Monday, March 14, 2011

Dragon Age 2, First Impressions

Haven't had as much time as I'd like to dive into "Dragon Age 2" over the last week, but I've had enough to give my first five impressions of the first five hours:

1. The interface has changed noticeably. I'm still getting used to it. Most buttons still serve the same functions. But full equipment access/adjustment has been moved from the radial menu to the pause menu and the "back button" is only good for bringing up the map, rather than the entire menu system. In some ways this simplifies things, giving you one route to reach a given menu, but the menu changes don't seem to be a big enough improvement to justify the change in familiarity from the last game.

2. The graphics continue to look great, possibly even better than the first game. Still lots of blood flying around in combat. This game pulls no punches. The general color of the game seems to be a little more sterile and gritty this time around. This hasn't been a plus or a minus for me yet, it's just different.

3. The story is a sequel to the larger events of the first game, but doesn't involve your character from Dragon Age: Origins except in vague references to the "Hero Of Ferelden" now and then. No sign of Morrigan yet, but Flemeth (voiced by Kate Mulgrew of "Star Trek: Voyager") makes an appearance early on, revealing new layers to her character and setting up her further involvement (I assume) later in (and hopefully throughout) the game.

You choose the sex and class of your human character and use multiple choice options to select your "type" of response in dialogue. Identical to Mass Effect 1 and 2, you don't know exactly what words each response type will result in. The trade-off is that your character is fully voiced. Personally, I could go either way. When I'm in the mood (and alone) I'll actually read my "lines" out loud in Dragon Age: Origins and similar games.

4. The sound of the game is very similar to the first. Same composer, and presumably the same female vocalist providing haunting melodies over the orchestra. So far, the score hasn't "opened up" as much, although I assume things will sound more epic as the story expands. The voice acting is just as strong as ever, and the male actor for Hawke (your character) does a good job of creating a voice and tone that works whether you take the noble, snarky or hard edged dialogue options.

5. The biggest change is the combat system, which has been tweaked subtly but significantly. It is now a bit more action oriented. Instead of your character repeatedly attacking a selected foe until they are defeated, you have to press the "select" button repeatedly (after moving into range) in order to continue attacking. Your supporting characters are still automated with customizable tactics and you can switch around to control whoever you want, but the combat feel is now just a little closer to a "Diablo" clone than Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights, which Dragon Age: Origins drew heavily from.

This has been a step backward in my opinion. I enjoyed the real-time combat of the first game, but since it was still somewhat automated, I could easily move the camera around to check out the cool combat from whatever angle I wanted. Now, however, the thumb controlling the camera is busy pushing "A" over and over again, and so the combat is seen mostly from one angle. Bummer. After five hours in as a fighter, and trying out a mage supporting character for the last 20 minutes, I've actually decided to start the game over as a mage, since I believe that will provide more of the "stop and go" tactical experience I enjoyed in the first game, without having to micro-manage my whole team (as I would personally need to do if I just amp up the difficulty).

Final Impression-
Over all, I'm really enjoying the game, though I would have been happier if the combat hadn't been touched. Still, this is Bioware, we're talking about. So I'm giving myself some time to adjust to their changes and hopefully they'll prove to be good ones in the end. Either way, this is shaping up to be a very compelling game experience that I'd recommend to almost any RPG player.

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