So, as you've probably heard, the Dragon Age 2 demo is out. If for some reason you haven't played it yet, you can find it on Bioware's Dragon Age 2 site. But wait! Don't forget to come back here and read this post while you're waiting for the 1.9 GB download to complete.
Judging a game based on its demo can be tricky, especially when many of the features that will be in the final product have been disabled. But of course that's not going to stop anyone, including me. However, for this post I'm going to try to avoid sweeping statements and stick with things that are safe to say about Dragon Age 2 based on the demo.
So here it is, the Internet-style top 5 list of things I learned from the Dragon Age 2 demo.
1. Combat is MORE EXTREME!!!
I hope you weren't planning to play one of those bookish mages. If so, the first battle of the demo will quickly change your plans. With its lightning pace and explosive gore, it makes the climax of Kill Bill Vol. I look like a model of restraint. Warriors decked out in heavy armor soar high in the air to land a blow, mages wield their staffs like malicious baton twirlers, and rogues - the most hyperactive of the lot - are simply everywhere.
This is a huge departure from Dragon Age: Origins, and will no doubt be jarring to those who came to Dragon Age from computer RPGs. Thankfully, it looks like there's at least a configuration option to reduce the over-the-top amount of blood (though it didn't seem to be working for the demo).
It's hard to tell from the demo whether the increased speed of battle will result in a reduction or elimination of the careful tactical gameplay often featured in computer RPGs. Mr. Laidlaw assures us that Dragon Age 2 is even more tactical than Baldur's Gate 2, but from this old-schooler's perspective, battles felt pretty chaotic. But then, I didn't experience any of the team combos that Dragon Age 2 introduces. These could make up for the loss of control over the positioning of characters.
2. Character advancement has changed for the better.
In Dragon Age: Origins, mages had all the fun. They could cherry pick from all the spell schools and were never more than four levels away from whatever spell they wanted (four being the number of spells in a each progression). Rogues and warriors, by contrast, gained little advantage from dipping into different weapon styles, and didn't have enough outside of those weapon styles to spend their points on. Warriors in particular tended to run out of options by the end of the game.
I think it's safe to say that Dragon Age 2 will improve things considerably in this regard. First, the linear, four-step ability progressions have been replaced by "webs" that offer a lot more flexibility to pick and choose what you want. Second, rogues and warriors get a lot more non-weapon-specific abilities to spend their points on. Thank the Maker.
3. The dialogue wheel really is that heinous.
I've been skeptical about the dialogue wheel from the start, and after playing the demo, I'm more skeptical. In most cases, the voiced dialogue reflected the general spirit of my choice. However, the cases where it didn't really stuck in my craw. For example, the option above results in Hawke saying this:
Yeah, that doesn't seem like the same thing at all to me. The option I selected suggests a definite course of action, but Hawke only seems to care that the NPC make up her mind quickly.
4. Hurlocks need helmets (and not just because they're ugly).
The battles where wave after wave of hurlocks come after the PC seemed off to me, and at first I couldn't figure out why. Then I happened to read a post on the Bioware forums where someone referred to them as "clones," and it clicked. There's no variation in the hordes of enemies attacking you. Ideally, there should be two hurlock models, different creatures mixed in, armor variations - something - to break up the pattern.
Interestingly, I think the source of the problem is that the hurlock model has become so much more detailed and distinctive - in other words, so much less abstract - that you can't show a group of them close up without creating an uncanny effect. If they had a more generic appearance, their uniformity wouldn't grab your attention as much.
5. Ogres look a bit like Killer Clowns from Outer Space.