[Dragon Age 2] Initial Impressions

da2_act2 Hawke and companions in Act 2 – other companies please note how armour on women can look cool without showing lots of thigh.

I am a big fan of Bioware games, I loved Dragon Age Origins despite its faults, and I’m enjoying the heck out of Dragon Age 2.

Things I love about DA2:

  • I enjoy that it’s all set in the same city and that you WILL get to see how people, NPCs, and factions change and interact over time. Some of that will be connected to things you have done, and some won’t. We very rarely get this type of setup in games, it’s the holy grail of phasing in games like WoW, but single player games can do it better.
  • (Downside: It’s all set in the same city and surrounding areas. Areas do get reused. The city itself doesn’t really change all that much through the years, not as much as most real cities probably would.)
  • I like that in Act 1 I was an unknown noob in the city whereas by Act 2 I have an actual mansion in Hightown and some finery to wear (admittedly the finery looks like a school uniform but it’s not armour!) I’ve no idea what Act 3 may hold in store. It feels as though there is a simulationist element (e.g. you could imagine a game where you have to build up your resources in addition to doing the quests) even though there really isn’t.
  • I also enjoy seeing how actions I took in Act 1 are affecting people in Act 2. Some of this I think is fairly subtle but focussing in on one city does allow this type of storytelling.
  • I’m enjoying the writing, and in particular the companions are great. I don’t LIKE them all, but I enjoy them all as characters. Aveline is a particular winner and a character type we don’t see all that often – she’s a straight edge city guard who tries to do the right thing but isn’t very good at out of the box thinking. The scene where you try to help her chat up a fellow guardsman is painfully hilarious. Her banter with Isabela is also awesome. Varric is also possibly the best written dwarf ever.
  • (Downside: I’m not sure how great a character Hawke really is. Certainly she has a talent for kicking arse and taking names, especially on casual difficulty levels. I am having fun with her, but I keep feeling that the NPCs just seem like better characters.)
  • I also ended up with Anders (pictured on the left) as my love interest, despite the fact he’s quite possibly totally hatstand. Still, at least Hawke got to find out whether a wizard’s staff has a knob on the end :P I find that Bioware take their love interests terribly seriously in this game, it’s all twoo lurve and moving in together after knowing each other for a few years, and not so much a quick shag and then off for breakfast (I guess you’d probably have to play The Witcher for more of the latter.)
  • I enjoy the faster pace of the fighting and I have no issues about turning the difficulty down if a fight is hard. I like having the options and 2H warrior Hawke is rather awesome at mowing down mooks. (A handy talent since mooks seem to teleport into fights in constant waves.)
  • Does DA2 feel rushed? I’m not sure. Certainly there is a lot of resuse of areas, dungeons et al. However, it is supposed to all be set in the same city. I’d say possibly rushed but at the same time, what they were trying to do does work.
  • Giving the character a family to use as plot points does work. There is a whiff of the ‘dependent NPC’ to it all, ie. getting extra character points for having dependent NPCs whose sole purpose is to get into trouble and need rescuing or provide fodder for NPC enemies, but I feel that giving a PC more background in terms of friends, family, and other history does provide for some good story hooks.

One thing I’m not so sure about is what replayability willl be like. I feel as though I have been doing all of the available sidequests and I’m not sure how different it would really be on a second playthrough, even though playing as a mage might be quite interesting.

Dragon Age 2 Demo!

da2

Yesterday, Bioware released the Dragon Age 2 demo into the wild (link is for the PC version, PS3 and Xbox versions available through usual console mechanisms) with the promise that if one million people downloaded it across all platforms, there will be some extra goodies in game for everyone.

They’re already up to over 400k downloads. No wonder mine was so slow yesterday!

Highlights for me:

  • It’s good to be back in Ferelden, the use of music, voice acting, and film-like lead ins to the plot really does make the first section with the templar and the dwarf feel immersive.
  • Combat has changed, it feels faster and punchier and still very Dragon Age. Main thing is that you can still pause frequently to assign actions to the various characters. But I was finding it tricky to deal with streams of incoming mobs without a specific AE build. This may be a case where practice makes perfect.
  • Some of those fights are quite tricky on normal difficulty and since you can’t save in the demo, better hope you picked up lots of healing and mana potions.
  • I did enjoy playing Hawke as a 2H warrior, whirlwind is awesome. To be fair, the rogue and mage looked fun too! And it’s nice having a voice for the main character.
  • I love the storytelling conceit of the unreliable narrator, but it would have been better if the champion had punched the dragon in the face in the first narrative. (Sharp eyed players on rpg.net also suspect that Bethany’s boobs grow a bit in the first retelling and are more feasible in size in the second narrative.)
  • Varic is an awesome character.
  • Aveline is an awesome tank. She soloed the ogre on her own in my first playthrough after everyone else died.
  • I’m a softie and was moved when Aveline had to decide whether to kill her own husband so that he didn’t become darkspawn. (I guess this kind of storyline is more gripping if you’re in a relationship)
  • The city where you meet Isabella (was that Kirkwall, not quite sure?) definitely gave the feel of being large and city like where Denerim never quite worked for me.
  • Isabella is awesome too, but if you played DAO you know that already.
  • femHawke has good armour. I know I bang on about this :)
  • The blood spatters are still in.
  • There’s some great foretelling in the interactions with Flemeth which makes me very intrigued to see how this story is going to play out.
  • I can’t wait to play the full version!

What did you all think? For me, one of the nice things about a PC demo is that it’ll prove that my system runs a game (arguably something I could have thought about before pre-ordering the signature edition but still nice to know.)