Friday, February 25, 2011

Things I learned from the Dragon Age 2 demo

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.

Yes? No?


  1. Oh dear, you pretty much put the nail in the coffin for me with the Hurlock thing. I'm surprised the developers overlooked this. As graphic capability improves, attention to detail should follow.

    And yes, the Ogres do look like Killer Clowns lol.

    Thanks for an entertaining blog btw. I only stumbled across this recently but enjoy your style of writing immensely. If only I'd found it sooner. Keep up the good work :)

  2. Thanks, Quillmaster. Glad you're enjoying the blog.

    On the hurlock thing... I'm hoping this is a case where the demo isn't as polished as the final release. Though why you would release a demo that doesn't represent your best is a mystery.

  3. As a pen & paper - roleplayer I was shocked by the changes because crpgs become more and more combat oriented and the combat is displayed as a blur of blood and flashy moves and distances itself from any realistic weapon play I know of.
    Even my powergaming gnome rogue/bard from d&d is not capable of jumping trough the air and slashing around like the mages do in DA2, not to mention the rogues.

    The dialogue wheel and the discrepencies in dialogue were a huge turnoff in Mass Effect 2 and the community commented heavily on it, but now they did the same thing with Dragon Age.
    It is made easy to select an option with "nice" icons so that it might be clear what one could say but what is really said is not consistent.
    But there are many flame threads on the social site, I don't want to spam your blog.

    All in all I agree with you on most points apart from the hope for a good roleplaying game in Dragon Age 2, it might be an enjoyable action game with rpg elements but it is not rpg as far as I have seen.

  4. Apolyon6k, it does sort of amaze me that they've made such radical changes in the sequel. I didn't want my blog post to be a rant, so I didn't go into some of the other details I found disappointing. I think they basically just decided to build DA2 for the consoles, and heck, as a console game it might actually be pretty good.

  5. Curiosity had me download the demo myself for the Xbox 360, and I must confess, I'm amazed that the company (Bioware) that I used to hold with such high regard has lowered their standard of quality so much.

    Apolyon6k has a very valid point regarding combat. It was just too fast. I felt like the game was an excercise in button bashing as opposed to the tactics we loved so much in Baldurs Gate. I just couldn't comprehend what was happening on screen, and on the rare occasions I could make out my character among the chaos of combat, they wielded their weapons so fast I could only conclude that they were made from pixels and not the steel that would have helped immerse me in a world of adventure. Maybe I was missing something... perhaps the blades were magically lightened... ah yes... they must be... it's the only reason I can think of for them to float so far from the body when not in use. Maybe that's just me being niggly, but it jarred with me in much the same way the Hurlocks jarred with you. They didn't even appear in a scabbard! I'd hope it's just lazyness to get the demo out. If not, then this game has gone rapidly downhill.