I haven't played Dragon Age: Origins yet, and as such know nothing about it besides what I gleaned from reading a few reviews. The Ultimate Edition on Steam taunts me with its tantalizing $40 price point, which would more than satisfy my one-dollar-per-hour prerequesite for purchasing a game. But then I look at my backlog, most specifically at the Baldur's Gate games, and at KOTOR II, and remember that I have other RPGs to attend to.
But the DAII demo hit Steam yesterday, and as I completed it for the first time just last evening, I have decided to give some opinions from the point of view of an individual who has not played its predecessor and is coming into it with what is essentially an eager, open mind. Trailers left me underwhelmed, but I find most of BioWare's trailers to be dreadful, so that doesn't much matter. Here's a quick rundown of what I was worried about before the game.
I Was Afraid...
1. ...it would be a hack and slash ARPG with a party system a la Dungeon Siege
2. ...it would be 'consolized' and dumbed down
3. ...the character designs would be ridiculously pretty and JRPG-ish
4. ...it would remind me too much of Mass Effect
I got the demo running and, after mucking about the options, found that I could only run it at Medium settings, with no option for AA above 8x or any fancy customization. Apparently this is because I have DX9. Oh well. Should still look okay, right?
Anyway, once I got the keys bound in what hopefully would be a functional fashion, I start up.
The game begins with a pissy Chantry Seeker (whatever that is) yelling a lot at a guy named Varric. I dislike her voice; it sounds as though she doesn't know what accent to use. She does look much better as a brunette; while the white hair was kind of neat in the trailer, it was too unrealistic. Anyway, Varric's voice is good. Nondescript and sort of permanently stuck on 'nonplussed', but inoffensive. The lip sync is not good, nor is character animation. They move too quickly and the camera has trouble keeping up. When looking at my dozens of screencaps I often noticed some really cool things that were completely missable when the game was in motion, which is sad. For example, armor textures are fantastic. I'm really digging the angular, rough aesthetic.
Varric starts telling his story, and so we go to Hawke and some mage chick who has Miranda Lawson's chest and, I swear, some of her facial and body animations. Her voice is dreadful. It sounds like somebody trying to sound young and innocent. Overall not in any way a likeable character, and I'd imagine she has quite some back pain.
Fighting feels like a mess at first. For one thing, the camera is confusing. You move around and rotate it using the keyboard, but direct-controlling your character and turning it without the mouse just feels clunky. I tried zooming out, but it doesn't zoom very far. Panning it with the mouse like in Baldur's Gate would be much better. Combat looks kind of cool, but there's so much flashing and slashing and blood effects that it's really hard to tell what's going on. I can't monitor my characters well. Health sort of regenerates sometimes, but I couldn't tell why. Was it with each strike? Was it when I killed an enemy?
Clicking another character to select them centers the camera on them like in KOTOR, which would be great if I weren't trying to control the game from an overhead view. The camera (from what I've seen) can only be rotated, not tilted, so zooming in means I look either at character's backs (and can't see what they're hitting) or the tops of their heads. I have trouble selecting things to target them, like the mouse doesn't register it's over an enemy.
Combat feels very flashy, but is pretty uninteresting. Then I discover the abilities, and kill a circle of guys in one blow. It's pretty awesome, but there's no real sensation of impact. Strikes in KOTOR and BG feel more dynamic than this; dunno why. I'm kind of baffled; the game just feels like it's playing itself at this point. It feels like it doesn't know whether to be God of War or BG. Suddenly, just as a new wave of Darkspawn appear, a dragon does some cool roaring thing on top of a hill and...
Cassandra interrupts, because apparently Varric is telling a tall tale. A-hole. There are loading time pauses in the middle of cutscenes, which is incredibly obnoxious. Not loading screens, just stops. The characters stop, the screen stops, and it loads (which I can tell since a little blop of white text in the corner says so). Mass Effect 2 didn't do this, and it looked much better than this. Kind of confused here.
So now I get to play the segment again, except this time it's what really happened. There's a screen where I guess I would customize and name him, but the game won't let me. A few seconds later, Brendan Hawke is good to go.
Hawke is fleeing with his family after their village was burned by orcs...er, Darkspawn. There's his mom, who dresses like a woman much younger than her years, brother Carver who I don't dislike quite as much as Miranda's medieval clone, and Miranda's medieval clone herself (she's named Bethany). Hmm, there's an amusing visual pun here; Bethany's chest is about half the absurd size it was. I guess Varric's tall tale covered more than just ogres...
Anyway, I fight a bunch of darkspawn on the way down a linear pathway. The camera is more of a bother than the monsters. I decide to zoom it in while travelling, but it always is tipped down way too much for me to see enemies. So they come running from all directions from off screen and I can't zoom out far enough to get them all on screen, so I fight with the utterly crappy friendly pathfinding. So far, I am not liking this demo. Every time something cool happens, it's offset by the clunky gameplay.
