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. 

 
 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. 

  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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Posted by AndrewB

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. 

 
 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. 

  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!

Posted by natetodamax

I think the UI is very ugly. The health/mana/stamina bars for you and your teammates look like they came from a flash game or something. I would have been happier with the previous UI. 
 
Overall, I was very impressed by the demo and I'm probably going to try and pick it up when the game comes out. My biggest concern was the change in combat but I like how the game just moves so much faster than Origins while still maintaining a level of strategy that I feared was going to be absent.

Posted by AndrewB
@natetodamax: @natetodamax: Yeah, like I said, I don't like the artistic direction and the decision to make every animation so exaggerated, but the combat still plays very similar to the first game, and that's fine with me. The rogue ability to slip in behind the enemy feels particularly satisfying. 
 
I don't think the UI is that terrible, but it's just weird that they'd try and fix something about the first game that wasn't broken. I don't remember hearing a complaint about the UI in the first game. Not sure about the console versions... everything I say is in regards to the PC. 
 
I'm definitely going to get the game, but I'm not sure it'll be right off. I might succumb to the allure when reviews hit, but I'm hoping I can avoid it until at least the first drop in price.
Edited by Yummylee

Really great write up, and one that I've found to agree with on more points than most. I'm already feeling more comfortable now from whence I first entered into DA2, and when I can finally play without mashing my thumb on the X button will no doubt improve it all the more, but those animations, man... With a 2H sword, it always resembles like the character is swiping on a giant canvas with an equally giant paint brush... it's all just so fluid, and while it makes the mages look decidedly more impressive in combat, the warriors it just doesn't fit. The Rogue I do agree with at least since they do mesh well with the Rogues quick and stylistic stabs. 
 
For the most part at this point, it's more me just needing to get used to some of the added features that were non-existent on the console versions such as actually being able to stack commands instead of unpausing straight after you select a single action with a single character. The graphics I've got no problem with, though the voice acting, least so far, is so incredibly mixed that it's like the terrible voice acting and the more decent are at warring sides with one another, trying to dominate the game. 
 
Both genders of Hawke do a fine job, and I really like the choice for male Hawke, with him being so easily recognisable as a number of characters from Origins, like that coloured Templar in Lothering. My mum, though, sounds like she's doped up on something at the very least. Then again, this voice actress clearly has some kind of blank spot with regards to her offspring since she wasn't all that much better as my mum in the Human Noble Origin. 
 
Overall, it's a a really shitty demo with how much they've unexplainably locked out (I can't even equip my stuff??), but the full game itself I'm sure I'll have plenty of fun with.

Posted by AndrewB
@Abyssfull: Heard anything about reports that there's no auto attack on consoles? If that's true, sounds like it could really damper your enjoyment of the game... but if it isn't at launch, I'm sure enough people will complain and they'll patch it back in later. 
 
The other thing I forgot to mention in the negatives column is the rather poor choice of what's-her-face, the duelist lady from the first game. It doesn't seem like she's much more than the hyper-sexualized swashbuckler/pirate stereotype. Guess I could be wrong about that, but in choices for which characters from the first game would make a reappearance in the party, her and Anders were totally not my first choices (though at least Anders sounds a little more interesting this time around). I want Loghain back.