Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions.

Here's a list of things I don't like about the Dragon Age 2 demo: 

 

The art style: 

I've noticed a lot of people saying that the first game lacked a unique visual style. I wouldn't agree. I think the old-timey realism of the graphics, akin somewhat to the fantasy role-playing games of olde such as Baldur's Gate,  is exactly the kind of style I'm looking for in a fantasy role-playing game. 
 
Two things were particularly grating on me. One was the Darkspawn design. Again, something I heard a lot of complaints about from the first, people were annoyed by how generic the Darkspawn looked. They were pretty much Orcs. Especially weird considering they're supposed to be corrupted versions of the other races (humans, elves, and dwarves; though if that's true, then where do the even more out-of-place ogres fit into things?). All I can say to that is look where that complaint got us. The new skeletal Darkspawn look pathetically weak, and resemble Putties from the Power Rangers in both appearance and animation. 
    
Oh, and there's still way too much gore. 
Oh, and there's still way too much gore. 

 
 It's nothing personal... I still love you, Hawke.
 It's nothing personal... I still love you, Hawke.

Also a weird pet-peeve of mine is male Hawke's chin. The default appearance has a style that seems like it was ripped from the Star Wars 3D animated series (also seen in the Quick Look for the Tron Wii game). That makes it feel more like the designers were trying too hard to come up with a "style" for Dragon Age 2 and ended up cribbing from other intellectual properties.       
 
 
 
 
 

The UI: 

The UI in Origins was amazing. For everything else that supposedly lacked an art style (see above for my reaction to that), the UI was certainly mesmerizingly beautiful. From the loading screen to the menus. Just why is kind of tough for me to articulate. Instead of plain rough edges, everything looks trilled. It resembles delicately curved calligraphy from an ancient text.  

There are some rough spots, but I like the style. 
There are some rough spots, but I like the style. 

  I feel that the UI for Dragon Age 2, while remaining in its own way beautiful in its simplicity, is a major step backwards on the PC, with menus obviously cribbed from Mass Effect and console-focused. Everything feels a little plain and square-y.

The combat: 

Specifically, the way it "feels." The animations are overly exaggerated. I guess this was a response to how slow things probably felt to the action oriented gamer who played the original game, to which I say that while some of them are rather cool looking, they should really be reserved for either an occasional flourish or higher levelled characters, because the whole thing makes it look and feel too cartoony to me. The animations in Origins make every fight seem like a desperate struggle. Sure, people slide into position to match up properly with the character they're engaging, but at least it allows it to look like the two people are engaged in combat. From what I've seen in Dragon Age 2, it's like all the characters are sometimes just madly swinging weapons in every direction hoping they'll hit something.  
 

No tactical view: 

What's worst about the combat is that it would feel every bit as fun as the combat in Origins if I could just zoom the camera out and more easily issue orders and assess the situation. Without that one simple thing, I find myself selecting each character individually so often, circling the battlefield over and over with the camera. Then there's the simple fact that the engine that Dragon Age uses (or maybe it's just the art assets themselves?) simply doesn't look very good unless viewed from an isometric view at a distance. Some parts of Origins look astounding when viewed from the tactical camera. Dragon Age 2 can look quite a bit better from down low, but still feels a generation behind in technology. Then again, I've seen very few environment types, and more importantly, graphics that come second to story and gameplay are just fine with me. 
 

Technical issues:

 This is something that's hopefully linked to the demo and not the final version of the game, but I had an issue with the game stuttering and sometimes locking up completely. It runs fairly buttery, then chokes up at random intervals both in and out of combat and cutscenes. My two initial attempts through the demo ended in stutters followed by hard freezes, then I managed to slog through it a third time. I'm not sure if it's a memory leak, early unoptimized engine build, or something to do with my system in particular. I'll admit, I never checked the system requirements, but considering how it doesn't look all that much better than the first game, I assumed it would run about the same or perhaps better given the time they've had to tweak the engine. And I don't even have everything maxed out like I did in Origins...

Here's some of the things I liked: 

 

The conversation wheel: 

While the whole wheel part of it doesn't make much of a difference with keyboard-mouse controls (it was designed for Mass Effect, which was, at the time, an Xbox 360 exclusive, and thus designed to be efficient for a gamepad thumbstick), the visual cues as to the tone of your response are welcome. Separating out investigation options from lines that will move the conversation forward is also a welcome change. Overall, it just works a lot better than the old PC RPG "big text-heavy list" approach to a dialogue system. 
 

Hawke speaks: 

The part of the game most obviously a direct result of feedback from Mass Effect and its sequel, having Hawke speak is favorable to the awkward pauses on your blank-faced protagonist from the first game. While it comes at the expense of one of my favorite things about the first game, the option to make a character from srcratch and give him/her a background, having Hawke be a more rounded character with the ability to show some emotion goes a long way towards allowing you to feel some emotion towards him/her
 

Rogues feel awesome: 

Rogues have probably the most overexaggerated animations of all, but they look totally badass during combat, and play like a more tactical version of a fighter, which is exactly the way it should be. The sort of minigame of flanking enemies and avoiding their attention still feels just as good as it did in Origins.  
 

The combat: 

Even if it feels like they're trying to make it more button-mashy and faster, the combat in Dragon Age 2 remains tactical. It's still all about crowd control and keeping fire focused on the ones who can take the damage. On the downside, it's still frustrating when everyone decides to focus fire and gang-murder your spellcaster even after you've tried everything you can to keep them away.
 

The world of Dragon Age: 

Some people say that Dragon Age feels like generic low fantasy, but I've fallen in love with the world and its fiction. Bioware crafted a world, and for as much as they crib from Lord of Rings-esque settings with the feel of the world and the races, you'll notice theres a lot of unique stuff in there, especially if you're willing to read codex information and some of the expanded fiction (I'm a little bit into the first book now, and it gives you a whole different perspective on the character of Loghain). One of the biggest reasons I'm even considering picking up Dragon Age 2 is for the continuation of the story. 
 

PS -- got lazy with adding the images in. Will update it later. For now... wall of text!

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