Then we meet some new characters: Aveline the Warrior Princess and her whiny, obnoxious Templar husband Khalid! I mean Wesley! He gets hurt in a cutscene and falls over. Some more fighting, and then Wussley starts calling Bethany an 'Apostate' and repeating some orders or something in a disturbing fashion until Aveline (who is not actually a princess) snaps him out of it.
Bethany begins dying almost instantly thanks to archers. When I try to tell her to target them with a fireball, it doesn't work. Are they too high? Am I out of mana (I wasn't)? Is the moon just not aligned correctly? The game didn't tell me, and while I fought with it the monsters kills Bethany and Hawke, the latter of which had stood about like an idiot doing nothing after killing something. I can deal with bad AI if you can micromanage (BG and KOTOR both have some pretty bad AI), but the crappy camera didn't let me see him because I was controlling someone else. That worked in KOTOR, having the camera zoomed in and being able to quickly jump between characters by clicking their portraits, but it doesn't work here since half the time it brings up their stats menu and there are usually about three to four more times the enemies on screen than in KOTOR. You also can't line up a list of things for characters to do. They have one action, and when it's over they're on to something else. I messed with the AI behaviors but they were just rudimentary tweaks (Aggressive and Defensive) to basic behaviors.
Aveline killed the archers by herself.
More fighting, more going down a linear path while staring at butt-ugly ground textures, and an ogre appears and bashes Carver to death. We kill them and move on following a painfully boring scene that is supposed to make us feel sorry for a character who so far has had about six lines of dialogue. Then there's another fight with another ogre and I'm bored out of my skull and then there's that dragon again. It flies around, kills a bunch of Darkspawn to make me feel lame, lands, and then transforms into an old lady with some really cool raven-feather stuff that reminds me of the crabby witch from DAO (at least what I've seen in screenshots). Morrigan or whoever.
Dragon Lady turns out to be the MILF....er, Witch of the Wilds...and after some talking sends us on a fancy fetch quest to do something, and randomly mentions her daughter, who I'm guessing is Morrigan. This mention seems really out of place, and I figure is only there to cater to DAO fanboys. The probability of my ever joining their ranks is decreasing by the minute of this crappy, combat-heavy, uninteresting demo. Her character design is pretty cool, though. Oh, and then Wussley...er, Wesley...apparently caught Darkspawn AIDS (Blight, or whatever, which is never explained), and so Aveline has to stab him, doubtless setting herself up as the tragic love interest for a male Hawke. It's actually a pretty well-done scene, avoiding many of the typical lines that plague similar events in other movies, books and games. Aveline's bitter, almost dispassionate reaction is also very interesting. She is probably my favourite character so far, not counting the dragon witch lady/Morrigan's Mom.
Some random exposition, and then we suddenly switch locations after a quick check-in with Cassandra and Varric that confirms Varric is now telling the truth. The new place is introduced by an ugly, grainy FMV. Why not in-engine? I'm guessing they recorded it from the game set on High and us DX9 kids get the crap FMVs. Aside from the ugly video compression artifacts and much lower frame rate, the actual details on characters looks phenomenal. Armor looks lovely, even on medium, but I think I mentioned that before. These characters have faces I like, in that most of them tend not to be incredibly beautiful or good-looking. They do all have BioWare Chin Disorder, in which everybody's chin juts forward; Aveline, the gravest example, looked at certain unfortunate moments a little like a ginger Schwarzenegger after a few rounds of estrogen treatment and some extensive facial surgery. Not to say she's ugly, she just has a very odd face. None of them have faces you would see on the street. They look fine in the game, but if you picture them out of it, walking down the street, you can't make them seem real if that makes sense. Mass Effect 2 had that same problem – the faces looked good, but just had something off about them. Like a 'realistic' cartoon. Thankfully here people don't all look as perplexingly striking (only pretty people could join the Normandy; that's why Tali keeps her helmet on. And Grunt was very pretty for a Krogan).
Unfortunately, we then encounter Isabela the Rogue. Either Varric's lying his ass off again or this lady has set some new record in gymnastics. Women who may be reading this, would you find acrobatics feasible if you were to have a chest that large? Sure, breasts are attractive, but she's just built so wrong. BioWare Arm Syndrome, an odd disease in which female characters have absurdly wide shoulders with skinny arms tapering to tiny waists and DEM HIPS and DAT ASS, is in full effect in this game as it has been in every BioWare title since Jade Empire introduced it. The male characters also suffer from ugly arms, but at least the rest of them isn't on vacation in the Uncanny Valley.
Isabela seems an interesting character, though. That makes two love interests introduced so far. My Hawke, were this the full game, would likely err on the side of Xena the Warrior Ginger than **** the Supergazonga. There ensues some more dialogue, some recaps of events that the demo skips, more painful FMVs, and then more fighting before the demo ends. In the last fights, my team had been jumped ahead by several levels, so I was able to choose more skills for them. I caught a few tastes of combat that reminded me a lot of Baldur's Gate, except much flashier and with short cooldowns instead of a stock of spells. In one cool twist, I pulled all my guys back from the fray and had Varric (who was in the party, as this is a flashback of his) use a cool technique that rained arrows down in a wide circle. All but the leader of the enemies died nearly instantly.
