Dragon Age 2 Demo:
The Kids Are Alright

By Josh Posted Friday Feb 25, 2011

Filed under: Game Reviews 228 comments

I’m not sure how much we talk about this in our endless discussions of what game to do next and how much of it actually ends up in our Spoiler Warning episodes, so let me state this straight out: I’m really the only member of the Spoiler Warning cast that actually liked the first Dragon Age. And I’ll be the first to admit it had its flaws: The combat in particular was punishing, slow, and repetitive, and the game was heavily padded with endless stretches of it. But I rather liked the story, and the game managed to flesh out a surprising amount of lore â€" it treated the various factions as organizations with their own plans and ideas, rather than simply as hats for certain characters to wear. And, hell â€" I’m a sucker for stories where shady cutthroat politics take front and center seat.

So it should go without saying that I’m excited at the idea of a sequel to Dragon Age. But at the same time, I went into the demo with no small degree of trepidation. I’d been excited for Mass Effect 2 as well, and… well, the less I start ranting about that game, the better. I’ve been worried for some time that the design philosophy that went into Mass Effect’s sequel would become a trend at BioWare â€" where “streamlining” things translates to simply removing all of the RPG elements, and where making characters “interesting” means “Everyone should be a badass! Yeah! Explosions!” And while it may be untoward to start pointing fingers without any clear facts, it probably is worth mentioning that Mass Effect 2 was the first project BioWare started after it was acquired by EA (Dragon Age, while released after the acquisition, was announced way back at E3 2004, making it nearly as old â€" if not older â€" than Jade Empire).

But after having played the demo three times over now, I am quite relieved to report: I was completely wrong. BioWare has hit all the right notes here â€" the combat is no longer so punishing and quick when run at real time that pausing is absolutely necessary at the start of every combat round â€" but all of the functionality of the old Infinity-Engine style “pause and direct” gameplay has been preserved. In essence, the combat is what Dragon Age Origin’s should have been in the first place â€" a system that offers two styles for play and forces niether. I imagine regular pausing will be much more desirable at Nightmare difficulty, which wasn’t available in the demo, but as I understand it, will have friendly-fire like the first game. But if you’re playing at Nightmare you probably shouldn’t be complaining that things are hard.

The other concern I had going in â€" and I’ve heard complaints about all over the place more or less from the moment it was announced â€" is that BioWare has thrown out the multiple-origin character system for a specific, pre-determined character. In essence, BioWare has given Dragon Age a Shepard â€" except this time his (or her) name is Hawke. Which sounds cooler.

And while I don’t dislike Shepard on principle, it’s hard to play the Mass Effect games and not come to the conclusion that he’s a total and complete brick. He has no character, at all, throughout both games. Hell, this guy died and then came back to life! But the way he treats it â€" no matter what dialogue option the player chooses â€" he might as well have just gotten back from the supermarket and can’t figure out where the party went to. I guess the idea was to have this character with a voice but leave everything as flat as possible so the player can play mental ad-libs to fill in the blanks?

Shepard is a flat, dumb brick that has candy and wants you to GET IN THE VAN.
Shepard is a flat, dumb brick that has candy and wants you to GET IN THE VAN.

But whatever, that doesn’t matter, because at some point in Dragon Age 2’s development, some incredibly smart and undoubtedly talented person decided that making Hawke a flat brick of a character would be pretty stupid. So how did they do that? They gave Hawke a family – something to anchor him to the story and the setting. The demo â€" and the game â€" start out with Hawke and his or her family running from the darkspawn horde as they march on Lothering (a town you briefly see on your way out of Ostagar before it is destroyed in Dragon Age Origins). This may not seem like a big deal at first – the dialogue in the prologue is fairly brief – but it gives Hawke a real connection to what’s going on around him or herself. The way that Hawke interacts with his family gives us a way to see who Hawke is as a character – and to even shape that ourselves. It affords us with an avenue through which Hawke can become more than merely an avatar through which the player accrues Renegade and Paragon points.

Which brings us to the other major mechanic that has made the jump from Mass Effect to Dragon Age â€" the dialogue wheel. And it is no small irony â€" nor do I find it merely a small source of glee to observe â€" that Dragon Age 2 is the first BioWare game to finally get this mechanic, so core to the Mass Effect series, right. And the answer to solving all of the problems the wheel has created for Mass Effect was actually rather simple â€" all it took was for someone to dump the outdated, restrictive morality bar. No longer is the wheel a minigame revolving around getting more persuade points. Instead, the choices control the tone of the dialogue: Options towards the top tend to be more diplomatic and measured, options that fall near the middle tend to be more wry or playful, and options towards the bottom are more direct and goal-oriented.


This opens the dialogue wheel up so much more than it has been before. See, the problem with the dialogue in Mass Effect, was always that â€" in my mind â€" because you had to be able to complete the game both as a Renegade and as a Paragon, all of the options had to lead to the same place. And because of that requirement, none of your companions could ever really care about how you handled things. Now, Dragon Age 2 doesn’t have a morality meter â€" instead, like the first game, it has a unique influence meter for each companion. This means that you can now use the wheel to approach conversations like you would real conversations: How do I put this in a way that the character will respond best to? How will my companions react to the way I carry myself? Granted, there wasn’t much branching dialogue in the demo, but again, it was the prologue, so I’m still hopeful that the newly untethered wheel will allow for more open dialogue where all roads do not inevitably lead to the same end.

This also means the death of another annoyance I’ve held towards the Mass Effect series â€" annoyingly flat line delivery. Look out everyone, Hawke can inflect! Actually, the voice acting is pretty superb all around, but Hawke is particularly impressive â€" especially when you compare male Hawke to male Shepard.

On a spur of curiosity, I also checked out the demo on the 360 â€" because I have one of those â€" and I was quite impressed at it. The combat is much more action-oriented on the 360; your abilities are mapped to the various face buttons, making them easy and quick to access on the fly without having to pause. And while I doubt you’ll ever see a console version that can replicate the degree and swiftness of control that you have with the PC pause-mode, the 360’s pause menu is robust enough and easy enough to use that it isn’t a huge hassle to pause for a combat round and issue orders. The experience was distinct enough that I didn’t feel like I was playing the exact same game with a different control scheme, and it definitely played to the strengths of the console. So props to BioWare, for taking the time and effort to make sure that each port of the game is still just as playable as every other one.

Oh, and one last note: I can confirm that the absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top blood-splatter effect makes a triumphant (and ever absurd) return. You can rest easy tonight.



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228 thoughts on “Dragon Age 2 Demo:
The Kids Are Alright

  1. Brandon says:

    I’ve been reluctant to play the demo because I am one of those people who likes to have a “pure” first run at a game when it comes out, but it’s good to hear that there are improvements.

    I’m also one of those crazies who actually loved Mass Effect 2, although I’m certainly willing to admit it had its flaws. So if this improves on a lot of ME2’s systems, I’m in.

    1. Josh says:

      You may want to hold back on playing the demo if you’re intent on a pure runthrough – there are some pretty serious early game spoilers in the demo that may lose their impact if you’ve seen them already.

      1. Allan says:

        Indeed. I was happy enough just playing through the prolouge but then it suddenly dumps you into chapter 3 or something. WHO THE HELL THOUGHT THAT’D BE A GOOD IDEA!?

        1. Nyctef says:

          Well, the ME2 demo had the prologue and then jumped to Jack’s recruitment mission, but that wasn’t nearly as spoilerific.

          Also Josh, I think you’re being a bit unfair on ME2 by using Male Shepard as the comparison :P

          1. X2-Eliah says:

            ME2 had a demo? why was I not aware of that?

          2. Allan says:

            That they’ve employed a terrible idea before is not defense to doing it again! :)

      2. Brandon says:

        That was what happened to me with Mass Effect 2. A friend bought the game the day before me and spoiled the “Shepard Dies and is brought back to Life” thing. I was very unhappy.

    2. krellen says:

      Spoiler: Someone dies.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        It’s almost impossible to get spoiled when you follow the gaming press. Cases in point: The ME2 lead-up and the ME3 trailer.

        But, that’s generally only the thing that kicks off the game. Having part of the demo be in the meat of the game is just not a good idea – the prologue is fine, especially in DAII where you even get to play as a high level character.

      2. ehlijen says:

        Also, Voldemort is Luke’s sled.

        1. Irridium says:

          Snape killed rosebud.

  2. Fede says:

    I tried the demo (PC version, as a mage), and now i’m not really sure if my fears where confirmed or not.

    Combat felt a bit too fast paced, but i have the impression that it will be only a matter of getting used to it. I would have liked to be able to have a higher overhead view, instead of this third person over the shoulder camera.But then again, i’m still hoping that one day someone will make a great RPG with turn-based combat with tactical movement…

    I agree with Josh about the dialogue wheel without the morality bars, but one of the reasons that made me dislike it in Mass Effect is still present: it’s not always easy to understand what ShepardHawke are going to say because the wheel lists every option with a (too) short phrase.

    What i really really liked (and hope they use for Mass Effect 3) are the new skill trees.

    Overall, i’d say i liked, not as much as i hoped, but i liked it.

    1. Taellosse says:

      I actually thought they handled the new camera pretty well. You can pull up and overheard pretty far, and fluidly, in the PC version, and it functions almost exactly the same way as the overheard camera did in DA:O. You can to keep your currently selected character on the screen, but that’s not a lot more limiting than the range you could move before.

