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Dragon My Feet Back To Ferelden

I was really excited for the first Dragon Age game. High fantasy is one of my favourite genres and I was looking forward to a return to classic swords-and-sorcery fantasy. While the game had a lot of high points, I was ultimately frustrated beyond belief by the unbalanced power curve that placed magic far above everything else, the incompetent AI of my party members and the exhausting pacing of some of the quests. That said, I have been told that the PC version is superior and the game was highly acclaimed for a lot of good reasons. I chalked it up to a personal misfortune, a game that was a misfire for me but ultimately a success otherwise. So it was with caution that I approached Dragon Age 2, a game that takes the lore of Ferelden and incorporates many of the gameplay elements from Mass Effect 2, a game that I absolutely loved. The demo for the Xbox 360 version was released today (at a heifty 1.98Gb) and I got stuck in to see just what kind of game lay ahead.

My first discovery was that the game is very much a button-basher. Jab the A button repeatedly for normal attacks, and the other face buttons for your special attacks. During the first few battles I was effortlessly tearing the darkspawn hordes apart and not quite understanding how I was doing it, using flashy moves executed with the most basic of button presses. It’s a lot like the battle system from Kingdom Hearts II in that regard, and I’m not sure I’d call that an improvement.

I played the demo three times, each time choosing one of the three different classes Dragon Age II will have to offer. Warrior was my first choice, and sadly I found it to be quite vanilla. Mage was my third choice, and although it was clearly overpowered in the first battle (where you are suitably overleveled) I struggled to cope in the subsequent battles. Maybe I’m just really bad at playing Mages. Rogue was my second choice, and it… well, it was incredible. Suddenly I went from swinging around a slow sword to being a goddamned ninja, slicing and dicing all over the place with numerous effective crowd-control and damage methods. Rogue almost feels like the perfect class for the kind of hack-and-slash game that Bioware was aiming for. I was also impressed by the improvements to the talent trees, allowing for some real customisation and distinction within the three classes.

The addition of emotional indicators to the dialogue wheel was a good idea, and will hopefully reduce the number of times your character says something that has you going, “Wait, what?!”. It amused me a little that there’s a “joking” response available on nearly every single dialogue option, even when doing so makes you come off as an insensitive jerk. I joked on Twitter the other day that Dragon Age characters seem to be born from a Madlibs of, “A [RACE] [CLASS] who is really sarcastic and witty.” Well now you can conform to the mould too!

The demo was all-combat with few dialogue sections, so there’s not much indication of how the storytelling side of the game will take. The framing device is interesting and Bioware have always been good at character-building dialogue sections, so hopefully things will turn out well. The default designs for both male and female Hawke look amazing, and their voice-acting is on par with each other, so I think I’ll have a hard time choosing my character when the game is released. The other character designs- except for Flemeth and Isabella- are so-so, the same kind of tired, generic designs that were in Dragon Age. They’re not bad persay, they just don’t stand out. Maybe I’ll get used to them.

Overall the demo is a good bit of fun, though I can’t say it’s made me more excited for Dragon Age 2. There wasn’t really anything in the demo that blew me away or gave me an intoxicating feeling of “I must own this”. Still, the game looks very polished with some welcome improvements from the original, and I will probably pick it up at some point.

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