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I played Dragon Age: Origins on the Xbox 360. Thought I’d get the recently released demo of Dragon Age 2 on PC though to see if it improves anything. I want Dragon Age 2 to be good, I really do. But from what I’ve seen, I’m not too hopeful.

What better way to examine the demo and the game than by hosting a disastrous, oversized and summarised screenshot Let’s Play of the demo? Let’s get into it.

You start by selecting the gender and class of the protagonist – for the purposes of this playthrough, I choose the good old fashioned male warrior. Because tanking is just my style.

The game opens on a dwarf named Varric being dragged through a hall by armoured men. They sit him down in a dark room. He is interrogated by a woman called Cassandra, who identifies herself as working for the Chantry – because Dragon Age is too fancy to say ‘church’.

Cassie there also has that weird almost-French accent that was associated with the almost-French country of Orlais in the Dragon Age lore.

Faux Frenchy demands to know about ‘the Champion’, claiming that Varric knew him. Varric starts to talk as it cuts to a barren wasteland. An armoured man with a beard – our protagonist Mr. Hawke and a mage later revealed to be his sister are fighting what appear to be the henchmen of Skeletor

Then we’re thrown into tutorial gameplay. You click things and Hawke and his sister attack them. Then you click special attacks on the special attack bar and Hawke will attack the respawning skeleton monsters…Specially.

After killing them there’s a completely meaningless conversation that shows off the “new” conversation system and allows you to say the same thing three different ways!

Then you fight more of the same enemies in the same way in the same place. You do get to choose whether either you or your mage sister kill more bad guys in a cutscene. The cutscene kills look more fun and enemies seem to die much quicker than the ones in the gameplay.

Then an Ogre boss shows up. You and your sister just wail on it and its respawning allies, clicking special attacks, and waiting for them to recharge (strategy!) for about 50 seconds.

You kill the Ogre – well, Cutscene Hawke steals your kill in a badly animated finisher. Then more skeletons arrive and then a dragon roars and it cuts back to the interrogation.

Cassandra immediately accuses Varric of lying. See, cleverly, you seem to have been playing his false, exaggerated version of events! Which would work and be a clever little narrative device…If it hadn’t made all that boring fighting entirely pointless.

She yells about what’s at stake and he hints at the larger plot (as seen in the picture), when their interrogation suddenly turns. It feels like Varric is control for no apparent reason now. And then the following strange bit of dialogue:

Varric: You aren’t worried I’ll just make it up as I go?
Cassandra: Will you?
Varric: Then let me tell you what really happened…

The game brings us to the character customisation screen, which locks out everything customisable, but Hawke’s first name (I went with Dasux, because I am mature) for the demo.

Then Varric narrates semi-animated artwork, akin to the intro in Dragon Age: Origins and recaps some of the plot of that game, focusing on the destruction of the village of Lothering by the Orcs Darkspawn.

The demise of Lothering was offscreen in Dragon Age: Origins, maybe we’ll get to see it happen here. Spoiler: We don’t!

Cut to the barren wasteland from earlier, Hawke in less armour, his sister with a smaller bust, an old woman and Some Guy are running away from the skeleton zombies. Apparently they are the Darkspawn. Looks like the Orcs had a makeover. Which is weird considering this bit is set during Dragon Age: Origins in which they were Orcs.

Er…I don’t have a screenshot of the family at this point. Whoops. Anyway, Hawke’s sister ignites the pursuers and blocks their path with fire magic.

There’s an expository conversation that reveals the old lady is the mother of the Hawke family and they are indeed running from the skeleton monsters from Jason and the Argonauts Darkspawn.

The guy there is that other guy. His menu screen tells us he is a Warrior and is closer to Rivalry than Friendship with Hawke. That’s about as much personality I could gleam from the entire demo.

This conversation also presents us with pointless dialogue choice number 2. Slowing down just to say “we have to keep moving” is dreadfully reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII.

We are put in control of Hawke and co.
Examining a corpse will let us switch weapons for demo purposes, but let’s stick with the absurdly sized two handed sword, because the Buster Sword is the best kind of sword.

Before we can start looting glittering corpses, Darkspawn appear in front. It goes the same as earlier, but now we have fewer skills, so it’s mainly just click bad guy, then click next bad guy when previous bad guy is dead.

After the fight, we level up Hawke (which mainly involves a lot of complicated statistics – SO TOTALLY FUN) and take a look at the map. Speaking of Final Fantasy XIII similarities…

Plus, check out all these greyed out options we are not allowed to click in the menu. It’s worth noting, I first ran the game in High and it ran terribly. On a computer that can run Crysis and ArmA 2.

We march on and stop to have another pointless conversation about how we have to get away from the Darkspawn and decide where to go after that, which seems like something you could put off until you’ve escaped the things that are trying to kill you.

After the conversation, more of the same bad guys appear. Kill them and continue. Further on it goes back to cutscene mode and we see a man and a woman fighting…Wait for it…Darkspawn.

