When I got word that the Dragon Age 2 demo was to be released today, I immediately attempted to install the game only to find out that it would unfortunately not run without frequently crashing on my slightly outdated Studio 13 Dell Laptop. Given the circumstances, I asked my roommate to install the demo on his brand-new HP Laptop. After encountering a Direct X issue, we figured to set the thing to Direct X 11 and got ourselves started.
Although at launch you are first taken to the character customization screen, you are unable to customize Commander Hawke, also known as Fantasy Commander Shepard, leaving you with his poorly rendered clumpy-haired beard. Now I’m all for beards, as I normally sport one myself, but not if they look like they were penciled on by an ironic liberal arts college student. Only certain people can grow a well-structured beard, and Commander Hawke is certainly not one of them.
After leaving the customization screen, we cut to Hawke and his sister, the Mage Bethany. They immediately begin fighting off a horde of Darkspawn. The Darkspawn have been given a signifigantly updated look, and look more like battle-hardened Orcs from Lord of the Rings rather than the creatures in Origins. Here, we begin to get a feel for the combat, which is a lot more fast-paced than in Origins. In this section, Commander Hawke is given a variety of abilities to chain together for devastating effect. These abilities include Whirlwind. a quick spin that hits multiple enemies, Pommel strike which is still a stun, Tremor, which pushes people away and does damage, Scythe, which allows you to dash forward and kill enemies inside the cone in front of you, the self-explanatory Taunt and Mighty Blow, a large damage modifier.
The battle animations throughout the demo are extremely well-constructed and every movement seems to have different effects and a clear purpose. For example, where you hit an enemy it affects their death animations, so if you hit an enemy in the back he will fall forward, or if you hit an enemy up against a pillar they will push up against it. The characters also have combos that are stylish with a sense of realism, except for the mage staff shots which while entertaining to watch certainly involves more style than substance.
After defeating the Darkspawn, we encounter an Ogre, which Commander Hawke promptly fells with a swiftly acrobatic stab to the eye. After seeing an ominous Dragon fly overhead, we cut to the Dwarf Varric telling the story to the butch Chantry Seeker Cassandra, who promptly calls shenanigans on Varric’s tall tale. After admitting that he is, in fact, a bullshit artist, Varric starts to tell the more plausible tale of Hawke’s flight from the recently destroyed town of Lothering, which if you recall, was annihilated early on in Origins. The continual cutting back and forth of this conversation and the actual events sets up the non-linear narrative of Dragon Age 2 while giving the player information on the events that took place after Commander Hawke’s rise as the Hero of the Free Marches.
We then cut back to Commander Hawke, his sister Bethany, his mom (we all know Hawke is a mama’s boy/girl), and his little brother Carver, a two-handed weapon Warrior. After wading our way through more hordes of Darkspawn, we meet up with the sword and shield Warrior Aveilne, who serves as the fourth member of the party, and the Templar Wesley, who seems kind of like a pre-sarcasm Allistar.
We get to know these characters a bit through dialogue choices, which are now performed on a dialogue wheel similar to Mass Effect and are labeled as Good/Idealistic, Snarky/Witty, or Asshole/Pragmatic. While fighting the Darkspawn, we begin to level up and can choose to spec Commander Hawke as a Warrior, Mage or Rouge. Given his current get-up in the demo, we decided to build our Hawke as a two-handed warrior and gave him a sweet passive two-handed ability that increases the area of attack. Also of note was Aveline’s Shield Bash, which pushed back enemies five feet or so as opposed to just knocking them to the ground like in Origins. One funny thing we noticed at this point was that stunned enemies immediately get back up, only to be still stunned while standing. Presumably, a stunned enemy would stay on the ground given that they are unable to move due to being, you know, stunned.
After some more Darkspawn grinding, we get to a second Ogre fight, where little brother Carver is mauled to death. We promptly avenged our dead brother, only to bitch out Commander Hawke’s mom when she freaked out on us for not protecting him from a scripted death. After a bit more fighting, we then see the same Dragon overhead from Varric’s BS story, only this time the Dragon mercilessly slaughters the Darkspawn. The Dragon then flies down and reveals itself to be a sexy MILF version of Flemeth, Morrigan’s adopted mom in Origins who also happens to be an extremely potent shapeshifter. After hearing about the devastating effects of the Blight from Flemeth, the Templar Wesley begins to slowly die from Darkspawn corruption, which he apparently acquired prior to our acquaintance with him. We then mercy-killed Wesley and went on our way
After a brief cut back to Varic and Cassandra, we were transported to Kirkwall, the city of chains, where Commander Hawke first meets Varic. The city is quite expanded and visually updated from its Origins incarnation, and we quickly find ourselves in the middle of a battle where Varic and an updated Captain Isabela, a minor Origins character who I’m sure many a Dragon Age aficionado tried to finagle into a foursome with their player character. We then experienced a few quick battle sequences with a vaguely motivated rival political faction, met up with some Dalish Elves, performed some wacky ceremony on top of a mountain and then were given an ending trailer for the game.
All and all, the demo is about an hour, and is definitely worth checking out if your PC will run it. If this wasn’t comprehensive enough for you, you can also view some screenshots of cutscenes and gameplay in the demo as well as gameplay video below.