      And I didn’t have much of a problem with the abbreviated versions of what Hawke can say on the dialog wheel versus what s/he says when you pick them. The symbols that indicate what the tone of the statement is go a long way towards telling you what it’s going to be like. If you combine the two elements, you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s about to come out of the character’s mouth, and still get to enjoy hearing it actually said. Those little symbols are a really brilliant addition to the system, and I hope they make the jump to ME3–the game could really benefit from it.

      For my part, I was both excited and filled with trepidation about this game–it is going to be the first Bioware title developed entirely (or, at least, mostly–we don’t know if they started working on it before DA:O’s release or not) under the control of EA (even ME2 was under development before the deal was signed), and the signs I saw in ME2 made me REALLY nervous about what that could mean. But if the game proper delivers on the promise of this demo, I’ll be much less worried, and, more importantly, have fun with the game.

      1. Fede says:

        I don’t know, i found that i could not pull the camera back up enough to call it an overhead view. Maybe it’s because i played with low quality settings, so there is a limit?

      2. Aldowyn says:

        I don’t understand how no one has compared DAII’s dialogue system to Alpha Protocol… I’m pretty sure they’re pretty much exactly the same.

        1. Michael says:

          Except that AP’s dialog system was really almost more of a puzzle mechanic than a dialog selection system.

  3. primogenitor says:

    “The kids are alright”? Huh?

      1. Peachfuzz says:

        Man, the kids really aren’t alright if they don’t recognize the real source of the quote.


        Mumble, grumble… get off my lawn…

        1. RejjeN says:

          is Grumble like Mumbles brother or something? And why WOULDN’T you want them on your lawn? :P

    1. Christopher M says:

      Reminds me of that horrible propaganda flick they’re thinking about celebrating in Hollywood right now.

      1. The Defenestrator says:

        No-one’s putting a gun to your head and forcing you to listen to The Who, you know.

        1. Christopher M says:

          Out of curiosity, what’s the Who got to do with the similarity between the topic subtitle and the name of a propaganda film?

          1. The Defenestrator says:

            So which movie were you talking about then?

              1. The Defenestrator says:

                Okay. I haven’t seen it.

              2. Matt says:

                And what makes the film a ‘horrible propaganda flick’?

                1. Christopher M says:

                  It is, essentially, a one-sided celebration of gay marriage. It’s the Liberal equivalent of the Jesus movies: Something designed by one side of the debate, for that side of the debate, designed either to “preach to the choir” or to directly proselytize their ideas.

                  The “horrible” part is just my opinion.

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Yeah, okay. Let’s not do this discussion here.

                2. TheDefenestrator says:

                  Does that make Mamma Mia! propaganda too? because I liked that movie.

                3. The Defenestrator says:

                  “142 comments? What, did somebody start a flame war or something?”

              3. Vekni says:

                I hate to risk continuing this discussion buuuuuuut….have you seen the movie, or just seen a trailer/premise? It’s hardly one sided or propaganda, and is fairly insulting actually to “the choir”. The message and story could easily be interpreted as “things just won’t work right unless there’s a man involved”.

                But hey, what do I know about whether or not it is propaganda, I saw the film and you apparently didn’t…but then anyone who suggests that treating human beings as equals if they get their rocks off differently is “horrible propaganda” you’ve already decided to stick your head in the sand.

                1. Kavonde says:

                  Shamus is going to pop in and shut this down before it continues, and I’ve already been scolded once on here for pushing to continue a political argument. Don’t make my mistake!

                  I’m just glad the issue of same sex parentage wasn’t brought up, because as a future teacher and a hopeless idealist, I’d be forced to ignore my own advice. (Which I did, and then finally thought better of before replacing the diatribe with this paragraph.)

                2. Shamus says:

                  Several comments up I clearly stated I didn’t want this debate.

  4. Russ says:

    I agree on all points, even the Mass Effect 2 being too streamlined compared the the first Mass Effect (of course everyone looks at me like a loon for thinking such a thing). I really think Bioware hit the sweet spot here.

    The skill trees look great, not having more skills than hot keys will be welcome. And the potion counter works well enough. It will be interesting to see how items and armor work out.

    Just give me back the top down perspective from Dragon Age: Orgins on PC and I’ll be happy.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      “even the Mass Effect 2 being too streamlined compared the the first Mass Effect (of course everyone looks at me like a loon for thinking such a thing).”

      Either you are being indetectably sarcastic or you do NOT watch Spoiler Warning. It’s a little hard to remember that people don’t endlessly rant on ME2 outside of Spoiler Warning.

  5. Zukhramm says:

    I was sceptical for the same reasons at you, and on top of that if was not all too impressed by the first game.

    The first game had incredibly boring combat. “Oh but it’s an RPG blah blah it’s not about the combat”. Yeah? Well then don’t make the game 90% combat. No wonder the game’s so long.

    I’m not saying that more slow paced RPG combat has to mean a boring game, but if the combat works like that the enemies you ecount need to be more varied instead, and Dragon Age just pumped out wave upon wave of similar encounters. The second game does not seem to change that, but instead speeds up the combat. While that’s not necessarily an improvement, I think it is in this case, especially when it’s backed by RPG mechanics a little more complex than those seen in Mass Effect 2.

    Setting the story over a larger time, with it partly taking place during the same time as the first game is also something I think is a good idea. Same thing with the fram story, I liked it in Alpha Protocol, I like it here.

    Another thing similar to Alpha Protocol is the meter where both sides give positive results, something I also like.

    1. Robyrt says:

      Like many RPGs, Dragon Age would have been much improved by cutting 1/2 the fights and giving you 2x the experience points for the remainder. There are lots of unique, challenging encounters scattered around, but they get lost in the noise of the 20th generic “Oh no! Half a dozen spiders have appeared from nowhere! Cycle through your attacks like it’s World of Warcraft!”

      1. Aldowyn says:

        It would be fine if it was balanced so that certain builds aren’t completely overpowered… and your class of choice is one of the least powerful. (*cough* sword and shield warrior *cough*)

      2. Michael says:

        Do you mean: 1/4th the fights, with *2 the experience? Seriously, was there a real reason why the entire Dwarf section needed to be a twenty hour experience? Five would have been fine.

        1. Galad says:

          well, it was called the Deep Roads. You can’t go deep very quickly, rite?

  6. Electron Blue says:

    The goddamn demo is too hard.
    I can’t get past the ogre fight. Everyone keeps dying, and I can’t set the difficulty to Easy because…because. Fine. I’ll wait. Jerks.
    EDIT: Wait, can you loot people for health potions? Because I assumed ‘inventory screen is locked in this demo’ meant ‘no items for you’.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Try sicking Avaline on the ogre and repeatedly use her taunt to grab anyone’s attention away from Bethany/MageHawk.

      Also spam everyone’s abilities like there is no tomorrow, the only ability in the demo that has a long cooldown is heal after all.

    2. poiumty says:

      Yes, you can loot people for health potions. But they aren’t needed for the ogre fight provided you take the right combination of classes and skills.

      This is what i find funny about people who haven’t played generic MMOs before and go into DA1 without knowing the concept of the holy trinity of group setups, then complain that it’s too hard.

      Then again, if your main character is a mage and you just happened to put points in support skills, you just got majorly screwed in the demo because the cooldown on Heal is 60 seconds. I had to kite the ogre and two of its minions for one minute with my tank because my healing spell was on cooldown and i couldn’t be arsed to loot corpses. Insert Benny Hill theme here.

      1. Electron Blue says:

        “This is what i find funny about people who haven't played generic MMOs before and go into DA1 without knowing the concept of the holy trinity of group setups, then complain that it's too hard. ”
        What, we should just know it instinctively? I play on Easy because I am BORED with that damn setup and so eventually I just forget how to play it. The only problem is that I didn’t know I could get more potions – of course, with the news that apparently a lot is skipped after the ogre fight makes me not interested in revisiting it.

        I’m satisfied that the combat LOOKS better now, at least. My characters no longer duckwalk around verrrry slowly and attack by swinging like they’re holding clubs instead of swords, and mages look damn cool doing their thing.

        1. Avilan says:

          It seems this game will have the same problem as DA:O: a third of the players complains that it is too hard, and a third of players complain that it is way too easy. That was patched in DA:O; after one of the first updates the easiest difficulty was made much easier and the hardest was made harder.

          1. Nihil says:

            Patches or not, Nightmare is still a joke if almost two decades of CRPGs have practically hardwired you to check every nook and issue orders every turn. If you picked good specialisations and have a balanced party with a healer, you probably didn’t even need to bother with potions.

        2. poiumty says:

          I wasn’t implying that you should know it instinctively, i was just laughing at Bioware for thinking everyone does. Because they never really explain it, they copied so much out of WoW that they forgot about the people who haven’t played it.

          (in case anyone gets a knee-jerk reaction to the “copied out of WoW” part: Orgrimmar // Orzrammar. But it’s a different race’s capital so IT’S AWRIGHT)

          1. Rosseloh says:

            I don’t claim to know the designer’s intent, but naming conventions are a pretty easy thing to inadvertently make close to something else. That is, I don’t think they are trying to copy WoW there. The combat (which is the topic in focus here) is generic MMO combat. Just because WoW is the top dog doesn’t mean it’s the only one :P . (Of course, saying it’s the top is a good way to undermine my point)

          2. Allan says:

            Yes, Orzammar is obviously a direct rip from WoW, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Ores or Hammers of which Dwarves are rumored to be fond of.

