Bioware saw fit to release the demo to one of the biggest games of the year on February 22nd and they did not disappoint. Dragon Age II looks to improve on Origins in every single regard, including the most noted shortcoming: the Combat. The demo takes you through a few different landscapes; the beginning of the journey (once through legend and once through what actually takes place) and a quest with a NPC from the original game, albeit with the new look that the game is touting.
First things first, the combat; a video that was released on Dragon Age’s website showed that the combat was going to be much, much smoother than it was before and actually being able to play it really drives the point home. You won’t see numbers popping up over your enemy’s head this time around; you’re just whittling a health bar down until they drop. A big issue with Origins’ combat was how clunky it felt to move around the battlefield. Characters were constantly hunched over and hunkered over to their destination before carrying out orders. This isn’t the case anymore. Playing through a rogue in the demo meant that Hawke was flipping and leaping across the battlefield like a hyperactive monkey. The game felt incredibly sped up, akin to a button mashing beat ’em up when engaging normal enemies, but still retains the pause and play slowdown when you’re engaging in a more potent fight. Also important to note is that in the Dragon Age II demo, the difficulty was locked to normal, which means you can get away with some sloppy tactics.
The look of the game comes next and this is also an improvement so far. The armor looks much more stylish (and thus unrealistic, but who cares about realism) and it appears that warriors aren’t going to be the only ones with great looking armor anymore. Your companions are distinct: their attire is unique to them and while it remains to be seen if they will change with items later in the game, they are easily distinguished and don’t have to wear the silly hats strewn about Dragon Age: Origins. Also looking good are the menus. In Origins’ the book-like menu was tolerable, whereas in Dragon Age II they went with something a bit more stylish. To go along with being easier to look at everything is much easier to decipher. Combine that with the streamlined combat and you’ve got the perfect storm for new players. Spending attributes upon leveling up is easy, as each stat comes with a description as to what it does. Origins did this, but Dragon Age II shows how much of a difference each stat point makes immediately.
Choosing through four to five different lines of dialogue are officially gone. The dialogue wheel a la Mass Effect is here and for the most part it does the job well. While fans of the original will probably miss the amount of dialogue choices you had in the first game, you won’t ever make the mistake of misunderstanding the tone of your words. Like Mass Effect clearly distinguished what was kind to say and what made you a jerk, Dragon Age II does as well. How your companions feel about your decisions and words also manages to effect abilities. Whether they’re friend or rival splits the path on certain abilities they have access to.
Here’s a quick wrap up and some additional thoughts. Flemeth is still probably the best character that never gets to join your party (or so we’ll see). The gore upon finishing off a generic enemy is hilarious; one backstab effectively made a darkspawn explode. You don’t have to hot key your potions the combat menu lets you access a quick heal and other restoratives. Combat is better, characters look much more unique and there really isn’t any reason not to look forward to Dragon Age II.