The man takes it from behind. His ladyfriend tackles the Darkspawn responsible, beats it in the face with her first and then uses a dropped sword to cut its head off. It was actually pretty cool.

She goes to the side of her fallen ally and repeats that weird protective line. Cut back to Hawke’s group. You have to fight through another group of Darkspawn in front of you, and follow the path around to the couple and fight the Darkspawn around them.

Strategy tip: kill the Darkspawn the same way you killed all the other Darkspawn.

After the killing, the couple introduce themselves. The supposedly wounded Sir (Yes, with an ‘i’!) Wesley starts mouthing off to your sister. See, he’s a Templar and in Dragon Age, that means he hunts mages and your sister is a mage aaaand I smell a sitcom.

Anyway, his ladyfriend Maybelline there, tells him to shut up and the pair automatically join you. Choices!

Let’s save us some screenshot time and space. Red dots are the same dreary enemies spawning out of the same dreary texture set.

And of course there are even more. Note in this shot that the Templar and the Hawkemother just cower at the side while everyone else fights.

If you’re feeling boredom looking at screenshots like this, it is intentional on my part. But a few samey screenshots don’t really get across what a chore this is to play at this point.

The way you can literally see enemies pop into existence is starting to get annoying.

The thing about this gameplay is the combat system isn’t the problem, it’s the total design. If it was Zelda combat, it would suck. If it was turn based combat, it would suck. If the merely functional battle systems of Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire or Mass Effect 1 threw this many enemies at you with nothing else inbetween – they would suck too.

It is like Final Fantasy XIII all over again!

After cutting through MORE Darkspawn, we get to a slightly open area with more Darkspawn.

It also has a new enemy! Feel free to take note of the spawning waves of normal enemies appearing at the sides on the map though.

After this fight, you move up to the familiar plateau that was the battlefield in Varric’s exaggerated intro.

An Ogre appears, That Other Guy from your party with no distinguishing characteristics charges it. It picks him up, slams him into the ground a few times and then throws him away. Another Jenkins, another pointless death.

I’m not surprised, but my money was on the Templar guy to die.

Note that Hawke doesn’t run up and stab it, and the sister doesn’t bother casting any spells at it while it’s grabbing and murdering their ally.

So you fight the Ogre. Again. While Darkspawn spawn around you. Again. Only this time you have a bigger party…And worse stats, so it takes longer to chip away at his health bar. Quality interactive entertainment!

After the fight, the crying Hawkemomma rushes to the side of Dead Guy .

Oh, he was Hawke’s brother? Oh, we’re meant to care? Well this death scene is totally up there with Aeris and The Boss.

(And his name was Carver? Carver because he hit things with a big sword? Really?)

Templarboy says a prayer and the crew start walking away. Then more Darkspawn appear and I’m not  going to bother screenshotting the ensuing fight. Just scroll back up to the top where more Darkspawn appeared in the same area that looks the same as all the other places so far.

After you’ve killed enough of them, a big dragon appears and then swoops down killing a bunch of Darkspawn in cutscene mode. It then transforms…

…Into a medieval stripper’s nan?

Or Flemeth from Dragon Age: Origins with an Ultimecia makeover. Your allies recognise her as the Witch of the Wilds and you chat a little bit. Turns out she came down on a whim to see who had managed to kill an Ogre.

And you know from Dragon Age: Origins that she has to fly back to her hut in the forest, change back into her normal old lady clothes (and face) to await the Warden and pals next visit for her grimoire.

Finally! A dialogue option that totally represents what I want to say!

Hawke: You could show me that trick of yours. That looks useful.
Flemeth: [Laughs] If only a clever tongue was all one needed.

Then she changes the subject and I don’t get to say “No, seriously. My sister is a mage, you could totally teach her. If we had a dragon, we could just fly away from the Darkspawn!”

Having decided to leave the country of Ferelden and travel to Kirkwall, we ask for the witch’s help. She offers to help us, provided we deliver something to someone in Kirkwall for her.

Note the investigate option above does not give us the option to ask why, what or to who.

After we are railroaded into agreeing to do this (choices!), she specifies a name, a place, an amulet (which could literally mean anything in generic fantasy world) and utters this line:

Flemeth: Do as she asks with it and any debt between us is paid in full.

Naturally, you are allowed zero follow up questions in response to this comically ominous statement.

Flemeth turns her attention to our useless Templar buddy and his ‘corruption’. He’s apparently going to die painfully from getting Darkspawn blood in him or something. All the many blood spattered characters have somehow avoided this.

We finally get a choice that involves actually doing something. Either let Avellone mercy kill her love. Or basically shove her out of the way and insist he has to die when you thought clicking that option would just be offering out of kindness to her.

He takes out a knife and, in this case, his ladyfriend rather than Hawke takes his hand with the knife in and pushes it into his heart.

Which is weird because one camera angle later, you can see that his chest is clearly protected by a big piece of metal that is totally unscathed.

Anyway, Flemeth spouts ominous warnings and starts to exit. There’s a pretty cool transition back to the interrogation.