            1. poiumty says:

              I’d be curious to know how you came to that conclusion, since the name Orzammar isn’t explained anywhere. But that was just one example. I can pull up the skill list and the codex and show you exactly what they copied, or you could just take my word for it. It’s quite a lot to write, you know.

              Besides, far from me to say that DA1 was a rip-off. I think “heavily inspired” is the construct i’m aiming at.

              1. Allan says:

                I came to that conclusion because it’s a Dwarven city which sounds like a combination of the words Ores and Hammer. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but if it’s not any better, it’s certainly not worse than just saying “Orgrimmar // Orzrammar”. :)

                1. Raygereio says:

                  “a combination of the words Ores and Hammer”
                  Given that the codex says that Orzammar originally only housed the smith and miner castes I’d say that’s a reasonable guess.

                2. Sumanai says:

                  Wait, it’s not ” ‘ores and grammar”? Damn, that would’ve made for a much more interesting history.

              2. RejjeN says:

                the whole “Tank, DPS, Crowd Control” aspect has been in existence far longer than WoW has, I’d go so far as to say it originated in the very first pen and paper rpg’s. Of course “threat” and such only came in later and a game about group combat including “threat” is pretty much par for the course nowadays.

                Not saying they might not have taken some things from WoW, but I doubt Orzammar was one of them (as has already been pointed out, it sounds like a combination of ores and hammers, with Orzammar originally being a smith and miner city).

                1. Nihil says:

                  “Threat” is also a rather vapid concept. As long as you have mobile enemies, they will need to have some algorithm to decide whom to attack. As long as such algorithm is more sophisticated than rolling a die, players will be able to manipulate it. Whether this is done through pushing a “Threaten/Disengage” button or through manually tricking the AI (eg blocking a corridor) isn’t terribly important.

    3. Jennifer Snow says:

      Yes, you can loot health and stamina and mana pots. Throw Aveline on the ogre and make it your #1 priority to massacre the adds as quickly as possible (kill the ones with short health bars first, they go down faster and this eliminates their damage) because it’s the adds that will kill your tank. The ogre attacks rather slowly and actually won’t do much damage to Aveline.

      By the time you have all the adds down, Aveline will probably need a pot. Then concentrate fire and take down the ogre.

      1. eric says:

        Those roles existed, but they weren’t as clearly defined. In D&D, there’s always been a great deal of versatility in how you build your characters, with tons and tons of classes, specialisations and whatnot. Modern MMOs encourage min/maxing, and generally force your character into limited archetypes and specific “builds”. Dragon Age takes far more from that modern archetype setup than from older pen and paper games.

        1. Jennifer Snow says:

          I’d advise you to try playing DDO (Dungeons and Dragons Online) if you want to see a modern MMO that allows for myriad different builds within the traditional “archtypes”. There’s no best in slot items in DDO, just lots and lots of tradeoffs.

  7. Bubble181 says:

    Sooo….unique influence meters, like in KotOR 2? And…you can choose the things you want to say more freely, because it *isn’t* always the top chocie that gives you points for A and the bottom choice that gives B…like in KotOR 2?
    Next you’ll tell me they’ve redone the dialogue wheel so that you can actually see the whole phrase you’re going to utter; by the simple idea of placing them in a list one below the other! Incredible breakthrough! Whoa!

    …yeah, so across Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age (haven’t played ME 1, to be fair), I haven’t found any actual *improvements* over KotOR 2 yet; except for a game with an actual end :-P

    1. Jennifer Snow says:

      Bioware didn’t make KotOR 2. Obsidian did.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        I’m well aware.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          More relevant is the part where KotOR has a morality meter, and DA:O doesn’t. And the top choice good bottom choice bad is completely moot in DAII because of that… DAII’s morality system is the best IMO because the only morality is based on what people think of you. Just please tell me that they got rid of, or at least decreased the importance of, the bribery system…

          Polar morality systems with rewards based on them is a really bad idea, and it looks like Bioware MIGHT be figuring that out. Too bad Mass Effect is thoroughly stuck into that. (Though to be fair ME is a much more clear-game and doesn’t need it. If only they remembered what their own morality system stands for, it’d be perfect…)

          1. Kavonde says:

            “Just please tell me that they got rid of, or at least decreased the importance of, the bribery system.”

            They didn’t, from what I’ve read, but they did make it so that companions with a low opinion of you will become rivals and get similar bonuses as friends. Knowing Bioware, companions you’re friends with will probably get bonuses to defenses and general survivability, while companions you’re rivals with will gain offensive bonuses.

            1. krellen says:

              From the demo, you can see a few of the skills. The sword-and-shield warrior you pick up early on gets defensive bonuses when she’s an enemy of you (she’s “on her guard”) and absorbs damage from you when she’s a friend of you.

            2. Jennifer Snow says:

              The only gifts (bribes) left are the plot-significant, personalized ones which trigger an entire conversation. No just random throwing crap at people to make them like you.

              In addition, the same gift may elicit a different reaction depending on whether you’re a friend or a rival with the recipient.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                Ok that’s fine. Those I liked – more character development is almost always good, and that doesn’t really count as bribery.

            3. Zekiel says:

              Hmmm… this sort of system was one of KOTOR 2’s oddities – it meant that it didn’t really matter whether a companion liked you or hated you – both extremes were very effective. Which then led to the odd situation that if someone didn’t like you very much, you’d try and get them to really hate you in order to unlock more bonuses. And that raised the question “if they hate you so much, why on earth are they still taking orders from you?”

              To be fair, KOTOR 2 did actually have an answer to that question (although it was quite easy to miss iirc). But I wouldn’t be surprised if Dragon Age 2 didn’t have an answer as to why your rivals can still be ordered around….

  8. Markus says:

    Great, now I’ve played through the demo with each class and still am not in possession of DA-Origins.

  9. poiumty says:

    As a person who has mixed feelings on Dragon Age 1, i kind of disagree with your points on the demo. The combat is wonderful, yes, if a little reminiscient of the old MMO feel of the first game and less than i expected, but the other half of the game seems to preserve all the typical Bioware faults: the facial animations are uncanny, the inflections are awkward and the voice acting isn’t particularly great. Aside from Hawke, i mean. And the faces, they’re… long. Seriously, what’s with the LONG faces? Aside from that one templar chick in the intro, (nearly?) every party member’s face is disproportionately stretched to the point that i can’t imagine myself romancing any of those ugly things. Also, male Hawke looks around 20 years older than he did in the trailer. Negative points for that.

    Might just be me, but that’s the general impression the demo’s left me with so far.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Huh, Hawke has the best voice acting? ME is opposite of that – even Jennifer Hale is hamstrung by the utterly cookie-cutter RPG dialogue. (What about this? And that? Ok, bye!) (Except for a few moments, where they get to speechifying.)

  10. cadrys says:

    Thanks Josh–you just flipped me from “meh, maybe some day” to “OK, I’ll pick this up while it’s still full price.” Better combat that doesn’t feel like I’m playing 60 hours of grinding? Improvements on the entire “role playing” part? I’m in.

    1. poiumty says:

      Or you can just try the demo and make your own judgement. It’s free, you know.

      1. Jennifer Snow says:

        And, if there are 1,000,000 demo downloads, we all get bonus lootz. Check it out.

        1. Skan says:

          Woo two free stat books…

    2. Jabor says:

      I totally agree with this. I was going to wait for a sale or something, now I’m definitely going to be picking it up at some point.

      I’ll also probably give the demo a spin beforehand, though being in the land of capped internet that means finding a time I can fit in the bandwidth to download it.

      1. Jennifer Snow says:

        Yeah, the demo file is HUGE, 1.9 gigs. (Considering that the entire game, compressed, is only 7 gigs, you gotta wonder what all of that is.)

        If you do download the demo make sure you make an EA account and log in so we get credit for ya.

        1. Eddie says:

          If you think that’s bad, the Shogun Total War 2 demo is 6.1 gigs. I probably spent at least three times more time downloading it than playing it. It sold me on the game though, so probably worth it.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            … What now? 6.1 GB? I have games that aren’t that old that aren’t that size…

            Maybe they should institute a system like WoW has for its trial where you just get the stuff you need right now and dload the rest as you play.

            1. Josh says:

              Well, it is a strategy game; you can see most of the game assets in any given battle, unlike games with a progressive storyline where most of the maps and character models wouldn’t be included in a demo.

              1. Eddie says:

                Also, the full game is 20 gigs, so…big games have big demos, I guess.

  11. Kanodin says:

    I actually liked the combat in the first game. I always cranked it up to one of the higher difficulties and then had a fun time figuring out the optimal strategy. I’m a big fan of the whole you start each fight at full power idea, it really lets them make each one individually challenging. I found the demo to be an improvement of everything I liked as well as an optionally faster pace.

    Also Rogue is incredibly fun in this game, hopping around backstabbing people and what not.

    1. Falcon says:

      The great thing with DA:O is that you have to be very tactical in combat. The downside is, only a few tactics are really effective with any given group.

