all started with a lot of grunting, grunting that's reminiscent of a women's tennis match. But before the grunting, there was an ambush. Hawke, Fenris, Varric, and Isabela find themselves in another fix, surrounded by assassins in the middle of an Orlesian stronghold.

Out of nowhere, a dagger hits one of the assassins square in the chest. Apparently, a mysterious stranger was watching from the roof, because all good character intros start from the roof. There's no other way but down -- the stranger alights and kills the next poor fellow, then another. Does a lot of acrobatics. Grunts. Jumps. Slashes. Grunts again. Flips. Kills. Scores.

This is how new companion Tallis introduces herself -- by slicing her way through Orlesian assassins with effervescent grace and style. Exclusive to the new Mark of the Assassin downloadable content, she is the focal point of this sidestory in Hawke's life -- one that involves a deadly heist in the dangerous, aristocratic world of Orlais.

In addition to checking out the new features, I also had the chance to talk to Internet celebrity Felicia Day, who is responsible for Tallis' creation.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: October 11, 2011

In this newest chapter in the life of the Champion of Kirkwall, the Elven assassin Tallis enlists Hawke's help to steal a relic from an Orlesian estate -- a plotline that has drawn many comparisons with the Kasumi DLC of Mass Effect 2.

With this DLC come new side quests, enemies, character interactions, items, and lore. The DLC is also playable anytime within the original game after the prologue. In the Dragon Age chronology, it's set right after its companion web series, Dragon Age: Redemption, which should be released around the same time. This time around, the game will be greatly expanding upon the Qunari and Orlesian cultures. Since we're not in Ferelden anymore, Mark of the Assassin also offers brand new environments for those of you who are still taking digs at DAII's recycled sets.

Tallis is based on her namesake from Dragon Age: Redemption, a short web series written by and starring Felicia Day . According to Day, there is a lot of continuity between what occurs in the show and in the game. For starters, the costume that was used by Day in Redemption is also used in Mark of the Assassin, as well as the weapons, fighting style, music, and facets of the character's personality. As a Dragon Age aficionado herself, she said that seeing her and her work used for the game was probably "he most awesome thing" that has ever happened to her.

Alabaster-skinned and red-headed, videogame Tallis is the spitting image of Day, though maybe BioWare took artistic license with certain physical elements. Slight of built and pointy of ears, she is Elvish as well. Having not been raised in Ferelden, one cannot exactly put her in the category of city elf or Dalish -- "She is a unique elf," said Day. When she created this character for Redemption, she wanted to "emulate the depth of character and humor" of the companions in the Dragon Age series as well as make her "grounded in reality." As for Tallis in the game, she is said to be have been partly written by seasoned BioWare writer David Gaider, so expect a couple of good lines from her as well.

Tallis is also a pretty pixie dream girl, and Day seemed to agree, as she selects the dialogue option to flirt with the character that is based on her. That's right, Tallis can be flirted with, which is good news for a certain fanboy segment of the gaming world. As with the other companions, Hawke's relationship with her is based on the player's choices -- you can try to empathize with her, piss her off, or see if you can go second base.

Based on her flips, you might have guessed that this character is yet another rogue, with daggers as her weapon of choice, whether thrown from afar or stabbed straight in the gut. With this ability to switch between melee and ranged combat, she is said to be a cross between Varric and Isabela. She comes with unique abilities as well -- with her infiltrator skill tree, she has a tendency to deliver massive criticals and maintain stealth.

During my hands-on time with Mark of the Assassin (and my first time with a non-PC version of Dragon Age, by the way), I was able to very briefly use her character. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explore her skill tree as much as I'd have liked. However, I felt that the switch from melee to ranged and vice versa was very seamless and natural for this character. You can be standing a few feet from the enemy and throw blades at him, or you can shift right next to an enemy and stab him in the back. This is a character who can be extremely mobile and flexible and is definitely suitable for fast-paced gameplay.

I was able to play the first part of the game, during which Tallis helps Hawke locate a wyvern for an Orlesian hunting party. The wyvern is a never-before-encountered creature in Dragon Age. It's a cousin of the dragon, though it looks more like a cross between a Komodo dragon and a dragonfly, if that makes sense. Blue-scaled, bug-eyed, and yellow-tinged, wyverns are fearsome creatures that have equally fearsome breaths. They release debilitating toxins that could heavily damage your party's HP. Luckily for me, I previewed the game in casual mode, so the damage was hardly felt. Also new to the list of monsters are ghasts -- creatures that are easy to defeat individually but are very dangerous once they swarm you.

While her infiltrator abilities have potential, Tallis herself seems to add very little personality to the group. She's another rogue, another smart-ass, one-liner character, and between her, Varric, Anders, and sarcastic Hawke, you can imagine why Fenris is so pissed off. Also, Felicia Day may be a charmer in real life, but I find that this doesn't always translate to her voice acting. I don't exactly know how she wants Tallis to behave -- badass, sarcastic, quirky, all at once? Nevertheless, I have always found her to sound wooden, unconvincing, and lacking in depth, even during her stint as Veronica in Fallout: New Vegas, and the same goes for this new character.

Still, a lot can be said for her enthusiasm, especially in a certain scene where she tries to summon the wyvern. Not to spoil anything too much, but she is good at making really ungodly animal noises -- and I'm not even talking about the grunting anymore.

In any case, Mark of the Assassin seems to be worthy of a look, especially if you are interested in the pretensions and politics of the Orlesian nobility and also the worldview of the Qunari. The game also promises new ways to use stealth in the Dragon Age world, and while I wasn't able to experience this for myself, I'd be interested to see how they can make more more use of this skill in both the combat and non-combat sense.

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Lori Navarro,
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