Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: March 8, 2011
At 1.98 GB, the demo for Dragon Age II was downloaded in a mere six hours. Due to the lengthy delay, my initial enthusiasm waned as my mood shifted from elation to pissed. When I finally got to the black and white (with a hint of red) opening screen, I was not impressed. Still, I’d waited almost a year for this, so it was with much anxiety that I clicked that Start button.
“The Champion was at the heart of the events that would change the world.” The Seeker of the Chantry is looking for The Champion, as a shady dwarf begins to regale her with the tales of Hawke’s early years. Fight some darkspawn…get roasted by the Arch Demon…the end. Or is it? Hawke lived in Lothering with her (or his if you prefer the male default) family until the tragic loss of Ostagar. Shortly after the last of the wardens passed through the small village, darkspawn leveled the place and they were forced to flee into the Wilds. A few darkspawn later, and Mom decides we should head toward Kirkwall as we have family and an estate there. Cool, at least we’re not destitute refugees. Of course nothing could be that simple, as your little sis is an apostate mage, and Kirkwall is crawling with templars. Life is about to get a lot more complicated. It’s not long after that you meet up with some companions on the road: Avilene and Wesley. Avilene’s a great sword arm to have in a fight, but her husband, despite his templar title and training, will remind you more of the Chantry’s softer side. After letting them know that nobody’s arresting little sis today, you head south as a party of six (sadly only four of which are combatants). And just when things appear most dire, help arrives. Flemeth, decked out in a new body but with the same voice, shows up to save the day. Remember, it’s been a busy week for her, but she still has time to offer “assistance” as if she were the Ferelden version of a demonic Red Cross. When Blight strikes – she’ll be there!
For seasoned Dragon Age Players, a lot has been changed about the way you play. To qualify for in-game goodies (there are some available from the demo and some for those playing the Facebooky Legends), make sure that all of your email accounts match. The one that you use for your Live account is the one they’ll use to automatically create a new EA account. In this case, it was my husband that got the in-game perks…no love for me. Upon arrival at the character generation section, I noted that the graphics have indeed been improved over Origins, although the female rogue version of Hawke looks a lot like Morrigan. My intention was to immediately rectify that, but I was instead immediately thrust into both the opening credits and story. You will, however, be able to customize your appearance after the tutorial in the full game. The menus are just not activated at this time. The much touted full character voice over was enjoyable to experience, but it doesn’t add all that much to your character’s personality. The sparkly indicator of goods you can loot has been augmented with a much more obvious, albeit visually disturbing, arrow. This does you little good in the demo though, as while you may loot to your heart’s content, your inventory menus are not yet active. I can’t yet tell you much of the goodies in store. Another key change is in leveling up. You now gain points for both attributes and abilities. Attribute scores, and their associated penalties and bonuses, are much more clearly defined. The old chart of abilities has been replaced with skill trees, that although more complex, are clearly mapped.
Combat has changed considerably, and I’ll confess that it took me a few passes through to get a solid feel for it. The initial battle scene pits you and your kid sis against a horde of darkspawn, and you get thrust head first into the new and improved, much more fast-paced, combat system. Armed with some killer new abilities (though most are just for educational purposes and will be removed when you actually start), the tutorial combat sequence affords you the opportunity to play around with and get accustomed to it. The new animations are kick butt (backstab rocks), but you must hit the “A” or alternate attack button for each assault. You can no longer sit passively by while your character does the work. You must also physically position yourself to engage in melee combat. Simply clicking on an attack selection will not suffice. If you’re not actually close enough to your target to do any damage with those swords of yours, nothing will happen, and you’ll just stand there looking stupid in the heat of battle. This does take some getting used to, but results in a much more enjoyable (and visceral) experience. If foes are resistant to a certain type of damage, you’ll now know immediately. A small shield appears next to their name whenever they’re hit by that element, so you’ll know to try something else for your next attack. The automatic revival of dead characters after a battle remains the same. You just need to make sure that one party member survives. Speaking of survival, the new Quick Heal is not so quick, and they added a clock to it. There will be no more chugging of multiple potions, so make your heals count.
In the end it’s just a demo and meant to be an amuse bouche before the dinner party starts. Did it whet my appetite? Maybe. Did I like it? A little. Am I still going to be counting down the seconds to pop it in at 00:01 on March 8? Hell yeah!!!