      I’ve been replaying it recently (got about halfway when it first cam out, them ME2 hit and…) and my main character is a mage. Mostly debuffs heals pumped up electrical damage. Of my skills I really have about 8-10 that are ever useful to me. The thing is I have very low damage output. You are forced to bring a rouge with you at all times (or no loot, and lots of trap damage) but they have relatively low damage output, since the AI isn’t very good with positioning for backstab damage. You need a tank, because everything else is squishy, again low damage. So I need to bring along Morrigan (or Wynne I suppose) to deal the actual damage. Which means that as much as I’d like to play around with different party combos I’m stuck. Sure I can change my tank around, Oghren, Allistair, Sten, but I have no choice for my other 2 party members.

      So while there are a decent number of tactical options, I can’t use most of them. I’m stuck using the one set party, because nothing can replace cone of cold and fireball in battle. Sorry Shale, and your amusing dialoge, you’re stuck in camp because otherwise I have no chance. Same for you Dog, and any warrior not Oghren (indomitable + juggernaut armor + fireballed = party win) because you’re not kitted out.

      In ME2 I could (even on insanity) pick a party based on who I wanted on each individual mission, and know I could find a strategy to get through. Much more time to enjoy the party interactions, because while listening to Oghren and Leliana go on, or Leliana and Morrigan, is amusing, I am sure there are so many more such dialogues I can never see.

      1. RejjeN says:

        If you’re playing on PC I would suggest downloading the stat reset mod, sounds like you did some bad choices on your main (also, rogues are some of the best DPS classes in the game, you just need to put them behind an enemy, try it.), some debuffs and buffs are good to have, but I find spells like the ice cone and mass paralysis to be much better as it completely disables most enemies, plus Shale can both tank and do damage if you switch her modes around.

        I admit I tend not to bring rogues along as I find them tedious to micro-manage at times, but if I do I always do, I really don’t think they’re that important for a successful group, most of the loot you miss out on are scrap anyways.

        I’m sure there’s far better “guides” out there you can check, also Haste = win. (double or triple stacking haste = <3)

        1. Jennifer Snow says:

          Indeed. Some of the best stuff in Origins is a bit counter-intuitive. Mages do crap damage for the most part (unless you do some very specific stuff with them involving Blood Mage and/or Storm of the Century), but their CC is disgusting. Mass Paralyze is a one-spell-win much of the time.

          I generally did my rogue playthroughs partied up with Sten, Shale, and the Dog. All three of them can get a burst stun effect (Sten with the Champion specialization) and if you get the backstab upgrade on your rogue, you auto-stab on stunned enemies. Just chain their stun effects one after another and annihilate the mobs.

          The only time I found I really *needed* a healer was on some of the bigger bosses like the High Dragon, and even then I mostly just force fielded whoever had aggro and let the dragon attack uselessly while I spammed it with ranged attacks and backstabs.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Part of the annoying part is that EVERY party member is already significantly on the track to a certain role. Alistair is a tank, Oghren and Sten are 2-handers, Leliana is an archer, Zevran is a dual-wielder, Wynne is a healer, and Morrigan is a shapeshifer (CC, I guess?) You can change them, but I tend not to… so I don’t know how to use mages properly. The way your party is constructed in DA:O makes me feel like they designed the PC to be a DPS mage.

            I always wondered why there didn’t seem to be a DPS mage track… I miss my elementalist style mage :(

            1. Jennifer Snow says:

              Arcane Warrior is the dps mage build in Origins. Pick up a sword, put on some armor, turn on a few sustains and if you pump everything into your magic stat, you’ll be doing 100+ damage per attack and never take any damage.

              You need to spec for a ton of phys resist though, and it’s boring as hell to play.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                >.> So to make a DPS mage it has to pretend to not be a mage? How’s THAT for counter-intuitive?

                1. Nihil says:

                  DPS mage:

                  – Walking Bomb / VWB deal a TON of damage to both their targets and anyone nearby when they blow up (Arcane Bolt does 3X damage for 15 mana; WB does 10X for 30 and VWB does 15X for 40). If you alternate both of them on a boss or tank (their cooldown is exactly twice their duration) they WILL come after you, meaning you’ve dealt them more damage than anyone else.
                  – Against warriors, either the Fire or Cold paths are solid (Lightning is weak and Nature is a declining slope, with Rock Armor and Stonefist being the good ones). Cold is generally better since you get free CC with your damage, enables ranged assassinations with Stonefist, and offers Winter’s Grasp which you can machinegun alongside Arcane Bolt if enemies aren’t so nice as to clump together. If you want sheer damage Fire does provide more of that, although it’s sort of counterproductive until your melee guys can acquire some good fire/physical resistance.
                  – Blood Mage has two of the best spells for both purposes: Blood Wound is a powerful AoE damage + stun effect, and Blood Control is ridiculous if it succeeds and merely good if it fails.
                  – Spell Wisp is pretty underrated, it can make a difference and if you’re a Blood Mage it “pays” for itself (through boosting Heal).
                  – Mana Clash one-hit-kills mages. Its prerequisites are rather meh (although Spell Might is a good buff for boss battles when you’re willing to burn potions, and it makes Animate Dead worth the cost), so if you aren’t afraid of mages and/or aren’t interested in undead minions you can skip it.

  12. Adalore says:

    I am not sure what I was expected when I played, I did so on the PC that couldn’t quite handle the game, the frames per second was iffy to say the least.

    I played though it once with a rogue, and from the other videos of “Critics” playing though it, rogues are currently Underpowered.

    Also it bugs me that it’s the flippy fragile speedster rogues, I got too many characters I have designed that outright avoid flipping unless it makes sense, because in that weird RL thing, Flipping takes a pile of energy.

    And nothing would die quickly to my rogue! sure I could voosh backstab every so often, and some other tools, but I am conditioned to the “Rogue = HIGHEST SINGLE TARGET DAMAGE…/Under right conditions?”

    Also… why are the blightspawn pale white now? I noticed that surpringly quickly for barely playing the first game and almost forgetting all the characters. Also take a look at their armor, it’s… Hilarious to say the least, it takes skimpy spiky “Evil” armor to the next level.

    With what another commenter has said, it drops you mid chapter after skipping the rest of the prologue after the first proper boss. I wanted to do the weird exploration thing, and decide how well the conversational wheel works for me. Also it annoys me when I couldn’t throw a dagger at non-important NPC at the same time as the “Awesome” team mate you get, I rather not get upstaged, and should at least be able to maintain the same level of “Look! I did something!” as the main hero during other characters special things.

  13. Irridium says:

    You may have just sold the game for me.

    But… on the dialog wheel, do your responses actually match with the little summaries on the wheel? Or will I have to play “Guess what your character’s going to say!” again?

    1. Fede says:

      I found that it was at the same level of “guessiness” as Mass effect 2.

    2. Avilan says:

      I don’t really understand this complaint; I never had that problem in either ME game. The text at the wheel is the “Gheist” of what your character is going to say; not exactly what he or she will say.

      1. Irridium says:

        Its not exactly great in ME2. Its been displayed in the Spoiler Warning videos. Like the “I’m not working for Cerberus” options, where Shepard then says he/she is working for Cerberus.

        Didn’t happen much, but it happened enough to really annoy me.

        There’s also issues with tone, but that seems to be fixed. Which is good.

      2. Vipermagi says:

        That is kinda the problem. I occasionally interpret the short phrase differently than the devs hoped I would, and then make Shep say something I find silly. Doesn’t happen too often for me though (Renegade is pretty predictable :p ).

        1. Miral says:

          It’s a bit better in DA2; they’ve added a picture showing the emotion or tone of the response. The actual words are still only loosely related to the wheel text, though.

      3. Raygereio says:

        It does get somewhat annoying when you select a simple “no” and still end up with minutes worth of dialogue.

        Though that’s not as stupid as giving the player several options to choose from only for each option to give the exact same response.

      4. Zukhramm says:

        The problem is that Bioware seems to go out of their way to make sure that the text on the wheel and the dialog spoken are different, even when a short summary of the line that’s going to be said could be put on the wheel, they make sure it’s something similar, but not exactly the same.

  14. X2-Eliah says:

    I mostly agree with all that Josh said here. Myself, played with mage, warrior and rogue, to see how it’s changed. Now, as a mage, absolutely love how it plays now – which s very much like it played in DA:O, but with better animations. Warior – seemed ok, some things are better, some worse, on the whole it’s about the same-ish, and rogue was a bit of a mess.. The archer was fine, but the dagger-wielder was just way too chaotic and all over the place for my tastes.

    Even so, the graphics are better, the main character seems really good (and well-voiced, imo), and the two classes I care about play quite well – so this is a definite preorder for me.

  15. Jeff says:

    I wonder how you get blood splatter on the hilt of your weapons after stabbing somebody with it. I wasn’t aware that “release at impact” was a valid combat style for stabbing people.

    1. Meredith says:

      The blood spatter effects are distractingly over the top, yet I don’t turn them off…weird.

      I’m still making my way through the first game and as much as I’m enjoying it, I have to agree with the combat critique here. It’s hard even when pausing to issue commands every round and in some places just feels endless. The leveling up mechanics feel weird and backwards compared to every other rpg (tabletop included) I’ve ever played too. Did that change at all in the sequel?

      1. Taellosse says:

        I guess that depends on what you mean by “backwards.” When you earn a level up, you still start with boosting stats, then go to abilities (the skills system seems to have been rolled into the abilities, or simply eliminated). You get three points for stats and one new ability per level.

