Dragon Age II Demo: Sorry Guts, your sword is small.

So, last night I finally had a chance to sit down and play the PC demo of Dragon Age II.   Here are my thoughts on some of the changes in practice (as opposed to in theory):

Users can still pause combat and switch characters but can’t stack commands.

This is precisely as annoying as I thought it would be.   I’ll have to get used to it if I want to play the game otherwise I’ll be spending a lot of time micro-managing every action.  Dragon Age II, if you don’t want to be constantly pausing and issuing commands, absolutely requires that you take advantage of the Tactics system.

An increased reliance on action heavy combat.

I actually really liked this aspect of the game for the most part.  Combat feels quicker and more brutal despite almost no real mechanical difference.  Things are streamlined in a useful way, particularly when it comes to potions which are shared by the party at large and are hardwired to quickslot apart from your attacks/abilities.  I found the in-game feedback a little lacking and at a resolution of 1600X1200 found the cooldown counter (a slight shading) a bit difficult to see.  Why they went with gray, rather than a more obvious color like red or yellow or even a numeric countdown, is beyond me.  The new enemy deaths are bit over-the-top to the point of being almost comical.

No Overhead Tactical View

Bioware had explained this from a design standpoint using “interiors with ceilings” as a major point (particularly for the locked in 3rd person view for console players).  Honestly this decision is still stupid.  Placing an area effect spell while locked in a third-person view is pretty damn awkward; especially since you can’t center area effect spells on an enemy.  It also, for me at least, makes getting a handle on the tactical situation a little cumbersome since you have to rely on the mini-map, which places enemies as red dots, to get a handle of the broad picture.  You can adjust to it but it still seams like a bad move on Bioware’s part.

Things I didn’t talk about when I talked about Dragon Age 2 previously include the dialogue system.  This is more or less ripped straight from Mass Effect though it blatantly categorizes most responses as what I can guess are good (represented by some sort of angelic halo thing), neutral (a mask), and “bad” (a hammer?).  It works and if you’ve played the Mass Effect series you’ll be pretty familiar with how DA 2 operates in conversation.  Unlike Mass Effect 2, the DA 2demo  has some wildly inconsistent voice acting ranging from the horrible wooden (Hawke’s brother) to the fantastic (Flemeth).  I like Varric, the dwarf rogue who narrates the game and joins your party, and the cut scenes during the demo are really quite well acted.  Isabela is…distracting?  Her character design seems deliberately provocative but I admit she seem somewhat better proportioned than other video game vixens.

The demo really just scratches the surface of the story and I’m curious to see where things will go.  I have a feeling that many of my complaints from the first game will go unheeded here and have more to do with me as a gamer rather than the game itself.  The colors are still washed out and faded, there is still an abundance of browns and the game just doesn’t pop visually.  Compare DA2 with the recent Skyrim trailer or footage from Guild Wars 2 or even Diablo 3 and I think that DA2 comes in at the bottom by a considerable margin.  I was a little disappointing to notice some very obvious clipping on models during cut scene and there were some weird loading hiccups (might be my PC) during gameplay and cutscenes.

The Dragon Age II demo left me with the impression that after some rather minor changes DA2 should play very much the same as Origins.  It didn’t leave me super excited for the game but at the same time it didn’t leave me frothing with rage. I still no absolutely nothing about the story, other than that it chronicles Hawke’s journey to becoming Champion.  I look forward to seeing where that goes.  Of course Dragon Age II can’t be the game I really wanted maybe Bioware can work on “The Adventures of Sten and Shale” for their next title?

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