Dragon Age 2 demo impressions

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I spent over 60 hours running around Ferelden with my pointy-eared mage. Odd, considering I was more than just a little underwhelmed with the game’s first few hours. Glad I stuck it out, because I ended up having one of the better RPG experiences of my gaming life.

When the sequel was announced, I found myself in two minds; on the one hand I’d get more Dragon age – but on the other I knew I’d probably lose weeks of my life again. When Bioware said they’d be streamlining the sequel, doing things like limiting the magnitude to which characters can be moulded I was in two minds for a second time. It worked well enough for Mass Effect 2 – but the last thing I’d want in a fully-fledged RPG is a “dumbed-down” experience.

With the demo’s recent release, I thought I’d give it a bit of hands-on to see if my fears would be allayed.

My first impression was just amazement at how polished everything was; especially compared to the first – which I played on the 360. the demo starts off – as most RPG’s do – with you selecting your character. In Dragon Age 2 your choice is rather limited; you’re given the option of choosing male or female human versions of either Warrior, Mage or rogue classes. No dwarves or elves or any other races. for some, that might be off-putting, but the sacrifice in cultural variety is for the benefit of the narrative.

The demo kicks off in cinematic style. Varric, a dwarf, is being interrogated by a templar, one of the religiously aligned mage hunters . She’s trying, in a rather impolite and unfriendly way, to convince the aforementioned Dwarf to give up the whereabouts and identity of your main character, Hawke, “the Champion” of Kirkwall.

Varric serves as an unreliable narrator, retelling his version of your rise to power, possibly embellishing or telling outright lies. Your story, as relayed, begins with you and your family fleeing the destruction of Lothering, set for Kirkwall. you’re unfortunately surrounded by Darkspawn, and the demo takes this opportunity to teach you the basics of combat. It’s quite simple and streamlined; the “A” button serves as your primary attack, with the rest of the face buttons used for assigned abilities. Holding the left-trigger brings up a radial menu from where you can issue commands to your squad, heal, use potions, assign abilities and the like. So pretty much just like the first one then? Well yes – only much tighter, slicker and infinitely more polished.

The process repeats itself anew, when Varric gets called out by the interrogative templar, retelling his story with different embellishments – giving you a chance to play it all again, from a slightly different perspective. You’ll then be segued away to a later portion of the game, to experience what the game might be like when you’re at a higher level.

The biggest change from the original, besides the forced human origin is that every character interaction is voiced, and there’s a dialogue wheel, similar to the one seen in Mass Effect. You can’t tell a great deal from the hour long demo, but it certainly seems like it’ll help drive the narrative.

Graphically, it’s a huge step beyond the original on consoles – but still behind Mass Effect 2 in terms of character animation. I did, however experience intermittent short stutters in the cut-scenes, something I hope isn’t present in the final game.

Most importantly, the demo left me wanting more – and that’s exactly what a demo ought to do.

Last Updated: February 24, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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