Dragon Age II is nearing release. But before the main course arrives, Bioware has deigned to present us with a little appetizer of a demo in which we play through the opening sequences of the actual game, and have a taste of a key mission scenario. It's just an introduction, really, to the new game mechanics and to some of the NPCs that will be tagging along in our hero's party.
No spoilers: it's exactly the same scenario that the developers used in an earlier webcast though this time we, the players, finally get hands on and play it our way, our style. Although gameplay is familiar, the tweaks still need some getting used to. Enemy characters now attack in multiple waves which means a lot more hacking-and-slashing than before. While that's great for scoring level-up points, it requires a bit of stamina to grind through every fight before moving on to the next checkpoint -- which could be yet another fight or plot-advancing cut-scene. Loser gamers like me who have short attention-spans may occasionally have difficulty keeping track of the battle and end up dead. Oops. Retry...
I found the opening to be quite a hand-holding experience, like I was being guided on rails from one plot element to the next. Hopefully when I get my hands on the real thing, the game world will feel a lot more open-ended with more places to explore and more NPCs to chat with.
The graphics have had a major upgrade. The character movements are more fluid, varied and energetic, with special attacks landing with visible power. Bodies fly when hit, occasionally disintegrating in fountains of gore when they succumb to particularly nasty hits. Every visual element stands out in sharp relief against the background, nice, but this kind of effect also looks cartoony, lacking a focal depth of field that would give a better illusion of reality.
Since the party in this demo offer a limited mix of ranged, melee and magic abilities there's also a chance to test out party tactics in battle. As usual, this will take a few more plays through to figure out -- yes, I'm slow -- but I believe I'll get it by DA2 release day, March 8. Bring it on!