I notice that I don’t think anyone ever says Hawke’s name, even though it’s set by the game. In the interrogation they only refer to ‘the Champion’, I can’t tell if this is down to a changed design midway through development, or it’s foreshadowing the plot twist where it turns out Hawke’s mother is the Champion.

Anyway, there’s another narrated cartoon telling us of Hawke’s travels to Kirkwall. Now, we’re going to a city and they couldn’t fit a whole city in this already oversized (2GB) demo. But maybe we’ll get more dialogue, story, choices or anything interesting in there.

Then there’s a specially cut video for the demo showing them meeting Varric and going to a bar.

In the bar they meet the pirate Isabela – a minor character from Dragon Age: Origins, who has changed skin colour and somehow grown massive fake pornstar boobs. Kirkwall surgeons must be way ahead of the times.

She asks Hawke to back her up for a meet she’s concerned about. This demo timeskipping video ends and we cut to said meeting where the following happens:

No conversation here, just cue gameplay. Which is of course, the same boring combat against what might as well be the same enemies. Oh, and it’s not like you just fight those three, pairs of goons seep out of every corner in the area. So much for choices.

New armour, weapons and stats, but it takes about 12 cuts from Hawke to kill one of the ‘raiders’. Even though he’s using a sword that’s bigger than the men he’s fighting. And even though the animation clearly shows this gigantic weapon going through them and spilling blood. At least 12 hits to take them down.

Afterwards, you follow Isabela around a corner and fight another six unnamed bad guys. Then you head into the local Chantry after the man responsible.

The leader of the raiders, with a cartoonishly evil cockney accent, chats with Isabela about her freeing slaves and costing him money. Because he’s a bad guy and she’s a good guy, get it?

They exchange words about some mobster boss and a ‘relic’ that he’s after.

Naturally, I try to take the peaceful option and negotiate my way around the situation, if only to avoid yet another fight. The following screenshot sums up everything about Dragon Age 2 for me:

Which is what Isabela says before hurling a dagger into the chest of one of the villain’s henchmen, which of course, forces us into combat with 6 guys as 3 more spawn in behind us midway through.

After the battle, the final conversation with Isabela and of the demo, ends by teasing the player with the promise of either a fetch quest or cutscene sex. Seemingly all this series has to offer.

But that expression of linearity, lack of choice, mandatory, boring, non-stop combat and hilarious breasts…I think that is Dragon Age 2.

3 Comments

  1. If I was Bioware I would make a demo like this aswell. I wouldn’t put any of the good stuff in, I’d make sure it’s pretty tightly scripted events and conversations that give away nothing.
    It gave pretty much what it needed to give. It shows off some of the change sand upgrades over DA:O. It sets up a couple hundred questions for you to ponder over the next almost month. Overall I think it’s a good pre-release demo. And let’s not kid ourselves, it was made solely for fanboys like me who just want to see. And not for newcomers to the series, or less hardcore DA players who won’t automatically go out and pre-order it.

  2. I think you are being too harsh on a DEMO. This is a demo for an rpg. I actually wondered how they were going to pull it off. How do you represent a complicated game based on choices in a demo… where you can’t have any choices because it is just a demo.

    I do agree with you on the boring-factor of the fighting though… without starting off with any of the skills and traveling through a barren, linear landscape sucked.

    But from what I have seen in other videos of the game, this is not what the entire game is like.

    And about people looking different: this does specifically involve suspension of disbelief, because they SAID they were changing the way things looked. I love the way Isabella looks. Pirates arent lily skinned.

    But her breasts are distracting. And silly :)

  3. I had many of the complaints you had. I found Cassandra’s accent amusingly bad, the facial animation did not live up to fidelity displayed in Mass Effect 2. Although, Male Hawke’s voice actor is much better than MaleShep. Not that it’s difficult.

    I tried the demo once for each class, and they all seemed to play the same way: Click on enemies, click on buttons. Combined with the waves of identical enemies, it seems that strategy or tactics will hardly be making that big an impact. Seeing the warrior class wave around that comically enormous sword was enough to make me giggle.

    Even with the high-end graphics locked out the game ran very poorly on my machine, and looked far worse than many games that ran better. I know dual card set-ups are hardly standard, but it does not seem to use more than one core, and that is unforgivable when pretty much all modern processors are dual core at least.

    For once I would like to see a game approach sword fighting mechanics in a more interesting way than mashing the attack key at watching their health chip away with each blow of your absurdly massive blade. (Discussed by Shamus Young here: http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=188)

    I agree with your earlier comment that the Mass Effect style dialog wheels are not a good choice for everything. However, there are elements that could be useful.
    The indicators for tone introduced here should be standard on all dialog selectors, as it is often difficult to discern what exactly will be said from text alone.
    If the wheels instead told you the tone and exact words, I would have no issues with them, as they provide a useful way of arranging the options in an efficient manner.

    I also agree that Isabella would look more at home in Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball than what purports to be an epic and reasonably serious fantasy tale.


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