Thoughts: Dragon Age 2 Demo
We’ve written so fucking much about Dragon Age 2 that those links? They are only some of our…ahem…extensive coverage of the game. Of course, we did all that without the game actually existing in a playable state.
Well, that was then, and now we have a demo.
I’ve mused in the past that we didn’t have to worry about the story, because Bioware always comes through, but the gameplay looked worrisome, to say the least. Turns out I was half right.
Half right because it turns out everything is worrisome. The combat was the focus of the demo, and quite frankly it’s Origins with a shiny coat of paint and less weight. Patricia, erstwhile Dragon Age enthusiast, and I were discussing it, I having played on PC and her on the 360, and we had differing opinions primarily because they’ve disguised the lack of weight, on the consoles, with an epic amount of rumble. On PC, with no tactile feedback, everything feels light and breezy, like these enemies don’t give a fuck that they’re getting hit by fireballs.
In general, though, the combat might turn out okay. Sure, the animations are what Bioware thinks a fourteen year old who only plays Gears of War would like (and it’s not that), but the combat was functional. I really disapprove of the hordes of randomly spawning enemies (it makes crowd control seem really worthless) and of all the cutscenes of you fighting cooler than you actually play, but, honestly, I can see the combat system growing on me, like Origins did. We older gamers have a tendency to romanticize the past, and…I can’t knock it for not being Baldur’s Gate. I can’t. That’s unfair. What I can do is knock it for feeling extremely floaty, and for me being able to hit a (n extremely ugly) hurlock with a sword and have it do nothing to him.
But the combat is passable. What doesn’t seem passable is the story. Yes, I know, it’s awful to judge a storyline based off of a very short demo where you don’t make a whole lot of choices, but…seriously, in the three actual choices you make in the demo (none of which are major) I had Hawke say the wrong thing every time by using the Mass Effect choice wheel. This never happened in Mass Effect, because Shepard was a character, with small shades. You could play him more a badass, or more an upstanding hero, but he was always heroic. He was heroic because he was an army man, who’d beaten the shit out of people in the past.
Hawke doesn’t have that. He feels very much like a blank slate, like the Warden was, except he’s being forced into a couple specific personalities. That’s what Bioware wants, really: they want you to be forced into being consistent with your choices, so that you develop one of the specific characters they created. Effectively, all the signs were there that this was going to be Mass Effect: Fantasy Edition, but Bioware did enough of a misdirect to keep us away from that idea. It’s a shame, too. The demo might have been a really poor choice for them, because I’ve read about lots of fans canceling their pre-orders because the game has taken a step sideways.
Personally, the demo has destroyed a lot of my expectations, which might be good. On the positive side, I think the art style is good (animations, especially for Hurlocks, less so), and I feel like the story could, potentially, be interesting; I’m holding out hope they disguised that from the casual crowd they’re trying to court.
Still, the only word here is disappointment. Generally, a game needs to have one prong that works really, undeniably well, be it story or gameplay or presentation, and it doesn’t seem like Dragon Age 2 does anything well. And if it doesn’t, then it’s not going to be a very memorable, or even interesting, title.