So I finally got around to downloading the demo for Bioware’s upcoming fantasy epic, Dragon Age 2. I’m normally not one to show interest in demos and betas, but since I loved Dragon Age: Origins and I heard that there were some major changes being made to the game formula, I felt like I should check it out and see what’s what.
The first thing I’d like to discuss is the fact that the demo doesn’t really like DX9, so for those of you who are still stuck on Windows XP like I am, that’s something to keep in mind. Once I updated my DirectX drivers it started up and ran like a dream, although I was stuck on medium graphics and for some bizarre reason the music would only come out of the left speaker. The former is admittedly my fault for using an ancient OS, and the latter will probably get ironed out for the final release, so there’s nothing to worry about here. Even on medium graphics the game looked perfectly respectable, so if you have a less-than-stellar gaming machine, you don’t have to worry about an Oblivion-esque horror show on low settings.
Arguably, the most-discussed change being made from Origins is the combat system, which has been described by Bioware as more “Action-oriented.” The fanbase heard this and leaped to the conclusion that DA2 would be a mindless hack-and-slash gorefest with no tactics or thought involved whatsoever, causing cries of “RUINED FOREVER” to resonate from all corners of the internet. However, I have spent a few hours at the helm of this new system, and I am happy to report that you have nothing to worry about.
At its base, it’s really not all that different, and the changes I have noticed are, in my opinion, for the better. Frankly, I felt that Origins’ combat was its Achilles’ Heel. Fighting in that game always felt bland and uninspired, even tedious, at times. In the sequel, the mechanics are all more or less the same – all the changes are relatively minor, but somehow, they add up to make a huge difference. Landing a hit has a genuinely good feel to it, with a more noticeable impact sound and vastly improved combat animations (the animation for the mage’s staff autoattack is particularly badass). There are also new animations for switching from target to target, including a dash-type attack that automatically occurs when you close in on an enemy, making things like interception much easier. Warrior skills like shield bash feel particularly brutal in the way they punt enemies across the battlefield, and rogues are a delight all to themselves, flying about with acrobatic kicks and flips and just all around murdering the hell out of anything that moves. Mages are also as fine as they ever were, fulfilling their role as human field artillery with flying colors.
So, yes, it is much more action-packed than its predecessor, but in spite of this, tactics are as ever-present as they were in Origins. I found myself using taunts, heals and defensive stances just as much as I did in Origins, and I had a hell of a lot of fun in the process. Combat in Origins was ponderous and numb, whereas this manages to be fast-paced and savage while still holding onto the tactical flavor that made Origins so unique.
There is other goodness, as well. The relationship meters for each party member are still there, to my relief – that was one of the best aspects of Origins. Conversations have also been revamped; having adopted the Mass Effect conversation wheel, Hawke is no longer a silent protagonist. The base is split on whether or not this is a good change, but personally, I welcome it. I’ve played as both a male and female Hawke, and I have no issues with either voice actor. Another improvement is the game menus, of which the “Abilities” screen is particularly well-done, being both easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.
There are one or two tiny little things specific to the demo that annoy me, however. First and foremost, the inventory system is locked. (Confusingly, you can still loot things; you just can’t use them.) Less severe but still irritating is the fact that character customization is unavailable. Like I said, though, these are minor grievances – it is, after all, just a free sample.
All around, this demo gets my seal of approval. I admit, I was concerned that they would go the route of Mass Effect 2 and sacrifice a good chunk of the game’s soul to improve the combat, but that simply hasn’t happened. In fact, I’m now more excited than ever for the full game.
I predict it will do awful, awful things to my social life. C’est la vie.
Final verdict: A