Summary: BioWare's follow-up to their epic fantasy RPG and 2009 Game of the Year Dragon Age: Origins is now available in North America! Dragon Age II puts players in the role of Hawke, a Fereldan refugee of the Blight that rises to power and becomes the Champion of Kirkwall. Vandy's been playing the game almost non-stop since yesterday to prepare for a thorough review, but for now you can check out some of his initial thoughts, including a comparison to what we saw from the playable demo two weeks ago.
If you have any questions you want answered or other suggestions for what to include in the full review, now is the time to speak up!
The graphics suck.
This is probably the biggest gripe people had with the demo -- the PC version looked the same as the console versions. Thatís really bad when said consoles are now more than 5 years oldÖ However, that is because the graphical options were limited in the PC demo, with no high-resolution textures and no DirectX 11 features available. Again, why they decided to use this as a promotional tool for the game is beyond me, but whatís done is done. You all will be happy to hear that both of those things are remedied in the full version (see screenshots), though you have to download a hi-res texture pack separately and DX11 performance can be a bit sketchy. Some say that using the recently-released beta drivers from both NVIDIA and AMD help with the latter somewhat, but hopefully BioWare will have a proper fix for it soon.
Combat has been dumbed down.
Everybody saw the fast-paced action in the previews of the game and feared that the tactical combat of the first game had been streamlined or removed completely. Well, that is simply not the case. While itís true that you cannot zoom out to an overhead, almost RTS-like camera angle in Dragon Age II, the same depth of tactical options and control remains. The only difference is that theyíve improved party AI behavior to the point that you do not have to rely on micro-management as much if you prefer to focus on your own character. This is achieved in part by the tactics menu (not limited to 7 slots as it was in the demo) automatically updating itself with abilities you unlock. But for those exceptionally difficult battles, you can still assume control of each party member, pause the action to assign orders to everybody, and coordinate what are called ďcross-class combos.Ē
The interface is too consoley.
We get somewhat of a mixed bag in this department. As seen in the demo, the PC versionís HUD is a pretty good size, with the entire bottom of the screen acting as a quickbar for shortcuts to abilities or items. Thankfully, the radial pause menu from the demo is gone in the full version and has been replaced with a list. However, the inventory, character sheet, and quest journal are all much too small, even in the full version of the game. Literally, they barely cover 1/3 of the screen at 1920x1200, plus they still use a larger, console-friendly font. Hopefully we will see some kind of UI mod in the near future because thatís just ridiculous.
As for the rest of the game, yeah, itís pretty awesome. Being a fan of the silent protagonist, I was wary of the switch to a fully-voiced Hawke with a [mostly] pre-determined personality, but I actually like it. Itís so much more fun to deliver the sarcastic dialogue when you can hear it out loud. And despite the lack of an Origins backstory, the character progression (in terms of story, not leveling up) is palpable and gratifying: you start out as a penniless refugee working for smugglers or mercenaries, trying to earn enough coin just to buy your way into the city because your degenerate uncle gambled away your inheritance. Before you know it, youíve built a reputation for getting things done and you eventually amass fortune enough to restore your family to its former glory. In many ways, I think thatís better than simply choosing to start out with inherent renown (or insignificance) and being identified that way for the rest of the game.
So far, Iíve spent all my time questing in and around Kirkwall, which is a massive city-state in the Free Marches. Instead of a regional map, you have a map of the city with different districts and points of interest to go to (somewhat like that of Denerim in Origins), including the option to visit them at night. Frankly, Iím getting kind of tired of bouncing around the same handful of locations for the few dozen quests Iíve done so far, so I hope there are other places to see. There should be plenty of time for that, as Iím expecting a similar length of playthrough as the last Dragon Age, around 50-60 hours. Itís pretty crazy to think about the fact that, in the time Iíve spent playing already, I could have beaten the campaigns for Bulletstorm AND Call of Duty: Black OpsÖ. Itís so nice to get your moneyís worth from a game. As such, you can expect the full review of Dragon Age II to land sometime next week, after I finish this beast. See you then!
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