BioWare's hotly anticipated Dragon Age 2 hits stores today. It's been a year and a half since Dragon Age: Origins came out, so I consider this a relatively quick turnover rate for the sequel. But that's a good thing, because even the relatively short wait has seemed tortuous. I can only play through the demo so many times.
BioWare released the DA2 demo on February 22--two weeks ago. It's awesome. A little buggy, sure, but hopefully the actual game will have sorted those things out. I think the combat is the biggest improvement over DAO. It feels faster, more varied, more involved, more exciting, and just more fun. I was a mage enthusiast in DAO because I just didn't find melee or bow-and-arrow combat as engaging as casting spells, placing their area of effect just so to get the best result. But after playing the demo, I'm not sure what I want my first character to be. I love the warrior with the huge two-handed sword, sweeping it in an arc to cut all the surrounding darkspawn in half. I love the dual-wielding rogue who leaps into battle and has the backstab ability that teleports the character right behind the target to land the brutal hit. The demo introduced enough powerful-feeling combat skills for both classes that I'm sure I'd be fully entertained playing through with them.
That's not to discount the mage, which I also had fun playing. The mage's normal attack is itself more exciting than the mage's one-note attack in DAO, now featuring a series of several quick movements, whipping the mage staff around and sending out elemental attacks. It's not a casual toss of a spell, but feels like real combat. Plus, mages no longer miss out on finishing moves against major opponents. The spells that I loved in DAO may be a bit nerfed; cone of cold and crushing prison require upgrades to make them freeze or possibly paralyze targets, respectively, and it remains to be seen whether enemies can still be shattered by using the two in combination. But I'm sure I'll adapt quickly enough. I'm looking forward to playing a mage who is not from the Circle. I enjoyed that origin but always felt too guilty to try out blood magic--it just didn't fit my character, given her background. As an apostate from the start, however, I probably wouldn't feel bad about dabbling a bit.
It is interesting that after Dragon Age: Origins placed so much emphasis on being able to choose your character's origin (from six very different stories, and three different races--humans, dwarves, and elves) that Dragon Age 2 would do away with that and completely set your background: your race, your upbringing, and your name (though you can still choose your completely inconsequential first name, as in Mass Effect). But as long as the one story is interesting enough, I'm willing to go along with it.
The player character is now completely voiced, with lines of dialogue selected from vague descriptions on a wheel, much like in Mass Effect. I didn't mind imagining my own voice speaking the lines I selected, but it does give the game a more cinematic quality and the PC a more definite--or at least defined--personality. I'll have to get used to hearing a voice other than Jennifer Hale's coming out of my character's mouth, though.
I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what characters we can recruit to our party. We met a few in the demo. Hawke starts out with a brother and a sister, whose appearances will be tailored to match Hawke's so they're believable as siblings, but one inevitably dies near the beginning, depending on Hawke's class (the mage sibling dies if Hawke is a mage, the warrior sibling dies if Hawke is a warrior or rogue). Since BioWare games tend to have side quests related to each of the companion characters, I wonder if the side quests and stories will be notably different for the two siblings. We also got to meet Aveline, Varric, and Isabela (who crossed paths with the Warden in DAO). A cool new feature that I approve of is that rather than have companions like or dislike you (approve or disapprove) according to how nice you are to them and how much they agree with your actions and words, your differences in opinion will instead lead you towards a "friendship" or "rivalry". While my instinct is always to try to please everyone, my understanding is that we should not be afraid of nurturing a rivalry with some of our companions. Romance with a rival could be...interesting.
Hawke prepares to hurl a fireball in Dragon Age 2's demo.
In short, this game can't come in the mail fast enough. Actually, I have a big deadline on Thursday, but once I've slayed that ogre I'll be looking to blow off some steam, so it is welcome to arrive as early as Thursday afternoon. After last year's spring break in Illium (among other Mass Effect 2 locales), I'm very much looking forward to this year's spring break in Kirkwall, and beyond.