Game Reviews,  The Lazy Designer

Dragon Age 2 Demo

Several visitors to this blog asked me to check out the Dragon Age 2 demo and I finally had the chance to do so last night.

(Note: I played it on the xbox360… for comparison I never played Dragon Age Origins on a console, only the PC)

Please keep in mind that this is only my opinion based on playing the demo. And that I’m keeping this short, I’m too busy with the novel to go into any kind of detailed analysis.

Overall: I thought the demo showed promise — without playing the full game I can’t say whether that promise was fulfilled.

Some Good Things
I am impressed at how put together the demo is after such a short development cycle. It seemed mostly polished, only a couple minor glitches and whatnot. And these were major engine changes that occurred from DA:O to DA2. So, impressed at the time frame.

The world is still there, though the art has changed. I still felt a part of the Dragon Age ‘universe’ and that nothing of the canon set in place in the original has been tampered with. And that the original had been built upon. So that’s cool.

Some Not-So-Good Things (in my opinion)
I understand why the first fight was done using a ‘super powered’ character. I get it. But it almost made me stop playing the demo. I don’t know if its because I had read so much negativity in regards to the combat changes or what but that first fight was a button mashing nightmare with no tactics coming into play. I was pretty horrified to be honest, I just closed my eyes, smashed buttons, and I won.

Later as I played with a proper character, through proper progression, I understood what was going on. Certainly not tactical the way I’d define tactical but not a pure action game either.

Really DA2 is neither an action game or a tactical semi-turned based RPG (like BG2 was and to a lesser degree DA:O was). It falls in the middle somewhere and like anything that doesn’t really define itself it has the potential to alienate players at either end of the spectrum. It is difficult to make both styles of gameplay awesome in the same game.

As an action game it is not responsive enough (i.e., I was clobbered by the ogre even after I was on the other side of the map several times) and as a tactical game I really mostly only controlled one character unless it died… there was no need, at least in the demo, to control party members.

Other Points
Not choosing race is a Very Bad Thing and has everything to do with cinematic limitations — characters with different heights and sizes are difficult to build cinematic conversation for — as well the choice impacts the amount of dialog that needs to be written. But aliens and fantasy races are cool. Humans are boring (except my kids and my wife and some of you… you know who you are).

As for the dialog itself, its what I expected. Some of it is visually beautiful but interactive movies have never been the kinds of games I wanted to play. So kudos to the team for the great work but, as always, I kind of wish the huge effort I know it takes to build those cinematic experiences could be spent on gameplay.

Overall I was impressed, the team really put together a strong title in such a short period of time. I don’t think some of the changes needed to happen (especially if Dragon Age has sold as well as has been indicated) but only the marketplace will tell us whether it was the right or the wrong thing to do.

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.