There's dragons in them thar hills...
Dragon Age: Origins was a good game, I must have sunk over 175 hours all told between Origins, Awakening and the various DLC that came out. I also played all of the origin stories and basically left virtually no stone unturned across numerous save games. I was immersed in the world that Bioware created but I still longed for something that had a more visceral combat style.
Dragon Age 2 is almost here and Bioware have listened to a lot of fan feedback since the first game. This short article is all about my impressions of the demo that's now out on Xbox Live, PC and PSN and how I feel things have changed since Dragon Age. Remember when I said I wanted a more visceral experience, well...the good news is that the Dragon Age 2 demo delivers just that. The maxim of 'press a button and something cool happens' is very much alive and well here.
Don't get the wrong idea though, when you put this game on Normal or any other harder difficulty level, you're going to have to pause and issue orders, think tactically how best to use your mix of characters and abilities otherwise you'll get taken down quickly. This isn't just a hack-and-slash adventure with a story and an inventory thrown in. This isn't Fable 3 levels of combat and a thin veneer of character driven RPG.
Let's look at some of the things that have changed since Dragon Age.
The attack button executes a series of attacks based on your characters facing, their position in combat and their class. It's also obviously driven by the weapon they have equipped.
Warriors have a two handed sword, or a sword and shield, they hit hard and they hit for a lot of damage. Obviously the sword and shield is quicker, but the two handed sword is a punishing thing.
Rogues are fast, they are like ninjas dancing around the battlefield and they move like lightning, dual swords or bows, they are your low damage but frequent hits per weapon class.
Mages are now pretty impressive; they look awesome in action and deliver a cinematic combat up close and personal with swift stave strikes, or some devastating fire based magic like fireballs at range.
It is now hard to choose which class to play, the three of them have their strengths and weaknesses but they play so well, even from the demo I can see myself doing at least 3 plays of the game just to experience the classes in action.
In addition to your default attack, you have some varied special abilities that are executed quickly and easily by the new interface, which is less clunky and more fluid than the previous game. You can still 'pause' the game and issue orders; again this is handled in a simpler and easier way than before and takes no time at all to learn. This really helps new players jump into the series.
Combat feels much more cinematic and brutal, there are some great attack animations and the flow of battle is much better. The rogue can be knocked down one moment, leap back to his feet the next and execute a jump that would make Stelios from 300 proud as he lands on the enemy and stabs them back. The game has often boasted - think like a General and fight like a Spartan as one of its tag lines, seeing it in action...that's definitely true.
If you've played Mass Effect and 2 then you'll be instantly familiar with this kind of system, though in Dragon Age 2 the menu lets you know the kind of response that you're going to deliver. Not necessarily the actual content of the dialogue. You can choose (initially) from 3 options in any conversation, a heroic kind of stance, a middle of the road (often sarcastic or witty) kind of stance or a downright nasty/aggressive response to the people you're talking to.
Be warned, in the full game, your actions and dialogue will have an effect on your party members and they'll either become friends or rivals depending on how you treat them, and others. Having a fully voiced main character this time around really makes a difference in the cut-scenes and the conversations, whilst not as an iconic voice as male or female Sheppard, the voice actors do their jobs well enough and I'm interested to see how they pan out across the whole game.
Ability Management/Levelling up
Taking a leaf from previous CRPGs, Dragon Age 2 features a much more robust skill assignment system, with a web-like set of abilities that can be picked based on level and class. There are options to augment a particular power as well, such as a fireball, which can become a searing fireball and do a lot more damage in a bigger radius. You can only see a small fragment of this system in action in the demo; it's enough to convince me that Dragon Age 2 will be a much deeper skill/tactical experience than Dragon Age though. You can also put points into your core attributes, which also changes some of the related minor attributes - certain attributes also work with certain classes, Dexterity and Cunning for rogues for instance, but all the attributes give something to the chosen class regardless of their speciality.
Dragon Age on PC looked decent enough; on 360 it looked well...bland. It wasn't the pretty Bioware game that we'd come to know and love. Mass Effect looked great for the time, 2 looked even better. Happily Dragon Age 2 has a new art style, it'll take some getting used to and delivers a more vibrant experience with a lot more detail on the characters, environments and the textures. The animations are better and there's definitely a better focus on character in this one. The lip synch is nicely done and the characters have reactions, personality and emotions that play across their faces.
Dragon Age 2 looks set to deliver one heck of an action roleplaying experience, building off the idea of a framed narrative and allowing Bioware to focus on a new character. The Champion of Kirkwall as he or she (chosen by you, since character customisation is there and very similar to Mass Effect 2) rises to power, bringing the world to the brink of war and cutting a swathe of bloody retribution against the Darkspawn hordes. Gone are the many Origin stories and this does not seem to hurt the game at all, it allows Bioware to produce a tighter narrative focussed on Hawke and I felt a stronger connection to the character right away.
Remember that the Rise to Power begins for the US on March 8th and here in the UK on the 11th. My gaming calendar is set and I can't wait to dive into this one. If it is half as engaging as Mass Effect 2 was (and the demo proved it should be) then it's going to be a blast to play and one heck of a story to see unfold. Bioware are the true masters of the modern RPG and I salute and thank them for all the games so far.
Well done guys and gals!