Tuesday, February 22, 2011
If you're not me and therefore not making out with your body pillow that says DRAGON AGE on it every night (that's a joke) (probably), then you may not know that the demo for Dragon Age II dropped today for Xbox 360 (Gold members only, which is pretty dopey), PS3, and PC. I knew, though. OH I KNEW. That shit has been downloaded and pa-layed, my friends. And what? Was it disappointing? Or was it superappointing (which should be the opposite of disappointing)? Am I anticipating the March 8th release date more, or will I only acknowledge March 8th as Cynthia Rothrock's birthday? Hmm?
Oh please, like you don't know. When the demo ended- roughly 1-1.5 hours after I'd begun- I was, how you say, extremely bummed that I had to stop. This is good, as it has me greatly anticipating my chance to mainline this game in a couple of weeks. Well, anticipating it more, I should say. Let's face it, BioWare would have had to really gunk up the works for me to come away from it with a serious case of the sads...make no mistake, though- things have indeed changed quite a bit since your first foray into Ferelden.
As you probably know by now, Dragon Age II eschews the more customizable main character creation of its predecessor- here, you are Hawke. Whether male or female, Hawke is human and, over the course of the game, will become known as "The Champion of Kirkwall". However, class, first name, and appearance remain up to you, though the appearance customization menu was was disabled for the demo. No matter! Default FemHawke is a babe. The bearded DudeHawke is a hottie too, so I'll likely stick with the defaults during playthroughs. For my first venture into DAII, I played rogue, as usual. I'll likely play again as a warrior and mage just to check 'em out.
The game in its entirety will take place over a decade, from the darkspawn invasion/destruction of Lothering (as sort-of seen in the original game) through...well, who knows what? Something that happens ten years later, duh. There's an interesting tale being told - now live out the tale format as Varric, one of Hawke's companions, relays the Champion's exploits to a Chantry seeker. I'm curious if this broken-up, back and forth style of storytelling will put a damper on the immersion as we skip over chunks of time.
As the game begins, Hawke and her family- mom, brother, and apostate mage sister- flee Lothering shortly after the disaster at Ostagar and events that took place in the first game. Battle your way through some Darkspawn and meet a few companions, including the warrior Aveline, who...well, if you listened to Leliana's lengthy tales in Dragon Age, then you know the story of Aveline's namesake. Mind you, none of that really has any bearing on anything (that I know of, yet), but it's a nice bone they've thrown to nerds like me who do things like, you know, listen to all of Leliana's lengthy tales. Make your way to Kirkwall and meet up with another companion- Isabela, who you'll probably remember from an encounter at The Pearl in the first game. She's of a totally different design and voice in DA II, though she still seems to enjoy bedroom shenanigans and she'll likely be a love interest for a Hawke of either gender.
Ah, and lest I forget, there's an appearance from a familiar face who...let's just say I've seen the character in DAII promotion art and I didn't realize that she is who she is. That's no doubt unclear, so to be specific, I'm talking about this character and specifically, this piece of art:
It's good to keep yourself in the dark about things sometimes; when she uttered an instantly recognizable line upon appearing onscreen, my mouth dropped open a little bit. I was all, like, WHAT. You know how I do.
Gameplay has changed more than a bit from Dragon Age. Gone is the KotOR-style "hit A and let the character do its thing until you want to make a special move" combat approach, replaced by a lot more button-mashing. Though you'll level-up a few times during the demo, abilities are limited; my gameplay was basically AAAAAXAAAAAYAAAAAX...but then, I'm admittedly quite horrible at tactics and squad management. Even as a rogue, I tend to get in and get my melee on. The combat animations in DAII are much faster than those in the first game- it's positively frenetic, and the backstab is entirely badass. As you fight wave after wave of Darkspawn and a couple of ogres, there's a good chance your entire party will be laid to waste.
As Dragon Age II puts you in Hawke's shoes, your character actually speaks this go-round. This, of course, means the implementation of that love it or hate it device from Mass Effect, the conversation wheel. "Good" or "bad" replies render your character kinder or fiercer, and push your companions towards one end or the other on a "friend-rival" scale. It's early yet, but I like this so-called Hawke. I'm okay with being a character with a specific background.
The graphics...well, I'm reserving judgment on those. The character animations and cutscenes were terrific. It's got a different look and feel than Dragon Age, but largely it seems to be an improvement; the environments along the way from Lothering into the Korcari Wilds were pretty dull, however- purple-ish, burnt out sand dunes as far as the eye could see. The demo ended before I could dig into Kirkwall, so who knows how it'll be. The scale certainly seemed to be much larger than Denerim; hopefully it'll be well-populated and feel like a real city. My one HUGE complaint is that text is all but impossible to read on a standard-definition television. I know there are only five of us left rockin' the SDTV, but it was really a hindrance.
The new mechanics will take some getting used to, but that's to be expected. The storytelling looks to be top-notch, on par with what I've come to expect from BioWare. Sure, I'll miss the old gang and my Grey Warden, but I'm sure to fall in love with this new crop of heroes as well. Why, I bet I'll love 'em almost as much as I love my Dragon Age body pillow!
Man, that's so creepy.