        The previous system of linear paths for abilities (you must get the Cone of Fire spell to get the Fireball spell to get the Firestorm spell) has been replaced with a series of simple trees, where certain abilities are required for others, but there are branches you can choose between, and most of the active abilities (whether they’re damage-dealing/status-causing or persistent buffs) have upgrades you can choose to get, that make the base ability more powerful.

        The basic process of going through a level up is the same, though. I’m not sure how you could call it backwards, though.

        1. Meredith says:

          I mostly meant getting 3 attribute points per level and a skill/ability only every two or three levels. It’s the complete opposite of every system ever. It’s not a huge deal, just something that stuck out to me. Having multiple attributes in the high 20s at low levels just feels strange to me.

          I like the idea of making the abilities more powerful instead of just constantly getting new ones.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            No, it’s just backwards from D&D. Most MMOs do it that way, and the RPGs not based on D&D rulesets often do it this way as well.

  16. DanMan says:

    Something that really bothered me (that you guys have complained repeatedly about on Spoiler Warning) about Mass Effect was the fact that I had to SEND 12 KITTENS TO COLLEGE (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/3/27/) before I was allowed to tell the schmuck trying to kill me to F**** OFF.

    The whole point of giving the player a choice on what to say is so that the PLAYER CAN CHOOSE WHAT TO SAY

  17. Tizzy says:

    Dear Josh: Thanks for this inspiring review. I did not go back to analyze all your previous posts, but it strikes me that your writing is remarkably well-suited to the tone Shamus has set for this website. I don’t know whether this comes to you naturally or if you deliberately set out to match the rest of the entries, but bravo either way.

  18. Jarenth says:

    Wow. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to get my dude-Shepard to look that shade of crazy.


    1. Slothful says:

      It probably helps that he used the default face. You couldn’t get him to look much more terrible if you tried.

      Really they should’ve just gotten Patrick Warburton to voice him.

      1. Tizzy says:

        That’s just because Patrick Warburton should get to voice **everyone**.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        He’s based off a (Dutch? yep) model, Mark Vanderloo. They’re not THAT far off (you’d recognize a picture of him easily. Might not be far off Miranda/Strahovski in closeness)… And yes, you could easily make something worse.

  19. Vegedus says:

    I played the demo too, and though I really liked the overall changes and concept of it (one nice thing I’d point out that you didn’t is the icons in the conversation wheel, it really helps read the mood as well. Especially the
    ‘witty’ options don’t “read” as witty), I have a bad feeling about it, gnawing at me. Namely, I feel it’s kinda rushed. I dunno if it’s just because it’s a demo or what, but some parts of it just feels kinda shoddy. The menu system is kinda odd, many spells are taken from the first one, despite looking different. And something about the characters rub me badly… Maybe it’s just the ridiculous boobage and attire of that swashbuckler girl.

    I’m hoping I’m proved wrong, and it may just be the demo effect, but I have a bad feeling the quality of DA2…

  20. Well, I tried out the demo (I missed out on the first Dragon Age mainly through lack of time, but I wanted to at least see this)…and, frankly, I just wasn’t all that impressed by it.

    Here was my experience, in a nutshell:

    First, I fought things. Then, after some dialogue, I fought more things. Then, the cut scene told me that there was actually a different story, and there was a bit of dialogue…and then I fought some more things. And then I fought more things. Then I met a couple of other characters – and we fought things. Then we fought a big thing, which killed my party. Then I turned the demo off.

    See, here’s the thing – the character interactions were fine. I had no idea of who anybody was, but at least they interacted. And, they had a goal, which was also fine. But, there wasn’t any real story, or any reason why I should care. It would have been so much better if I could have seen the village first, had a moment to get a sense of who was who, and develop some sort of stake in the matter, before being thrust into the “follow the path and fight things” mode. And that’s all there was – it really amounted to following the path and fighting things.

    I am all for an [i]in media res[/i] opening, but there should at least be some variety. This just came across as dull and repetitive.

    I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I saw it.

    1. Taellosse says:

      They may provide more context in the retail game, I don’t know. But, for what it’s worth, you wouldn’t really need it if you had played the first game. The village you’re escaping at the beginning–Lothering–is the first town you visit in the game proper of Dragon Age: Origins (after your 2 intro locations, of your origin and the battle of Ostagar), and you spend a fair amount of time there in that early part of the game.

      I suspect that, given that this is a sequel, they’re assuming a certain amount of player knowledge of the world and location. Granted, ideally they’d provide enough context that you could jump in anyway, since this is a new player character who will be spending most of his/her time in a completely different part of the world from the first game, but there’s a tightrope they need to walk there–if they provide too much context, then it’s going to irritate all the people that DID play the first game at least as much, because they’ll be sitting there saying “jeez, why are you telling me all this AGAIN! I already KNOW this stuff!”

      1. I can see where you’re coming from, but that still doesn’t explain the sheer repetition. The background information is, well, background. The problem for me really is in the foreground. I’m not given any reason to have any stake whatsoever in getting these characters to safety. And that’s not based on being given a quest (strictly speaking, getting them to safety IS the quest) – that’s based on being tossed into the scenario with nothing more than “here are some people – take them to the waypoint and fighting things.”

        What I really needed was some reason to care. Let one of them be desperately frightened for the safety of her sister in the next valley, or perhaps one of the people you meet on the way has an urgent message that must be carried. That would have given it the hook it needed, I think, and made it far more immersive.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I bet that there’s a sequence in the beginning they skipped, where you get to know your family. DA:O did that, rather well I thought. (Of course, the Origin stories were just fairly awesome.)

          Plus… you’re not even in the same country as most of the game – Lothering itself doesn’t really matter, except as a callback to DA:O. Personally, I think it doesn’t make sense as you would have NOTICED a family full of awesome fighters like Hawke’s…

    2. Jennifer Snow says:

      It’s largely meant to be a combat demo and show off the new interface features. They aren’t giving you a free game. They’re not going to spoil large parts of the plot.

      It’s also a six-month old build, and given the Bioware dev’s glee at screwing with their dedicated playerbase, it’s probably *not* the actual opening of the game. Some footage has come out that seems to indicate other things go on that we didn’t get to see in the demo.

  21. Audacity says:

    Instead, the choices control the tone of the dialogue: Options towards the top tend to be more diplomatic and measured, options that fall near the middle tend to be more wry or playful, and options towards the bottom are more direct and goal-oriented.

    Alpha Protocol anyone?

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      More or less, but with the added benefit of boss battles that are actually doable, and a working difficulty system (in the final game). So you get to see more of the dialogue than just the first 3rd of what’s there…

      Edit – yes, what I am saying is that while it had good bits, AP was generally a bad game.

      1. Audacity says:

        Consider the glove thrown, Sir! I demand satisfaction at dawn!

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          I would, but I got stuck at one of your mini-bosses in Russia, so I can’t face you as an end boss.

          So sorry.

          1. Audacity says:

            I’m actually more of a miniboss myself, but you have to fix the ambulance and get the drugs in the safe, before you can find me.

      2. krellen says:

        The only boss battle I had any problem with in AP was the first one (when you’re attacking the terrorist’s convoy), and only because the game didn’t bother to tell me “there are missile launchers laying around, go grab them.”

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Hm, that one was quite easy.. I’m rather referring to the way you are royally screwed if you do a pistols & sneaking build, and are asked to annihilate humans with hp of a tank, or protect an npc against an army.

          1. Piflik says:

            I made the complete opposite experience…you are screwed, if you don’t take stealth and pistols…

            1. Audacity says:

              Agreed, chain-shot is way too powerful. If combined with brilliance not boss fight lasts more than a few seconds.

              1. Audacity says:

                That’s supposed to say “most boss fights don’t last more than a few seconds.” I shouldn’t post and watch TV at the same time.

          2. Jarenth says:

            I also had more or less the opposite experience, then: I used Stealth and Pistols as my main gig and the powers you get from that allowed me to headshot anyway, all the time, forever. While invisible.

            The final boss might have a lot of health, but he can’t do much when I’m firing off six headshots in the span of one second, time frozen, while I’m also invisible. And then using my ‘all cooldowns cleared’ power so I can do it again.

            1. Josh says:

              I cleared the final boss fight with a single Master Chain Shot. Took out Yancey in three seconds.

              1. Piflik says:

                Best way to clear the final fight is to just hack the door lock and walk into the room…

                1. krellen says:

                  I don’t think I had the same ending you guys did.

                2. Irridium says:

                  Me neither.

      3. Andy_Panthro says:

        I’m actually of the opposite opinion, that AP was a good game that was let down by occasional bad bits.

        In fact, the boss fights were probably the only part I didn’t like.

        Generally though, it delivered well on what it promised. I also got lucky in having an almost bug free experience.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Well.. I’d agree to this definition, actually. A case of glass being half-full or half-empty.

          I’m just of the opinion that if a game itself restricts you from progressing due to playing it like an rpg and not a shooter, well, it’s a core gameplay fault.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      In some ways similar, but I still like Alpha Protocol’s more. In that game you almost exclusively control tone while in Dragon Age 2, you have a short line of text acompanied with a symbol indicating tone.