Overall, I can't say I was disappointed by the demo, as I was not coming into it with huge expectations of awesomeness. I just was not happy with it, and actually forced myself to complete it. To make things easier, here's the update version of that I Was Afraid thing.
1. It isn't hack and slash. One click and your guy starts hitting. Fears allayed.
2. I haven't played DAO and RPGs have just kept getting more simple over the years, so I don't know about dumbed down. I didn't have access to the especially game-changing spells, but none of them really looked all that, well, game-changing. There were a lot of attack spells that did different amounts of damage in different directions, but overall...I don't know. Consolized yes – the mouse movement feels clunky.
3. Aside from Isabela's improbable figure and outfit, I'm impressed with the characters. Not sure who that...thing in the Steam screenshots is, though, the one with the dark skin, blinding white Nagisa Kaworu hair, and glowing veins is though. I think it's a woman, as BioWare isn't known for its girly-looking men (let me know if I'm wrong; again, I have not played NWN, BG2, or DAO).
4. Doesn't remind me of Mass Effect except with the dialogue wheel, and that feels different. I like the 'joking' tone and the 'tough' one, but really hate the good-guy one. My characters like to play as Chaotic Good – morally sound, but a little rough around the edges. This is beyond Lawful Good extending into Gormless P***y territory. Who stops while running away from bad guys to have a heartfelt chat? Who does that? No! Keep running!
Oddly, my negative feelings towards the demo became less pronounced as I was away from it. I found myself wanting to know what on Earth was going on. But that clunky, indecisive camera and messy combat turn me off. I just felt confused the entire time, like I had these ideas for what to do in my head and none of them really mattered. Maybe playing Rogue or Mage would be different, but I like playing a class which focuses on getting up in people's faces and brutally beating their noses in with a sword.
It left me conflicted. I think I'll play again and see what it's like as a different class (or maybe even gender) and see how that works out. So far I'm a little worried, as the game just wasn't very fun to play. But now that the horrors of that camera and the unresponsive powers have worn off, I find myself wondering if Carver's really dead (somehow I like him more in retrospect), what Dragon Lady is up to and why she wanted me to go to this city, what Isabela's looking for, just what is going on in general (DAO would probably answer that for me), where Aveline came from, what's going to happen to Varric, and if Cassandra will get her voice together and be recruitable somehow down the line. And also if those crappy FMVs will be in the final product.
May add screenshtos later.
EDITED AFTER PLAYING DEMO AGAIN:
I replayed twice more, with a Rogue and then a female Mage.
Rogue was a lot of fun and much more tactical than Warrior. My friend instructed me in the ways of panning the camera using rightmouse, so that rectified one of the issues, but the inability to zoom out and actually have a strategic view of the proceedings is still frustrating.
The game still felt clunky and unpolished, however. The AI constantly pulled bonehead maneuvers out of its ass, such as when my Rogue ended up fighting a pack of enemies on his own thanks to the rest of the party wandering away and getting stuck running against a cliff face. It only got worse. I tried to take control of them to move them back, but they would not respond. What. Even worse, Bethany, who had begun taking damage before she ran away, continued to take damage from an enemy that was on the OTHER SIDE OF THE MAP AND USING MELEE ATTACKS.
On my Mage playthrough as a girl Hawke, I learned two things: one, the AI is truly worse than in KOTOR. At least in that game when somebody ran off I could run them back; in this half the time they won't respond. My mage died three times because of this, and then fell victim to the Invisible Telekinetic Melee Attacks of Doom glitch another two times.
I did find it cool how the game adjusted for which class you picked. At the beginning of the game when you are accompanied by Bethany as Rogue or Warrior, you are instead joined by Carver if you are Mage. Clever.
What's most frustrated for me is how fun the game could be when things started working. I'd pause, queue up some skills and attacks, and then un-pause and watch the fireworks. Unfortunately, after two and a half times through the demo, it began getting boring. It feels so mono-dimensional. I recently began playing Titan Quest again and can honestly say that that game feels like a more involved and deeper gameplay experience.
In fact, the times in this DA2 demo where I had the most fun were the moments in which I could pretend I was playing Baldur's Gate HD.
The 8 from Gamespot is more than justified. I'm sure BioWare fixed most of the console-tastic glitches such as the unresponsive mouse commands, but it just feels so shallow and boring. From what I've read of your comrades not being able to switch armor (*cough*MASS EFFECT*cough*) or weapons...ugh. My reaction is one of surprising revulsion.
Those alterations sound like things would would appeal to many people. I can't really say they're 'bad', as I know people who would really, really like them.
Such as my brother.
Who is ten.