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This article was written by friend of thejgman, Gemma Brown.

Platforms – 360 (reviewed) | PS3 | PC (reviewed)
Developed by BioWare | Published by EA

Dragon Age 2 is the hotly anticipated sequel to BioWare’s 2009 RPG Dragon Age: Origins and yes. Yes I do love DA:O. Yes it did consume most of my life for a solid week. Yes I am starting it all over again mere days after completing it but come on… it was pretty amazing. I guess you could call me a fan-girl but I can live with that label. So obviously I was looking forward to the DA2 demo; more of the Dragon Age universe? Yes please, thank you very much. I was always going to be hard to please and to be honest my biggest gripe is probably that it is not a continuation of my Warden’s story (fan-girl, remember?). I mean I grew to love my mute little mage and all her companions; who were, by the way, amazing characters in their own right. But enough of that, I am losing my train of thought…

Graphics and Design

First of all, you have no choice of race this time round, though you still get to customise your character’s looks (though this featured was locked in the demo). I imagine for some this is a bit of a downer, but I only ever play as humans anyway so I wasn’t really that fussed. From the start I was struck by the prettiness of it all – it looks very shiny and the graphics and facial animations are quite impressive. Seriously, I may have even let out a “yay!” complete with erratic little hand gestures and the like… Plus, the opening cut-scene hooked me and made me want to know more of the plot; a world on the brink of war is always an interesting place to be. The way of telling the story – through one of your companions – was also pretty interesting, however I get the impression that it could get a little tedious with time, especially since you have to redo one part when the narrator is caught exaggerating.

A problem with DA:O was the bulky, Final Fantasy style armour which seems to have been swapped for a more streamline design. Still not convinced by the new Darkspawn (above), the general enemy in the Dragon Age universe, though; I thought they were far creepier in Origins when they didn’t wear armour that looked like bondage gear. The way the women run… wow. It is bad, very bad and this is extremely annoying when you play as a woman. Character-wise things seem solid; Bethany was, for me, the most appealing character, despite her massive, distracting,breasts. (Seriously, BioWare have a fetish there – Mass Effect’s Matriarch Benezia, anyone?)

Despite the massive graphical improvement the overall feel of the demo is very ‘dumbed-down’ compared to Origins. The menus and displays utilised primary colours and were very bright and blocky; yes, the colours in DA:O were often bland and brownish but it was a fantasy RPG, not Sonic the Hedgehog. The bright blues, yellows and reds all seem very out of place in what aims to be a dark fantasy. Maybe they will grow on me, maybe they won’t – I am leaning towards the latter.

The inventory was locked for the demo, which was a shame because I had wanted to see what changes had been made. I was a huge Mass Effect fan and when the changes to the inventory were made between ME1 and 2 I was very angry. Alas, I will have to wait for the full game to be either relieved or deal with a bit more rage… I just don’t think I can take BioWare removing more RPG elements from another RPG game. In DA:O, the codex – essentially a massive database for all things Dragon Age – was very hard to navigate and they have solved this very neatly in DA:2, clearly taking inspiration from Mass Effect 2. Brownie points for that then. I have mixed feelings when it comes to the ability trees. Change was not necessary from DA:O; the system was easy to use and looked fine. The new system is, again, bright (has anyone noticed I am not a fan of the brightness?) but it too works well and branching out to different moves is quite a nice way of going about things. The conversation wheel system was really quite good too. Of course, I didn’t really see an issue with not having a ‘voice’ in DA:O because I just imagined myself speaking… What? Don’t judge me.

Gameplay

Originally I played the demo as a mage on my 360. Bashing ‘A’ constantly got really old really fast and it didn’t feel as neat as Origins had on the PC. Saying that, apparently there will be an auto-attack option available for the Xbox – *happy face* [Insightful Waffle note: BioWare have confirmed that this will indeed be an option in the full game.] The spell animations sometimes seemed cartoonish, particularly ‘Cone of Cold’ with its icicles and the like. I also noticed that the mage seemed less powerful than in DA:O; I remember being able to annihilate hordes of Darkspawn all by myself but that seems to be a thing of the past. The basic mage attack is ridiculously weak meaning you have to wait it out until your powers recharge, however once more powers are given this probably won’t be such an issue.

When I played as a two-handed warrior on the PC the game became… simple. I never had to heal once. My attacks (literally!) cut things apart and my stamina, your energy source, never seemed to run out. Perhaps the weapon and shield option will bring more of a challenge but if not the difficulty can be whacked up. Playing as a rogue on the PC was a joyous experience. ‘Backstab’ was a very cool move and I imagine ‘evade’ will prove very useful. You do look like a little ninja jumping about but it is fun. In fact, it is the only class where I preferred the increased combat speed of DA2 because it worked perfectly.

There were some technical issues however. The writing was too small on my 19 inch screen and I often had to squint to read it, though this may have been due to it being an SDTV. I also found that the PC stuttered a lot through my playthroughs of the demo; it was quite irritating. Even so, the PC was the superior platform, with the combat being better suited to a mouse and keyboard interface.

All in all I did enjoy the demo. It brought a couple of hours of fun whilst I tried out all the different classes and it got me interested in seeing the full game. It just seems to have a childish feel to it with the bright colours and ‘dumbed-down’ spell animations often looking a bit cartoonish, but the graphics are excellent and the story is set up to be epic. It is definitely worth a look and so long as DA:2 doesn’t end up like ME2 – a decent and shiny looking game, with less plot, fewer interesting characters and a shadow of its predecessor – I will be happy.

Update 2012 (September) – My own impressions of the demo fell in-line with the above and on completion of the game, I found it to be enjoyable, albeit mired by numerous flaws. The game did moderately well critically, but was seen as disappointing by-and-large by the fan base. Additionally, whilst the console versions were supposed to have auto-attack on release, it didn’t arrive until a patch sometime after release. Mashing A did not remain terribly fun for the 30 or so hours I put into the game.

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