      1. Josh says:

        See I didn’t really like Alpha Protocol’s system actually. You had more control over your tone, perhaps, but that was virtually all of the control you had. I felt less like I was playing a character and more like I was hanging out behind Thorton like some kind of super-spy casting director and subtly signalling to him which tone he should take. And then occasionally he’d turn around and ask my opinion on which [MAJOR PLOT DECISION] choice he should take.

        Combined with the ever one-second-too-short timer, it made the system feel far too hectic and limiting for me to ever really feel like I was in control of what Thorton was saying.

        It didn’t make Protocol a bad game per se – I still liked the gameplay for the most part, I just wish I’d been able to get more control over Thorton as a character.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Mass Effect was usually good about giving your options early enough that you can decide before it’s time to talk.

          Of course the rhythm is still completely screwy. Shepard ALWAYS pauses for a second before talking.

  22. Slothful says:

    Sounds like maybe I should give Dragon Age a try–although, probably even if the plot is coherent and isn’t written by some other guy entirely, half the game will just be lopped off by EA and sold as DLC, which they will fight tooth and nail to keep you from getting.

  23. eric says:

    Sorry, Josh, but I totally disagree with you about… well, just about everything.

    Yes, the combat in Dragon Age II is faster. That much is very obvious. The problem, though, is that it’s so fast that it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on, even with liberal pausing… let the game go for more than five seconds and your AI characters have run off to go attack monsters 30 feet away rather than the big bad boss. While the default AI is much better than in Dragon Age: Origins, in Origins you could very easily configure things using the tactics system to get behaviour you liked. This is present in Dragon Age II, but since the fights go so quickly and can be won simply by spamming abilities, there’s no real reason to bother with any semblance of tactics in the first place.

    A big problem with Origins’ combat wasn’t really anything wrong with the system itself… fights moved quickly if you knew what you were doing, there were tons of spells and talents to use, and managing your party was pretty rewarding in the sense that good tactical choices usually paid off. The real issue was the scenario design: endless trash mobs with huge life bars, and no special abilities, weaknesses to exploit, defenses to cut through, etc. Without giving any of the enemies real character, every fight amounted to the same thing: block them off at a choke point and use your biggest area of effect attacks (glyph of repulsion yay). Had there been more enemies that required more interesting means to overcome rather than just the usual MMO aggro management and potion-quaffing, the game’s combat would have been far more enjoyable. Dragon Age II seems to fix none of that, and instead floods you with even more identical filler enemies punctuated by the occasional boss, who is only “more difficult” in the sense that he has a big health bar. Lame. Honestly (and I know I’ll receive flak for this), I feel like Dragon Age II’s combat is actually less deep than something along the lines of Diablo II… your attribute selection is nearly as limited. Heck, at least in Diablo you need to pay close attention to resistances, immunities and equipment choice, something that has been mostly removed from Dragon Age II according to everything I’ve read.

    I also found the dialogue and writing to be horribly stilted in Dragon Age II, with two dramatic death scenes moments into the game. This is just clumsy. I understand the importance of the red shirt, the guy who has to die just to show how high the stakes are, but two was excessive, and BioWare tried to wrench emotion from me which it had not done anything to try to build. The sad music, the tearful lament… who cares when the people who just died were either a) raving about killing me and my sister for being apostates, or b) had as much personality as a brick wall? Part of this might be related to the poor voice acting, with its put-on accents heaping in either indifference or melodrama. Flemeth stood out as the only character with an ounce of personality, and whose voice actress seemed interested in the role rather than just the paycheque.

    What really did it for me, though, was the dialogue wheel. While it’s very easy to say “functionally it’s the same as picking numbered options”, I feel that the paraphrasing of character responses and selecting things based on “tone” both simplifies dialogue (no chances for intricate trees, responses building on responses, etc.), but it also intentionally obfuscates meaning. Rather than let the player decide how he or she wants to respond, the player instead simply picks the “style” of response he or she will give, and then lets the writer decide what happens next. While good writing and a multitude of options can help alleviate it, the way BioWare use this system is to effectively railroad the player.

    Even in that short demo, there were numerous occasions where what I said didn’t change what actually happened, and in many instances the line delivered afterwards was generic enough that what I said was effectively meaningless, and of course was spoken regardless of what option I picked. Your mother always says “we’re going to Kirkwall” and you have no say in the matter, the Templar couple always come with you even if you tell them to stay the hell away from you, Isabella always throws the knife at the dude even if you say you want diplomacy (and then you are forced to defend her), etc. Again, some might say that these are minor quibbles, but they’re all guiding the player’s actions in ways that become painfully obvious once you simply ask “what if I had been able to say no?” or similar. Going back to Baldur’s Gate II (yes, I know, text-based, but still), even incidental merchants have more lines to deliver than the characters in the demo, and they are given more personality and conviction than anything in Dragon Age II.

    There’s a bunch of other minor complaints. I don’t like the art style… it’s not bad, but I keep getting the feeling BioWare couldn’t quite decide how realistic and how cartoony they wanted to be. The engine isn’t really at fault here, and it’s actually been improved quite a bit, but the areas on display in the demo were simply uninteresting. I imagine that there will be more imaginative locales in the full game, but still, didn’t get off on the right foot. The interface feels unfinished and overcomplicated; the art looks very “placeholder”, some text is overly fuzzy and hard to read, some things, like looking at what skills do, require too many mouse clicks, it seems buggy in places, etc. The camera perspective isn’t as bad as I feared, but it’s still hard to get a real sense of the battlefield without being able to zoom out properly, and managing your party is harder than it should be as a result (making combat even more hack-n-slash).

    Also, BioWare’s sexing up of every single female character (even Flemeth) is just juvenile and stupid. Think it’s any coincidence that the demo features Booby McBoobs (i.e. Isabella), her cleavage in plain view, and then ends with her inviting the player to have sex? Thanks for that one, BioWare/EA marketing, really. As if fantasy nerds didn’t already have enough directed against them, now you have to start pandering to the idiots who write Tali slash fiction and make nude mods for Oblivion?

    I realise that this is just a demo, and it’s hard to judge the final game based on such a small glimpse, but at the same time, this was your one chance to sell me the game, to show me that you hadn’t turned it into a dumb action-RPG with linear storytelling and a lack of options like Mass Effect 2. You guys blew it. I thought sequels were supposed to be more refined, sophisticated extensions of existing ideas, with new features that helped to complement old ones, while at the same time providing a new story experience. Instead, we’ve got simplified, poorly-written, sexed-up trash that feels cheap and unfinished. And I thought Dragon Age was supposed to be the rebirth of the CRPG, not the last flame being symbolically snuffed out. I might end up buying Dragon Age II, but not before I can get a GOTY version out of a bargain bin somewhere.

    1. jdaubenb says:

      That they considered all the sexed-up nonsense perfect demo-material is rather telling, isn’t it? :>

      THIS is their hook, THIS is the thing they want to convince potential buyers with.
      [insert picture of vaguely-brown woman’s t-and-a here]

      1. Irridium says:

        Imagine all those disappointed people who buy for the sex. The same people who most likely won’t stick with the franchise.

        Sounds like they’re going for the “here and now” instead of planning ahead.


        1. Specktre says:

          On the sexed up stuff, I definitely agree. It’s absolutely stupid.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Isabella definitely had an element of that in the first game, but she’s one of the few (Oh, and Morrigan’s outfit. She never mentions it – didn’t Alistair make a quip? Of course he did, he’s Alistair – and Leliana isn’t all sexed up either). And Flemeth… WTH is she doing in DAII, anyway? – that’s just weird. She should be a CRONE.

            A lot of what you were complaining about is because it’s the demo and the prologue. Hawke ISN’T the leader, as far as I can tell (haven’t played yet), and thus decisions aren’t up to him/her. The demo also HAS to be combat based, because it’s (IMO) harder to get a feel for combat from previews and the like than RPG aspects.

            Just keep the fact that it’s the demo in mind… A demo for an RPG will always have issues.

    2. Corylea says:

      There IS a real RPG being made. Check out The Witcher. It’s made by a small Polish company and is based on a series of fantasy novels by a Polish author. It’s clear that the first game was made for love, rather than money, and I have great hopes for the second one (due out in May).

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Heh, you could’ve called CD Projekt small back in release of the first witcher, but the second one is now a really popular thing.

        For good measure, of course.

        By the way, the writer of the first Witcher game isn’t working on the second game, so while I’m hoping that storytelling won’t suffer, there’s always the chance that it’ll just not be the same.

        1. Corylea says:

          The storyteller from the first Witcher game finished the story before he left. The story is one of the first things to be completed, after all. So, yeah, it’s the same guy, even though he’s not working there now.

      2. eric says:

        The Witcher 2 looks awesome, and the first game was great, but it’s not really the same kind of game. As a story-driven title with lots of beautiful environments to explore, it’s wonderful, but the combat is really lacking in depth and character-building isn’t nearly as interesting. Now that CD Projekt have added more inventory items (armour types, more weapons), things might change, but I’m also getting the sense that the game will be much more action-oriented than even the first, so I don’t know if it’s really going to scratch my tactical itch. Why does everything have to be “visceral” these days? Why are we trying to sell RPGs to the FPS and action crowd?

        1. krellen says:

          Because, by and large, people in management positions are stupid.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          Speaking of sexing up, I heard the Witcher was REALLY bad in that department. Not having seen much of it, I’m not really qualified to talk about it, though it looks interesting most of the time I do happen to see something about it.

