Summary: The sequel to BioWare's 2009 hit RPG Dragon Age: Origins is almost here, and you can try it out for yourself with the newly available PC demo. Here Vandy shares his opinion on this preview of the upcoming game after playing through it many times (tough job, we know). Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments and stay tuned for a full-length review after the game is released on March 8th.
The playable demo for Dragon Age II is now available, offering about half an hour of combat and story segments from BioWare’s follow-up to their epic RPG from 2009, Dragon Age: Origins. The installer is on the lighter side as far as modern game demos go, weighing in at just under 2GB. This betters your chances of successfully downloading it, since the Dragon Age 2 site has been getting hammered all day. That may be due to BioWare offering to unlock a couple of in-game items once the demo reaches a million downloads… In addition, completing the demo will get you a unique weapon called Hayder’s Razor to use in the full game when it comes out in a couple weeks, so have at it!
When you begin, you’re given a choice of six combinations of class/gender. As in the full game, you are allowed to play as a warrior, rogue, or mage whether you choose to be a male or female. The warrior carries either a large, two-handed melee weapon or a one-handed weapon with a shield, filling the roles of damage-dealer or tank. Rogues can dual-wield daggers and dart across the field of battle like a ninja, or deal damage from afar with a bow. Mages are capable of dealing heavy elemental damage, debilitating foes, controlling crowds, and healing allies, making them the most versatile class, but also the most vulnerable. Each class is more than capable of holding their own in a scuffle while also complementing the rest of the party, so which one you decide to play is really just a matter of preference.
The first combat scenario in the demo introduces you to basic concepts like auto-attacking and using abilities that an advanced character would have access to. It’s immediately apparent that the action is faster and animations are more fluid across the board. Characters move and attack more quickly, displaying a variety of stylized acrobatics along the way. Closing in for melee attacks is accelerated by a warrior’s charge or rogue’s pounce, while the mage will sling projectiles from between a flurry of staff twirls. Even though all of this makes battles look really cool, it can sometimes be tricky to place your clicks when everything is moving so fast. Yes, you can still pause the action and take care not to waste time standing around because you’re missing clicks, but why bother with that tedium if you’re not micro-managing the party?
After a brief cinematic interlude, you step into the game’s prologue, which reveals Hawke and his family fleeing from the town of Lothering as it is overwhelmed by the Darkspawn horde witnessed at the beginning of Origins. Your character is back to level 1, but you can now control other members of your party, a mage and warrior. As I mentioned before, the ability to pause the game and manually assign commands to each combatant is still there, but so is the tactical menu that allows you to specify pre-determined courses of action that the AI will carry out on its own. Though there are far fewer tactics slots available than in DA:O (maximum of 7 per character), it seems to do a better job of automatically updating tactics according to general behavioral rules, saving you the hassle of going in and making sure that new ability you just gained at a level-up will actually be used.
The final segment of the demo skips ahead to Hawke’s arrival in the city of Kirkwall, where he meets a dwarven crossbowman and saucy rogue chick. Naturally, you want to help this well-endowed girl with whatever trouble she’s having, so you fight your way through mercenaries in the city streets to confront their captain in the local Chantry. You’ve got a full party now and your skills are nearly developed back to where they were at the beginning of the demo, so you can really get a feel for combat here. While you cannot zoom out quite as far as was possible in Origins, you shouldn’t have much trouble seeing things that are a moderate distance away. More of an issue lies in the sketchy third-person view that results from zooming in close, which makes it rather difficult to see much of your character’s body, let alone other things in your immediate vicinity. Seeing as how your ability to fare well in combat relies on being able to have a clear view of the enemy in order to click on them, the overhead angle is really the only way to go.
Unfortunately, some of the higher visual quality options are disabled in the Dragon Age 2 demo… That includes diffusion depth of field and high-quality blur effects, as well as the “Very High” detail setting, which requires DirectX 11 hardware and enables advanced dynamic lighting, contact-hardening soft shadows, improved terrain rendering with tessellation, and geometry displacement effects. Obviously, DX11 compatibility brings some fancy new effects that simply didn’t exist in Dragon Age: Origins, but if the demo is any indication, there are some graphical aspects of Dragon Age 2 that appear to be lacking, even in comparison to its predecessor.
The biggest deficiencies I see are with the textures and particle effects, which may be okay for 720p on a big, blurry TV screen, but simply don’t stand up to scrutiny on a computer monitor running 1080p or higher. To verify this, I also played the demo on the PS3 and found that, aside from a crap load of jaggies (4x AA was used on the screenshots you see here), it looks pretty much the same as it does on PC. In fact, the lower resolution actually helps you not notice how shabby the textures are. On another note, it would seem the UI (or at least the character portraits and status bars) were created for that resolution, and it being scaled to higher ones is the reason it’s almost too small on PC.
Some people are theorizing that the finished game will have higher resolution textures, but they left those out of the demo in order to keep the download size manageable. That may be true, but I would think you’d find a way to put your best foot forward and make sure that even the demo looks as good as it possibly can. After all, this is a free trial meant to entice people to buy the game, so what good is it if it’s not representative of the final product? In any case, it appears we will have to wait until March to see what BioWare has in store for the full version of Dragon Age II. You can bet we’ll have a proper review here on FiringSquad as soon as humanly possible after it releases, so stay tuned!
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