Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Preview

To be honest I wasn’t a big fan of Dragon Age: Origin’s. It just felt like a step down from what BioWare had already given us with Mass Effect. I still played 60 hours of Dragon Age: Origin’s and there were things to like. I thought the story and characters were intriguing. And the main conflict that had been established in the first few hours was riveting. The addition of being able to select from 3 different races, and a host of different hierarchies in society that determent your role was a nice touch too. But what I didn’t like is what stood out. The combat (on consoles, I didn’t get a chance to play on PC) was just awful. The minute you got into an encounter with an enemy your character would lumber over to them and contemplate whether or not they wanted to attack at that moment. I can’t even count the amount of times that I wanted to attack a specific enemy but I was blocked by another foe or my teammates got in the way. You always had to wrestle with your character in order to position him the right way in order to engage in combat. It was a intrusive combat style that didn’t lend itself well to consoles.

This is where Dragon Age 2 changes directions. The combat in the demo I played just feels more visceral and every blow you land has weight to it; when I want to attack an enemy I don’t need to highlight him then hope that my character engages him properly. I can just jump into combat and when I press one of the face buttons I get feedback from a selected ability or spell (if you’re a Mage) instantaneously. It’s this “immediate attack” style that has some fans worried that Dragon Age 2 will dissolve into a button masher…well in some respects that is true. For example your character will not auto attack unless you continuously press the A button to melee; for some constantly having to push A -- when an auto attack could do the same thing -- may seem unnecessary and monotonous. For me that isn’t the case.

That is because Dragon Age 2 is fast, really fast in fact! Like NASCAR fast. There was rarely a situation where I wasn’t pressing some button corresponding to an ability or spell, and there were always tons of enemies on screen. At first the excessive cluster of action on screen can be jarring and at times distracting. But with any game it just takes some time to get used to. If you’re accustomed to the play-style of Devil May Cry then you’ll feel more at home here…but then add in 4 more character’s to choose from on screen and you can see where things may get a little hectic.

The concept for Hawke

Aside from the overall move feedback to how you input commands, the combat and gameplay in Dragon Age 2 is largely unchanged from its predecessor. You still control a squad of 4 companions (which you can switch between during combat) and character abilities are mapped to the face buttons (pulling the right trigger brings up additional slots to map abilities). And yes combat can still be paused if you wish to micromanage the flow of battle.

One major change is too the dialog system. Gone are the static text descriptions on what your character can or can’t do. Replacing it is a dialog wheel akin to Mass Effect. You have 3 basic choices during a conversation: Good, Neutral (or in some cases a more sarcastic choice), or Bad/Aggressive. Of course which ever choice you make you’re never quite sure the actions Hawke may take. Few of the dialog options that you chose are spoken verbatim in a conversation. And many times Hawke may just speech on his or her own behalf.

Well I do enjoy the additions that make the game play more like Mass Effect there still is just a little something missing. Everything in Dragon Age 2 is still just a step down from Mass Effect, mainly Mass Effect 2. Well the visual’s are much improved from Dragon Age Origins; textures and character models aren’t as detailed as you would expect from a triple-A title. Well I don’t think the game was rushed, I still think that there could have been more of a pass over on some of the finer details. Some Environments look good, others not so much. That’s really Dragon Age 2’s visual’s in a nutshell—you just don’t know what you’re going to see, something good or something bad.

"I'll tell you everything, just don't shave my chest!"

As mentioned before you play as “The Champion of Kirkwall,” the protagonist Hawke. Your story is being narrated by a former follower of Hawke; a Dwarf named Varric. The Chantry is falling apart and Varric is tasked with spilling the beans on Hawke and his many tidings. Mainly how he actually became “The Champion of Kirkwall” in the first place. Well in the demo I played, little of the story was revealed – and this demo is quite long—how the story will play out seems interesting though and from what I have read it will play out over the course of many years detailing Hawke’s rise as Champion.

From what I’ve played I’m excited for Dragon Age 2. But I’m not expecting to be blown away…it’s just not going to happen. The same feeling that I got from playing Dragon Age Origins still remains: that it just isn’t as good as Mass Effect. But I’m okay with that. Not every game should be the same. But when you borrow so many ideas from another game, it’s hard not to be criticized when the final product is not up to par. Still Dragon Age as a franchise has a lot of potential, and if Dragon Age 2 is just a stepping stone, then eventually it can turn into something great.

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