          1. lurkey says:

            I wouldn’t say it was that bad, just, well, kinda sleazy. Use some cheesy pick up line on the girl, get an awkward metaphor about your sword or whatnot in response, there’s a cutscene with some shadows and such, and then you get to see a rather tasteless nude drawing of the girl you just boned. I liked it much more than “sex” of Dragon Age – I only found out from the Wiki that Morrigan denies you sex if she’s fallen in love, because I didn’t risk another dose of second hand embarrassment of watching that lovemaking awkwardness.

    3. Jan says:

      This. A thousand times this. Plus all the bugs in the demo. I rather liked DA:O, but it will be a long time before I buy this.

    4. Irridium says:

      Regarding the art style, character designs, ect. All of this story is being explained by a Dwarf. A rather sarcastic-like dwarf who seems like the sort that would sex things up and make things seem more “badass” and crazy in stories instead of telling things how they actually were.

      And before this dwarf meets you, he goes by what he’s told by someone else, which would further twist things.

      My two cents on the matter.

      1. eric says:

        Except the rest of the game is like that, minus the crazy JRPG armour (which I assume is just high-level gear) and the larger breasts.

        1. Irridium says:

          Because from what I understand, he’s telling the entire story. And I’m guessing he likes big breasts.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Bioware’s been emphasizing the “framed narrative”

            He’s definitely telling the whole story.

  24. Specktre says:

    I played the console demo, and I feel like the Rogue was the only class that really benefited from the new combat style, what with the new evade skill as well as the refined backstab.

    One thing I don’t like is that the there are fewer skills than there were in DA:O, and for a Mage (in which case skills are spells) that really sucks. For both Mage and Warrior, I found myself running out of skills and resulting to mashing the A button which felt like it did almost no damage at all. I think the regular attack could stand to be tuned up just a little bit–not a lot, just a little.

    This is basically my review of gameplay in a nut shell.

    Hopefully, the full game will be more refined. I do look forward to it though.

    1. Jennifer Snow says:

      Um, there are *more* abilities in DAII than in Origins. You get one per level. So your crap low-level character isn’t going to have that many. Duh.

      That’s actually why they have the “exaggerated” portion at the beginning–so you can try out several of the abilities before they pare you down to just one.

  25. Entropy says:

    My biggest disappointment with DA2: NO TWO-WEAPON WARRIOR. D:

    1. RejjeN says:

      Well my guess at least is that Vanguard will be a class that at least allows for two weapon warriors, doesn’t seem weapon specific and the description is something akin to “the best defense is a good offense”. Could be another two-hander tree, but we’ll have to wait and see I guess.

      1. Entropy says:

        Nope. Bioware specifically said there will be no Two-Weapon Warrior.


        1. Aldowyn says:

          I bet there’s not an archer warrior and they’re making the roles class-specific. In DA:O I’m pretty sure Warriors and Rogues had the exact same archery and two-weapon skill sets… maybe not, but close.

          1. krellen says:

            They were the exact same.

  26. Shamus, am I right in guessing that Dragon Age II is on the Spoiler Warning “wanna do this one” list? *looks Josh’s direction*

    Unlike Dragon Age I (i prefer to call it that), Dragon Age II
    has better pacing, and I suspect that it’s possible to go through the main plot a lot quicker, with a lot of side plots actually being optional and just adding to the overall story.

    I don’t know about Rutskarn or Mumbles, but I assume that Shamus and Josh has played Dragon Age I so a SW of Dragon Age II could also point out changes/differences between the games.

    And I suspect that Dragon Age III will be similar to Dragon Age II but with some things from Dragon Age I mixed in.
    Amazing how two such awesome franchises can be made at the same time by one company.

    PS! That demo download counter has wrapped at least twice now I think.

    1. Kanodin says:

      Uhm where are you getting all this info about Dragon Age 2?

      1. Jennifer Snow says:

        You can get all kinds of information on the Bioware forums if you go read the DAII threads. And the counter hasn’t “wrapped”, people were spamming the counter with fake downloads so they keep resetting the numbers to the “real” number of downloads-cum-logins. It’s a big headache right now.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          The issues with the pacing in DA:O are entirely attributable to sidequests dragging you across the entire freaking world (BTW, making zones in a game like this just for side quests? I do not like.), and the combat, which is slow in the first place and there’s too much of it.

  27. Grott says:

    Josh, I know you didn’t request feedback on your writing ““ and I hate to upset people ““ but I think you use dashes far too often. In my mind ““ not to assert myself but just offering humble advice ““ it’s very jarring to see so many dashes. They’re a very sharp form of punctuation ““ they shouldn’t be just thrown around like periods and question marks. Not to trample on your writing ““ it’s good your style doesn’t seem to have been too affected by a barrage of cheesy Bioware dialogue ““ but I think maybe you should use dashes a little less.

    1. Josh says:

      Hahaha. I admit, I do enjoy using stilted sentences far more often than I probably should. I tend to speak naturally in a similar manner, so I imagine it’s simply rubbed off into my writing style. But thanks for the feedback.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        I didn’t even notice. I tend to use dashes a lot, though – I use them to elaborate on a related topic.

        As long as they’re used properly, I don’t care.

    2. X2-Eliah says:

      A dash a day keeps the troll at bay, you know. ;)

      Anyway, I wouldn’t call Josh’s use of dashes excessive by any margin. Then again, I consider most articles currently written to be severely lacking in any punctuation form aside from the comma and the full stop. And in this day and age, we’re supposed to be thankful for even that. >.> Pah. Power to the dashes and semicolons!

  28. Neil Polenske says:

    Everyone keeps on about how ME2 dropped the ‘RPG’ aspects of the first game. Anyone care to specify what these aspects actually are, cause I’ve beaten the first one and am well into the second and I honestly don’t see where RPG in the changes come into play. Then again, ‘RPG’ is such a vague term nowadays so as to have no meaning whatsoever.

    1. poiumty says:

      They removed the old inventory, simplified the skill system and removed per-enemy xp gain. This is sacrilege to some people.

      1. Neil Polenske says:

        Seriously? I really hope there’s more to it than that, cause that’s begging for a rant. That is a rant carrot.

        1. Viktor says:

          The skill system is the part that bugs me the most. You went from ~10 skills to level to 4. You went from 12 incremental improvements, some of which are key, some are junk, to 4. Yes, I miss being able to adjust my weapons on the fly, build a full-auto shotgun that doesn’t overheat, and make a rifle that can 1-shot a Prime, but the levelling is the greater loss.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        They all would have been fine if they’d taken the time to deepen both of them. The 4 tiers is actually a good amount, I think (it translates to 10 points), but there aren’t enough skills (squad mates get 4, including a passive!), and there DEFINITELY aren’t enough weapons. I’d have liked more armor add ons, too.

  29. General Karthos says:

    Not having read any of the previous comments for fear of spoilers, (Reading ANYTHING about the game is a bit of a risk, since I want a pure run through) I was under the impression that at the end of the day Shamus liked the game? I mean, certainly he had his quibbles, and problems with it, but I seem to recall him forgiving the whole game after, on account of the ending being made of awesome.

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s pretty accurate. The problem for me was the the combat was such a slog that I couldn’t bear to endure a second play-through. I started one, but got bogged down in the deep roads and gave up.

      1. acronix says:

        Curious. I started two second playthroughs, and both were abandoned in that same place.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        I liked the deep roads… I think it was because I was awesome at that point. The endings WERE awesome, though – functionally the same, but different in important ways. Actually, I remember the entire end sequence being pretty awesome. I was annoyed with the Warden who popped up and then died like instantly. (Epic death of epic, though. Idiot.)

        *edit* Oh, and I LOVE the dwarves in DA:O. The Dwarf Noble origin story is easily my favorite (played all but the mage) Not Oghren, interestingly enough – he is made of the worst dwarven stereotypes imaginable.

    2. Josh says:

      He seems to have grown to dislike it more as time’s gone on. I actually ran that line by him and asked if he felt it was accurate, and he agreed.

  30. Epsilon Naught says:

    I like that they’ve dropped the multiple origins bollocks. They were built up as the main unique point in the first one, but they just served as tutorial levels. Now, I appreciate having 6 tutorials instead of just one you have to beat every time you want to play (main reason I can’t be bothered starting Oblivion over again, that opening dungeon is SO LONG), but they served almost no story purpose other than a couple of people saying “Hey, it’s you” when you went back to your starting area. And because they had no control over what your name was, everyone had to awkwardly call you “warden” in every bloody conversation, which sounds dumb. Somebody being known only by their surname a la Shepard and Hawke is far less immersion breaking than everyone, including your closest allies calling you by your job title.

    1. Grott says:

      Typical Bioware fare: don’t improve, remove!

      1. Aldowyn says:

        They were awesome, but they didn’t deserve to be IN THE TITLE. They don’t affect the rest of the game much, from what I can tell. (Caveat: The human noble one can be pretty important come end-game)

  31. Mark says:

    Who’s that grinning guy in the first picture, and why is there a caption about Shepard underneath him? And what’s all that poppycock about how she lacks inflection?

    Anyway, I skipped Dragon Age because I heard that the combat was a tedious slog, and I’m probably going to skip Dragon Age 2 because I skipped Dragon Age 1, but it’s sounding better the more I read of it.

    1. Gahazakul says:

      This is always my reaction to people complaining about the bad acting by Shepard. The female Shepard is voiced by Jennifer Hale and she does a FANTASTIC job. The male Shepard sounds like boring space marine bullocks. When you play ME always go with the female option.

      1. Josh says:

        Hale is definitely better, but even with her voice behind it I can practically hear the voice director saying “No, no, no, there was a little too much emotion in that line Jennifer, let’s do it again but a little flatter.” She does actually inflect in her lines, but the most emotion you get from FemShep is when she’s angry, and even then she sounds restrained. Compare her vocal range to, say, Bastila. Same actress, but with far more emotion and inflection to her lines.

        1. Michael says:

          She’s also got a faint southern drawl intermittently as Shepard in both games. I’ve always kinda suspected the drawl is there mostly when she actually cares about the dialog she’s delivering. As a side not it’s also much rarer in ME2 than in the first game.

      2. Grott says:

        I think all this gushing about Hale being better is going a little too far. She sounds like she just woke up. Sure, she does a better job than Meer, but the actors from Chaos Wars could do that. Meer sounds like he needs to stop reading right off the script, and Hale sounds like she needs some of that 5-hour Energy that keeps getting terrible commercials on TV. Pick your poison.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          @Josh funny story – my mom played KotOR recently and almost didn’t believe me when I told her Bastila and FemShep had the same actress. That Jedi=British accent is so strong I could barely (BARELY) tell myself.

          In general, Shepard’s dialogue is so generic it’s impossible to do a good job anywhere… Hale is better, but just a bit.

  32. Zah says:

    Playing the opening fight in the demo as a warrior:

    Today’s word of the day: Bifurcate

  33. Fat Tony says:

    Wait a minute! You guys bitch at slutty-McBlue cleavage.
    But the splatter ladys cleavage is A-OK!. ???


    1. Jennifer Snow says:

      Eh, if Isabela the Pirate Queen wants to display her ridiculous assets, fine. They got rid of boobs-on-armor for the main character, so I’m happy.

    2. poiumty says:

      Slutty McBlue is a paladin. Isabela is a dirty rogue. See the difference?

      1. Fat Tony says:

        Good Points

      2. Aldowyn says:

        Not to mention the slutty thing is, I’m pretty sure, a significant part of her character. She was a PIRATE at some point, I think.

        1. Audacity says:

          Out of curiosity, what does being a pirate have to do with dressing like a stripper? You don’t see male pirates walking around in tight leather chaps.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Stereotypes? Plus, Chaotic characters (which pirates are like the epitome of, especially if you believe the PotC movies) are more likely to dress like… that than lawful characters (which paladins ARE the epitome of) I might be wrong, but…

            I suppose I shouldn’t have capitalized that, the middle part was the most important part.

          2. krellen says:

            You haven’t paid very close attention to Captain Jack Sparrow’s outfits, have you?

            1. Audacity says:

              Eh? Tricorn, great coat, sash, trousers, and boots; seems like pretty standard 16th century apparel to me.

          3. lurkey says:

            She wears pants at some point in the demo? That’s a huge improvement for her; all her pictures have her parading in a thong, stripper boots and sans pants.

          4. Michael says:

            No, but they would dress in… well, dresses and cosmetics as well, so it’s only fair that they ALL look like sluts and or Rocky Horror rejects, rather than ONLY the males.

  34. Darthricardo says:

    Okay, I love just about everything gameplay-wise about Dragon Age II, and I’ve played the demo and all that. Overall, it’s looking to be the exact sort of thing that I would normally be all over playing. However, I hate it, and for one reason only: Call me shallow, but it’s way, WAY too brown. Seriously, no environment in the game that I’ve seen hasn’t been in some rocky crags or blocky city. I get that they’re going for their own art style, but it just looks ugly. It’s not even that realistic; I mean, the first part of the demo is supposed to be outside of the korcari wilds, but there’s no “wilds” to be seen. I don’t know, it just really bothers me.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Huh, everyone’s been saying it’s much more colorful. DA:O was fairly dull – let’s see… city, snowy mountain, dwarven cave system, tower, FOREST, more city… and a bunch of plains and villages in between.

  35. Corylea says:

    You LIKED the demo? Nobody I knew liked the demo. Combat takes forever, mages can spam their spells pretty much infinitely — the cooldown seems much shorter — and it still seems like whittling an oak tree with a rusty pocketknife.

    And the dialogue options are terrible. They give you only a short preview of what each option is, and the previews are terrible summaries of what the character actually says. Lots of times, I wouldn’t have picked a dialogue option if I’d known what my character was ACTUALLY going to say. Surprise can be a good thing in a game, but in a ROLE-PLAYING game, what your own damned character says shouldn’t come as a big surprise!

    The demo felt horribly linear, but that might just be because it was a demo; I’m hoping the real game won’t have the rails quite so flagrantly visible.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      It’s the prologue. Prologues are linear. Kirkwall seems a bit exotic an escape from Lothering, but it’s THE setting for the game, so… you have to go to Kirkwall.

  36. Slothful says:

    Come to think of it, my favorite backstory option for Mass Effect was Spacer, because it’s the only one where Shepard’s not some kind of orphan growing up to become Batman because his parents are deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

    I thought that one sidequest where Shepard called his Mom was a nice touch, and I was disappointed when there was no real followup.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      I don’t pay much attention to the backstories in ME – I just pick the ones that fit whether I’m going Renegade/Paragon and go.

  37. Caldazar says:

    I found the demo a little, strange. It seems stitched together.
    I didn’t play DA:O for the combat but I see this change to a more fast and responsive style as being no better or worse than Origins.

  38. Deadpool says:

    I REALLY hated the character redesigns… REALLY.

    1. Piflik says:

      Yeah…Flemeth sure looks strange…I kinda liked how the character looks (aside from the hair), but not as Flemeth…too flashy…more like Morrigan times 2…

      1. Geno says:

        I got no promblems with the way Flemeth looks, this is suppose to be a re-telling of a story the dwarf heard. I would expect some over the top-ness.

        1. Irridium says:

          That is a good point and is something to keep in mind. It actually helps explain quite a bit. From the action-like combat, to the art style, to the tone, to quite a bit really.

      2. Josh says:

        Well, she did show up as a dragon, I somehow doubt subtlety was something at the forefront of her thoughts when she transformed back into a human.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Curious thought: Is her human form her original form or something she picked changing back?

          1. Michael says:

            Probably. Flemeth body jumps to her daughters repeatedly. It’s how she’s been around so long, and while Morrigan is a shapeshifter, she’s nominally human… unless she has a super secret dragon form she doesn’t show anyone, which is possible, but seems unlikely.

            1. Michael says:

              …and again the spoiler tags on the XHTML guide literally do not work… Sorry for the spoiler guys.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                I think you have to use strike instead of s.

                *edit* yep.

  39. Piflik says:

    I played the demo on PS3, and for my taste the combat is way too fast…there is no time for strategy or tactics, only button-mashing…anyway…still better than it being a cover-based-shooter ;)

  40. randy says:

    Half of your gripes against ME2 can be resolved by playing with a female Shepard. Jennifer Hale rocks!

    1. Aldowyn says:

      They are in Spoiler Warning – and trust me, they have plenty of gripes.

    2. krellen says:

      She delivers the dialogue better – but the lines are still stupid.

  41. Mathias says:

    What really impressed me about the demo was how no matter which option you chose from the dialogue wheel at your brother/sister’s death, Hawke always sounds like he’s about to burst into tears, and the character looks like it.

    My one gripe is that this happens so early on. I really hope there’s a level before this where you play as Hawke interacting with his family before this whole charade. Otherwise, one of the characters in the family is just going to end up with way too little screen time to make his death meaningful.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      There has GOT to be, it just doesn’t make sense without it.

    2. Michael says:

      There’s some dialog after the ogre fight that only makes sense if there was some prior time with the family.

    3. Irridium says:

      In other words, lets hope it doesn’t do what Fable does.

      Introduce us to a significant other/family member for 2 minutes, then kill them.

  42. Drejer says:

    Thank you, for making me feel dumb for cancelling my Dragon age 2 Signature Edition, a few weeks ago :/.

  43. Even says:

    For being a first timer with the dialoge wheel, I’d have to say it just felt weird. Some of the scenes, it just felt so awkward when you’re not really sure what Hawke would say. Think the worst part was when Aveline’s husband had to be killed. For a dramatic scene, almost everybody seemed to be awfully frank about it, the same with the death scene of either sibling.

    Overall I felt more like a director of a film rather than actually taking on the role of the character, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. Can you really call it roleplaying, when the words are essentially hard-forced into your mouth?

    Combat felt weird too first, but I got used it after a while. I only feel that the rhythm could be a bit less spastic and the animations a little less over done. I enjoyed the DAO combat a lot more for its rhythm and when it felt much more physical.

    All in all, the demo left me with a bit of mixed feelings.. I guess I could get used to both in due time, but for now I just don’t know what to think about it.

  44. rdemetri says:

    The demo is not the game… its similar, but the game is better. demo was made earlier on.

    I liked the game, for the most part, except for the railroading of plot and areas… each area you get to have very little exploring to do… it was mostly one dimensional… one way to go… And the game didnt feel like it was set in a living world… just pockets.

    Also, I would have preferred having choices of race and the orig. classes for the characters rather than voice… but Im just old school.

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